A leg bone of a Dodo
Latin: Raphus cucullatus
Description: Originally purchased by Lord Garvagh, a man who greatly interested himself in birds, particularly extinct ones. It passed through several hands during more than a century until finally owned by Errol Fuller, author of The Dodo: from Extinction to Icon.
This bone was one of those found during the investigation of the Mare aux Songes, Mauritius by local Mauritius schoolteacher George Clarke during the 1860s. Hearing that a few bone fragments had been found in this swamp he wondered if there might be more substantial pieces. The swamp was on the land of the owner of a sugar plantation, which was worked by the owner's servants, poor people who were little more than slaves. Clarke asked if he might have the use of these servants for a few days. They all waded through the swamp (an area about the size of two football pitches), which was approximately waist deep. Feeling the bottom with their feet and toes, every now and then the men (and women) felt something unusual. Then they bent down and scooped it up. Most often the item they brought up was just a stone, but sometimes it was a bone! In this way these servants recovered dodo bones, and these became the property of Mr. Clarke. The vast majority of known dodo bones were found in this way. Clarke sent several consignments of bones to England where most were acquired by Richard Owen for the Natural History Museum, and Alfred Newton who was acquiring specimens for Cambridge University. Some were sent to Paris to the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. The bones caused a sensation and were one of the reasons for the success of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which features a dodo. The bones that came over at this time are still in the museum collections that acquired them. However, in order to raise significant funds Clarke sent some bones to Stevens Auction Rooms (an important nineteenth century auction house) in Covent Garden, London, and here at this venue they were offered for sale to the general public. Although originally owned privately, most of these auctioned bones eventually passed into museums and hardly any are still in private hands.