The Verrall Lecture | Curator of Coleoptera

The Verrall Association of entomologists has existed in one form or another since 1887, almost as long as the Museum itself, and was founded by the noted dipterist, Conservative MP and horse-racing official George Henry Verrall (1848-1911), as an informal annual gathering and supper for entomologists, professional and amateur. It has continued in much the same capacity for over a century, at some stage in that long history acquiring a lecture before the supper and you can enjoy the history of the Verrall Supper in your own time.

Digital version of a flier for the Verrall Lecture showing title, price, location, time and date

It is my privilege this year to be giving what has come to be called the Verrall Lecture, which will take place in the Ondaatje Theatre of the Royal Geographical Society, just up the road from the Museum on Wednesday 2 March. The topic is appropriate for a crossover between the Museum, the Royal Entomological Society and the Royal Geographical Society, as the title is ‘Collections: the last great frontiers of exploration’.

It is often incumbent on Museum curators to explain the nature of our work to different public audiences, and the question of why, for example, we maintain one of the largest collections in the world – approximately 30 million insects and some 80 million specimens across science- painstakingly organised both taxonomically and geographically.

Many of the contributors to the Royal Geographical Society are the same people who collected specimens in the Museum, and the great explorers, Henry Walter Bates, Alfred Russel Wallace, David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, Charles Darwin, Joseph Banks, Frederick Selous, have been discussed for their entomological contributions in the pages of the Beetle blog – but are also honoured in the hallowed halls of the Royal Geographical Society.

Livingstone’s statue surveys Exhibition Road, at the other end of which, African beetles that he collected with his own hands in the Zambezi in the 1860s when Verrall was still a teenager, are still preserved. There is a nice synchrony between the various societies and institutions that are contributing to this lecture.

The lecture is also to be presented by Professor Richard Fortey FRS, a distinguished palaeontologist and science writer, recently author of ‘Dry Store Room number 1’, an informal history of the Museum as well as numerous other popular scientific books. Richard will be signing his books after the talk.

The details of the talk are below and you can register to attend at the Royal Entomological Society website.

We hope very much  to see those of you interested in natural history there.

Max Barclay

About the lecture:

Verrall Lecture, 2 March 2016, Royal Geographical Society
“Collections- the Last Great Frontiers of Exploration”
Maxwell V. L. Barclay, Curator and Collections Manager of Coleoptera, Natural History Museum

Max’s talk will be introduced by well-known Science Writer and BBC Television presenter Professor Richard Fortey FRS

Refreshments and copies of Richard’s latest science books will be available at the Royal Geographical Society in the afternoon.


Millennia of human lifetimes have been spent building and maintaining the world’s great natural history collections. As stewards of this incredible resource of knowledge, curators have a responsibility to preserve, document, interpret and develop the collections in our care. Only by doing this can we provide the best possible support, inspiration and the widest access for the present day community of natural scientists, and hand down as complete and accessible an archive of biodiversity as possible to future generations. With the destruction of natural habitats, the urgency to collect and document biodiversity constantly grows, and the relevance of natural history collections will only increase.

Along with a dedicated team of curators, I manage one such collection, comprising more than quarter-of-a-million named beetles (no doubt thousands still unnamed), and some 10 milion specimens, each one of which tells a story. The collection includes the beetles that inspired the young Darwin on the Beagle, and Sir Joseph Banks on the voyages of Captain Cook, and is still growing by several thousand new species each year. I will show some highlights, and discuss not only the scientific importance of collections, but also their history, cultural and social relevance, and how they are being developed and prepared for the challenges of the future.


Ondaatje Theatre, Royal Geographical Society, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR


15:00 Delegates start to arrive
15:30 Tea, coffee and biscuits will be available in the map room, hall, education centre.
16:00 Ondaatje Theatre: Welcome by Dr Andrew Polaszek on behalf of the NHM.
16:05 Introduction by Prof. Richard Fortey
16:15 Lecture by Mr Max Barclay “Collections – the Last Great Frontiers of Exploration”
17:00 Questions and vote of thanks from Prof. John Pickett (RES President)
17:15 Depart Ondaatje Theatre