HC Deb 17 March 1859 vol 153 cc250-71

said, he rose to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the re-organization of the British Museum. As, however, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had consented to grant this Committee, he did not consider it necessary to enter into any elaborate statement of the motives which had induced him to make the Motion. He must, however, ask the attention of the House for a short time while he endeavoured to show that he was not going unnecessarily to occupy the time of those hon. Gentlemen who might consent to serve on the Committee, or to defeat the laudable intention of the Government to remedy the defective state of the Museum. That the British Museum was at present in a lamentable state of congestion must be apparent to any one who had either visited it or read the reports of the heads of departments. So far back as the year 1854, Dr. Grey, the keeper of the zoological department, reported that the zoological collection, which had cost between £14,000 and £15,000, besides the specimens presented, was almost entirely useless to the public from its inaccessibility, and that, if it were not shortly removed to a drier place, it would be utterly destroyed. In November, 1857, Mr. Panizzi stated that no specimen in this department could be scientifically examined without displacing two or three others; that the osteological collection, as well as many of the specimens preserved in spirits, being placed in the basement, were altogether withdrawn from public exhibition, and were only studied by scientific men on special occasions, and at great personal inconvenience; and that the trustees could not exhibit the collection of prints and drawings for want of space. Now, it was quite unnecessary for him to comment on the loss the public had sustained by the valuable collection of prints and drawings being withdrawn from them. They were the drawings of the great ancient masters, and of all things he should consider were most essential to form the tastes and direct the studies of artists. Perhaps, too, some of the architectural designs might be studied to advantage by future Chief Commissioners of Woods and Forests. Any person who had gone to the British Museum must be aware that the drawings that were exhibited were exhibited most imperfectly as regarded the place in which they were put, and as regarded light. Mr. Panizzi proceeded to show that the department of antiquities was in a more hopeless condition. But into these statements of Mr. Panizzi he would not enter. It was only necessary for any gentleman to make use of his eyes as he entered the precincts of the Museum. He would be astonished to see a series of glass conservatories extending all round, and defacing the colonnade, in which were stored away some of the noblest treasures of ancient art, which had been sent to us by Mr. Newton from Halicarnassus. If he asked to see the mosaics discovered at Carthage by Mr. Davis he would be taken down into the regions of Erebus and Orcus and eternal night, down mysterious cellars where these Valuable relics slept quite as undisturbed, as when beneath the ruins of Carthage, covered with several feet of earth. Last year a suggestion was made in that House by his noble Friend the Member for Haddington (Lord Elcho), which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed disposed to adopt—namely, that the natural history collections should be removed from the Museum;- that the geological one should find refuge in Jermyn-street, and the botanical one at Kew, and that the zoological collection should be provided for by either the Zoological or Linnæan Society. The unanimity in favour of that scheme which prevailed in the House of Commons was not, however, shared by the public out of doors, for on the 19th of July a protest against it was presented to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, signed by 114 gentlemen, among whom were all the officers in the department of natural history, and some of the most eminent scientific men in the country, such, for instance, as Professor Owen, Sir Charles Lyell, Sir John Herschell, Professor Sedgwick, and Dr. Whewell. Their objection to this plan, as was clear from the undertone that pervaded the memorial, arose principally from an apprehension that if it were adopted, the natural history collections would be dispersed to the four winds of heaven; but he believed that many of them would modify these opinions if they had an understanding that those collections should be preserved unseparated, and in a condition worthy of their importance and of the reputation of the country. Indeed, he had the authority of Professor Owen for saying that he should be willing to withdraw his name from the protest referred to if he was satisfied that the natural history collection would be kept together and transferred to some suitable establishment. He (Mr. Gregory) thought there ought to be a Committee, in order to give the gentlemen who had signed the protest an opportunity of further explaining their views as to the general question of the removal of the collections, and also should that point be decided in the affirmative, upon the next question—namely, "where to" should they be removed? He understood that the Government had already determined to remove the natural history collections to Brompton; but he could well remember the storm of indignation brought to bear on a similar proposal with respect to the National Gallery by Lord Elcho. All experience proved that the collections of natural history were the most popular of all the collections in the British Museum, and therefore the question of their removal ought to receive the fullest investigation. Granting that they ought to be removed, the Government should consider, before sending them to Brompton, whether there were not other sites which would be more easy of access to the people, and which would give a greater amount of accommodation. He need not say that he alluded to the Regent's-park, which would have the additional advantage of bringing the zoological specimens in the British Museum into closer proximity to the Zoological-gardens. It had been said that further inquiry was unnecessary, and that the Reports of former Committees and Commissions, and the papers relating to the transactions of the Museum, afforded quite sufficient information on the subject. He altogether demurred to that statement. The Report of the Committee of 1836 referred to a totally different state of things from that which existed now, and its conclusions were as little suited to the present time as the Reform Bill of 1832 was felt by hon. Gentlemen below the gangway to be suitable to the present year. The Report of the Commission of 1850 was entirely occupied with the internal administration of the Museum, and especially of the department of printed books. It had no reference whatever to the question of increased accommodation or the removal of any of the collections. The points which he wished to be inquired into were not even incidentally touched upon by the National Gallery Committee. The National Gallery Site Committee of 1853, though it alluded to the removal of the natural history collections, was appointed to consider a question of art, and the witnesses who were examined before it were painters and sculptors. Its investigations, therefore, were not conducted in a manner which could afford any satisfaction to men of science. He now turned to the papers which had been presented to Parliament, and from them he should be able to show that the Government possessed no information on the subject, in 18.37, Mr. Panizzi was called upon to report on the general condition of the Museum; but, as he stated in his very able report, he was precluded "from even speculating on the possibility of the natural history collections being ever detached from the rest of the Museum." The next paper was the protest of 114 cultivators and promoters of science, against the removal of the natural history collections at all. After that came another paper drawn up by Professor Owen, in which he modified his opinion as contained in that protest. This was accompanied by an elaborate, plan drawn up for the reconstruction of the several departments of natural history. But that report was never presented to the Government at all; for the trustees decided that it should not be presented [Lord JOHN RUSSELL: Oh, oh!] He had good authority, however, for asserting that it was so; and in reality, therefore, the Government had derived no information whatever, either from the reports of Committees or Commissions, or from documents relating to the Museum. He maintained that they could not form an opinion without some further inquiry. But it might be said—and this was an argument which he anticipated would be relied on—that Parliament ought not to deal with such a matter, and that the responsibility of action should rest upon the Government alone, the House of Commons reserving the right of discussing their plan when it was produced. He could not assent to that proposition, because in the first place, the criticism of private individuals, unless fortified by the evidence of persons competent to speak on the subject, would have little weight when opposed to a scheme submitted by the Government; and because, in the second place, the Government, being a political body, did not necessarily possess any exclusive scientific knowledge. In matters of politics the Government ought of right to take the initiative, but in matters of science it must derive its information from without, and he could not conceive of any tribunal more capable of giving it sound advice than a Select Committee. He believed that it would also be urged as an objection to this Committee that the Trustees themselves should somehow initiate an investigation. He saw, by the papers on the table of the House, that on the 12th of February last a Resolution was passed by the Trustees to the effect that a letter should be written calling the attention of the Treasury to the letter of the 14th of June, 1858, and stating the readiness of the Trustees to deliberate and report on the proposed increased accommodation for the museum collection. He, however, altogether objected to the Trustees being the parties to take the initiative in a matter of this kind. He had a great respect for them individually and collectively; but they were not a responsible body. The elected Trustees elected themselves; and the question to be decided was the expenditure of a large sum of money and the site of a great public establishment highly connected with the convenience of the public. The Trustees after all could only arrive at any report by adopting precisely the same process as a Committee of the House of Commons,—namely, by examining witnesses, and he infinitely preferred that a Committee of the House of Commons, accessible to the public and to the press, should be called on to give its opinion to the Government in the first instance on questions of that kind rather than an irresponsible Committee of Directors, who might take as much or as little evidence as they liked, and of whose unanimity or differences no opinion could be formed. He trusted that if any opposition should be made to the appointment of a Committee, it would not proceed from the Trustees. Another point requiring inquiry was the future structure of the Museum. The Trustees appeared from the Parliamentary papers to have considered the subject together with their architect, Mr. Smirke, and to have come to the decision to adopt the plan prepared by Mr. Smirke. It was hardly credible that in a matter of this kind not one single officer connected with the different departments was ever consulted. Professor Owen was never consulted or spoken to on the subject; Mr. Maskelyne, in the mineralogical department; Dr. Gray, in the zoological department, and Mr. Hawkins, the keeper of antiquities, had been simply ignored. Surely if these Gentlemen were at all worthy of the position they occupy, their opinions were worth obtaining. What was the consequence? Mr. Hawkins sent in a virtual, though unconscious protest against the whole plan of Mr. Smirke, which had been adopted by the Trustees. That gentleman objected to the direction in which Mr. Smirke proposed to build, and to the architectural details of the plan, as being totally unfitted to the proper and scientific exhibition of subjects of sculpture. It was not his intention to throw any blame on Mr. Smirke, because he was hampered in his plan by the instruction he received from the Trustees not to consider the possibility of the natural history collection being removed from the Museum. How, then, was the Government to act with respect to two plans entirely opposed to each other—the one authorized by the Trustees, supposing that a state of things shall continue, which it is evidently the feeling of the Government and the House of Commons that it should not continue, and the other that of Mr. Hawkins based on the intention, upon which the Government intended to act, of removing the collection? Therefore, if ever there was a legitimate subject of inquiry, this was one. There were also one or two minor matters connected with the Museum which he thought should be rectified. He desired that the Government should be able to make some change in the Act of Parliament by which at present bequests were confined to the Museum. He thought it advisable that some latitude should be given to the Trustees, so that they might be enabled to remove duplicates and specimens which they did not require. According to the Act of Parliament the Trustees were unable to get rid of these specimens except by sale or exchange. There were, however, many articles, which could not be sold or exchanged, but which local museums would be happy to receive. With respect to duplicates of hooks, it was most advisable that there should be a power of removing them to district libraries, in case they should at any future period be established in London, and thereby the present excessive pressure which the deserved popularity of the Museum reading-room had brought on it would be relieved. A reference to the catalogue of the British Museum would show that there were some articles which it would be difficult cither to sell or exchange; for instance, in the Sloane catalogue, one of the articles was the "breeches of a gentleman singed by thunder." Some years ago the Trustees adopted an excellent plan of getting rid of some of their surplus articles. They dug a hole under the Museum and buried in it all the rubbish. The workmen some time since engaged in opening a new foundation came upon these remains which were again exhumed. At present there was such an accumulation that they would have now to dig a much larger hole for burying still more rubbish. In some future time the excavator on the ruins of London (when the prophecies of Sir A. Alison came true) will be like Virgil's tiller of the soil: he will turn up with his spade the mutilated heads and limbs of Greek and Roman statues, and marvel at the gigantic bones of monsters buried out of the way by Professor Owen. Another subject of inquiry eminently suited to a Committee of that House was the connection between the heads of departments and the Trustees. He was anxious to see the heads of departments brought into immediate communication with the Trustees, when the business of the respective departments was considered. He should also be anxious to ascertain how far greater latitude might be given to the heads of departments in the arrangement of the collections. Again, with respect to the constitution of the Board of Trustees, he could not help thinking that something might be done in the way of improvement. He hoped no Trustee would be offended at what he was about to say. It was not his intention to make a vulgar ad captandum speech, and say that great dukes and men of title were not the persons to superintend a great scientific institution of this kind. Quite the reverse. He conceived that it was important that men having their leisure, education, taste, and influence in both Houses of the Legislature, should occupy the position of Trustees, he hoped to see the Museum estimates always moved by some great statesman having the confidence of the House; but he should be glad to see the proposed Committee pursue the investigation commenced in 1836, when Mr. Ridley Colborne proposed a Resolution to the effect that it was to be regretted that, without underrating the value of rank, wealth, and high station, in the character of the Trustees, selections were not more frequently made from those men who were distinguished by their knowledge in science and literature, and that it was hoped that in future this consideration would have weight. Lord Stanley, the present Prime Minister, moved an Amendment that in filling up vacancies in the trust it was desirable that the Trustees should not lose sight of the opportunity thus afforded of occasionally conferring a mark of distinction on men of eminence in literature and science. He confessed that the word "occasionally" grated on his ears, and it appeared also to have grated on the ears of the Committee; for, on a division taken upon a Motion to omit that word, the Motion was only defeated by a majority of one. Since then thirteen new Trustees had been elected, and he should indeed be hard to please if he found fault with any of them. Still he could not but think that the Board should contain a cartain proportion of men whose sole claims to distinction arose from their literary or scientific achievements. The last point to which he would advert was the expediency of giving popular lectures in connection with the Museum. The principle had already been established, because Professor Owen had received his appointment on the understanding that he should deliver lectures on physical science in Jermyn Street, but he was debarred, owing to want of accommodation, from delivering them at the British Museum. Professor Owen, who was examined before the Commission of 1850, expressed a strong opinion in favour of the delivery of lectures in connection with the British Museum, and had instanced the good which had been derived from the Hunterian course at the College of Surgeons; many persons having made bequests to the College, in acknowledgment of the benefit they had derived from these lectures. To quote the Professor's own words in his inaugural address last year to the British Association at Leeds, To open the book of nature without providing means for explaining her language to the masses was akin to the system which kept the Hook of God sealed to the multitude in a dead tongue. Year after year treasures of art and science from every quarter of the globe were poured into that great institution, and this valuable collection ought not to be made a mere raree-show for the gaze of loungers who had no means of appreciating its meaning and its worth. The higher classes had the means of purchasing or borrowing books necessary for the prosecution of their particular studies, they could always obtain introductions to some of the assistants at the Museum, who would explain, to them the various objects which it contained, and he contended that measures should be taken for affording similar information to the middle classes and the more intelligent members of the working class. Some years ago he was introduced by a gentleman to several of the weavers of Coventry who were engaged in making collections illustrating the entomology of the neighbourhood. Instead of haunting the public-house they went on Sundays into the fields, and they succeeded in finding many remarkable specimens, which they took great pleasure in showing to him. But their great want was instruction. They lamented their want of books and teaching. The most they could do was to acquire a certain amount of empirical information; but without proper books or oral instruction many a working man, who might under more favourable circumstances achieve distinction, must for ever forego pursuits on which he might have shed much honour. From the year 1823 up to the year 1850 upwards of £2,000,000 had been spent upon the collections and buildings of the Museum, and he contended that the persons who paid that amount had a perfect right to participate in the advantages of the expenditure. That this Committee might cause some delay in the action of the Government (if the Government really was ready for action) he was ready to acknowledge, but it would only be for a short period, for the inquiry would not be a protracted one, but even that delay was as nothing compared with the misfortune of a wrong decision. As the reorganization of the British Museum was determined on, it was upon that reorganization that the reputation of this country as a scientific country would in the estimation of foreign nations stand or fall. With its vast opportunities for collecting all that was rich and rare, with its vast expenditure, England could not consent that its National Museum should be either a failure or a mediocrity, and therefore believing that if we have an inquiry we should have light and be successful, but that if we walked in darkness, it would fare with us, as it fared with all those who eschewed the light, we should stumble and fall.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed,— "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the reorganization of the British Museum.


said, the hon. Gentleman had, in his eloquent speech, touched upon various topics connected with the present condition of the Museum and he (Lord Elcho) rose with the hope of pointing out a course which might reconcile the duties of Trustees with the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. He (Lord Elcho) proposed to confine his observations to one of those topics only—namely, the question of the arrangement of the collections in the British Museum, and the utter want of space which existed for the collections which at present existed. The hon. Gentleman had said he thought it desirable that others than Dukes, and Lords, and Members of Parliament should be Trustees of the Museum, and he had urged the necessity of placing among that body scientific men. But at this moment the Trustees included four gentlemen highly distinguished for their scientific attainments—namely, Sir Roderick Murchison, who was second to none in scientific reputation;—there was a distinguished Member of that House, Sir Philip Egerton, whose name was unrivalled in that department of science in which he had attained an European reputation—there was the President of the Royal Society (Sir B. Brodie)—and there was the President of the College of Physicians (Dr. Mayo). Therefore he must repeat that science was fully and fairly represented among the Trustees. Then there was the subject of lectures; as to which he thought that a Committee was hardly necessary, because Professor Owen had been appointed to the head of the scientific department of the British Museum on the express condition that he was to deliver lectures, if required to do so. That therefore was a matter with which the Trustees were quite competent to deal. He would further remark that an inquiry such as that proposed by his hon. Friend would last till Doomsday, considering the magnitude of the subjects with, which he proposed to deal. But inquiries had already been instituted; in the year 1835-6 there was a Committee which went very fully into most of the points referred to by his hon. Friend. Then again in 1847 there was a Royal Commission appointed, under the presidency of the Duke of Somarset, which sat for four years, and went most minutely into all the questions affecting the relative positions of the Trustees and their officers. Indeed they dealt, he believed, with all the points referred to by his hon. Friend, except the question of the arrangement of the Museum. He concurred in the views of the hon. Gentleman on that subject. Any one acquainted with the Museum would admit that its state in this respect was what might be termed a state of chronic congestion, without much arrangement or system, in which each department was endeavouring to oust the other in order to obtain space. But even on this subject an inquiry had taken place before the Committee upon the National Gallery which sat ill 1853. That Committee was certainly not directed to this special subject; but he himself (Lord Elcho) brought before the Committee the question of the propriety of appointing a Royal Commission to inquire whether it might not be advisable to combine the arrangement of the national pictures with that of the fine art and ar-chjæological collections in the British Museum. Subsequently the Commission upon the National Gallery site went fully into the question of the removal of the archæological and fine art collection from the British Museum; and a reference to the evidence taken before that Commission would show the crowded state of the Museum, and the necessity of some steps being taken to relieve this plethora. True, the Commission reported against the removal of the archaeological and fine art collection, giving no opinion as to the desirability of removing the zoological and natural history collection. What he maintained, however, was that incidentally there had been inquiry into these very subjects, and indeed it only required the evidence of one's eyes to see the crowded state of the collections; the evidence and printed correspondence on the subject were quite sufficient to answer the simple question, whether these collections ought, or ought not, to remain where they were for all time to come? Mr. Panizzi, in his evidence before the Committee of 1836, said,— The department of natural history ought to be transfered somewhere else. I wish to impress upon the Committee the absolute necessity of this separation. No good can ever be done without it. Again in 1848, Mr. Panizzi observed that every year the question pressed stronger upon the minds of ail who turned their attention to the subject, whether collections of rarities from all countries of the globe—from the depths of the ocean—from the immensity of aerial space—together with the ruins of ancient cities—should all be crowded together under one roof, or whether some portions of them might not be maintained in separate buildings proportionate to the wealth and power of the country to which they belonged. He then suggested that the natural history department of the collection ought to be transferred to some other place. Last year, when this subject was under discussion he (Lord Elcho) ventured to express a hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would deal with this question himself and speedily, and not refer it once more to a Commission or Committee. Upon that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said— That the time would come—indeed he might say had already come—when they must consider the question of how the public collections of this country could be most effectually 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. Committee and Commission had fulfilled their tasks. All the information required upon the subject was before the House, and what was required was a determination to avail themselves of it, in order to act upon it. He (Lord Elcho) now heard from his hon. Friend that the right hon. Gentleman had given his sanction to the appointment of the Committee. He would not twit the right hon. Gentleman with his change of opinion, but he must say that nothing had occurred which should have led him to take a different view. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman had visited the Museum lately, and had spent several hours there, and he must have been convinced from what he saw, that it was impossible it could remain in its present state. The correspondence which had been laid before Parliament would tend to show equally that there was a want of space in the Museum, and his hon. Friend had said that Mr. Owen had drawn up a report, in which he had stated that he had no room to exhibit the speci- mens that there were in the Museum; and he had drawn out a scheme for a national collection, which occupied a space equal to that covered by the British Meseum alone. Nothing, therefore, had occurred to induce the right hon. Gentleman to change his opinion, unless it were the publication of a document which had been drawn up by certain gentlemen who seemed to be afraid that the interests of science were likely to be neglected. His hon. Friend had said that that document was owing to what had fallen from him (Lord. Elcho), when he had recommended, in a light and airy way, that the natural history collection should be scattered over the metropolis. He (Lord Elcho) certainly did say that such and such arrangements might be made, but he did not say that they ought to to made. He did not pretend to so much insight as his hon. Friend, who declared he had seen some antiquities from the ruins of Carthage when they were buried under seven feet of earth. The question was one for the Government to decide after hearing proper evidence, and there was nothing in his suggestions, therefore, which need have alarmed these gentlemen. Nor had he intended in the least to slight the claims of science in this matter. It would be folly to contend that the interests of art were to be considered at the expense of science; and that such was not his view was evident, because the question referred to the Commission of which he had spoken was, whether it would not be possible to combine with the National Gallery the fine art and archæolo-gical collections from the Museum. But the objection to the removal of these collections was the expense which would be incurred on account of their bulky character. A butterfly might be removed without difficulty, but not a marble plinth. The mere removal of one statue from one side of the Egyptian gallery to the other—a space not wider than this House — cost £60; and when the expense of removing all these bulky works was considered, hon. Members would probably come to the conclusion that the archaeological and fine art collection must remain where it was, and that if space could not be found on the present site, the natural history collection must he removed. Justice could not be done to the scientific collection if it were allowed to remain where it was. At present, there were skins of birds, beasts, and fishes, poked away in drawers, unstuffed and unexhibited; and those which were exhibited were so crowded, that in many instances it was impossible to distinguish one specimen from another. It was essential that some order should be brought into this chaos. Let the House consider what were the contents of the Museum. They consisted of stuffed birds, beasts, and fishes, dried plants, insects, and desiccated natives (so they were ticketed), from the South Sea Islands, minerals, geological specimens, and antediluvian reptiles, mediaeval pottery and glass, Egyptian, Assyrian, Grecian, Roman, Celtic, and Saxon antiquities, and works of art; the finest archaeological and fine art collection in the world, besides ancient coins, gems, and medals, drawings, manuscripts, etchings, engravings, and a library of 600,000 volumes, increasing at the rate of 16,000 volumes a year. When to this was added a copy of every newspaper published in the British Islands and in the Colonies, hon. Gentlemen would see the chaotic state to which the Museum must be reduced, and the impossibility of finding space on the present site for a collection so rapidly accumulating. With due deference to his hon. Friend, therefore, be ventured to say this was the time, not for inquiry, but for action. The course he ventured to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman was this—that he should not object to the Committee proposed by his hon. Friend, but that before any inquiry took place, the subject should be referred to the Trustees, who should lay their views upon the whole question before the Government, and that their proposals should be laid upon the table of the House. If their proposals should not be satisfactory to his hon. Friend, or to other hon. Members who took an interest in the subject, then let an inquiry, by a Committee, take place. The mode in which the House dealt with the National Gallery question had been referred to, but that, he thought, was not a good specimen of the result of a Parliamentary inquiry. The Committee upon that question issued a Report, in which they recommended the adoption of a site at Kensington, but that recommendation was carried by a majority of only one. The Government, instead of acting upon their own suggestions, brought in a Bill to carry into effect the recommendation of the Committee, but public opinion did not support the decision of the Committee, and he succeeded in carrying a Motion against the Government. It might happen that if a Committee at once began to inquire into the subject, its labours would be interrupted by a dissolution of Parlia- ment, and the inquiry would have to be commenced afresh on the meeting of a new Parliament.


said, he hoped that in any re-organization of the British Museum means would be taken to provide lectures, especially upon natural history, at a time when they could be attended by the humbler classes. He had derived great entertainment and instruction from the lectures of Professor Owen, but they were given, he was sorry to say, at an hour when the working classes could not attend. Many of that class took great delight in investigating natural history, and some of our best writers on that subject had sprung from that class. One of the best books on fishes and birds was written by one whom he had great pleasure to call his friend, the late Mr. Yarrell, and who when living was a humble tradesman in the neighbourhood of St. James's Street.


said, he thought it desirable that the Committee should be appointed. After what had occurred about the National Gallery, it was quite essential that an inquiry should take place. A memorial against the separation of the collections in the Museum had been signed by all the leading men of science in the country, who said that the removal of any of the collections from their present central position would be viewed with great disfavour by the public generally.


observed that the proposition of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Elcho) would have the effect of shelving the Committee altogether; for if they were not to inquire until some indefinite time when the Trustees had inquired and reported, they were not likely to inquire at all. There was, he thought, another grave objection to the proposition of the noble Lord, which was, that the Trustees would guide the Committee instead of the Committee the Trustees. In his opinion, as it would be impossible much longer to avoid a large expenditure in enlarging the Museum, a Committee should be appointed to ascertain in what manner the money could be most beneficially and economically expended. It was not, he thought, true that the subject was already exhausted, and he fancied that when the Committee entered upon their labours they would find the question to be fresher than was generally supposed. The previous Committees and Commissions had entirely evaded the question of arrangement and subdivision. In his opinion the labours of the Committee would be extremely useful, and he hoped they would approach the consideration of the subject with minds entirely free from unjust suspicions, and that no factious or unworthy feelings (with regard to erroneous impressions relating to distinguished persons) would taint the results to which they might arrive, He ventured to suggest that as the present remuneration to the officers of the British Museum was extremely small, regard being had to their acquirements and to what they might be able to obtain elsewhere, the question of remunerating them better might form a fitting subject for inquiry by the Committee.


said, he still retained the opinion which he had expressed last year—that the consideration of this question by the House ought not to be much longer delayed. He thought that the House and the Government were in possession of all the information requisite to guide them in that reorganization of this institution which was not only necessary, but inevitable. They could not retain its character as a first-rate institution unless they took some means of reorganizing its different branches. He repeated that the labours of Committees and Commissions, and the information thence resulting, appeared to him quite sufficient to guide the Government in the task of reorganization; and with those views, which he still retained, he had certainly expressed the opinion that further inquiry was unnecessary, assuming that it would be the duty of Government to recommend to Parliament some means by which the evils complained of might be remedied. But unfortunately it had not been in the power of Government to make such a proposition. The pressure of business had prevented their dealing with the subject, which they had certainly intended to do; and he had now to consider whether, being unable to realize the expectations which he had held out to the House, he ought to oppose the inquiry which the hon. Gentleman proposed, and which was generally approved. The object of that inquiry was not merely to obtain information. A Committee was often very useful in reconciling conflicting opinions, and in preparing the public mind for a solution of questions of this nature. A Committee in this case could do no harm, and might do good. If he found the Committee interfering with the Government he should certainly say, "We have information enough —allow us to use the information we have, and attempt the adjustment of a long-controverted question." But the Government was not in a position at that moment to hold out to the House any fair expectation of dealing with the question this Session; and he could not understand why a Committee of the House could in any way form an obstacle to the Government in dealing with the question. If the Government was prepared to deal with the question, he should certainly intimate to the Committee with very great respect that the Government did not wish them to prolong their labours to too great an extent. They had attempted to deal with the question of the National Gallery, and had brought it to a satisfactory arrangement. But he saw no hope of the Government being able to deal with the question this Session. Under the circumstances an inquiry by a Committee of that House might be of benefit; if it did not bring any fresh information, any new results to those who had given great attention to the subject, it might still have a tendency to prepare the public mind for that change which he considered inevitable; and with that view he consented to the appointment of the Committee.


said, he was not at all disposed to complain of the decision at which the right hon. Gentleman had arrived. The announcement made by the Government last year, that they would hear no more of Committees or Commissions but decide the question themselves, was, perhaps, somewhat hasty. He could not concur in the remark made by the hon. Mover of this Motion, that the Trustees of the British Museum must be the persons of all others least qualified to give an opinion on this subject. On the contrary, if they had attended to their duties at all, they ought to be well able to express such an opinion. The position of the British Museum appeared to be this:—In January, 1858, the Standing Committee came to a Resolution that there was a great deficiency of space, and that in considering the means of providing adequate space they ought to confine themselves to the actual and immediate requirements of the Museum. The majority of the Trustees thought it would be the best way of deciding the question to adopt the Report of that Committee; he himself thought that it ought to be referred to the Government as it involved very large considerations. The institution consisted of three great divisions. First, there was the library, comprising 600,000 volumes, and increasing very largely every year. It was the best library in Europe. It had capacity to receive the additions which would probably be made to it during the next forty years; the reading-room afforded every convenience for study; and the facilities with which works were supplied to those who wished to peruse them were quite unexampled. The state of the library, therefore, though it might be still capable of some minor improvements, did not call for any extensive change. The case, however, was different with the archœological department, which was of great value in illustrating the history of art; and in regard to the natural history branch the deficiency of accommodation was still greater. The stuffed animals were crowded together in such a manner that it was impossible to distinguish the characteristics of the different specimens. The architect had proposed a plan by which, for a sum of £150,000, some of these deficiencies would he removed for a limited number of years. The question to be considered by Parliament and the Government and by the Committee, if it should be appointed, was this—whether it would be wise to go on erecting additions to the north-east and west of the existing building, or whether they ought to seek for another site in which to place a part of these collections. His opinion was that the latter course would be the best mode of preserving and increasing these collections in a manner worthy of the country. The enlargement of the present buildings, for which purpose they would require to purchase land of very great value, would necessarily be attended with very heavy expense. But supposing they decided to remove a portion of those collections, the next question was, what portion should it be? Sir R. Murchison and other eminent scientific men thought that the natural history department contained objects of very great interest, and that when sufficient space was being obtained for its accommodation the site chosen should be a convenient one for the public. Another question which the hon. Gentleman wished to raise was with reference to the government of the Museum. He thought no one could doubt that, the Museum having been partly formed by bequests, the representatives of the families which had made them must remain part of the governing body. The Earl of Derby and the Earl of Cawdor sat as Trustees on that account, and he did not think that it would be right to displace them. The hon. Gentleman had said, somewhat incorrectly, that the Trustees named their own body. The constitution of the trust was certainly a very peculiar one. The official Trustees were the persons who filled up any vacancies which might occur, and they had recently exercised their power by the appointment as a Trustee of Mr. Grote, a gentleman who was distinguished both in history and general literature, and who would be a great acquisition to the trust. Another portion of the Trustees nominated to all offices to which any salary was attached, and a third, called the Standing Committee, attended to the regular superintendence of the Museum. He believed that they discharged their duties most conscientiously. There were-generally eight or ten members of the Committee present at a meeting, and among those who were most regular in their attendance were Lord Macaulay, Sir 11. Murchison, and the Marquess of Lansdowne. The present constitution of the governing body was formed on the suggestions of the late Sir Robert Peel, and he (Lord John Russall) doubted, therefore, very much whether the constitution of the trust could be improved; but although he thought that the question had been brought forward by the hon. Gentleman rather too much in an agitating spirit, he had no objection, nor bad the Trustees any, to the appointment of the Committee.


said, that as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to have a clear opinion as to the course which ought to be adopted with regard to the British Museum, it was desirable that when this Committee commenced its investigation it should be informed of the conclusion at which the Government had arrived. He understood that conclusion to be that it would be expedient to divide the collections of the British Museum, and no longer to act upon the principle of combining the different collections—the library, the collections of ancient art and the natural history collections—under one roof. If the Government having arrived at that conclusion should not have found leisure to mature means for carrying their opinion into effect, such a conclusion ought to operate on the inquries about to be commenced. There was another point to which he wished to advert. He did not think that if the Committee were appointed according to the terms which the hon. Mover had pro- posed, it would be very easy for them to understand exactly what was the subject of inquiry; he did not think that the term "reorganization" of the British Museum precisely designated the hon. Gentleman's object. The main subject to be referred for inquiry was, whether the existing collections of the British Museum should be kept combined under one roof, or whether some portion should be removed to another locality; whether, in fact, there should be a fresh building for the purposes of the Museum. If that were the object, it would be desirable to use terms to express the meaning more accurately. If the hon. Gentleman desired to introduce the question of the constitution of the body of Trustees, or to refer to their administration, he should distinctly express his intention. It seemed to him doubtful whether it was desirable that the inquiry should embrace that subject. An inquiry had taken place some years ago, under the Duke of Somerset, into the constitution of the British Museum, and he (Sir George Lewis) was not aware that there were any complaints as to the constitution of the body of Trustees, or that any necessity had been shown for investigation into the construction of that body. As a Trustee of the British Museum he should make no objection to any inquiry into the constitution or administration of the trust, but if there should not be any reason for such inquiry it would be easy to bind down the inquiry to the main subject, whether there should be a distribution of the contents of the Museum. He would suggest, therefore, that the hon. Member should either amend the terms of his Motion at once, or, if not prepared to do so at that moment, that he should withdraw the Motion and give notice of introducing it in an amended form next day.


said, he entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Galway was so worded as to open so wide a field for inquiry that it was hardly possible to know to what particular subject the Committee should confine its investigation. If the word reorganization was retained the Committee would have to extend its labours for many years; but he understood the hon. Gentleman to complain chiefly of the want of accommodation, and with regard to that point they found that the room was clearly insufficient fur the purposes of the institution, and they were almost driven to the necesssity of dividing the collection. He would therefore suggest to the hon. Gentleman, in the room of organization, to substitute some words by which the Committee would understand that they were to consider the present amount of accommodation, with a view to a better disposal of the collection. Within that limit the Committee might collect a large amount of important and useful information in which the opinions of all might be brought, as it were, into a focus. He did not, however, understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have expressed any definite opinion as to the separation of the several collections, beyond pointing out that from the limited area of the existing Museum it was impossible that they should be kept together.


said, he would suggest that the terms of the Motion should be for a "Select Committee to inquire into the accommodation furnished in the British Museum, and whether any change of site was desirable."


said, that in framing his Motion he had purposely used words of rather wide signification, because, besides the question as to the separation of the collections and the site, he wished to embrace in the reference certain points of detail connected with the internal structure of the Museum, which should be so decided as to leave no doubt that they should have a lecture-room and lectures in the Museum. He would, therefore, willingly fall in with the suggestion of the House if any hon. Member would find him a word comprehensive enough to include the disposition. of the collection, the site of the building, its structure, the establishment of lectures, and the providing of a lecture-room. He had not intended to say, as the noble Lord had represented, that the trust was too much in the hands of noble Dukes and great persons, nor to contend that the Trustees ought not to be consulted in this matter. What he wanted was, to introduce into the trust men who had derived their eminence exclusively from science. He would, however, withdraw his Motion, and substitute the following:—"A Select, Committee to inquire into the accommodation required for the collections of the British Museum."


remarked that, he thought that Amendment confined the inquiry within too narrow limits, as there were subjects beyond the accommodation required demanding inquiry. He would suggest that the Motion should be for an inquiry "into the means requisite for rendering the institution more effectual for its purposes."


said, he would recommend the addition of the words—"the establishment of lectures in connection with the Museum and the pay of the officials."


said that, considering the difference of opinion which prevailed in the House, he would ask permission to withdraw his Motion with the view of bringing it forward the next day in an amended form.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.