The Lost City of Z exhibition runs at Torquay Museum until the 17th of February 2018 with a number of supporting talks as part of the Explorers' Season.
For more information, visit their website: www.torquaymuseum.org
“I really don’t come here often enough!” I heard this phrase, or words to this effect, uttered by so many people at last night’s exhibition launch at Torquay Museum, and I confess that I am one such individual who is guilty of not spending enough time in this incredible space. The event I was there to attend marked the official opening of The Lost City of Z Exhibition, a new curation of fascinating objects and documents from Torquay Museum’s own archive that capture the life and expeditions of locally born explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett.
Fawcett has received considerable attention in recent years. Firstly, in the 2009 release of David Grann’s book, which shares the same name as the exhibition, recounting the activities of the British explorer, and more recently in the 2017 film adaptation of this tale starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland; I am yet to read or view either, but they’re certainly on my list having visited the exhibition! For the museum though, a passionate interest in the intrepid Torbay hero has been harboured far longer, as director Basil Greenwood recounted in his opening remarks. The museum’s extensive collection on Fawcett in fact began long before his story became popularised in literature and film, both productions being heavily informed by the materials held and preserved by the dedicated team here. This is clear to see if you venture into the permanent Explorers gallery in which Fawcett’s name and activities feature heavily. The new exhibition however, offers the opportunity for a more detailed “exploration” (pardon the pun!) of this extraordinary individual heralding from Torquay.
The exhibition largely comprises of items donated by Fawcett’s granddaughter, Mrs Rolette de Montet-Guerin, who, in the interests of protecting the legacy of her grandfather, bestowed the items to the museums archive. This acquisition in itself demonstrates the hugely impressive work of the staff and the archival practices taking place here, reassuring Mrs Montet-Guerin of the safe-keeping of her family’s legacy. And the collection is extensive! Featuring in the objects displayed as part of the exhibition are a wide array of Fawcett’s personal items including tools from expeditions and, rather intriguingly, the engraved silver collar of his beloved Jack Russell, Bill Nai. These practical items are interspersed with curios found on Fawcett’s expeditions through South America, all navigated by carefully selected texts from detailed and often encoded diaries, journals and letters, which offer an often poignant look into the strenuous realities of early exploration. One such text, a proposal to the Royal Geographic Society for his fateful trek to find the City of Z following the war, in a gruesomely matter-of-fact tone under the heading “Members”, expresses that it is Fawcett’s anticipation that of the five people required to undertake the expedition, only two will ultimately make it to the final goal, with the other men succumbing to illness or madness.
Small extracts such as this, along with personal letters to his wife, and the ultimate tragedy of Fawcett’s fate, ensure that the exhibition captures both the thrill of adventure and the humanity of this remarkable individual. Expert curation and incredibly well presented supporting research complete the package to produce something that the Museum, Torbay and Fawcett can undoubtedly be proud of.
There’s so much more we could say about this exciting event which will run into February next year, but its far better seen for yourself. As well as the exhibition, Torquay Museum will be hosting a wide array of talks as part of the Explorers’ Season, so these too are not to be missed. Make sure to pay them a visit and head over to their website to find out more!