Archive for October, 2009

Watching the extinction of the Royal Mail? Charles Darwin, postal history, Postman Pat and a speedy exit from Cornwall

October 26, 2009
The Devonport mail coach of 1837 on a postcard from the Post Office Collection  / National Postal Museum above the Bath mail coach of 1784 featured on a UK stamp in my Proof reading copy  of Charles Darwin: A Celebration in Stamps

The Devonport mail-coach of 1837 on a postcard from the Post Office Collection / National Postal Museum above the Bath mail-coach of 1784 featured on a UK stamp in my proof-reading copy of Charles Darwin: A Celebration in Stamps

 

The postal strike has featured much in the news recently with some papers predicting the extinction of the Royal Mail.

Ironically one part of our forthcoming Edinburgh Zoo  RZSS / Newquay Zoo  collaboration on a Darwin stamp book features a section (especially useful for teachers) on postal history with lots of links to different resource websites. Darwin relied on the post for a link with his family and many correspondents on the Packet ships, the early postal system before Queen Victoria, Rowland Hill and the Penny Post which saw the Penny Black invented in 1840 just after Darwin returned from his famous HMS Beagle voyage in 1836.

An old friend Jo Butts gave me this postcard of the Devonport mail-coach  1837 years ago from the Post Office Collection / National Postal Museum in London. Luckily I rediscovered it in time for Darwin’s bicentenary year this year for display at Newquay Zoo, supporting the four unusual and thought-provoking Darwin 200 art exhibitions at Falmouth Art Gallery this year.

The painting shows the Devonport mail-coach driving through snowstorms in 1837, the year after Darwin’s arrival at Falmouth, Cornwall on October 2, 1836 and swift departure on the mail-coach home to Shrewsbury over two and a half days. Despite its Christmas card appearance (another Victorian invention), this  postcard of a painting ‘after James Pollard 1837’ gives a vivid  idea what winter mail-coach travel in the West country of the 1830s might have been like around the time that Queen Victoria came to the throne!

Darwin’s comments on the long coach journey home and his coach companions are recorded in his Beagle diary,  available www.darwin-online.org.uk which, along with www.darwinproject.ac.uk , make Darwin’s writings and letters available and accessible online.

Teaching tips:

Victorians, postage and Darwin feature in primary school National Curriculum History topics, as well as Victorian discoveries and  inventions in Science, Design and Technology

Teachers might consider with pupils in what other ways people communicate today, as well as posted letters, compared to Darwin’s time. 

What evolution of everyday  technology has replaced handwritten letter post since 1837?

How might Postman Pat (or his Victorian great great great Grandfather) have delivered Darwin’s letters then? Today his vehicles now extend past Victorian steam trains to helicopters and motorbikes as seen on www.postmanpat.com!  (N.B. other children’s television characters are available). 

Some of these communication methods have now become extinct or obsolete themselves such as Morse Code and telegraphs (see the website of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum in Cornwall http://www.porthcurno.org.uk/ for more about the ‘Victorian Internet’ as it was called).

Teachers might also consider how post is delivered today instead of by horse and coach, an example of evolving technology. The old out of print Ladybird book of  The Postman is a good source of colourful illustrations of postmen for use in class – easily available on E-Bay!

A postal timeline is a useful way to show this as a display, alongside Darwin’s life time line. It makes a pleasant change from studying Florence Nightingale!

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Seasick for five years … which Darwin stamp shows best his Voyage of the Beagle?

October 5, 2009
HMS Beagle's world changing voyage shown on a Mongolian stamp

HMS Beagle's world changing voyage shown on a Mongolian stamp

Which of the beautiful postage stamp scans in our Darwin stamp book best shows his voyage? For me, amongst the many beautiful pictures of the HMS Beagle, this dramatic and storm tossed tiny boat (known as a coffin brig to its sailors for its sinking ability in high seas) conveys what life on board must have been like, rounding Cape Horn. Darwin was not a great sailor despite the many clever devices he created for catching and surveying marine life. His Beagle diaries document many days of seasickness in his tiny cabin. Hopefully Sandie Robb, co-author of this stamp book and her RZSS team didn’t expereince such rough seas working on linking the Falkland schools with ones in Scotland (see blogroll weblinks).

 What teaching tips could you take from a dramatic black and white illustration like this?
Looking at the other Beagle stamps scanned and published in our stamp book, which would you choose to use on a front cover of Darwin’s amazing book Voyage of the Beagle? Many stamps are based on illustrations by the expedition’s wildlife and ship artists at the time, so could be used to make  a timeline, illustrated map  or narrative (story book) of the journey.
You could find out more about the HMS Beagle (see the Darwin 200 website) and other ships of the time of sail, many of whose crew and ships served through the age of Trafalgar and wars with Napoleon. How are they different from ships of today? What was life like onboard a sailing or navy ship then compared to the navy ships or wildlife cruise liners of today?
What happened to the HMS Beagle? Some people believe her remains are buried in mud on the Essex Marshes and want to excavate her, introducing the exciting topic of archaeology. There are plans to rebuild the HMS Beagle as a replica and Sarah Darwin, his descendant is retracing his journey on a sailing ship at the moment with an atmospheric tour of her  ship on http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8232395.stm .  We’ll include more on the weblinks with these in future blogs.

 
Teaching tips – the ‘evolution of everyday things’ – CDT, Design, Science and History illustrated through stamps
 
Using postage stamps you can show the ‘evolution of everyday things’  for example from mail coaches and horses to steam trains and cars and lorries for carrying post and passengers or from sail to steam power. A smallsection of our stamp book covers postal history, itself a form of the ‘evolution of everyday things’. Darwin’s life and what is shown of this in postage stamps covers a period of great change, invention and evolution (through competition or improved design). This fits again into a display or timeline as part of doing the Victorians and Science and technology in the various National Curriculums. 
Would Charles Darwin have used a blog in his day? Maybe his letters home would have been replaced by blogs, websites and Twitter tweets, like his http://twitter.com/Beagle_Sarah 

 

Designing stamps as a class activity is another topic we will look at in this blog and also the modern painters and artists that we have worked with during Darwin 200 at Newquay Zoo.