The natural history collections of the New Brunswick Museum are the result of more than a century and a half of collection and study.
From our beginning in 1842 as Gesner’s Museum of Natural History, the collections have grown from 2,173 items listed in Gesner's catalogue to more than 300,000 natural history specimens. Gesner's Museum was the first of its kind in British North America. Over the years the Gesner's Museum collection moved to the local Mechanics' Institute, then to the Natural History Society of New Brunswick.
The Natural History Society of New Brunswick which had its first meeting on January 29, 1862 in Saint John, developed from a local interest in natural history, in particular from a few enthusiastic students of the relatively new science of geology. George Frederic Matthew and Charles Frederic Hartt were two of those young geologists who had already formed the Steinhammer Club, an organization devoted to the study of the local rock formations. Members of the Steinhammer Club worked closely with Sir J.W. Dawson, the famous geologist and palaeontologist from McGill College in Montreal.
The purpose of the new society was outlined at the first meeting chaired by Dr. L.B. Botsford, who became the first president, and a motion was made that a "special aim of the Society should be to form in connection with it such a collection of specimens in the different branches of scientific research as shall fully illustrate the Natural History of this province, and so far as possible that of other countries ".
The Society delved into all aspects of the study of natural history and developed large collections in geology, zoology and botany that formed the basis for the present New Brunswick Museum. That motion passed by the Society in 1862 still describes the basic purpose of the Natural History Department of this museum.
The New Brunswick Museum now houses more than 300,000 natural history specimens. These specimens support programmes in basic research, exhibits and public education that lead to an understanding of our natural world. The natural history collections are divided into three broad areas - Botany, Geology/Palaeontology and Zoology. The objective in assembling these collections is to better understand the diversity of life forms, past and present, in the Atlantic region.
The corporate seal of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick was designed and adopted in 1884. The centre of the seal displays a trilobite, based on Paradoxides lamellatus, from the Cambrian Period from Saint John. On either side of the trilobite are characteristic fossil plants from the Upper Carboniferous Period at "Fern Ledges" in Saint John. The "Fern Ledges" fossils, collected by Fred Hartt, were the first specimens purchased by the Society to develop a museum. The upper part of the emblem contains a bird mounted for exhibition to recognize the work of the ornithological committee.