Jan Savery’s 1651 painting of the dodo, a favourite of Lewis Carroll’s when he visited the museum.


LONDON - One of the UK’s best museums outside London is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It is an amazing Gothic revival building, and notable for the fact that its glass roof has leaked ever since it was finished in 1860; it will finally be fixed in 2013, when the museum closes for the entire year, so do go now, while you can. I went with my children on a rainy day in half-term, and – while dodging strategically-placed yellow buckets catching drips from the troublesome roof – had a wonderful time looking at not only the exhibits, but the splendid statuary of eminent scientists that surrounds the main hall. William Harvey, for instance, is shown clutching a human heart, and Linnaeus sports his full Lapland dress.

Inside the Oxford University Museum of Natural History – shown here is the Dinosaur Gallery

The museum boasts a major literary association – Lewis Carroll was a regular visitor, in company with Alice Liddell and her sisters, and many of the exhibits there were the inspiration for the memorable characters that Alice meets in her adventures. Not least of these is the dodo, the flightless, hapless Mauritian native that has not walked the earth since about 1700. Jan Savery’s 1651 painting of the dodo, which hangs on the western wall of the museum, was a favourite of Carroll’s, in part because his stammer often made him invoke the bird when he spoke his real name: “Do-do-Dodgson” (Lewis Carroll's real name was Charles Dodgson). Indeed, the dodo that appears in chapter three of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is based on Carroll himself.