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Gallery 3

Gallery 3

The gallery now known as Gallery 3 was in fact the second gallery to be built, added on to the ‘Pavilion’ in 1909. The dioramas in this gallery focus on species from equatorial Africa and the plains at the edge of these forested areas. As with Gallery 2, most of the animals were mounted by the taxidermist Rowland Ward, who worked closely with Percy Powell-Cotton to perfect their stances, creating highly realistic specimens.

The most striking of these is the central diorama of a lion and a buffalo, locked in battle. This is the only diorama that can be viewed from 360 degrees, and captures the never-ending struggle between the two animals. The lion had attacked Percy Powell-Cotton whilst he was on his honeymoon in 1906. Percy was saved by a quick thinking gun bearer and a copy of Punch magazine, which he had thrust into the waistband of his trousers! The suit Percy was wearing when he was attacked can be seen in Gallery 2, along with further information about this exciting episode. The diorama displays a highly unusual scene. Not only is it rare for a single lion to attack such a large buffalo, but generally it is the female, not the male, lions who do the hunting. However, Powell-Cotton had been told of such an event taking place, and asked Rowland Ward to recreate it.    

The large diorama of animals from equatorial Africa is perhaps the most striking example of Rowland Ward’s work within the museum. His workshop was particularly good at recreating the poses and facial expressions of antelope and there are many examples here. Look close enough and you can see their veins and blood vessels! 

One of the most impressive specimens is the large bull elephant to the left of the case. Percy Powell-Cotton did not originally intend to display the whole animal, and asked Rowland Ward to create half an elephant mount, that would be striding out of the trees. However, when Ward received the skin and realised how big it would be, he insisted that Percy rethink and make space for the entire elephant, as it was such an impressive specimen. Ward was so keen, that he agreed to prepare the whole mount for the cost of the original half – at £250 this was still a lot of money in 1909 for a single animal! This new larger sized specimen required Percy to lower the floor and push back the wall behind the animal, in order to fit it in. It is hard to get a sense of quite how big the elephant is, but look opposite the diorama and you’ll see his leg bones mounted against the wall. Go and stand next to them for a true sense of scale!

In the same case is a truly rare sight – a group of Northern White rhino. Now almost driven to extinction, the species was named after Percy Powell-Cotton (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). Sadly human greed is on the verge of wiping out these beautiful animals. The hunger for rhino horn, believed in some parts of the world to have medicinal properties, has seen the populations of all rhino species plummet. To protect the specimens in the museum, all horns on display are replicas in wood or resin.

There are also two small displays of ethnographic material in Gallery 3. One focuses on South African beadwork, collected in 1935, and the other on material from the Mbuti people of the Ituri Forest, Eastern Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The Mbuti people are a central African ethnic group who are known as pygmies, defined as a group where the average height of a man is less than one and a half meters. Many of the objects associated with this hunting community are smaller than usual, such as the bows, arrows and other hunting weapons on display. 

Photographs: Nikhilesh Havel

This image shows Gallery 2 in 1909. Percy Powell-Cotton had laid out the room to best show off his collection to dinner guest at a party. The lion and buffalo in the centre of the room are now on display in Gallery 3, and the tables covered in objects collected in British East Africa (present day Uganda) have now been replaced with cabinets which house this material. Although the famous diorama has remained unchanged, the rest of the displays in this gallery were continually developed in Percy’s lifetime and beyond. 

Angolan Diorama

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