HC Deb 14 August 1846 vol 88 cc717-25

rose to submit the following Motion, of which he had given notice:— That with the view of lessening the temptation to drunkenness and immorality, and of promoting thereby the welfare of the working classes especially, and also of society generally, it is the duty of a Christian Legislature to open the British Museum, the National Gallery, and all similar public places calculated to afford innocent and instructive recreation, for the reception of visitors on Sundays and on holidays, at such hours after morning service as ginshops and public houses are open. He hoped that they might yet be able to remove certain prejudices from the minds of many well-meaning persons on this subject; and that by opening such places as the British Museum to the people on Sundays, a great benefit would be conferred on the community. For many years there had been discussions in that House on the question, whether public houses should be allowed to open at all on Sundays; and in that subject he, along with his hon. Friend the Member for Kendal, had taken great interest. They eventually succeeded in obtaining a kind of compromise, which was, that all public houses should be shut till after one o'clock. He maintained, however, that all attempts by legislation to make people moral or religious, were futile. An Act of Parliament could not make a man more moral or more religious than he was before; and therefore, it was high time that other modes of improvement were attempted. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had stated in his letter to the citizens of London, that his greatest difficulty would be how to deal with crime; now, one great source of crime was drunkenness; and he therefore wished to ask the noble Lord, if it was not a question well becoming the attention of the Cabinet, whether there did not exist means by which drunkenness, with all the evil consequences that flowed from it, might be prevented, or at least lessened, to a great extent? It was clearly the duty of Government to examine into this point; and he had no hesitation in saying that, together with education, free admission on Sundays into public places of recreation and instruction, such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, would tend greatly to promote that end. When a man visited the British Museum, such an impression might be made upon him by a single observation on what came under his notice, as might go to alter his whole future life. Who could tell how far the influence of what a man saw and felt then, might prevent him from going to the public house; and he had no doubt whatever, that admission to such a place to see the extraordinary works both of nature and art there exhibited, would lead many a man away from all thoughts of the public house. A great lesson was taught every man who passed through the British Museum; and he asked those who had conscientious scruples on this question, just to consider what benefit might not be derived from 20,000 or 30,000 people going through the British Museum or the National Gallery in one day. He was disposed to pay respect to the religious scruples of others; but what was the object of all religion, if it was not to make men better citizens, and prepare them for another world? Now, he maintained, that to open up to great bodies of men objects of contemplation similar to those placed in our public institutions, especially when by doing so they were kept away from the public house, was one of the best means which a Government could adopt for making men better, and elevating them in the scale of being. The most gratifying results had hitherto attended the opening of public exhibitions in the metropolis during the week, admission having been given to as many as 1,250,000 in the year; and the effect had been that in the large provincial towns, such as Manchester, museums and other public exhibitions were being established for the benefit of the working classes. A great improvement could not fail to have taken place in the metropolis in what were called the rude and uncouth manners of a large portion of the population, from the freedom of admission given to our public institutions. He should like to see the East India Company collecting for the instruction of the public specimens of every thing—be they bird, or beast, or fish, or vegetable—that India possessed, which we did not. The diminished cost of admission to the Tower had led to the best results; and if it were reduced from 6d. to 3d., the numbers admitted would be double what they were at present. It was his intention to see what the Master General would do with that view. It was remarkable how well the public behaved at places of public amusement to which they were admitted freely. He was authorized to state, that at Hampton-court Gardens since the public had been admitted at nine o'clock in the morning, nothing whatever had been injured, and a case of intoxication had never been seen in the gardens. In 1845 the number admitted to the East India Company's Museum was 20,610, being an increase of 3,000 over the preceding year, and double the number of 1841; to the Botanical Gardens, Dublin, 25,247, being a considerable increase since 1842; to the Royal Botanical Society's Museum, 55,638, being an increase of 9,000 since 1842; to the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland, 132,482, an increase of 35,000 since 1842; to the Royal Institution of Liverpool, 21,399; to the Polytechnic Exhibitions of the Liverpool Mechanics' Institution, 67,952; to the Tower in 1841, there were 107,368 persons admitted; to the British Museum, in 1844, the number was 575,758. He hoped the House would take this subject into consideration, as he was convinced it would prove one of the best means of humanizing the people.


I am quite ready to concur with the hon. Gentleman in wishing the advancement of the object the hon. Gentleman has at heart; and I will, moreover, say that I believe no man in this House or in this country has done more than he has to promote that object. He has very properly laid great stress on the number of persons who attend the British Museum, and who attend other public places for the purpose of instruction and amusement, and very gratifying it is to me to see the large numbers of persons going in vans to Hampton Court on a Sunday, and who have an opportunity there of admiring the architecture and the pictures, and after a day of social recreation return to their homes, no doubt much better as regards morality than they went. But I must say that the hon. Gentleman has shown that no very great restraints are placed upon the admission of the people to these places of public resort at present, when he says that 32,000 persons were admitted to the British Museum in one day, and more than half a million in a year. That shows there are no very great restrictions on the admission to public places; but I am aware that the hon. Gentleman's object on this occasion is not so much the general object, but that he wishes us to take the course of allowing admission on Sundays to the British Museum and the National Gallery. Now I think that on that subject it is better not to lay down a positive rule; that it is much better to lay down no rule on that subject; but with respect to public gardens, where there are porters at the doors to take care who is admitted, I think they may be opened as the hon. Gentleman desires. If, however, we go to the other extreme, there immediately we come upon what is to be avoided; but at the same time, when he speaks of the argument of diverting people from scenes of drunkenness by throwing open these places of innocent recreation to them, I must say, that listening to the plays of Shakspeare is one mode of diverting people from such scenes, as well as going to the British Museum; and, according to that argument, therefore, the theatres may be places of diversion that ought to be opened on a Sunday. With respect therefore to these places, such as the British Museum and the National Gal- lery, I think it is for the directors to say whether these places should be opened on particular days or not; but if those who have the keeping of these places are to be deprived of a day of rest by attending on the visitors for several hours in going through the collection on a Sunday, that is not, I must say, a fit appropriation of the Sunday for them. The hon. Gentleman says, we might have particular persons employed for the purpose of showing these places on a Sunday; but I think it would not do to have such persons employed. I think that those persons who have the keeping over the objects of exhibition during the week, would not like, on the Monday when they returned, to find that these things had received injury in the course of being shown on the Sunday. It is better, therefore, that the trustees of the British Museum should be left to settle this question for themselves. It certainly may be right to open these institutions, and that those who are entitled to a day of rest on the Sunday should be enabled to go there if it will be a means of keeping them with their families. My hon. Friend says, that it causes man and wife to be brought together; and that they may go together to the British Museum; but a man and his wife may equally well take a walk to Regent's Park. [Mr. HUME: Suppose a rainy day.] I do not think their affections would be disturbed because the British Museum was not opened on a Sunday. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will leave all these points to the persons who have the management of these institutions, who will decide whether they will allow all classes of persons to go as much as possible to these institutions. I am sure I quite concur with my hon. Friend as to the worthiness of the persons who go to these places. I have heard from the commissioners of police, when I have been in communication with them, that the more free and open these places are made to persons, the less danger there is of those brutal injuries to objects of art, which used to take place when admissions to such places were scarcely obtainable.


tendered his thanks to the hon. Member for Montrose, and hoped he would bring forward this Motion every Session until his object was accomplished. That the noble Lord wished that object to be effected was evident, for he had not given a direct negative to the proposition of opening these places on a Sunday, but only said, leave it to the directors. But it must be remembered that the directors did not vote the money for these institutions: that was done by the House of Commons, and the House of Commons had therefore the right to point out to those parties how the money should be applied; and he hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would point out to his brother trustees the propriety of acceding to this proposition. The noble Lord was a trustee, he believed, of the British Museum, and there he hoped the noble Lord would use his influence. He looked upon the contemplated change as likely to produce the best results as preventing drunkenness. If the House were fully aware of the evils that followed from drunkenness in this metropolis, there was nothing they would not do to save the people from so demoralizing a practice, What harm could arise from furnishing to the labouring classes, who had no opportunity during the week-day of taking it, the means of innocent recreation on a Sunday? But the noble Lord objected that to throw open these places to the public on a Sunday, would be laying an additional tax on the persons who were employed in keeping them. He admitted that; but was there any difficulty in putting other persons in the room of the week-day attendants? He said there was none. But then it was still said the persons so placed there would lose the Sunday. They might, however, set persons of the Jewish persuasion there, who would not object to working on that day. He would be bound there would be candidates enough. They would gain instruction and amusement also by being there. He did hope that the suggestions of his hon. Friend would be carried into effect, if not wholly, at least partially. He believed that it rested with the noble Lord whether or not anything should be done; and he was quite sure that if the noble Lord made the suggestion to his brother trustees it would be carried into effect.


thought that the proposed change, instead of interfering with due attention on the part of the people to religious duties, would very much promote the feelings that led to practising those duties; and he hoped the noble Lord would exert his influence to get it carried into effect.


hoped the House would not agree to the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume); nor did he think the speech of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) fairly bore the interpretation put upon it by hon. Gentlemen who had spoken after him, namely, that the noble Lord was in favour of the Resolution. He approved as much as any man of affording to the humbler classes the opportunity of all lawful recreation; but when the hon. Member for Montrose challenged any Member of the House to give a reason why the public institutions should not be open on Sunday, he answered by saying, that "you must not do evil that good might come of it." In his opinion, to open these places of public amusement, would be a desecration of the Sabbath; and he trusted and believed that that was the opinion of the great majority of the people in that country. It was not for him to condemn others, or other countries, that acted on a different principle; but he was persuaded that such was the English feeling; and he hoped that it would long continue so. It was, in short, the characteristic difference between a Protestant and a Roman Catholic community. When the hon. Member for Montrose stated that upwards of a million of persons annually visited those institutions, he rejoiced to hear it, for he was free to admit their humanizing and improving influence. But the statement itself implied that there was no necessity to violate the Sabbath, in order to render the advantages of such institutions available to the poorer classes; and when the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Williams) argued that as some places of the kind were now open on the Sunday, why not open the British Museum?—the next step in that argument would be—if the British Museum was opened, why then not open the theatres, and all other places of public amusement? How strong too was the admission made by the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury—if it was meant seriously—that Jews might be employed as the officers of these public institutions on a Sunday—was it not that it would be unfitting, unchristian, to deprive the existing officers of the rest to which they were entitled on the Sabbath day? To that it would really come. He protested against the House voting, in the words of the Motion of the hon. Member,—that "it is the duty of a Christian Legislature" to countenance that which he contended would be a desecration of the Sabbath day.


supported the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. There was this distinction between the opening of theatres on Sundays and the opening of the British Museum: the first were private property, and the other was property belonging to the public. When he saw the order and decorum which prevailed at Hampton-court on Sundays, he had no reason to anticipate any bad consequences from opening the British Museum on that day; and he hoped that no feeling of prejudice would prevent its being carried into effect.


said, that if he agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down in thinking the abstinence from occupation and amusement on the Sabbath a prejudice, he would have no hesitation in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. But the hon. Member and he entirely differed in opinion on that point. He admitted that drunkenness was a great source of crime and unhappiness among the lower orders; but, at the same time, his own observation of and intercourse with that class of society, led him to believe that the desecration of the Sabbath was also a source of bitter repentance, sorrow, and misfortune, as well as the crime of drunkenness. He, therefore, had come to the conclusion, that it was neither a politic nor a wise course of proceeding to attempt to expel one vice—drunkenness—by giving encouragement to another—the desecration of the Sabbath. He wished to make one observation about extending to the lower orders those recreations which he agreed in thinking could be properly made use of to humanize them, and which, on what were called the lawful days of the week, he would be disposed to encourage. The Victoria Park, in the vicinity of the metropolis, had recently been opened, and was in progress of completion; and it had been contemplated by Her Majesty's late Government to propose the erection of a building in that park as a repository for objects of curiosity and interest to the public; and there would be no difficulty in collecting such objects. There were always a number of ships in the docks which had brought articles of rarity from different countries; and he was sure the masters of such ships would be glad to deposit them in a place where they would be generally accessible. And as the docks were in the neighbourhood of the park, and as there was a large class of persons in that quarter who had no opportunity of visiting any similar place, he hoped the noble Lord would see the propriety of following up the views of his predecessors, and proposing the erection of a building for the accommodation of such objects as the public took an interest in.


warmly supported the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. If such a building were erected, he was sure the objects would rapidly accumulate.


was sorry to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite associate the rational and intellectual enjoyment of the people with the desecration of the Sabbath. It was no such thing. He would rather call it the consecration of the Sabbath, and would be disposed to give it every encouragement.


said, that after what had passed, he would not press his Motion. He hoped that what had been stated by the noble Lord was in some degree shared by his Colleagues, and that before next year the matter would be quietly settled.

Motion withdrawn.