We often use this blog to highlight interesting bits and pieces from our collections – whether it is a book, an object or (my personal favourite) something from the archives. But not all our collections are held here in central London at the Royal Society. Did you know there is a treasure trove of modern records, generally from the twentieth century, which are stored securely and in climate controlled conditions offsite?
The offsite collections are largely made up of our own administrative records. This means we have a huge range of documentation relating to things such as expeditions, international exchange visits and grants files, all of which will be used to shed light on the inner workings of the Society.
Unfortunately, but understandably given the volume of material located offsite, it has not all been catalogued. However, this is something we aim to remedy over time, and of course we’re more than happy to search the box listings if a researcher thinks we may have something of interest to them (though please note that, for reasons of confidentiality, public access to our more recent files may be subject to the Society’s standard closure periods). The idea of diving in, appraising and cataloguing these papers is something I genuinely look forward to and I have no doubt that we will come across some fascinating material.
In fact I have recently been able to look through some expedition papers. Inspired by the (not so) recent royal visit to Borneo I began with the papers relating to two expeditions to North Borneo in the 1960s. This is a relatively small collection and will act as guide to the kind of documentation I can expect to see when I appraise and catalogue other expedition papers. These two expeditions were greatly concerned with the establishment of a National Park around the mountain of Kinabalu and they took the opportunity to investigate the flora and fauna of the region. The papers feature reports from the expeditions, logistical and financial documents, and correspondence from the Society to the expedition personnel.
One thing that I particularly took from the brief research I did before examining the documents was a reminder of how much can change in a relatively short period of history. When the first expedition was organised in 1961 this area of Borneo was a crown colony of Britain, indeed the expedition committee members are in communication with the Governor at the time. Of course now the area of Kinabalu is in Malaysia following independence in 1963 – as I continue to read through the papers it will be interesting to see what (if any) effect this change had on the second expedition.
Unfortunately being one of our smaller collections I have a limited selection of images to choose from to illustrate the blog. The picture below is of a plant (if anyone can identify this plant, please let me know! Botany is not a strength of mine) near the expeditions camp in 1961.
After I have catalogued these papers and made the catalogue available to researchers I face the task of choosing which of the Royal Society’s expeditions from the 1950s to the 1980s to look at next. One possibility is the expedition to Tristan da Cunha in 1962, and the picture below gives a sneak preview of images taken following a volcanic eruption and the dramatic evacuation of the whole population. This image shows a lava field close to an existing settlement.
So, to sum up: if you are interested in the history of expeditions … watch this space!