2022 BOC Meetings

Monday 21 March 2022

Kathryn Rooke – The Importation of the Plumage (Prohibition) Act of 1921, as told through the Natural History Museum’s Archive collections

Abstract: In the Victorian and Edwardian period, a demand for bird feathers in fashionable millinery led to the most luxurious of plumes being worth, quite literally, their weight in diamonds. Demand for feathers of egrets, birds of paradise, hummingbirds, grebes and more, were pushing bird populations across the world to the brink of extinction. In this talk, I share records from the Natural History Museum’s Archives that document the Museum’s contribution to a lengthy campaign, led by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), to end the importation of bird feathers from across the then British Empire; eventually resulting in the passing of the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act in 1921.

 Biography: Kathryn Rooke is the Assistant Archivist at the Natural History Museum and Archivist at the former Rothschild property, now local history museum, Gunnersbury Park. She is a history graduate and Archives and Records Management post-graduate who has previously worked for Lancashire Archives, The Clothworkers’ Company, The Barber-Surgeons’ Company and The School for Oriental and African Studies. After a brief three-year stint in Taiwan, she is now London-based with her family and enjoying the opportunities NHM has brought to revisit a childhood of bird-watching and bug-collecting.

Part of a collection of hummingbirds in original newspaper wrappings, originally assembled for millinery purposes (Jonathan Jackson © Natural History Museum)