Practice English Speaking&Listening with: A Mystery of Mutilated Books & Missing Beetles

Difficulty: 0

In the winter of 2016, mutilated remains

were found in the heart of Melbourne.

The investigation that followed would uncover

a trove of hidden treasures.

The culprit, though, was never publicly held to account.

I was contacted by a young man by the name of Bruce.

And he was interested in particular work.

A work published in 1789 written by [INAUDIBLE]

who was a really significant figure in the history

of French entomology.

The person requesting the book was

interested in seeing one particular beetle.

It was a particular beetle he was

doing as part of his PhD work.

Neither of us had ever seen those particular books before,

so we went up together to have a look.

The first thing I notice is it had the book plate

from the Comte de Castelnau.

Comte de Castelnau left the most important donation

the library had received.

It collected quite a substantial collection

of some of the key works of natural history.

And so there are some really beautifully illustrated works

about different types of insects and about fish

from around the world.

They're very valuable in the market, these books.

And they are books that we couldn't procure or purchase


But they're also special because they show us

the working library of a gentleman

scholar in the 19th century.

From our point of view, they are irreplaceable.

I started to turn the pages, and it was truly magnificent.

I suddenly came across a page that just had a hole in it.

That was when, to our horror, we discovered

these books were mutilated.

This book has been mutilated.

You know, it's distressing.

I was mortified because it felt like under our watch.

The role of being a rare book curator

is to be just one link in the chain,

passing it on to the next generation.

I went back to the shelf, and as I

worked my way through all of the volumes had beetles cut out.

Who would do this?

Who would do this to such a beautiful and rare book?

Who indeed, and why?

Why target these books?

The answers to these questions lay in the 1860s

when these books lived in a terrace house, which

once stood right here in East Melbourne

and belonged to the French Consul General.

A gentleman scholar who is said to be the illegitimate son

of a French King or an English King,

depending on the source of the rumour.

He was a man who went by many names,

but was known to his few associates

in Melbourne as Le Comte Castelnau or simply The Count.

Here's a man who belongs to a great and ancient noble family.

He's able, initially, to indulge his passions

for scientific inquiry and travel with family money.

Castelnau now had led an expedition of four

through the jungles and mountains

of South America in which one man was murdered,

another died and he, himself, left riddled with disease.

He painstakingly acquired one of the largest

entomology collections in Europe.

And then, of course, after the 1848 revolution,

this family money seems to have been cut off.

And he starts looking for jobs.

Well, he went into the consular service.

He had various diplomatic postings around the world,

everywhere from Brazil to Cape Town, Bangkok,

and then in Melbourne.

At one point, while Castelnau was here,

it was the second largest city in the world behind London.

Castelnau died in 1880, the very peak of Melbourne's growth.

More than a decade before he died,

Castelnau sold his beetle collection to the museum

after arriving in Melbourne.

Beetles are the most common life force in the world.

One in every five named animals is

a beetle and that's what Castelnau decided

to make a collection of.

So he travelled, but he also swapped and traded and bought

specimens of beetles from around the world.

It's really interesting the Castelnau collection.

When you pull a drawer out, and there's about 40 draws in it,

and you scan your eye across the drawer

and it looks as though there are Beatles throughout read

the whole draw.

It's only when you begin to look closer that you realise that,

in fact, some of the specimens are quite flat.

Castelnau being a naturalist, he was looking for news species.

So when Castelnau knew about a certain species of beetle,

but it didn't have a specimen, he cut it out of books.

And then he would paste it onto a piece of cardboard

and then put in the collection.

And that looks just like you have a specimen sitting

beside them in there.

And if anyone knew of this link between books and beetles

at the time, that knowledge was lost.

That was until a recent chance conversation between librarians

and curators about the curiosities

of their respective Castelnau collections.

A few of our colleagues at the museum

contacted us and they were interested to come

down and look at some of the books donated by Castelnau.

It was suddenly mentioned that it was quite odd

because his beetle collection, some of the beetles

were just made of paper, indeed.

And it was like a kind of light bulb moment,

where we suddenly realised, that's where the missing bits

had gone.

The books and the specimens were separated into two

different institutions.

And we never actually got together

to find out that in fact they were linked

and the holes of the books in the State Library

were sitting in the museum collection here.

So it was a wonderful, wonderful find.

And it added so much more to the whole interesting value

of the collection.

And so this is collection from way back in 1880

that was separated, would come together

for the very first time nearly 140 years later.

And be able to be viewed by people

in the exhibition at the State Library.

The Description of A Mystery of Mutilated Books & Missing Beetles