Home > News > The Crocodile and the Whale – a sponsored swim

The Crocodile and the Whale – a sponsored swim

On 5 September Christopher Woodward embarked on his fourth – and final – Sponsored Swim in support of the Museum.  Follow his progress in his Swim Diary. He will swim 30 kilometres within the Arctic Circle to raise money to display two objects of natural history and complete our recreation of John Tradescant’s Ark with a crocodile from the River Nile and the skeleton of a 17th century whale.

The swim will retrace part of Tradescant’s expedition to Russia in 1618, and Christopher hopes to raise the £75,000 required to put on display these two specimens of natural history, which would be on loan from the Natural History Museum, London. Each will give to the Museum visitor the wonder, amazement, and education in the natural world that visitors to the Ark experienced 350 years ago.

The crocodile in the stores of The Natural History Museum, London

Tradescant’s Ark was entered through the ribs of a whale and had a stuffed crocodile, which was later sculpted on his tomb. The curators at The Natural History Museum have identified a similar crocodile and, generously, a fifty-foot whale skeleton discovered in 2010 when digging foundations of a building on the shore at Greenwhich. It has been dated to the 17th century, so swum up the Thames in the century in which the Tradescants lived.

In the summer of 1618 Tradescant sailed in an expedition round Norway to Archangel, as recorded in a diary in The Bodleian Library which describes castles in the fog of the north Cape, the midnight sun, and whales. Christopher will swim along the Lofoten Islands for five days, north of Narvik, just within the Arctic Circle, and on Tradescant’s route 400 years ago. The challenge is not the distance, but the cold. The water may be as cold as eight degrees, and the target is three hours per day.

The whale skeleton in the stores of The Natural History Museum, London

The cost of £75,000 will fund the conservation, transportation of the loans, environmental controls, interpretation, and showcases designed in a recreation of 17th century joinery.

‘What will buoy me up is the thought of whales swimming, of Tradescant’s spirit in boarding that expedition, and how the Garden Museum is, at heart, a materialisation of Tradescant’s wish to share his wonder of the natural world with others.’

Support Christopher’s Arctic swim, donate now.

Follow Christopher’s progress, read his swim diary below:

Day One

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5


Donate now

Sponsor Christopher’s Arctic Swim