Oh! Mister Porter

Two nineteenth-century gentlemen, best friends at Oxford and encouraged by Louis Agassiz, amassed a fine collection of fossil fish, which are now in London’s Natural History Museum (NHM). But 9,658 of them, sent by train to the British Museum (BM), nearly didn’t make it . . . (This should be read, or sung if you must, with the rhythm and unusual rhyming scheme of George Le Brun’s 1893 Music Hall song of the same name.)

Landed gentry, through and through, were William Willoughby Cole1
And Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton2 with his Parliamentary rôle.
They loved to fill their cabinets with curious collections,
And fishes of the fossil sort were their main predilections,
So off they went Grand Touring to see what they could buy.
But William’s later blindness meant that he would then decide
To send the BM all he had. But things turned quickly bad,
For they were stolen from the train, and so aloud he cried:

“Oh! Mister Porter, what shall I do?
I sent my rocks to Euston, but
They all got nicked at Crewe.
Ten thousand fossil fishes all dumped into the Dee,
Oh! Mister Porter, how could you let it be!”

“It’s not my fault, Sir. I did not commit this heinous crime.
But, as you say, your fish are dead, and have been for some time –
They won’t be swimming anywhere! Have patience, and you’ll see
Your goods will be located soon and rescued from the Dee.”
And so they were3, and forwarded to Dear Old London Town.
Egerton’s collection4 too, un-looted, made its way
To Bloomsbury’s Great Russell Street, entire, intact, complete.
They’re now in the NHM, of course, where you’ll see them on display.

“Well, Mister Porter, I s’pose that thanks are due:
I sent my rocks to Euston, but
They all got nicked at Crewe.
Ten thousand fossil fishes all dumped into the Dee,
But you, Mister Porter, have rescued them for me!”

1. William Willoughby Cole, later 3rd Earl of Enniskillen (1807-1886) [left-hand photo]
2. Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton , of Oulton Park, Cheshire (1806-1881) [right-hand photo]
3. Well, most of them, anyway . . .
4. Some 7000 specimens, mostly fossil fish
[Images: Geological Society]
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