By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
If you read our blog post from January 15th, 2015, you learned the story of a fascinating field book from the Africana Train Collection housed in the Cullman Special Collections Library of National Museum of Natural History. This lovely and unique volume of Lepidoptera specimens had been highlighted in an earlier blog post from the Field Book Project, which inspired some lovely artwork, which led a researcher to ask about the book contents, which led to a transatlantic exchange of emails between external researchers and Smithsonian staff. This exchange helped us determine that the volume had an even more interesting provenance than we had realized, in addition to showing us just how unique it is in construction and content. All of this interest and activity led to the volume being digitized, transcribed, and made available on Collections Search Center and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
The broader story of that blog post relates to the field book creator. Though documentation initially indicated that the volume was the creation of Sir John Kirk we learned that it was actually created by Horace Waller. This meant that our catalog records needed to be amended and happily provided me the excuse to delve into Waller’s life and relationships, both to people and to the book now sitting in our archives.
If you ever look at our creator records, you’ll see that they are usually a paragraph or two in length and cover the major events in a life. Unfortunately there is often wonderful detail that just doesn’t fit in the structure of a biographical abstract. Luckily for me, we have blog posts to share the rest of the story.
The biographical description I created is below.
Horace Waller (1833-1896) was a clergyman, writer, and antislavery activist, and was known for his work in Africa. He was born in London and first traveled to Africa as Lay Superintendent of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa under the first Bishop of Central Africa, Charles Frederick Mackenzie. The group arrived in Zambezi in 1861 and traveled to the Nyasa highlands, where they established a mission. During his time in Africa, he worked with noted figures of the time such as Sir John Kirk and David Livingstone, and became an anti-slavery activist. He is known to have collected botanical and entomological specimens. Waller left the mission after a disagreement with Mackenzie's successor about the liberated slaves who were under care of the Mission. After returning to England in 1864, he became a minister, first serving at St. John's Chatham, and later as rector of the Twywell parish (1874-1895) where he remained for twenty-two years. During his lifetime he wrote several books covering numerous subjects relating to Africa. He is also known for his work editing the journals of David Livingstone. Waller retired to Hampshire shortly before he passed away in East Liss on February 22, 1896.
In order to compose my one paragraph, I wandered through Wikipedia, Archivegrid (Yale Divinity School), finding aid at University of Oxford, and obituaries through JSTOR on him and his son. In my limited time with materials describing Waller, I learned about a man whose lifelong concerns and work were shaped in important ways by a mere four years in Africa. He was in East Africa during a seminal time in history, interacting is notable figures whose names, such as Livingstone, are still known to the public. The part I found particularly touching was that the relationships and experiences even informed how he named his son, Horace Kirk Waller.
This volume, mistakenly attributed to Kirk, was seemingly given to him. Waller so esteemed him that he gave his only child Kirk’s name. It makes one appreciate the care and thought that must have gone into creating such a treasure.
According to an obituary in The British Medical Journal, Jan. 29, 1955, Horace Kirk Waller lived a commendable life, working as a physician and best known for his work with infants at the British Hospital for Mothers and Infants at Woolwich. The obituary speaks of his “gentle courtesy and infinite kindliness of heart.” Such was the man who bore the names of two notable figures.
To see the volume that inspired this post, visit here at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
(1955). “H. K. Waller, M.B., F.R.C.O.G.” The British Medical Journal. 1 (4908) 293-294. Accessed at http://www.jstor.org/stable/20362393