Discover Gilbert White’s House & Garden and Beyond!

21st July 2013


Experience History reveals an insight to Gilbert White's House & Garden and The Oates Collection

Original NHS Manuscript

Discover the stories of three great explorers of the natural world under one roof at Gilbert White’s House & Garden and The Oates Collection, a fascinating museum set in the pretty village of Selborne, North East Hampshire. These include the pioneering 18th century naturalist, Gilbert White; Captain Lawrence Oates of the final Scott Antarctic expedition of 1911-1912 and Victorian explorer of North and Central America and Africa, Frank Oates.

The Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793), author of the world famous Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, was known as ‘The man who started us all birdwatching’. A keen observer and recorder of the flora and fauna he saw around him, Gilbert believed in studying living birds and other creatures in their natural habitats. This was an unusual approach at a time when most naturalists preferred to carry out detailed examinations of dead specimens in their study.

He spent much time watching small creatures and the inter-relationship of animals, plants and the environment, which he meticulously and systematically recorded; this was to become the foundation of what we know as ecology. His journals formed the basis of the book, which was first published in 1789 and has never been out of print.

Swallows were Gilbert White’s favourite birds and he recorded the dates of their first arrival and departure every year to which we can now make direct comparisons. Sometimes he would be confused because one or two would be left behind in the autumn, which made him uncertain as to whether they migrated, but his brother, John, who was chaplain to the garrison in Gibraltar, assured him that they were flying overhead on their way to Africa so he was certain that they did indeed migrate. The swallows that return every year to The Wakes at Selborne, Gilbert’s home, are surely the descendants of those that he recorded.

Gilbert was also the first to distinguish the chiffchaff, willow warbler and wood warbler as three separate species largely on the basis of their different songs and also to accurately describe the harvest mouse and noctule bat.

The Wakes is now a museum where you can find out about his life; see where he slept with the beautiful bed hangings painstakingly embroidered by his aunts and explore his 30 acres of gardens and parkland. Great care has been taken to reintroduce both plants and features described by Gilbert White including the luxuriant borders of the ‘Six Quarters’, the kitchen garden and ha-ha.

Captain Lawrence Oates

Interactive galleries also tell the moving story of Captain Lawrence Oates (1880 – 1912) who undertook the epic journey of discovery to the South Pole in 1911-12 with Captain Scott. The galleries were redesigned in 2012 to mark the centenary of both the tragic expedition and death of Captain Oates.

Scott selected Oates as one of the five-man party who would make the final dash to the Pole. On the return journey in January 1912 the party faced impossible conditions; Oates became a physical burden on the others and, recognising the need to sacrifice himself in order to give the others a chance of survival, he left the tent to die in the snow on his 32nd birthday. Scott recorded Oates famous last words in his diary, ‘I’m just going outside and may be some time’

The Antarctic galleries are also home to a collection of penguins, which should soon be completed with the arrival of an Emperor. The magnificent penguin died of natural causes and was found by scientists of the British Antarctic Survey who arranged preservation and transportation to Selborne.

Frank Oates

The museum also celebrates Frank Oates (1840 – 1875), 19th century explorer of Africa and the Americas. In 1873 he commenced an extended journey to Africa and was one of the first Europeans to see the Victoria Falls. During this expedition he saw and amassed a large collection of bird and animal specimens, many of which were saved after his death. Some are now incorporated in the collections at the museum.

Frank Oates’ brother William was Lawrence Oates father.

Gilbert White’s House is open throughout the year but days and times vary; please call or check the website for opening hours. Admission is £8.50 adults; £7.50 concessions, £3 under 16s and free for under 5s. Family tickets (two adults and three children) are £20. The museum is also home to a gift shop and award winning Tea Parlour (free entry); there is free parking a short distance away and the museum runs a regular series of special events.

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For more information call 01420 511517 or visit www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk.