Guest post: Keith Dunmall introduces Victorian explorer Percy Powell-Cotton

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Our latest guest blog post comes from Keith Dunmall, Audience Development and Learning Manager at the Powell-Cotton Museum – for their Museums at Night event, his team are presenting dramatised excerpts from the letters of their museum’s controversial founder, Major Percy Powell-Cotton.

A modern museum gallery containing dioramas of stuffed animals

Dioramas showing animals from Major Powell-Cotton's taxidermy collection

Our first Museums at Night event last year was a performance by local acoustic band, Demolition Sky.    The assistant curator knew the band who had offered to perform a free concert – and never one to miss an opportunity, she booked them to play for the night event.  They played in the main gallery surrounded by displays of exotic and rare animals, including an appreciative audience.

Following the success of an event for a new audience, this year we decided on another collaboration this time more focussed on the museum itself.

When you walk into our Museum you see an incredible display of animals and African Cultural Artefacts, yet are still left wondering about the man who collected them.

A bearded Victorian man wearing a hat and a look of determination

Major Percy Powell-Cotton

Was he simply a rich boy with a gun taking pot-shots at trophies, or was there a greater purpose?

Recently improved interpretation in the museum tells the story of Percy Powell-Cotton’s scientific work, but far greater insight has recently been derived through the archive of over 2,000 of Percy’s personal letters to close family, which he sent from his travels around the world.

A group of people crossing a wooden bridge

A scene from Major Powell-Cotton's travels: Kikuyu bridge over the River Tana, Kenya

A selection of these letters now form the script for a performance in the museum by Birchington Guild of Players, the local drama group, giving a glimpse of the man behind the museum by having him speak to the audience of his eclectic collection.

Five Victorians lying down on a grass lawn

The Powell-Cotton family

The script has been produced by Tessa Sherriff  and Keith Dunmall.

Tessa has worked as an archive volunteer at Quex for three years, during which time she has read and archived every letter that Percy wrote to his family.  “It has been a real eye-opener and I wanted to share the discoveries I have made about Percy, his attitudes, his character and adventures and the political map he crossed.”

When Tessa brought the idea to me, I knew we would have an interesting time creating this exciting event within the constraints of displays that in some areas are unchanged since they were put in place by Percy himself. We are looking at relighting the animal displays and punctuating the performance with a soundtrack of animal calls. Find out more about our Museums at Night ticketed event here – we hope to see you there, and look forward to building on this again next year!


Keith Dunmall is the Powell-Cotton Museum Audience Development and Learning Manager. You can visit their website,, connect with their community on Facebook, and follow the @PowellCotton museum on Twitter for live updates.

2 responses to “Guest post: Keith Dunmall introduces Victorian explorer Percy Powell-Cotton

  1. Nicholas Welchman

    This page about Quex and the Powell-Cotton family is very interesting. In my boyhood my family visited Quex often, especially in the 1940s and 50s. I remember Mrs P-C well, a figure of great dignity and with a commanding presence, as well asTony and some other members of the family. Do you have or can you recommend any material that casts light on Mrs. Powell-Cotton’s role and presence in the family?

  2. Dear Nicholas,

    Thanks for your enquiry – that’s a good question! I’m forwarding your query to Keith Dunmall to see if he can make any recommendations for further reading about Mrs P-C.

    All the best,