Sunday, 25 October 2009


Punkbotanist just sent me a photograph of a painting I did years ago of a waterlily... Thought I'd put it up to show you.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

18th Century Minerals

In June last year I saw a rather special collection of minerals at the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge. This trip was part of the project I was working on at the time on Sir John St. Aubyn. Throughout his lifetime, Sir John had two very good friends, one was called the Rt. Hon. Charles Greville and the other was Sir Abraham Hume. I visited Sedgwick Museum, because I understood that they held the 18th century mineral collection, which was amalgamated by Abraham. The collection itself was beautifully arranged, and above is an example of some of his diamonds. They are mounted on small, slender ebony mounts, so that they could be studied in more detail during the time of collection.

Although many of the minerals were indeed beautiful, the most important insight I got during the visit was from these two labels. Interestingly, they are rather similar in their design. One can only assume that either the same person made them, or two very close friends around 200 years ago. I actually know who created the label on the right from the handwriting - a French expatriate called Comte Jacques Louis de Bournon. He catalogued John's, Abraham's and Charles' collections from 1794-1815. I am guessing that it is labelling a piece of lead, looking at the description 'Plumb'...!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Otherwise Known as Ginkgo Girl

When I was at University I thought, as one does, that it would be an awesome idea to have a pseudonym. I liked the idea of no-one knowing who I was. I was also rather entranced by the thought of a 'treasure trail' of items branded with such a pseudonym so that people in a hundred years or so would be puzzled. I had daydreams of books with the Ginkgo logo inside suddenly becoming very valuable. Oh I do dream don''t I?! Anyway, I had forgotten this notion, mainly becuase I have learnt to like my name. Then today I managed to download four years worth of images off of my mobile phone, and found this rather delightful photograph of all my book labels piled on top of eachother, reminding me of the days when I did take my pseudonym rather seriously!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Lathyrus odoratus

I have finished my Sweetpea painting. It is one of the varieties which I had growing on my allotment this summer. It was so beautiful, a really deep crimson-purple colour, and so I had to paint it.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Operation Plymstraw 2009: Complete

It's the start of a new week, and all 50 Plymouth Strawberries (Fragaria vesca var. muricata), are now enojoying life with their roots in Plymouth soil. It took us all day to get to the eight sites we carefull chose for them, but we did it. For a full account with pictures, please visit the Punkbotanist's blog.

The beginnings of my family tree (a corner!)...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Prison Cells in Devonport Guildhall

On Monday, my colleague and I visited Devonport Guildhall to meet up with some staff members to talk about the touring exhibition. We needed to find a space to put the panels in, and so we were slowly taken around all the free spaces in the old grandiose building.

In the last part of the building were what the contractors called 'the cells'. To begin with, I had in mind little cubby-holes or a small space which they had called 'cells' as a modern term. However, I was quite mistaken - they really did mean cells! I managed to take a photograph of one of the doors (left) of the room (below). This space had such a dramatic atmosphere and seemed to be such a find, that I thought I'd share it with you all. I don't think many people know about these cells.

Just out of interest, Devonport has the only working gallows in the country.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Ginkgo Biloba

© Goethe Museum, Düsseldorf

I had to put this poem on my blog, because it is really beautiful. My mum found it online and showed it to me, knowing that I would like it very much. The poem was written by Goethe - a German poet, scientist, botanist and philosopher. He dedicated the poem below to his former lover Marianne von Willemer. The Ginkgo leaf symbolizes Goethe's theme, one and double. The Ginkgo tree that was Goethe's inspiration to write the poem in 1815, grew in Heidelberg, Germany. On the picture below you see the poem in Goethe's original handwriting.

© Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

The twig inside this herbarium sheet is 210 years old. We believe that Sir John St. Aubyn (1758-1839) collected this branch. The tree species would have been relatively new to St. Aubyn, as the tree had only been introduced to England from China a few decades before this specimen was collected.

Ginkgos are large trees from China and they can reach a height of 20 to 35 metres. Ginkgo biloba is called a ‘silver apricot’ by the Chinese and is a living fossil. Its closest relatives can be found in fossils dating back to 270 million years ago.

Ginkgo trees are incredibly enduring and have been planted in towns and cities because they can grow even in the most polluted of places. An extreme example of this trees tenacity can be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where four trees growing 1 to 2 kilometres from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. While almost all other living things in the area were destroyed, the Ginkgo trees survived and are still alive to this day.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Calcified Grapes and Oranges

Throwing fruit into the waters of Carlsbad, 200 years ago...

Yesterday, my colleague found a rather interesting mineral in our stores. It was next to a St. Aubyn mineral, and looked like a bunch of grapes. After some research, I realised that it was indeed a bunch of grapes! If you look closely at the picture you can see the grape stalk. I needed to check the catalogues to make sure it wasn't a St. Aubyn mineral, as he tends to have strange things like this in his collection. Unfortunately, these grapes are not part of the St. Aubyn collection, however, I managed to discover the truth behind another very peculiar specimen (below).

I have found out that this object is a branch of two oranges, with their leaves, covered in a calcium crust. This mineral would have been made by placing the oranges in the waters of Carlsbad in the Czech Republic over 200 years ago. Count de Bournon wrote about this item in his c1799 catalogue:

"Incrustation de Spath calcaire, faite sur un bouquet de feuilles d'oranger aux quelles étoient adhérentes deux oranges, placé dans les eaux incrustantes de Carlsbad en Bohême une cassure faite, sur le milieu de la réunion des tiges, laisse appercevoir que cette incrustation Spathique, qui est d'un rouge brun foncé à texterieure, est d'un jaune ocreux dans l'intérieur".

Which translated reads:

"Incrustation of calcareous spar, made on a bunch of orange-tree leaves to which two oranges were attached, placed in the encrusting waters of Carlsbad in Bohemia. A break, made on the middle of the junction of the twigs, allows one to see that this sparry incrustation, which is a dark brown red on the outside is yellow ochre inside."

Apparently, it was a common for people to put things in petrifying springs like this to see how long they took to become 'petrified '. It would take approximately two years for such objects, which were then available for sale to visitors there...
All images are © Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Best ten days of my life...

Last week I wasn't in my museum, nor was I in my hometown, I was in Seaford, being born again. Sounds strange I know, but it wasn't your usual week of events... I was on the Hoffman Process. It was indeed a marvellous week. It's given me a boost and helped me to find myself. I received my photograph of all my course mates that where there with me in the post yesterday. It is an amazing photograph, we are all glowing with happiness, and we all look so young.

I am not at liberty to say what happened on the course, its one of those things that's best kept a secret. However, I can say that I had been suffering from depression for ten years, and this seems to have done the trick in lifting it.

Spring sunlight shining through the Mulberry Tree in the Elizabethan Garden, Plymouth
If you want to read more about the Hoffman Process, then I suggest the best place to go is onto their website. There was a recent article in July's Tatler Magazine as well titled 'All the Rage'.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Organising my Illustrations

Its been a while since I payed any attention to my website, I guess it is the trouble with these things. You put websites online and then you accidentally forget about them. I have noticed that inkyleaves is in need of a major update! Not only has Richard Dawkins found his way off my list of top scientists over the past few years, but I have also painted lots of illustrations that aren't in my gallery. So, I have asked my wonderful stepfather Andrew, if he could help me out in updating inkyleaves. Luckily for me he said he would help - phew! And in case you were wondering, Andrew is the talent behind inkyleaves - he did all of the designs ( So watch this space.

So for the past few days I have been busy photographing and scanning. I have also decided to go on a course so that I can brush up on my skills. I really hope that I get offered a place, it is with the Society of Botanical Artists and all you need to get offered a place is a darn good illustration!

Seaweed from the Muirhead Herbarium, Plymouth
Wish me luck...

Monday, 15 June 2009

Choosing the Objects

Today I am choosing the objects that are going to be displayed in our touring exhibition on Sir John St. Aubyn. In order to get our funding, we needed to have some sort of public outcome for the project, and the exhibition is one of these outcomes. It starts it's tour on the 9th January 2010 at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. It seems like a long way away, but really it isn't, and already a number of departments in my museum are working on the designs. I think the joiner downstairs has the trickiest task of building the plinths and display cases. The exhibition is going to St. Michael's Mount in May, and in order to get everything up to the castle on the top, we have to put all the cases in a tram, which climbs the Mount at a 45° incline. Problem is, the tram isn't very big, so all the cases have to either be very small, or very cleverly built.

So, as I said today I am choosing objects to use in the exhibition. I suppose this too is rather tricky, because I have to choose objects that look interesting. A while back, I carefully selected six herbarium sheets out of the 1100 or so we hold in the St. Aubyn collection. Today I am choosing minerals. I am picking the most colourful, the most sturdy and the ones with amazingly detailed descriptions which were written by a French refugee called Count Jacques Louis de Bournon, in 1794. Below is a small picture of the Count's entry for a piece of calcareous spar, don't you just love his handwriting?!

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery ©

Friday, 12 June 2009

Sir John St. Aubyn (1758-1839)

Sir John St. Aubyn, painted by John Opie, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery ©

Chapter Two

Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet, was born at Golden Square, London on 17th May 1758. Sir John was captivated by science and the arts and was a keen collector. Sir John's father (the 4th Baronet) was brought up by a Dr. William Borlase (1695 to 1772), a passionate mineral collector and Natural scientist. The influence of his father’s learned interest is likely to have also assisted in creating Sir John’s fascination with minerals and the natural world. St Aubyn succeeded to the baronetcy at the age of fourteen and was a clever and distinguished man. He served as High Sheriff of Cornwall (at the age of 23), and went on to become a Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Linnean Society, member of Parliament, Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, Fellow of the Geological Society of London, Fellow of the Society of Arts and Provincial Grandmaster of the Freemasons. The St. Aubyn’s were also well-known gardeners in their time, and on the 5th baronet’s Royal Society election certificate, his interest in botany is mentioned.

Sir John was also interested in the arts and collected a huge number of engravings and etchings which were sold at Phillips’s Auction Rooms in April 1840. The collection was so vast that the sale is said to have lasted for seventeen days. Sir John was also an early and constant patron and friend of the painter John Opie, and was a pallbearer at the artist’s funeral in April 1807.

Juliana Vinicombe, painted by John Opie, St. Michael's Mount Collection ©

Sir John St. Aubyn is said to have spent a lot of time with a number of young ladies in his early years, but the first lady to live with Sir John was Martha Nicholls. Her father, John Nicholls, came from an old Cornish family and was a well known landscape gardener. Astonishingly, Sir John St. Aubyn never married Martha, even though she had five of his children. Instead, he married the other lady in his life - Juliana Vinicombe. Sir John met her when she was very young and sent her to be educated at Cheltenham. He eventually married Juliana, a blacksmith’s daughter, in 1822 when he was 64.

The St. Aubyn family had two estates in Cornwall – Clowance and St. Michael’s Mount, which Sir John inherited from his father in 1772. However, it appears that Sir John St. Aubyn found life in this part of the country rather uninspiring for his tastes in fine art and literature, and so he spent more of his time in London, or on estates closer to the city.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Sir John St. Aubyn (1758-1839)

Over the past year and a half I have been researching an 18th century mineral and plant collection at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. It's a two year project, so my time here is drawing to a close. Now I find myself trying to amalgamate all the information I have dug out about the collection and the people behind it, and re-write it all in an interesting way for an exhibition. Part of my contract is to design a touring exhibition about Sir John's collection. I thought it would be the easiest part of my work, but on the contrary! I have unearthed so much about this man and his friends that I am struggling to decide 'what to keep' and 'what not to keep'. So, I thought I should begin writing about him on this blog in several chapters, so that everything is there, saved on an archive system - my archive system. Because it would be impossible for me to talk about my life on this blog without mentioning the man I have studied since my graduation.

Chapter One
Sir John St. Aubyn was born at Golden Square, London on 17 May 1758. He was captivated by science and the arts and was a keen collector. His particular interest was for mineralogy, but he also had interests in botany, which lead him to create a sizable herbarium containing many interesting plants. Most of these have been collected in the field, but there are also specimens from early plant nurseries and important gardens in Europe. The notes on the herbarium sheets are also exceptionally detailed. Adjacent to many species, the medicinal properties and domestic uses have been described.

Before his death, Sir John donated a folio containing his herbarium to the Civil Military Library at Devonport, which later moved to Plymouth City Museum in 1924, where it was hidden away. In 2007, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery secured a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, enabling the museum’s natural history department to conduct a variety of work on this historic collection. In the following chapters, I will recount my journey through time as I removed centuries of dust to reveal a collection of scientific and cultural importance.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Royal Visit

Yesterday, I didn't need to imagine that I was friends with members of the Royal family from centuries ago, because Prince Philip came to see us at the museum. I suppose it wasn't quite like finally meeting Queen Elizabeth I or her father, but it was thrilling all the same.

The Prince came to see our new galleries in Plymouth. Apparently his favourite object was this one on the left - the Cattewater Gun. It was discovered in 1973 when the mouth of the river Plym was being dredged. It is one of many guns which would have been mounted on the ships rail and fired at the crews of enemy vessels. Guns such as these were the most common armament used at sea by both naval and merchant vessels between AD 1450 to 1520. During this period, William Caxton published the first book in England and King Henry VIII became the King. A few years after this gun fell into the murky waters of the River Plym, the English Reformation began, and many Monasteries, like this gun, were lost.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Ginger the Dead Egyptian

It's taken me some time to decide exactly how I am going to write this blog. I have foolishly taken far too much time mulling over all sorts of ideas. I even thought it would be interesting to write the blog from the point view of a ghost who lurks within the museum stores, watching over their collection and spying on the staff. But I think I was missing the point. This is my blog after all, and therefore it should consist of descriptions of my experiences in the museum... so here it goes.

I've always been interested in history, and have happy memories of my journeys through time. I remember working on topic books when I was in primary school, and really enjoying myself as I escaped the present. I embraced topics such as the "Tudors and Stuarts" to such a point that I used to dream I was friends with kings and queens of that time. I thought I couldn't be happier in my imaginary world, I thought nothing could be better than being friends with Joan of Arc. But that was before I studied the Egyptians...

I wasn't sure why we had to go all the way up to London for a school trip, I had never travelled that far on a school day before. But then I had never visited the British Museum before either. Gosh, it was amazing. I remember not knowing what to do with myself because I was so amazed and excited at seeing so many old things. Then, I saw him - Ginger. A 5400 year old mummy from Gebelein, Egypt. Here is the poem I wrote the night after I saw him.

Ginger the Dead Egyptian
He was called that because of his hair
He lay in a scrunched-up position
And really he was quite bare

His tongue was all dry and crispy
His tummy had all fallen in
Perhaps he died before dinner
And that’s what made him so thin!