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Dear Mr Darwin - The Long Gallery

By: Rose Docker, Category: Science, Date: 08 May 2014

The Museum’s Long Gallery is about to be transformed to reflect some of its 19th century glory and the science of the time.

Long Gallery With Whale Skeleton

Henry Barnes © Australian Museum

A small series of letters between Gerard Krefft, Curator of the Australian Museum and Charles Darwin in the 1870s, provide a glimpse into this world of 19th century science.

The letters reveal a lot about the men and their work and even some interesting snippets about the workings of the Long Gallery. The Museum's first permanent and purpose built display gallery.

Through his words and Darwin’s responses we get a sense of Gerard Krefft, the man and his work. He was energetic, pugnacious and obviously excited by everything to do with science and scientific observation.

There’s a wonderfully informative letter written by him to Darwin in July 1873. He reveals some of the drawbacks of the physical layout of the early gallery - but at the same time is clearly hooked by the chance to observe the antics of the modern museum visitor.

“Now if you stand in the dark gangway with holes in the canvass you can fix your eye upon Visitors … there is nothing so instructive than to watch a number of women young or old contemplating a human foetus…I hope you will pardon this digression but as a place to study human nature there is nothing like show cases with “Canvass-backs.”