HC Deb 04 June 1858 vol 150 cc1570-83

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee. Mr. FitzRoy the Chair.

(1.) £79,275, Salaries and Expenses of British Museum.


, who spoke in an indistinct tone of voice, said that there was a considerable increase in the amount of this Vote as compared with the Estimates for previous years. An increase had taken place in the salaries of £2,820; house expenses, £600; purchases, £3,450; bookbinding and cabinets, £5,200. There were also some increased charges for catalouges, the whole increase being £12,800. The Treasury had deputed Sir C. Trevelyan and Mr. Arbuthnot to inquire into the re-arrangement of salaries rendered necessary by some recent changes. They went to the British Museum several times, and proposed to the Trustees a plan of remuneration by salaries which had been considered and adopted. The sum for purchases had been much increased, especially in the department of books and drawings. For some years the Estimates for books had been below the usual amount because there had been no room in which to place them, and it was only since the new reading-room had been completed that the requisite space had been found. In 1846 the sum proposed by the Treasury for printed books was £10,000. For several years, however, the Estimate had been a good deal below that sum. It was now proposed to restore the vote to its former amount of £10,000. Less would not suffice, because there were books published in series which had not been supplied in consequence of the reduction of the Vote. The increase of books had caused a good deal of bookbinding, and there was also an increase under this head. The charge for printing catalogues had also increased, because a new catalogue had been prepared as a general guide to the Museum. He was happy to state that the Museum had been more generally useful to the public that in any former year. The new reading room, which bad been projected many years ago, according to the original suggestion of Mr. Panizzi, had been found exceedingly successful, and bad given general satisfaction. The number of readers had greatly increased. For several years the average attendance was 180 persons. Last year the number increased to 200, but since the reading-room opened on the 18th of May of last year the number had increased to 400 a-day. The number of persons attending the Museum in 1856 was 361,714, and in 1857, 621,034. A great number of early-printed books were now kept in show-cases—in a manner that had never before been done. Arrangements were also in progress by which many valuable engravings would be shown which hitherto bad not been accessible. In this manner the collections contained in the Museum would be made more profitable and more easy of access than they had yet been. It was, however, to be regretted, that there was still a want of room in the establishment, in consequence of which a number of valuable marbles were obliged to be placed in the portico. This was an eye-sore, and it was also very unsuitable to the marbles themselves. The noble Lord concluded by moving that a sum not exceeding £79,275 be granted to Her Majesty to pay the salaries and expenses of the British Museum.


asked the noble Lord whether he would encourage the principle of allowing the British Museum to be opened on the Sunday afternoon after Divine service?


said, he did not think that the Trustees had any power in the matter; and even if they had, he did net think they would be at all disposed to make any such regulations.


said, there were numbers of people who could only visit the Museum on Sunday afternoons, and he did not think it would injure the morals of society if they were admitted after Divine service, as at Kew and Hampton-court.


said, it was hardly reasonable on the part of the hon. Baronet to make his application to his noble Friend the Member for London, as one of the Trustees of the British Museum. The question of opening places of amusement and recreation, or places of secular instruction on Sundays, was a great question of public policy. Whatever might be the private opinions of the Trustees, they could not be expected to take on themselves to open the Museum on Sunday afternoons. It was rather for the hon. Baronet and those who thought with him to make a proposal to that effect in the House, and they knew pretty well what the fate of such a proposal would be. The responsibility of settling the question was in the hands of the House of Commons and the Executive Government, and certainly not in the hands of the Trustees.


said, he intended to appeal to the House of Commons.


said, there was a great want of space in the British Museum, and the collections of drawings, engravings, prints, marbles, antiquities, and manuscripts were almost inaccessible. He had been moreover informed that there were some valuable marbles at Halicarnassus belonging to the Museum which could not be removed there for want of space to receive them. The Government ought to boldly face the question of room by endeavouring to methodize and subdivide the various collections. The merit of the archæological collection was that it was a complete historic series, and whether it remained in the Museum or was removed elsewhere it could not possibly be divided. Mr. Newton, in a letter to Mr. Panizzi, suggested that a distinct line should be drawn between Pagan and Christian art, and that while the British Museum retained the Pagan, the Christian part should be combined with the national collection of pictures. He thought that suggestion well worthy the attention of the Government, and when they were considering the demand for space they might also inquire whether it was not desirable to remove the collection of Natural History. The public money need not be wasted in making collections in duplicate, and even in triplicate. There was a mineralogical collection in the British Museum, and another in Jermyn Street. There was a botanical collection at the British Museum, and another at Kew. There was a collection of portraits in the British Museum, and they were making another in George Street. There was a collection of mediæval art in the British Museum, another at South Kensington, and a third in Jermyn Street. What was wanted was a methodizing of these various collections, and bringing them into order and arrangement. Great increased accommodation was required for the marbles, which rapidly accumulated. The Government was in full possession of evidence upon the subject; and he would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, without further inquiries, for a commission to take steps to methodize the various collections belonging to the public.


said, he concurred in the observations of the noble Lord as to the want of space, and the possibility of obtaining it by a new arrangement of the Museum. It was absolutely necessary in order to keep pace with the progress of the age that lectures should be given at the Museum explanatory of the varied treasures which it contained, to which the middle classes might be admitted. By this means those who were unable to purchase the catalogues would be enabled to appreciate the value of the collections there assembled. Professor Owen had given a very strong opinion in favour of such a plan, and there were gentlemen in the Museum quite competent to deliver most instructive lectures. In another year he should certainly move that such a system of lectures be established.


said, he was afraid that the secondary officials at the Museum—many of whom were men of European reputation—were not sufficiently well paid. This was not by any means an economical system, for though first-rate men were now working at the Museum at very low salaries, there were not wanting indications that in the course of ten or fifteen years it would be quite impossible to obtain men of equal abilities at so low a rate. He quite agreed that to the present duties of these gentlemen might be added that of delivering a certain number of lectures. There were many officials at the Museum competent to deliver most instructive lectures, and such an obligation would be a very good test of efficiency to attach to all future appointments.


said, that the trustees had not the power, and he believed they had not the disposition, to open the Museum on Sundays. They were willing to give every facility on the week days to the working classes, and had accordingly opened the Museum in the summer months at an early hour on Saturdays. He did not agree with the noble Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), nor did the scientific world agree with the hon. Member in the views which he had expressed. Want of room was a bugbear which had been made a great deal too much of. They had it in evidence that any extension of the collection in the next ten years might be amply provided for, if a light cast-iron gallery was put round the room in which the collection now was. A storey might also be added to the first room for the use of the officials, as for want of private studios they now had to occupy one of the finest galleries in the Museum, to which of course the public were not admitted. He hoped a Vote would be taken for the purpose of providing accommodation for the officers.


said, he thought it pretty well settled that the pictures must remain at the National Gallery, but that the gallery must be enlarged. The natural history collection at the British Museum might go the Linnean Society. With regard to the question of room he thought that much space might be gained at very small expense by taking in the houses on the north side of the Museum. He wished also to ask of the noble Lord whether something could not be done to make the bequests which ever and anon were made to the British Museum a matter of greater notoriety, as, for example, the Temple collection. He might also remind the Committee that the fine archælogical collection of the Marquess de Campanella at Rome was now to be disposed of, and it might be an object worthy the attention of the Government to endeavour to secure it. The question of lectures was a large one. If they were established he did not think there would be room enough in the Museum for the people who would flock to hear them. With regard to the remarks made to the salaries of officers, he thought that question must be left in the hands of the honourable men who undertook the management of the affairs of the Museum.


suggested that arrangements should be made by which on three days of the week the working classes might have an opportunity of inspecting the Museum in the evenings after working hours; and that on Sundays a large room in the Museum might be set apart in which objects illustrated by Scripture history might be viewed by that class of the population.


, who was at times inaudible, was understood to say that the question of opening the British Museum on Sundays had been brought before the House on a former occasion. It was not one that the Trustees could properly entertain; but if the House were to decide that the Museum should be opened on Sundays the trustees would have simply to bow to that decision. The archæological collection of the Marquess de Campanella having been mentioned, he might state that his right hon. Friend near him, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, made an offer for its purchase. That offer, however, was thought inferior to the value of the collection, and no answer was returned. Since that time the Papal Government had come into possession of the collection, and if it should be sold, the Trustees of the British Museum would have power to make an offer for it or for some part of it. Every year there were proposals by hon. Members to remove some parts of the collection; the parts of course in which they took no interest. He did not, however, believe that any one of the great branches of the Museum—he meant the libraries, the antiquities, and the archæological collection could be removed with benefit to the public; and he hoped when the Government came to consider the whole matter they would not consent to the removal of any one of these three great branches from the Museum. By purchasing property towards the north the building might be enlarged in that direction, at an expense which had been estimated at £150,000; but he did not think the Government would be justified in proposing the expenditure of such a sum, without looking into the whole subject. As to opening the Museum in the evenings for the benefit of the working classes, that was a question which had been carefully considered by the Trustees, and he thought they were all of opinion that there would be great danger of fire from such an arrangement, and they felt it to be their duty, while endeavouring to make this great national collection committed to their care as much as possible available to the community at large, to take every precaution to secure its preservation.


said, the working classes took a great interest in the collections, and it was odd that they should be denied the privilege of visiting the Museum on the only day on which their avocations admitted of their seeing it. He believed the great majority of that House were disposed to concede them that privilege, but many hon. Members declined to take part in a question which was not altogether palatable to certain portions of their constituents. It was fashionable to talk of giving the working classes a half-holiday on Saturdays, but such a proposition was simply absurd, unless employers would consent to give a full day's pay for half a day's work. What could be the object of denying that class of the population the opportunity of seeing the Museum on Sundays? They contributed towards its maintenance by the taxes they paid. They worked from morning till night throughout the week, and Sunday was the only day which was left them for recreation, and that day, by the legislation of Parliament, they were compelled to pass in a manner that was not satisfactory to their well-wishers nor agreeable to themselves. The noble Lord last year had said that the question of opening the Museum on Sundays was not a matter for him as a Trustee to decide, but was one upon which the House of Commons should pronounce an opinion, and that opinion he (Mr. Locke) hoped they would now pronounce.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. J. Locke) was quite right in saying it was the business of the House of Commons to pronounce an opinion upon the question of opening public institutions on Sundays, but he must have forgotten that the opinion of the House upon that subject had been formally challenged two years ago, and was pronounced in a most decisive and emphatic manner. That opinion was confirmed by so vast a majority that although it did not prevent the hon. and learned Member from again raising the question, yet it did excuse the Executive Government from taking any different course than they had taken. It was quite open to the hon. and learned Member to challenge another discussion upon the subject. With respect to the discussion that had taken place as to the intermixture of the establishments of the Museum, and the still greater question of the space at present afforded for the collection and the demands for additional space continually accruing, those were more pressing subjects for consideration. One hon. Gentleman complained of the inadequate remuneration of the lower officers of the British Museum. Perhaps the hon. Member had not noticed, and if not it would be gratifying to him to know that the Trustees had recommended, the Government had adopted, and there was now proposed in the present Vote a considerable increase in that remuneration. As to the great questions of the accommodation afforded by the British Museum, and that alluded to of the methodizing of the collections, they were much too large for discussion upon the present occasion. That discussion must be taken in connection with other questions, themselves considerable in importance,—as to the site of the National Gallery, the disposal of the ground at Burlington House, as to the disposal of the great estate at Kensington, clearing Marlborough House of the pictures, and comprehensive arrangements for the vast wealth of the public in collections of art, science, and objects of natural history. He would not enter upon that subject, but he felt bound to reiterate the opinion, that a proposal for a large increase in the space at present occupied by the British Museum, with a view to keep together the whole of the collections in that establishment for a considerable or indefinite period, was hardly to be expected. He did not believe those collections could always be kept together. The time must come when the question of separation would have to be met. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had spoken of £150,000 that would be required for the purchase of houses now occupying land to the north of the British Museum in order to carry out a suitable enlargement, but the noble Lord did not intend to convey to the Committee the idea that any such sum would go far in that direction. And that was his (Mr. Gladstone's) belief. If it was the intention of the House that, for any considerable period—for the next generation—the collections of the British Musuem should be kept together, then they must be prepared to spend upon the spot a much larger sum of money. He could not as a Trustee, or as a Member of Parliament, recommend that the Government should make a demand upon the House of Commons for the purpose without considering what the public had been doing towards providing accommodation in other quarters. In 1852 no less than £140,000 was paid for the site of Burlington House, and in 1853 and subsequent years £180,000 was paid for portions of the Kensington estate. Thus, something like £320,000 had been laid out by the public in the acquisition of sites for this purpose. One of those sites was the great quantity of land—something like 100 acres—at Kensington, affording an immense amount of accommodation for objects of the nature now under discussion, and of which, up to the present time, only a small fraction had been applied to that purpose—namely, the small portion upon which the new Museum had been erected. Although only a small portion of that site had been applied to the purpose for which it was originally intended, yet the application of that small portion had been followed by most gratifying results. Both as to the number of persons who visited the Kensington collection and their demeanour the result had been far beyond what the most sanguine had calculated upon. At the present moment he would not go further than to express his opinion that they must look not only to the question of the extension of the British Museum upon its present site, but they must also be prepared to confront the very difficult question as to the separation of the collections of that establishment. What separation there should be he was not prepared, nor was he the most competent person to decide. He knew what would be the feelings of his hon. Friend the Member for Cheshire if anything were said about the removal of the collections of objects of natural history, and yet he had a suspicion that when the question was raised it would be that portion of the collection in the Museum to which public attention would first be directed. He would go no further at present; but as to the fact that a separation must take place he felt sure, and he thought it would be unreasonable and unjust to call upon the public for large sums for increased accommodation until that question had been fnlly considered.


said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) that the time would come—indeed, he might say had come—when they must consider the question of how the public collections of this country could most effectively be arranged. That was a question which could no longer be avoided. He was not at all prepared to say that the consideration of the question should be postponed. Committees and Royal Commissions bad fulfilled their tasks; all the information required upon the subject was in the possession of the House, and what was wanted was a determination to avail themselves of that information, in order to act upon it. He felt it was the duty of the Executive Government not to shrink from the question of the British Museum, as that would probably be the first establishment that would compel them to come to some solution of the difficulty. It was in the various, almost the universal, character of that collection that the difficulties which the House had now to contend with found their principal origin, and he was afraid they would not be able to encounter the obstacles in their path until they simplified the contents of the Museum. If they maintained the various collections of which the Museum consisted in a manner to preserve their character as first-rate collections, it was impossible that they could keep them under the same roof. The only condition under which they could keep them under the same roof was, that they should become second-rate collections, a conclusion which the nation would not readily sanction. Allusion had been made to the frequent and munificent efforts which the country had made at intervals to obtain proper sites. Without space nothing effective could be done, and it was the want of space that had been the cause of the scattered position of our collections, and of our being unable to effect that convenient arrangement which was so necessary for the public accommodation. A great effort was made six years ago, when he proposed that the House of Commons should vote a sum of £180,000 in aid of a sum of equal amount, which was the balance left from the receipts obtained at the Great Exhibition of 1851. With that united sum, amounting to upwards of £300,000, an extensive portion of land at Kensington was purchased, with the idea that there would be an opportunity, not only of relieving the Museum, but of finding a home for our scattered collections, where they might be seen and studied to greater advantage by the public. That site had been held by the Royal Commissioners on behalf of the public; but it was useless to disguise the fact that the expectations which the House indulged in when it voted £180,000, had been entirely disappointed. The partnership between the Exhibition Commissioners and the House, though conceived in a right spirit, had not been fruitful of results. Objections had been raised to the site itself, as being at too great a distance from the centre of the metropolis; other causes had operated in the same direction, and the result had been that, though a considerable period had elapsed since the purchase of the Kensington estate, few of the great objects contemplated had been accomplished. Indeed, the only one had been a temporary museum of science and art, but the success of that establishment bad not, as might perhaps have been expected, induced the public generally to change their opinion upon the main question. The question now was, what, under these circumstances, was best to be done? He had to state that the Exhibition Commissioners had made a proposition to the Government which he thought deserved the attention of the House. It was to dissolve the partnership which had been so barren of results. The Commissioners called upon the Government, in the first place, to assist them in carrying out the original scheme, but the Government did not find themselves in a position to do so, and then the Commissioners proposed that they should repay to the country the suns of £180,000 voted by the House of Commons six years ago, with a moiety of all rents received during the interval. On the part of the Government, he had assented to that proposition, subject, of course, to the approval of the House. He believed they would find it a prudent and advantageous arrangement. The Royal Commissioners would thus become the sole proprietors of the land at Kensington, and would be able to devote it to the purposes of science and art. There would be an end of all those jealousies which had so long prevailed, and all intention or power of placing the National Gallery at Kensington would, of course, be given up. If the House agreed to that arrangement, which it would soon be his duty to bring more formally under their notice, they would then have to consider the question of the National Gallery without reference to the site at Kensington-gore. Thus would terminate an old and painful controversy. He trusted that the discussion which had taken place would convince the House and the country of the necessity of encountering difficulties which could no longer be procrastinated, and that some satisfactory arrangement would soon he made for the accommodation of the highly interesting and valuable contents of the British Museum, National Gallery, and our other national collections.


said, he had heard with great satisfaction the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he joined with bins in expecting good results from the arrangement he had mentioned. As to opening these institutions on Sundays he should vote in favour of it, and he also referred to the uniform good behaviour of the working classes when visiting the national institutions, and urged that the British Museum should be kept open till eight o'clock on Mondays and Saturdays in the summer months. There would be no greater danger from fire than at present. It was advisable to afford the working classes the fullest opportunity of visiting the national institutions.


said, he should strongly condemn the proposition for opening such places on Sunday, which was against the wish of a large portion of the working classes themselves, who were apprehensive that if this principle were once admitted, it would not be long before their employers would take the hint, and deprive them of their day of rest. It was a mistake to say that Sunday was the only day on which the working man could visit the Museum. The working men of London seldom worked the whole of the six days, and the experience they had had of the South Kensington Museum proved that they could spare time of an evening to visit public institutions. He thought, therefore, that the Museum might be kept open later in the evening, and that the apprehensions with respect to fire mooted by the noble Lord the Member for London were groundless. He also suggested, that inasmuch as the Museum possessed several duplicate works which they would be anxious to sell if they had power, Parliament should empower them to present such works to local libraries in the various towns of the kingdom. The same might be said with reference to duplicate portions of the collection of rare and curious articles.


said, he did not wish to enter upon the subject of opening the British Museum on Sundays, as it had been decided by a large majority that it should not be opened. But he desired to state that all the inhabitants of the metropolis would hear with very great satisfaction that we were going to get rid of the Kensington-gore establishment. He believed that the minds of all people would be greatly relieved when they heard that the consideration of that question was to be no longer embarrassed by the peculiar ideas of some people in relation to that property. But he hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take care that he should not be overreached in the bargain. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would do well, before he concluded the bargain, to call in some person cognisant of the value of land in the neighbourhood in question, in order that the public might receive full value before they relinquished their part of the property. He hoped that care would be taken to secure to the public, payment not only of the principal, but of the interest that had accrued. He was glad that the question of the National Gallery might now be discussed irrespective of that particular estate. He had no doubt that a desirable site would be easily found in the centre of the metropolis for the erection of a National Gallery.


said, he hoped the Government would inform the House distinctly as to the terms on which the partnership in the Kensington property was to be dissolved.


observed, that he believed that the land in the immediate vicinity of the plot of ground in question had this year increased at least three times in value. He trusted that nothing would be done to alter the vote to which the House came against the opening of the British Museum on Sundays, but that it would be opened during some of the other days of the week at such hours as would enable the working classes to visit it.


remarked, that it would be better to refrain from going into details upon the Kensington property until he introduced a measure upon it. He might, however, observe, with respect to the statement of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Kinnaird) as to the increase in the value of land in the neighbourhood in question, that that increase had taken place with regard to land for budding purposes; but the land purchased by the Royal Commissioners could only be used for the original corporation—namely, for the purposes of art.


said, he did not wish to reopen the Sunday question, but he would submit that the British Museum ought to be opened to the working classes five or six days in the week instead of merely three as at present. The state of the Museum might truly be said to represent the state of our civilization and mental culture. No one who walked through the thoroughfares of the metropolis and saw the frightful monuments of our celebrated men could help regretting that those who had to decide upon the erection of those monuments did not take the trouble to visit the Museum and inspect the wonderful ancient monuments there. Had they done so, they could never have sanctioned such solecisms and deformities as were to be seen at Hyde Park-corner and in Trafalgar Square. It was with some satisfaction that he heard that the Brompton scheme had been given up, because he was instrumental in preventing the removal of the pictures in the National Gallery beyond the reach of the inhabitants of the metropolis. If the Royal Academy were removed from Trafalgar Square the National Gallery would be large enough to contain all those pictures for which there was now no room. In the Estimates it was proposed to take a Vote of £10,000 to enable the trustees to purchase pictures during the current year, upon which he intended to divide the Committee, unless the explanations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to the removal of the Royal Academy from the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square should prove to be satisfactory.


remarked, that if any justification were needed of the observations which had fallen from him in reference to the British Museum, it was to be found in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He might also be permitted to say that he was extremely glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that there was an end of the long-debated question of the site of the National Gallery. He also thought that the question of the removal of the Royal Academy from the building in Trafalgar Square ought to be considered at an early period.

Vote agreed to: as were also

(2.) £26,887, for New Buildings, and Fittings at British Museum.

(3.) £5,000, Purchase of Objects for ditto.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported on Monday next.