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Society for the History of Natural History


“An unconquerable aversion to Piccadilly”: Charles Waterton, traveller, taxidermist and pioneer conservationist”

“An unconquerable aversion to Piccadilly”: Charles Waterton, traveller, taxidermist and pioneer conservationist”

July 31, 2015 09:00am - August 1, 2015 06:00pm

Society for the History of Natural History conference and AGM

The Wakefield Museum, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, Friday 31st July and Saturday 1 August 2015

Charles_WatertonThe Annual General Meeting of the Society for the History of Natural History will be held in association with a one day conference of talks celebrating the life and work of Charles Waterton (1782-1865) and a second day with related excursions around Wakefield in West Yorkshire.

The Wakefield Museum, at Wakefield One, is currently hosting an exhibition “The extraordinary world of Charles Waterton” and the Society’s meeting will take place at a venue within easy reach of the Museum and will include a visit to the exhibition.

Please download the registration form: Registration form Waterton in Wakefield

Outline Programme

This two-day conference celebrating the life and work of Charles Waterton (1782-1865) will comprise a day of talks on aspects of the life and work of Charles Waterton, the SHNH AGM, and a visit to The Wakefield Museum at Wakefield One to view the exhibition “The extraordinary world of Charles Waterton”. Pat Morris will give a demonstration at Wakefield One on “The inside story” showing how Waterton achieved his results.

Speakers include:

  • Jan Graffius, curator at Stonyhurst College, on Waterton’s education and Catholic upbringing;
  • Pat Morris on the taxidermy;
  • John Whitaker on Waterton’s Wakefield connections;
  • Adrian Padfield on the Curare story, and
  • John Chalmers on the disagreements between Audubon and Waterton.
  • Richard Milner on ‘eccentric naturalists’

This will be followed on the Saturday with a guided walk with David Mee following part of the Waterton trail, taking participants around the former Waterton Estate at Walton Hall, including Waterton’s grave. The meeting place is the Anglers Park Visitor Centre, accessible using local bus services and also has parking.

Please contact the meetings secretary, Gina Douglas, at  for more information, or if you would like to be one of the speakers or have an active participation in the event.

Venue Details



Image: “It was the first and last time I was ever on a Cayman’s back.” Charles Waterton. Coloured etching by R. Cruikshank, 1827, after E. Jones.

Why “Waterton in Wakefield”?

“Why Wakefield?” seems to be something I get asked when I tell people about the meeting on Charles Waterton. The answer is that he lived close by, in Walton Hall, now a luxury hotel and popular wedding venue.

But the other reason is that Wakefield One, the local museum, currently has on display some of the remarkable taxidermy that Waterton created in the “The extraordinary world of Charles Waterton” .

Those attending the meeting will be able to see that display and also see a demonstration of just how Waterton managed to achieve some of his results: he managed to create hollow taxidermy specimens, with no supports inside.

The conference venue is the Unity Works in Westgate, a converted building, with lifts to the 3rd floor, where we will meet, and short walk from Wakefield Westgate station. There is a free shuttle bus from that station, stopping at Wakefield One, also nearby, the town centre and bus station, and completing the circuit via Wakefield Kirkgate station and the Hepworth museum, as well as many retail outlet shops.

There should be ample parking adjacent to The Unity Works and near the station. The conference dinner will also be held nearby.

On Saturday there will be an opportunity to walk around the Walton hall estate, guided by the Park Ranger and starting from the Waterton Discovery centre at Angler’s Country Park. That has parking and is a kilometre from a bus stop with a service from Wakefield .

The walk will include a visit to Waterton’s grave and the “watch towers” or early “hides” used to protect the wildlife on his estate and stop poaching, part of Waterton’s pioneer work as a conservationist. There is a podcast available which describes part of the walk: go to

Gina Douglas

Charles Waterton

Enter ‘Charles Waterton’ as a search item in Google and you get 400,000 hits, evidence of widespread fame and an intriguing life. He was a traveller, ‘larger than life’ person and an inventive taxidermist, now regarded as one of Britain’s great eccentrics. Few of his contemporaries engaged in such a variety of mischief and adventure. His activities, and the aggravation he caused, continue to fascinate, inspire and amuse even 150 years after his death.

Waterton’s famous book Wanderings in South America, published in 1825, described his travels at a time when few people made such journeys. It was re-published many times, exciting acclaim, argument and derision in equal volume. It featured a mischievous taxidermy fabrication (The Nondescript), a new species of mammal or a tiny human; Waterton wouldn’t say. Instead he confided to his physician “I do enjoy a bit of stuffing” and went on to create a collection of weird creatures as well as ‘normal’ specimens.

Taxidermy was his passion. His book devoted 19 pages to his special methods, one of the first detailed instructions in this art to be published in Britain. It was followed by many essays on the subject, rudely dismissive of contemporary taxidermists. He used his skill to fabricate imaginary creatures, forming three-dimensional religious and political cartoons that lampooned issues and people that attracted his ire. His surviving specimens offer a fascinating insight into the skill and ideas of a controversial and idiosyncratic nineteenth century naturalist.