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Pupils' work: 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump'

Fossedene and Bannockburn Primary Schools in Greenwich, London took inspiration from An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright 'of Derby'.

Listen to pupils reading letters they wrote – all inspired by the painting. 

A pupil's work: Letter to Mary
A Year 5/6 pupil at Bannockburn Primary School reads a letter to a friend – 1 min.

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Detail from Joseph Wright 'of Derby', 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' 

A pupil's work: Experiment 41

A pupil from Bannockburn Primary School reads their work – 2 mins.


A Year 5/6 pupil from Bannockburn Primary School reads a piece of original writing inspired by 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' 

Bannockburn Primary School pupil:

This afternoon father invited one of the most important scientists in the country over to do an experiment on Sam, our cockatoo. Me and my sister, Ursula, begged father not to do it but no one listened. 

When the evening came round, we all surrounded the dining table to wait for the scientist to arrive. Finally he came. He swept through the room all the way over to the table, where we were gathered.

He stood between cousin Mary (who was chatting away happily to Edward from next door) and father. He then explained he was going to place Sam into the glass vessel and pump air out of it. And then, at the last minute, he said he would release the valve (which held back the air from the glass vessel) and all the air would rush back in. If lucky, Sam would survive.

I looked around the table. My eyes were filling with tears, little William seemed very fascinated by what was happening to our cockatoo. Professor Knight, father of Edward, also seemed interested in what was happening to our cockatoo. I looked down at my younger sister, Ursula, who tried not to cry but her eyes were slightly red. 

I then turned to look at uncle Alex, who was silently praying for our cockatoo. He had his head bent and his eyes closed. Father tried to comfort me, beginning to regret he had invited the scientist over.

Finally, experiment 41 began. First Sam was placed in the vessel, then the air was pumped out by Professor Knight. After all the air was pumped out, we waited. Then, exactly at the last minute, the professor released the valve and all the air rushed back in and Sam survived, which was really fantastic. 

Cousin Mary and Edward actually hugged each other, while everyone was put out of their misery. Then, at last I finally noticed a monkey’s skull on the table. It disgusted me and I shivered at the thought of the poor dead monkey. I asked the scientist why did he want to use our cockatoo and he explained that cockatoos are very rare and he could use a common bird any old day, but using the cockatoo was unusual and exciting.

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A pupil's diary: The Experiment

A pupil from Fossedene Primary School reads an extract from a fictional diary – 1 min


A year 5/6 pupil from Fossedene Primary School reads a piece of original writing, inspired by 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' 

Fossedene Primary School pupil:

Babbington House

Babbington Village


Monday 29 June, 1768.

My dearest Elizabeth,

My dearest friend, so much has happened since I last wrote to you informing you of my darling cockatoo. Unfortunately, this letter brings not happy news but news that is very difficult for me to write down. 

Sadly, my wonderful Grace is not with me any longer. But, let me explain from the beginning what really happened that fateful evening.

It was a cold and dark May night. The clouds were hovering like demons in the sky. The wind was whistling through the iron gates at the front of the house. Screaming foxes could be heard howling long into the night. 

I sensed something was not quite right and ventured into the drawing room. I turned the smooth, golden handle and was greeted by nine faces staring intently at my darling pet, Grace. There was a man wearing a ruby red gown tied loosely at the waist. He had wild, silvery, bushy, long hair which was sticking out of his wrinkly head. He stared deep into my eyes like he was daring me to step forward. 

My two sisters were there, but they seemed transfixed by the scientist pumping vigorously to remove the air from the bell jar which contained my dear Grace. She was lifeless, dead. I fell to the floor, unable to stop the tears escaping. I sobbed uncontrollably. 

How could my parents do this to me? I hate them for taking away what was most precious to me: Grace. Sadly, you will never get to meet her.

My dearest friend, I must go now. I will write again soon.



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