Natural History Museum Of Zimbabwe

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The Museums Renowned Past Curators

George Arnold (1881-1963)

George ArnoldGeorge Arnold at the age of 30, on 11 November 1911, took up the appointment as Curator of the newly built Rhodesia Museum in Eighth Avenue, Bulawayo. He continued to serve the museum as Curator, Director and in an honorary capacity until he died more than 50 years later. From 1915-1925 he was quite alone in the Museum and until 1947 he was the only zoologist, having to undertake curatorial work on vertebrates as well was his own specialist field. In 1917 he also took part in the excavation of Bambata Cave Matopos Hills, the first Stone Age “dig” ever to be undertaken in this country.

During his service he saw the museum grow from a single-gallery building with no storage or laboratory space to a large square building with seven public galleries, together with laboratories, offices, storerooms and workshops. At the end of this life the Museum had outgrown the buildings erected during his time and he died as his successors moved into the present building.

George Arnold was an entomologist specializing in the taxonomy of African Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps), in which he was recognized as a world authority on Ethiopian Shegidae and Pompilidae and the Formicidae of Southern and South-Central Africa. He also contributed to our knowledge of the Mutilidae of Zimbabwe.

In 1947 he was asked to retire but he did not cease working and was not only maintaining his section of the insect collection but was writing scientific papers when over eighty years of age. He was awarded Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Society of Entomology and the Fellowship of the Royal Society of South Africa. Sadly his Hymenoptera collection was sent to the Iziko Museum of Cape Town in exchange for the Zimbabwe Birds.

Cranmer Cooke (1906-1992)

Cranmer CookeBorn in the UK Cran Cooke moved to Rhodesia in 1927 to serve as a policeman, before becoming a water engineer for the Bulawayo City Council in 1940.

His interest in archaeology was sparked on finding a Stone Age site in a borrow pit near the Khami Waterworks. This led to several excavations and publications concerning the Middle Stone Age. His later work consolidated our understanding of the Stone Age in Zimbabwe.

Cooke was a talented watercolour artist and he produced many fine copies of the rock art around Zimbabwe, especially those in the Matobo Hills. Many of these a featured in the public galleries of the various museums around Zimbabwe.

Cooke served the Commission for the Preservation of Natural and Historical Monuments & Relics and successor bodies in various capacities from 1951 through to his retiring to South Africa in 1987.

National Museums & Monuments of Zimbabwe named its series of occasional publications on the humanities Cookeia, in his honour.

Roger Summers (1907-2003)

Roger SummersBorn in the UK in 1907, after World War 2 where he rose to the rank of Major in the 8th Army, Summers studied archaeology at the University of London. In 1947 he joined the National Museum, Bulawayo as Keeper of Antiquities.

During his career in Rhodesia he made a lasting contribution to Iron Age Studies; advancing the academic debate and Africanist interpretations well before this was acceptable in Apartheid South Africa. This would bring him into conflict with some of those in power who clung to outdated, racially-motivated versions of the region’s heritage.

Summers is best remembered for three principle investigations: the Inyanga Culture of Eastern Zimbabwe; the site of Great Zimbabwe; and techniques of prehistoric mining within the region.

He was a great communicator and published many papers in both academic and popular fora. Many of these remain the standard reference works on the subject.

Summers held various administrative posts in the museums service and was Chairman of the Commission for the Preservation of Natural and Historical Monuments & Relics. In 1969 he moved to South Africa to help establish the Archaeological Data Recording Centre at the South African Museum, retiring again five years later.

Neville Jones (1880-1954)

Neville JonesThe name of Neville Jones is inextricably associated with the development of archaeology in Zimbabwe. Arriving in the country as a missionary at Hope Fountain near Bulawayo, Jones already had a track record as a researcher in the UK.

On realising the richness of stone age material near his home, Jones began a series of investigations that established the basis of the Zimbabwe Stone Age sequence. He would also work at Mapungubwe in South Africa.

Jones retired from mission life in 1936 to take the post of Keeper of the Department of Prehistory, Ethnography and National History at the National Museum of Southern Rhodesia.

Jones was a self-made archaeologist and historian. He was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by the University of Witwatersrand in 1953 as well as the O.B.E.

Near the end of his life he wrote, “Life has given me all and more than I have ever asked for or sought and I am grateful”; a humble and dedicated researcher and teacher.

Elliot Charles Gordon Pinhey (1910-2000)

Elliot Charles Gordon PinheyDr. Pinhey is known for his contributions in entomology to the knowledge of African Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Odonata (dragonflies). He started his career as a Science Master in England but his chronically poor health led to his doctor’s suggesting he emigrate to a more congenial climate.

He arrived in Southern Rhodesia in 1939 and took up a teaching post as Science Master. A stint with the Royal Air Force Meteorology department followed, and on his release he joined the Agriculture Department as an economic entomologist.

He joined the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria as assistant professional officer in entomology and later became the Museum’s Odonata specialist. He was with the Coryndon Museum in Nairobi from 1949 to 1955 under Dr. LSB Leakey, during which period he was able to collect extensively in East and Central Africa.

Pinhey was invited in 1955 to take up the position of Keeper of Invertebrate Zoology at the National Museum in Bulawayo. Pinhey obtained material from species-rich, poorly accessible areas, such as NW Republic of Congo and near the confluence of the Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia borders.

Therefore the museum collection includes a large proportion of ‘rare’ species. He was awarded a D.Sc. by the University of London in 1962 for his publications in entomology, totally over 60 which include many books.

He worked at the museum until his retirement in 1980. He named over 400 species and about a tenth of the known Afrotropical Odonata species and his type specimens are all housed in the museum collection.

Donald G. Broadley (1932-2016)

Dr Donald Broadley

Don Broadley was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and he developed an interest in natural history from the age of six with a collection of butterflies and moths. On leaving school Don did two years National Service in the RAF, then joined the Ordnance Survey as a cartographical draughtsman but spent every weekend hunting reptiles in the New Forest and Dorset.

After keeping all six British reptiles in captivity he craved more variety so came to Africa in 1954 joining the Town Planning Department in Salisbury (now Harare) as a draughtsman then later the Roads Department as a Materials Officer (‘mud doctor’).

Early in 1956 while working at Esigodini, Reay Smithers, the Director of Museums, appointed Don as Honorary Keeper of Herpetology to take over the collection totalling less than 1000 specimens. In 1959 he was appointment Director of the Salisbury Snake Park where he experienced two serious snake bites from a puffadder (which cost him a finger) and a boomslang. Running the snake park left no time for field work or research and he finally joined the museum service as Assistant Keeper of Zoology in 1961, and moved the herpetological collections of 6000 specimens to Mutare. He was awarded his Ph.D. degree in 1967.

In 1981 Dr. Broadley transferred to the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo together with the herpetological collections (now 40 000 specimens). Due to his outstanding contribution to science, publishing over 280 papers, he had achieved many awards and fellowships to various societies.

He officially retired from the museum service in 1995 but continues to work and publish on the collections as a Research Associate from 1997 until June 2010, when he was appointed Curator Emeritus.

Michael Patrick Stuart Irwin (? – 2017)

Michael IrwinMichael Irwin is a leading authority on African birds and for 63 years he was at the centre of ornithology in Zimbabwe. His contribution to the knowledge of bird systematics, zoogeography and speciation has been of major importance.

He was born in Northern Ireland and arrived in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1949. He was introduced to Reay Smithers, then Director of the National Museum in Bulawayo, and soon became closely associated with the Museum as a collector. In 1959 he joined the institution initially as Assistant Keeper of Vertebrates, then Keeper of Ornithology before becoming Regional Director and finally Associate Ornithologist – and, when the need arose, Librarian.

He formed a close collaboration with the well-known C.W. (Con) Benson, a dedicated collector and leading authority on central African birds. Together, they developed the bird collection in the Museum until it became the largest both in Africa and in the southern hemisphere. It currently stands at over 90,000 specimens from Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries and is one of the museum’s greatest resources – an indispensable tool for anyone working on the distribution, systematics, ecology or conservation of birds in the region.

Michael’s magnum opus is The Birds of Zimbabwe, published in 1981, but he had earlier published the Bibliography of the Birds of Rhodesia, and co-authored A Checklist of Birds of Southern Rhodesia and The Birds of Zambia. He contributed to The Birds of Africa series and has published more than 300 scientific papers, many of them in the Museum’s journal Arnoldia.

For 24 years Michael was the editor of Honeyguide, the Journal of Zimbabwean and Regional Ornithology, which has become established as a journal of international repute, and he is now the Editor Emeritus. He was awarded the prestigious Gill memorial Medal in 1984 and BirdLife Zimbabwe bestowed Honorary Life Membership upon him in 2007.

In 2011, force of circumstances forced him to return to England, a severe loss to the southern African birding community.

Reay Henry Noble Smithers (1907-1987)

Reay was born in Cape Town, but educated in Scotland and England. After returning to Cape Town he went on an expedition to Angola in 1930 having arranged employment with New York Botanical Gardens as a field assistant and collected botanical specimens for Kirstenbosch and New York Botanical Gardens. In 1934 he joined the staff of the South Africa Museum in Cape Town as technical assistant to the Arachnid and Reptile department.

With the Second World War in 1939 he joined the South African forces and in 1947 after meeting George Arnold in London he was offered an appointment of Assistant Director of the Rhodesia Museum and later the Director of Museums upon Arnold’s retirement.

This started Smithers contribution to our knowledge of southern Africa birds and mammals. During the 1950’s much of his effort was on the avifauna of the region resulting in many publications.

As awareness in the conservation threats to the African wildlife was growing, Reay played an active role in the sustainable use of wildlife which lead to the move towards wildlife production on privately owned land and the success of game ranching in Southern Africa today.

Reay was also behind the move for funding for the new museum building in the 1950’s. In 1964-1969 Smithers was involved in a very ambitious project on the mammals of Botswana. Reay retired as Director of Museums in 1976, although he continued as Curator of Vertebrates for a further two years.

After his retirement he joined the staff at the University of Pretoria to produce the definitive mammals work “the Mammals of the Southern Africa Sub region” which was completed in 1984.

He had many scientific awards bestowed upon him for his outstanding contribution to science and the size and importance of this museum’s mammal collection is a testimony to his work.

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258 reviews on
David Reason
David Reason
This is a fabulous treasure for Zimbabwe with around 7 separate galleries of very well presented exhibits such as geology, entomology, herpetology, African mammals, colonial history, local African tribes, astronomy, humankind and mycology (fungi). It also houses hundreds of thousands of specimens in around 10 Collections, including arachnids, Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), birds, snakes, plants and fungi - these Collections can be seen but by appointment only. The museum staff are pleasant and knowledgeable. There is an onsite café to pick up a snack or two and a public library of really interesting natural history books. There is also good info on the two World Heritage sites managed by the museum, these being the Matobo World View site and the Khami Ruins which are also magical places to go and visit!
Angel Bert
Angel Bert
It was lovely experience
Fritz Madida
Fritz Madida
Most fascinating collection of historical artefacrs
Thank you for the important information
Thabo Pricel
Thabo Pricel
Amaze balls
Nkosinathi Mdudo
Nkosinathi Mdudo
Such an amazing experience