HC Deb 25 July 1859 vol 155 cc430-42

(9.) £47,425, British Museum Establishment.


said, that as the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, the senior Trustee of the British Museum, happened, unfortunately for him (Mr. Walpole), to be in office, it devolved upon him as the junior Trustee to move the Estimate for the present year. But the duty was considerably lightened on this occasion by the circumstance that there was nothing in the Vote this year requiring explanation or apology. The Committee would observe that the Vote was less by £1,875 than it was last year, or £77,475 against £79,275 of the previous year. The Vote was arranged under the different heads of the salaries of the establishment, the house expenses, purchases and acquisitions, books, and bookbinding, catalogues, and miscellaneous charges. If hon. Members looked through these different details they would find that there was an increase under the first head of £1,475 in consequence of the increase of attendants which the new arrangements had rendered necessary. Under the head of house expenses there was a diminution of £220, in consequence of some improvements in the warming and ventilation. Under the third head, of purchases and acquisitions, they would find there was a slight increase of £300, chiefly owing to the improvements in the mineralogical department which was under the direction of a very able Professor. Under the head of books and bookbinding there was a large diminution, to the extent of £2,500 which, was owing to large Votes having been taken in former years to bring up the arrears of bookbinding which had fallen back in former years. There was also a diminution of £900 in the Vote for the catalogues, while the miscellaneous charges remained the same; so that the Committee would observe the difference between last year's Vote and the present was a saving in the present year of £1,875. The only material point to which he thought it necessary to direct the attention of the Committee was a circumstance which must be highly gratifying to them—he meant the increase in the number of gentlemen who attended the Museum for the purpose of study. Not only was there an increase in the number of students, but an increase in the number of books they used for study; and, what to his mind was the most gratifying of all, there was a large increase in the number of boots put into the closets for the purpose of future study by those students who came there day after day to pursue their investigations into a particular subject, and who were allowed the use of these closets —a new regulation which he had no hesitation in saying had proved of the greatest advantage. The number of books returned to the shelves of the general library during the year was 177,290; to the Royal library, 12,425; to the Grenville library, 787; and to those closets where the books were left for students, 122,192; and adding to these the number of volumes, amounting to 564,000, in the reading-room, which the students could command without requiring any order for their use, it showed that the books used in the course of the year amounted to 876,000, or 3,000 per diem, while the numbers used in the preceding year were 576,000, or about 2,000 per diem. This showed that the increased accommodation afforded to students had been largely used by them. There were two vacancies in the list of Trustees that had been filled up. One of those vacancies, which was in the appointment of the Crown, and had long remained vacant, had at last been filled up by the appointment of the learned and able Dr. Cureton. The other vacancy was in the appointment of the official trustees; and it was a satisfaction to his mind to be able to state that they had selected the learned and excellent historian, Mr. Grote. This appointment was, he thought, of itself sufficient guarantee that the managers of this institution were determined to do all they could to maintain its high position as worthy of the British nation. He would formally conclude by moving the Vote.


said, he wished to call the attention of the Committee to the pre- sent state of the collection in the British Museum. It had been his intention, if he had obtained the Committee for which it would be in the recollection of hon. Members that he had moved during the late Session of Parliament, to enter upon the inquiry as to whether some portion of the collection could not have been advantageously separated from the Museum, and then the question would have arisen as to the locality to which such portions should be removed. He had shown on that occasion that the Museum was in a state of hopeless confusion; that valuable collections were wholly hidden from the public, and that great portions of other collections were in danger of being destroyed by damp and neglect. Parliament, however, was dissolved, and on its reassembling he had not the energy, and he was not sure that he would be supported by the ardour of a sufficient number of Members to press for this Committee. In the course of next Session he should probably bring forward the matter again; but he trusted that the observations he was now about to make would render it unnecessary. His noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had opposed the Motion on the ground that the British Museum was in such a discreditable state that every delay should be avoided; that the late Government was in a position to act, and that it was to action and not to protracted investigation they should look to remedy the evil. No one better than the noble Lord could know the deficiencies of the British Museum. He believed that if the Government were prepared before the next meeting of Parliament with some course of action, they would be spared the anxiety of a protracted investigation, and get rid of the injurious evils which now affected the British Museum. He trusted that the Government would consider the subject during the recess, a course which they could take with the more advantage as they numbered in the Cabinet no less than four of the most influential Trustees. He would wish them, first of all, to consider whether the natural history department could not be removed from the British Museum. Public opinion was strongly in favour of its removal; and then the question for the Government was the locality to which it should be removed. There were two or three localities to which attention had been drawn. First of all there was Kensington; but he warned the Government that if they proposed to remove it to that locality they would meet with strenu- ous opposition. He believed that an opposition as successful as that which had been raised to the proposed transference of the National Gallery would be raised to any attempt to remove the British Museum to Kensington. The Regent's Park, which had been likewise spoken of, was certainly a more central position, and had the further advantage that the stuffed and osteological specimens might be studied in close proximity to the living specimens, but there were likewise difficulties to be encountered in that quarter, for he understood that pledges had been given which rendered building in that locality, without the consent of the inhabitants, a matter difficult of accomplishment. He believed that with certain arrangements which could be made the present site offered advantages which were not to be met with elsewhere; and certainly there would be the primary gain of a saving in the expense of a new library; the risk and delay attendant on a transference would be avoided; and they would also thus have drawn together a noble collection both natural and scientific. He did not mean that the collections were to be continued under the present roof, or as they stood; he should like to see a separation made between the works of nature and of art. He should desire to have a north and south front to the building for these different purposes, and he thought it would further be most advantageous that the enormous establishment should be placed under separate departments. It was quite bewildering for any man to attempt to govern the Museum in its entirety at present, and to exercise a general view; how much more bewildering therefore must it be for any single mind to attempt to exercise a general management over the whole. He hoped that in the new arrangement, whenever it might be completed, there would not be overlooked the necessity which existed for a scientific arrangement of the archaeological department. He could not do better on this point than to recall the attention of the Committee to what had taken place. Mr. Smirke, the architect to the Trustees, had prepared, by their order, a plan for the future arrangement of the British Museum. The Trustees, on this subject, had neither conferred with nor consulted a single one of the heads of the departments; and those gentlemen, if they were fit for the positions which they occupied, ought certainly to have had a voice in the matter. Professor Owen had not been consulted; and when, at great trouble, he drew up a plan it was determined by the Trustees that it should not be submitted to the House. Mr. Hawkins, the head of the department of antiquities, himself drew up a plan for the future arrangement of the archaeological department, which was a virtual though unconscious protest against the plan of Mr. Smirke. Year after year the House was asked for sums varying from £75,000 to £80,000 for this national institution, and for the most part these were voted without objection or complaint. But they had a right to expect that this money should be spent properly, and they would take care to demand that the British Museum, when it was completed, should be a credit and not a disgrace to the British nation. Another subject which he felt obliged to bring prominently forward was the necessity of making that building not merely a place for recreation, but of instruction by means of lectures. That proposition, when made on a former occasion, had been most favourably received by the House and the press out of doors. He was far from desirous of assuming a position of hostility to the present management, but he was perfectly determined to persevere in his efforts till those who did not belong to the upper classes of society, but who nevertheless contributed their quota towards the maintenance of the establishment, should have the means of deriving equal advantages from it with those who were more favourably off as to social position and early education. Those for whom he was interested were equally anxious to know the meaning and value of objects comprised in the collection, but unless by the medium of lectures they had no means of becoming acquainted with these details. He trusted that at the commencement of the next Session, whoever might be Her Majesty's Ministers, they would be prepared with a statement to the effect that a measure had in the meantime been prepared which would deal with the matters to which he had called attention. He must likewise refer to the position of the assistants in the British Museum, who were unquestionably the worst paid and the worst used of any of the public officials in any department. They required an education of a special and high order. Take, for instance, the archaeological department. The gentlemen assistants there had received a good classical education; many of them had a knowledge of different modern languages, and some even were acquainted with Eastern languages, both ancient and modern, yet the utmost to which these gentlemen could aspire, so long as they remained attached to the British Museum, was a salary of £300, with the exception of one fortunate individual, who might eventually be placed at the head of the department. Two years ago an alteration had been made in the condition of these gentlemen, who were divided into two classes; and he confessed he should be glad to be acquainted with the principle on which that division was made, and whether it had been generally applied. Previously the assistants had entered at £150 per year, and the maximum to which they could arrive after a great many years' service was £245. By the new arrangement they entered at somewhat over £200, and their salaries increased yearly until they reached £300. He believed there was a great diversity of opinion among the Trustees as to giving the assistants at the British Museum a more liberal provision in the way of salaries, although, considering that it was necessary to have the best men they could get, the present scale of salaries ought to be increased. There was but one other point to which he would allude, and that was with regard to the vacation. He found that in the whole year the assistants at the British Museum only had twenty-four days' vacation, while the assistants in all the other public departments had more than eight weeks' vacation in the year, and bearing in mind that the former were required to be on duty every ordinary day from ten a.m. to four p.m., he thought this very inconsiderate treatment. It was not by overworking people that they got the most efficient service; and although the officials of the Museum might endure such labour, yet it was placing upon them burdens which no other officers would bear. It was because those gentlemen were not connected with Parliamentary or political struggles that they found no person of influence to advocate their claims, and it was in the hope that he should better their condition that he now ventured to press the subject upon the Committee.


said, he knew the gentlemen constituting the working body of the British Museum, than whom a more intelligent, honourable, or worthy class of men did not exist. He trusted the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would use his influence in that House and as a trustee of the Museum in removing the great scandal on the lite- rary character of the country that at present existed in respect to the remuneration they received. He believed if the case of these gentlemen was brought clearly before the public, the feeling of the House and the country would be that these gentlemen should not be allowed to remain in the state of honourable penury in which they now stand—but would be regarded as deserving servants of the State. He (Mr. Milnes) availed himself of that opportunity to suggest that a certain number of small reading rooms should be attached to the library, for the use of men of high literary distinction who were engaged on particular works, and to whom the circumstance of studying in company with a large body of persons was extremely inconvenient. One of the most distinguished literary men of our time, who from physical circumstances was unable to avail himself of the treasures of the library, had actually received from foreign countries the very works which he was unable to take home from the British Museum. He also suggested that some arrangement might be made by which provincial libraries might be benefited by the distribution among them of some of the large collection of duplicate volumes in the library of the Museum.


said, he quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had called the attention of the Committee to the position of the assistants of the Museum, who, he thought, were an ill-used class of men. He had the honour of knowing the whole of them, and he thought it was an honour to any gentleman to be acquainted with men of such high attainments and so fully competent to conduct the different departments in the Museum, and who were able and willing on all occasions to give every information to visitors to that establishment. And yet with the small salaries allowed them they were unable, highly accomplished though they were, to live like gentlemen, or to educate their families in a manner befitting their station. One of them he knew, had been compelled to relinquish what to him must have been a sort of Crimean medal, namely, his title of honour in connection with a learned body of which he was a member, from sheer inability longer to pay the annual expenses incident to membership. He (Mr. Turner) considered it a disgrace to the country which refused a salary of £300 a year to such men, but gave it to persons employed, for instance, in the inspection and manipulation of boots and coats for the army.


wished to call the attention of the Committee to the small sum which was granted to Irish institutions of a similar character, when such lavish Votes were granted in England. He hoped that when a few trifling items were proposed for Irish purposes they would not meet with a renewal of objection to the amount. He agreed with the hon. Member for Galway that the British Museum was not made sufficiently available for the purposes of instruction. On a future occasion he should renew the notice he had formerly given on that point, and also for opening the Museum after the hours of Divine service on Sundays.


said, that the officers of the Museum complained not only of the lowness of their salaries, but of the way in which they were treated, being marked, for example, when they arrived in the morning, and having the number of hours they attended recorded against them. He could not understand why the Trustees had allowed the grievances of the assistants to remain so long unredressed. He was quite sure that no private gentleman would have treated his servants as the Board had treated the assistants of the Museum. He also wished to remark with reference to what had been said as to removing a part of the Museum to Kensington, that he thought the inhabitants of the east end of London had some claim to be considered, and that Victoria Park was as suitable a spot as Kensington for a part of the collection. He believed Mr. Smirke was the architect who had carried out the alterations of the Museum. £550,000 had been ex-ponded on the front, which he certainly did not admire, and only £200,000 on the Museum. He hoped any further alterations would be submitted to a competition of architects.


said, he differed from the view taken by the last speaker. The proportionate outlay was, as he believed, greatly less and the cost of the portico and peristyle under £100,000. The original architect was Sir Robert Smirke, his brother, Mr. Smirke, being the present architect, both of them being then of the greatest eminence. He did not object to the amount of the Votes that had been granted in respect of the monuments brought from the excavations at Halicarnassus, which had been referred to in the course of the discussion, but he wished to know whether some arrangement could not be made by which those extremely curious monuments could be publicly exhibited; at present they were in a miserable state under the portico.


asked whether the Museum could not be kept open longer on Saturday afternoons than at present; it might be contended that this would throw increased labour upon the servants of the institution, but he thought the working classes better deserved consideration than they, and that the general disposition evinced by all classes to observe the Saturday half-holiday rendered such an arrangement desirable.


said, he rose to reply to the various suggestions and questions that had been made. The hon. Member for Galway, in pointing out the inconvenience of removing some portion of the collection, and retaining others where they now were, suggested that the whole question should be taken up and considered by the Government. He (Mr. Walpole) was of the same opinion, for he believed that no Committee of that House could effectually grapple with the subject. Various Committees had already sat upon the whole matter, and all the information required had been obtained. It now only remained for the Government to take the matter in hand, and determine not only with regard to the British Museum, but with regard to other existing museums, how they could best be made available for the public generally. He thought it was hardly necessary, after the observations made by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) to reply to the observations that had been made upon the supposed confusion existing in the arrangements of the Museum. He might mention, however, that within the last ten days one of the most scientific gentlemen in Europe had seen and expressed his entire satisfaction, not only with the collections themselves, but with their arrangements. As to the suggestion that courses of lectures should be established, and lecturers of acknowledged ability be appointed to impart instruction upon the various portions of the collection, he thought that a difficult question to decide. Individually he thought such collections could not be made the most of without instruction; but in what rooms could the lectures be given? Who was to give the lectures? How was he to be paid? And after all, was the Museum the proper building for such a purpose? The Museum was a collection, not a school for instruction—a place to which people might resort to get information upon which they might make their own observations. But if the Museum were turned into a great college or academy for instruction, he thought it would be a perversion of the purpose for which it was originally intended. Then, with regard to the remuneration of the assistants, he would be glad to see them paid higher salaries. He did not mean to say that any of the gentlemen were paid in accordance with their attainments. But who was paid according to his attainments? Was Professor Owen—the person who was paid more than any one else in the establishment—paid according to his attainments and acquirements? Why, he would not be sufficiently paid, if he received a salary equal to that of the first Minister of the Crown. He did not wish to check the desire of hon. Gentlemen, of the Government, nor even of the Trustees, if they entertained such a desire, to pay higher salaries than were now given; but two years ago the whole question had been fully gone into by officers appointed by the Treasury to see if those persons were properly paid: their salaries in some instances were raised, in all they were considered. Let it be considered again de novo, but he only wished to tell hon. Gentlemen that after such an inquiry they should not come down to the House and complain that the Votes in the Civil Estimates were being increased from year to year, and that no check existed upon the Trustees, who were remunerating their assistants, not according to the requirements of the establishment, but according to their own notions of philanthropy and benevolence, however disqualified the recipient might be. With reference to the suggestion that separate rooms should be built in which gentlemen deserving peculiar consideration might pursue their studies unmolested, which they could not do in the public reading-room, he considered that many objections might arise if such an arrangement were put in operation, not the least amongst which would be jealousy caused by the admission of one to the exclusion of another. But he thought that the arrangements already provided in the public reading-room — the separate desks, the separate lockers in which the reader might keep his pens, paper, and books which he had not finished reading, cum multis aliis —were of such a nature as to preclude the necessity for the adoption of such a suggestion as that to which he was replying. As to the exceptional case mentioned by the hon. Member for Pontefract such a case might be made by the Trustees the subject of exceptional treatment; and he was quite sure that the Trustees would feel the greatest willingness to take it into their consideration and make every necessary provision required. Then, with regard to the observations made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) upon the monuments from the excavations of Halicarnassus, he admitted that they were undoubtedly in the most disreputable state as far as the accommodation provided for them was concerned. They were under a glass covering, hardly open to the public; and there was really no means of studying them as many persons might desire to do. But in alluding to this subject the hon. Member was in fact opening the whole question of the extension of the building. That was a very large question, and he (Mr. Walpole) was very much in favour of the extension, therefore he hoped it would not be thought that he was going to oppose it. But at the same time he must be understood as giving his own individual opinion only in thus expressing himself, and not the opinion of the Trustees, although, for aught he knew, they might entertain similar views. He believed that they would never make the Museum a fitting receptacle even for the objects which we had got until it was extended to the street running to the north of it. Nay, more; he would not say but that, in the course of time, it would not be necessary to add to it on each side, so that it should occupy the whole space within the four adjoining streets. As to extending the hours of admission on Saturday, he might remark that until lately the Museum had not been open to the public at all on Saturdays. He believed that the hon. Member (Sir John Shelley) was under a mistake if he thought that Saturday was the day on which the working classes took most advantage of the Museum by visiting it, for he was informed that it was on Monday that they went there in the greatest numbers; and if they extended the hours for being open on Saturday they would involve themselves in the question of whether the Museum should not be open in the evening; and it was a question whether such a course by rendering necessary the introduction of fires and lights, might lead to more loss than advantage. He had not long been one of the Trustees of the British Museum, but in the governors of no institution had he ever witnessed a greater desire to give the greatest possible accom- modation to the public, and to the working classes as well as others. The Trustees could have no desire except to make the institution worthy of the country, and he believed that, by the attention which they paid to it, that object would be accomplished.


said, that speaking as an individual he felt bound to state that he looked upon the scheme for extending the Museum which had been sketched by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) with alarm, as one involving an enormous and most unnecessary expense. The provision of additional accommodation called for the early consideration of the House; but whether it could be accomplished without the separation of the collections was to him more than doubtful. The Trustees, he believed, were quite prepared to enter into the fullest consideration of this question and to declare their opinion upon it, and it would be the duly of the Government, when circumstances would permit, to take steps to bring it to a state of ripeness for decision. At the present moment he felt more than ordinarily the necessity for caution and circumspection, on account of the accumulation of heavy demands on the public purse, though he did not state this so much as a reason for doing nothing as a plea for indulgence. He was sorry to hear the question of insufficient salaries and vacations raised in the House of Commons—for in the first place there appeared little presumptive reason for raising it, and if it were raised it should be in a different manner and place. The most deliberate and careful consideration had been given to the question of salaries by the Trustees and the Treasury jointly some two years ago. In fixing the salaries of offices of this kind, it was but fair to the public that the other incidents of the offices should also be taken into view. It must not be forgotten that the offices which these gentlemen held were peculiarly agreeable in themselves, and the agreeable incidents of offices of this kind for literary men must necessarily form an important item in considering the salaries attached to them. Still, if these gentlemen were dissatisfied —and it was evident from what had been said that they were—with the amount of salary which they received, and the length of vacation which they were allowed to abstract from their ordinary duties, their proper course was to memorialize the Trustees and ask for an alteration. They had al- ready raised one point before the Trustees —that of retrospective increase of salaries —and the Trustees having decided against them it was competent for them to have applied to the Treasury, and ultimately to the House of Commons. So in all other cases they ought to go before the Trustees first, and if they did not get justice from them they might then go to the Executive Government, and it was only by way of appeal from the Trustees and the Executive Government that they could legitimately appear before the House.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman laboured under a misapprehension, when he said that he (Mr. Gregory) represented the grievances of the officers of the British Museum. From taste and inclination, however, he was frequently at the Museum, and well acquainted with the affairs of the place. He hoped that the gentlemen in question would profit by the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that their address would meet with more success than former ones had done.

Vote agreed to, as was also,

(10.) £12,270, New Buildings and Fit-tings, British Museum.

On the next Vote, £15,985 for the National Gallery being put,

MR. DANBY SEYMOUR moved that the Chairman report progress.

Motion made and Question, "That the Chairman do report these Resolutions to the House," put and negatived.


said, he would not ask the House to take a Vote which might create discussion at that time of night, twelve o'clock.

House resumed.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.