The stonework of the Museum
The court is surrounded by thirty columns, each made of a different British decorative rock. The columns are capped by intricately carved capitals and flanked on each side by decorative corbels depicting different botanical orders. Here we give further detail of the carvings and columns.
The columns surrounding the court were planned by John Phillips, first Keeper of the Museum. Each column is made of a different British decorative rock, whilst the capitals and corbels are carved into plants representing all the botanical orders. Each column was to be labelled with the name of the stone and its source, and also with the botanical name of the plant. However only the geological inscriptions were executed.
The carvings were to be paid for by public subscription and forty six were completed between 1858 and 1860. These were done by the Irish brothers, James and John O'Shea, and their nephew Edward Whelan. They were exceptionally talented stonemasons and produced work of the highest quality and originality; the carvings were made from life with plants being brought up from the Botanic Garden. The other capitals were completed by 1910, although none to the standard of workmanship of the O'Sheas.
A key to the stonework in the court
Each column is topped with an intricately carved capital and is flanked by a pair of equally elaborate corbels (marked on the plan as 'a' and 'b').
Column 1: Grey granite (Aberdeen); Capital: water plantain (Alisma plantago) with woodcock, crayfish and frogs; a. common arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittifolia); b. water plantain (Alisma rammculoides).
Column 2: Red granite (Peterhead); Capital: flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus) with birds and dragonflies; a. velvet leaf (Limnocharis sp.); b. velvet leaf (Limnocharis sp.).
Column 3: porphyritic grey granite (Lamorna, Cornwall); Capital: date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) with animals; a. fan palm; b. fan palm.
Column 4: pink and green syenite (Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire); Capital: coconut palm (Cocos nucifera); a. date palm (Phoenix dactylifera); b. palm (Caryota sp.).
Column 5: mottled granite (Ben Cruachan, Argyllshire); Capital: pickerel weed and a variety of lily (Pontederia cordata and Colchicum) with a bird; a. spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.); b. Dracaena sp.
Column 6: red granite (Ross of Mull); Capital: madonna lily, tulip and a variety of lily (Lilium candidum, Tulipa and Fritillaria) with a bird; a. Yucca sp.; b. Aloe sp.
Column 7: Devonian limestone (Torquay, Devon); Capital: screw-pine (Pandanus sp.); a. arrowhead (Sagittaria sp.); b. Cyclamen sp.
Column 8: Carboniferous limestone (Cork); Capital: branched bur-reed (Sparganium ramosum); a. bulrush (Typha sp.) with two woodcock; b. bulrush (Typha sp.).
Column 9: Carboniferous limestone (King's County); Capital: dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris); a. Pothos sp. and Arum sp.; b. Caladium sp.
Column 10: green serpentine or 'ophicalcite' (Galway); Capital:: arum lily (Calla aethiopica); a. Pothos sp.; b. golden club (Orontium aquaticum).
Column 11: green serpentine or 'ophicalcite' (Galway); Capital: a variety of sedge (Cyperus rigidus); a. Papyrus sp.; b. sawgrass (Cladium sp.).
Column 12: Carboniferous limestone (County Limerick); Capital: wheat, barley, oats, maize and sugar cane with sparrows; a. brome (Bromus sp.) with birds eating seeds; b. rice and canary grass with buntings, canaries, quail and a snake.
Column 13: Carboniferous limestone (Cork); Capital: golden leatherfern (Acrostichum aureum); a. Fern (Platycerium sp.); b. maidenhair fern (Adiantum sp.).
Column 14: Devonian limestone (St Marychurch, Devon); Capital: varieties of fern (Scolopendrium vulgare, Blechnum boreale, Lastraea felix-mas) with a moth, frogs, a snake and a bat; a. Hart's Tongue and another fern (Asplenium scolopendrium and Lastraea cristata); b. mallow (Malva sp.).
Column 15: trap rock (Killerton, Devon); Capital: Dion edule and a variety of animals; a. Japanese sago palm (Cycas revoluta); b. as in a.
Column 16: quartz porphyry or 'Elvan rock' (Trerice, Cornwall); Capital: Zamia horrida or Encephalartos horridus; a.Encephalartos sp. b. Encephalartos sp.
Column 17: schorlaceous rock (Roche, Cornwall); Capital: a red cedar (Thuja siberica); a. giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum); b. coastal sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens).
Column 18: green and red serpentine (Lizard, Cornwall); Capital: Norway spruce (Abies excelsa); a. stone pine; b. cluster pine.
Column 19: red serpentine (Lizard, Cornwall); Capital: monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria imbricata); a. Moreton Bay pine (Araucaria cunninghamii); b. Araucaria braziliensus.
Column 20: red, feldspathic porphyry with hornblende (Inverary); Capital: English yew (Taxus baccata); a. a variety of pine (Dacrydium sp.); b. Salisburia sp.
Column 21: Schorlaceous porphyritic rock (St Levan, Cornwall); Capital: Smilax sarsaparilla with two birds; a. prickly ivy (Smilax aspera); b. bamboo vine (Smilax pseudochina).
Column 22: black serpentine (Lizard, Cornwall); Capital: black bryony (Tamus communis); a. small-leaved bryony; b. elephant's foot (Dioscorea elephantipes).
Column 23: gypsum (Chellaston, Derbyshire); Capital: a variety of orchid (Dendrobium calceolaria); a. a variety of orchid (Epidendron cochleatum); b. lady's slipper (Cypripedium sp.).
Column 24: Carboniferous limestone (Menai Straits); Capital: banana (Musa sp.); a. banana (Musa sp.); b. bird of paradise (Strelitzia sp.).
Column 25: Carboniferous limestone (Frosterley, Durham); Capital: Maranta sp.; a. Maranta bicolor b. Heliconia sp.).
Column 26: Triassic calcareous breccia (Mendips, Somerset); Capital: a variety of ginger (Alpinia nutans); a. a variety of ginger; b. broad leaved ginger (Zingiber zerumbet).
Column 27: green serpentine 'ophicalcite' (Anglesey); Capital: bearded or German iris (Iris germanica) (Araucaria imbricata); a. a variety of lily (Schizostylis sp.); b. Gladiolus sp.
Column 28: Carboniferous limestone (Hotwells, Bristol); Capital: wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus); a. Narcissus macleayi; b. Narcissus aurantiaca
Column 29: Carboniferous limestone (Garsdale, Yorkshire); Capital: Amaryllis johnsoni; a. Scarborough lily (Vallota purpurea); b. a variety of snowflake (Leucojum sp.).
Column 30: Carboniferous limestone (Dent, Yorkshire); Capital: pineapple (Ananassa sativa); a. pineapple (Ananas comosus); b. tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium).
The piers at the entrance to the Museum
Pier A (north): sweet chestnut leaves and fruit (Castanea sativa);
Pier B (south): sweet chestnut with catkins (Castanea sativa);
Pier B (north): oak leaves and acorns;
Pier C (south): oak leaves, acorns and two squirrels;
Pier C (north): possibly aspen;
Pier D (south): possibly aspen.
Further information on the architecture of the Museum and the statues in the court can be found in the 'Learning more' articles listed below.
Learning more articles are free to all users for educational, non-profit purposes.