3 October 2022
Who can resist the temptation of opening a mysterious antique cabinet?
A story that starts with a locked cabinet, an expert in Tasmanian land snails, and her own childhood memories becomes one curator’s tale of discovery.
While she was curator at the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Ruth Mollison, who has a lifelong interest in natural history, rediscovered the carefully stored nineteenth century shell collection of Morton Allport in the Tasmanian Archives.
Recognising the need to conserve the cabinet and its contents, curator Ruth sought the help of an objects conservator to open Morton Allport’s shell cabinet and found an expert in Tasmanian land snails to provide scientific advice.
As the cabinet was opened, the contents revealed not only the well-preserved and ordered collections of an avid Tasmanian naturalist, but also a glimpse into Ruth’s own past, watching her father prepare his shell collection from remote beaches around Tasmania.
“It reminded me of evenings as a child at the dining table watching Dad prepare his shells – I was given the job of winding cotton around bivalves to hold the parts together… a job for nimble fingers,” Ruth said.
Though fascinating to Ruth, Morton’s mother, Mary Morton Allport wrote “I shall never open your drawer without fear of snakes and creeping things.”
The Cabinet of Curiosities is just one of the hidden gems that can be found in the collections of the State Library of Tasmania. Follow the intricacies of shell collecting and family heirlooms in the latest 91 STORIES: Cabinet of Curiosities. Visit libraries.tas.gov.au/get-curious
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