18th century botanist Sir John St Aubyn's Secret Life of a Collector in Plymouth

By Culture24 Staff | 09 March 2010
A close up photo of a red botanic gem

(Above) A gem gravel, made by Jacques Louis de Bournon between 1794 and 1815, is among the micromount collection held in the St Aubyn collection. © Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

Exhibition: Sir John St Aubyn – The Secret Life of a Collector, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth, March 13 – May 8 2010

Sir John St Aubyn's life story is an eye-opener in itself. According to The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History, the 18th century baronet was the Sheriff of Cornwall and MP for Truro in between fathering 15 children with two Cornish women, but it's his vast collection of mineralogy and botany which forms the focus for this unprecedented glimpse into the geology of the period.

Fascinated by science and the arts, Sir John amassed more than 1,500 mineral specimens and 1,000 pressed plant samples, held in a special collection at the Gallery since 1924.

A photo of a catalogued artefact from a mineral collection

Egyptian Jasper from the mineral collection, first catalogued in 1799. © Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

"The minerals on show have been collected from all over the world," says Jan Freedman, who has led a two-year project to restore and conserve the artefacts and, for the first time, translate two accompanying 18th century French catalogues full of revealing secrets.

"The pressed plant specimens are in excellent condition despite being more than 200 years old. They have been specially selected because of their links to the local area and the detail contained in the notes accompanying them."

A picture of a painting of an 18th century man in formal wear

Sir John's fascination with botany was a constant theme in his eventful life. © Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

The Gallery team will be rewarded for their efforts with a touring run for the show, heading to venues across Devon and Cornwall, the Geological Society in London and the Saffron Walden Museum in Essex, where Sir John once had a home.

Open 10am-5.30pm Tuesday-Friday (5pm Saturdays and Bank Holiday Mondays). Admission free.

Exhibition events programme includes family workshop on April 8, contemporary craft workshop for adults on May 1, lunchtime talk on May 4. Visit the Museum and Art Gallery online or call 01752 304774 for details.

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