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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


On the Origin of Our Specimens: The Lawrence Months

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 10 April 2014

‘The Thirteen’

The collection of specimens, known since 1997 as the Grant Museum of Zoology, was started in 1827 by Robert E. Grant. Grant was the first professor of zoology at UCL when it opened, then called the University of London, and he stayed in post until his death in 1874. The collections have seen a total of 13 academics in the lineage of collections care throughout the 187 year history of the Grant Museum, from Robert E. Grant himself, through to our current Curator Mark Carnall.

Both Grant and many of his successors have expanded the collections according to their own interests, which makes for a fascinating historical account of the development of the Museums’ collections. This mini-series will look at each of The Thirteen in turn, starting with Grant himself, and giving examples where possible, of specimens that can be traced back to their time at UCL. Previous editions can be found here.

Number Ten: Michael Lawrence (1971 ‘for a few months’)

The very astute amongst return readers to this series may have noticed one startling change to the first subtitle of this blog. The Twelve, has become The Thirteen. Having always been under the impression that the Grant Museum’s history has seen the arrival of 12 consecutive curators, it came as quite a shock, an exciting one, to discover an addition to the lineage. During the time that Roy Mahoney was curator, Michael Lawrence, Edwin Perry and John Ferguson were on the museum staff as technicians. As mentioned in the ninth blog in the series, in the early 1970s UCL acquired a transmission electron microscope which Mahoney took charge of but it began to take up so much of his time that he had to relinquish his post as curator. Up until recently, it was thought that Mahoney’s successor was Rosina Down, who did indeed later become curator at the Museum. However, as part of my research for this blog series, I had the honour of speaking directly to Roy Mahoney himself, curator here from 1956 to 1971. Mahoney told me that due to his commitments with the TEM, he needed to find a replacement at very short notice, and so one his technicians, Michael Lawrence, took up the position in 1971. Evidently, he was in post for just a few short months before being offered a job at the BBC. When he left, it was then that Down took over as curator.

In contrast to the other articles in this series, this post is rather scant on information about the tenth curator in our history. Little is known about Lawrence’s time as curator, though this can of course be mostly accredited to the fact that in such a short period of time, Lawrence wouldn’t have been able to make mane changes. However, we do know about various projects in which he was involved as Mahoney’s technician. He appears in many images that we have of the museum and collections in the 1960s, most notably in the photographs of the giant deer being mounted, and the Indian rock python that was prepped on the roof of the UCL Medawar building. Lawrence is the third person from the front, sitting on top of the snake, in the image on the left.

As this series is to serve as a permanent historical account of the Grant Museum on our website, this information has been used to alter previous blogs in the series. A note regarding these updates now appears at the bottom of each blog affected by this exciting new discovery.

Emma-Louise Nicholls is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

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