This case of three adult and one juvenile Black Guillemots is one of 14 taxidermy cases that came into the Hampshire County Council Arts and Museums Service during 2012. The cases belonged to Thomas Atkinson Cotton, who lived at The Mount, Bishopstoke, Eastleigh.
Thomas Atkinson Cotton and his wife, Charlotte, were interested in many aspects of natural history, especially British birds. In common with other biologists of the time, they travelled to the Hebrides, Orkneys, the Shetlands and other areas of Scotland to collect birds, eggs and nests. Before taking specimens, the birds were photographed, where possible, in their natural surroundings. Thomas made notes on who collected the birds, where and when they were collected from and notes on their preparation. The birds were mounted in cases, often with nests and eggs or young by his brother Charles Cotton and the backgrounds to the cases were painted by Charlotte.
When Thomas and Charlotte moved to The Mount, Bishopstoke in 1893, a museum was built to house their collections of over 1000 specimens which was described as ‘one of the finest natural history museums and aviaries in the county’.
In 1921, Thomas Atkinson Cotton moved to Highcliffe and presented his collections to the Hampshire County Council, these were later passed on to The Natural History Museum, London. Cotton's collection of 2,000 eggs was catalogued but many of the taxidermy specimens were later destroyed as they were in poor condition.
It is thought that the Cotton Collection of stuffed birds was transferred to Norwich Castle Museum because they were thought to be the work of T E Gunn, a Norfolk taxidermist. The confusion possibly arose because the ‘Birds Beasts and Fishes of the Norfolk Broadland’, published in 1895 features the taxidermy cases of TA Cotton.
The 14 remaining cases of TA Cotton were transferred from Norfolk Museums Service to the Hampshire County Council Arts and Museums Service in 2012.
This case, along with the others is on display at Eastleigh Museum until the end of January 2014 and at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham until the end of March 2014. It is the first time in over 70 years that they have been seen in Hampshire.
Extract about this case from Thomas Atkinson Cotton’s notes:
“Two mature birds, one male and two females, Jan 25 1891. Two young 1887 and 1893. The male bird is on the top on the right hand. it weighed 1lb 1oz. Length 13 ½ in. Tarsus 1in, span of wings 31½ in. Weight of females 1lb each. The young in first year plumage is from Harris in on the left hand; and the young one showing black back is from G St Claire Wallace, Belmullet, Ireland  1873. It was a deformed bird having lost a foot and was injured internally; it just showed to be female. The scene represents a sea-washed rock and was arranged and the birds stuffed by C H Cotton. The white zoophites hanging from the rock are known as "Dead Men's Fingers" and are found along the coast of Devon, in similar positions to those shown. The case was finished Dec. 1892.”