How the amateur Attenboroughs' hobby became a national treasure

Museum to preserve collection of a couple obsessed with world wildlife

A A A

From the rattlesnakes of North America's Mojave Desert to the spiny-tailed lizards that live in Bahrain, husband- and-wife wildlife enthusiasts Christopher and Marion Cornes spent nearly six decades documenting exotic species around the world. Now Mrs Cornes's dying wish to donate the couple's work to the nation has come true.

Click HERE to view graphic (184k jpg)

London's Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh have formally accepted into their archives nearly 12,000 slides of flora and fauna collected by the couple during their 53-year marriage. Mrs Cornes requested that their work be donated while she was dying of cancer last year. After confirming their value, the institutions have undertaken to safeguard them in perpetuity.

"With just a few weeks to live, she made it clear this is what she wanted to do, so I focused on trying to make it happen," said Mr Cornes, 76, a retired construction project manager from Colchester, Essex.

Mr Cornes said he met his wife at a dance in 1956. They bonded "over a shared desire to travel the world and enjoy the great outdoors" and were married the following year.

He soon rose up the ranks, professionally, and the couple were able to travel to places such as Kenya, Indonesia, Istanbul, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and California, where they settled down for periods ranging from several months to a few years. He focused on studying animals, while his wife's speciality was plants.

During his varied career, Mr Cornes worked as a volunteer police constable in Jamaica in 1973 and helped build a palace for Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed in 1970. While in a posting in Bahrain in the early 1980s, the couple won a publishing deal to document the entirety of the nation's flora in the 1989 book Wild Flowering Plants of Bahrain.

"It was something of a clash with my profession, on the one hand covering the ground with concrete, on the other hand trying to protect the environment," said Mr Cornes. "But wherever we were, we tried to promote awareness. We taught children, and made sure we took them to see what we were looking at."

He said it was hard to pick a favourite plant or animal. "But if you had asked my wife and I whether there was something we really liked then I'd have to say the spotted hyena," he said. "We spent a lot of time watching them in Africa. There was something about their demeanour. A lot of people derided them because they thought they were scavengers. But they were so much more than than. They had a great social structure."

Judith Magee, the Natural History Museum's curator of library special collections, and Graham Hardy, serials librarian at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh confirmed the couple's collection – taken in Bahrain and North America – is of significant scientific value. "Some photographs have not been seen before as people haven't had enough access," said Ms Magee. "They are valuable to science".

Other donations to the Natural History Museum over the past six months include moss from Equatorial Guinea, African grey parrot specimens, and woodlice from Mozambique.

Mr Cornes said at his wife's funeral last July: "Marion was talking about going back to the deserts again just before she fell ill with cancer. She said 'I have had a fantastic life and I am ready.' When Marion knew the end was near, she said to me: 'Wouldn't it be nice to do just one more truck trip.'"

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms