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Horsham Museum & Art Gallery launches Frederick Godman exhibition

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From Saturday 27 May, Horsham Museum & Art Gallery will launch an exhibition exploring the life of Frederick DuCane Godman (1834-1919).  Godman was a natural scientist and collector who built his home at South Lodge near Horsham, and visitors will be able to discover details of his family life, scientific work and legacy.

His story will be brought to life through artefacts from Horsham Museum’s collection and loans from private lenders and institutions.  Relatives of Godman have shared the family archives and collections which offers a fascinating glimpse into Godman’s homelife and contribution to the scientific community.

Perhaps the pinnacle of Godman’s work was the Biologia Centrali-Americana, a 63-volume encyclopaedia which documented the biodiversity of Central America.  Working collaboratively with other natural scientists and archaeologists the book was edited by Godman and his close friend Osbert Salvin.  The first part was released in 1879, but it would not be completed until 1915 with Godman finishing the work without his life-long collaborator Salvin, who had died in 1898.  The scale of the research undertaken for the Biologia means that despite more than 100 years passing since its publication, it remains relevant for studies of Central America today.

Godman and Salvin travelled to Central America to gather specimens, but due to the scope of the project, they employed trusted collectors to assist them with their work.  George Champion, who specialised in insects, was part of this team and caught an example of Morpho peleides, a butterfly which Godman described as ‘the most striking and gorgeous of all butterflies’.  This butterfly, and others caught by Champion are on display, generously loaned by his great grandson, James Champion.

Other artefacts include a loan from The Royal Society, London of Godman’s election certificate to the scientific academy.  His election was endorsed by Charles Darwin, whose signature appears on the document.  Those who visited the Godmans at South Lodge were captivated by his collection of Islamic ceramics which were displayed there.  Godman was passionate about public access to the collections which he acquired, and these ceramics were donated to the British Museum in 1983 through his daughter Edith’s bequest.  A selection of these, on loan from the British Museum, will return to the District as part of the exhibition and their homecoming has been supported by the Friends of Horsham Museum.

Horsham Museum and Art Gallery Exhibition Curator, George Graham comments:

Frederick DuCane Godman made a substantial contribution to the natural sciences in the late 19th and early 20th century, and we are thrilled to be able to share his story with the museum’s visitors.  We are grateful to the support and generosity of the lenders, who have provided us with the artefacts and ephemera which have brought this exhibition to life.

Frederick DuCane Godman: The Legacy of a Collector opens at Horsham Museum on Saturday 27 May until Saturday 23 September 2023.  Entry to the museum and exhibition are free.

By Gavin Hewins

Published May 24, 2023, 6:42 p.m.