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Cabinet of Curiosities at the Manx Museum

Posted on 30.06.2016

From the miniscule to the massive, we’ve got it all in our new Cabinet of Curiosities at the Manx Museum.

Have a peek at a puffer fish, or measure your hand against that of a Manx giant. See an electric shock machine or compare a tiny sugar sculpture to an oversized humbug. Chosen by our curators, these objects have been brought out of the museum stores and into the spotlight. To keep it fresh, we’ll be changing the contents of our cabinet regularly, uncovering more gems from the stores soon.

Here are just some of the collections which have made the cut. To explore the full array of objects, come and see our Cabinet of Curiosities at the Manx Museum:

 

Electric Shock Machine

Electric Shock Machine

In the Nineteenth Century electricity was not fully understood, though as Mary Shelley showed with her novel Frankenstein, it was thought to be powerful enough to induce life. Electricity was also widely believed to have medicinal properties, and electric shock machines such as this were commonly used in quack medicine, for a variety of ailments. As late as the First World War, electricity was being used to try to treat victims of Shell Shock, and even further into the Twentieth Century electric shocks were still used to combat depression and nervous disorders.

By turning the handle, the machine generates a current, which was experienced as an electric shock by anyone touching the electrodes. This example came from Brearey’s Chemists in Douglas. W.A.Brearey established his business on the North Quay around 1850, taking over the premises and stock of W.Gell. It survived until the 1960s, when small independent chemists began to come under pressure from the growth of large chemist chains on the high street.

Today machines such as this are most likely to be encountered as film or theatre props, in the laboratory of a mad scientist.

Accession number: 1959-0261

 

Blue Glass Bead

Blue Glass Bead

A number of these tiny beads were found in graves on St Patrick’s Isle during archaeological excavations in the 1980s.  Some were found in graves of women and at least one man was buried with beads.  But this type of bead seems to have been mostly associated with children and young people.  One child had been buried with a necklace of six glass beads and two amber beads, another with around 22 of these blue beads.

We don’t know what, or if, they symbolised anything in particular, but they are a relatively rare flash of colour from the past and are as bright and colourful as the day they were buried with their owners.  The past wasn’t all about hand-to-mouth struggles, there were craftspeople around to make attractive accessories.

The beads also highlight the attention to detail needed from archaeologists who excavate sites like this.  At St Patrick’s Isle, soil from graves was routinely sieved to recover the smallest pieces of evidence.  Otherwise, how easy it would have been to miss this tiny object.

Accession number: 1984-0016/122

 

Lobster Claw

Lobster Claw

Beachcombing can reveal many natural treasures, from colourful pebbles and fossils to shark egg cases and sea shells. Once in a while, something unusual turns up, like this very large claw, found by a young boy walking along the beach with his mum. The claw was brought to the Manx Museum and identified as that of a common lobster.

Most people are familiar with lobsters as expensive seafood and just the right size for a dinner plate. However, left undisturbed lobsters can live for 15 to 20 years and reach lengths of more than a metre. This 26 cm long claw must have come from a huge lobster which obviously evaded capture for a long time.

In life, lobsters are dark blue to black and live fairly close to shore at depths of up to 60 metres. They hide in crevices or tunnels under rocks and are scavengers, feeding on almost any dead animals or plants they can find.

There is a long tradition of lobster fishing with pots or creels around the Isle of Man, but fears are growing here as elsewhere that overfishing is damaging the marine environment. To prevent this, pot fishermen have agreed with the Isle of Man Government on measures to protect and manage sustainably the stock of lobsters and crabs off the Island’s south coast.

In Manx, a lobster is called ‘gimmagh’.

Accession number: 2016-0001

 

Hannah Murphy (Manx National Heritage Assistant Curator)

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