HC Deb 19 June 1860 vol 159 cc724-8

, in moving for a Select Committee to inquire what buildings were necessary for the South Kensington Museum, explained that the collections of the Science and Art Department were first placed in Somerset House, thence removed to Marlborough House, and then carried to the building known as the Brompton Boilers. Part was now contained in an iron building, which, of all others, was least suitable, as it was not impervious to rain; part was in some offices; part was in some wooden chests, brought from Marlborough House; and part was in some house, with two walls covered with tarpauling, which was put there by the Earl of Derby's Government. Of course, some money had been spent. A sum of £15,000 had been expended on an iron building for the purposes of the Department of Science and Art, but it was used to accommodate the relics of the Exhibition of 1851, belonging to the Society of Arts. A sum of £10,000 had been spent for the Turner and Vernon Galleries, not for the purposes of the Science and Art Department, and a good and sound building erected. Another building erected at the public expense had been given up to the Sheepshanks Collection, and £10,000 had been allowed to enable the department to move from Marlborough House to South Kensington, which had been applied principally to the building of offices. It would, of course, have been quite practicable to apply for a small sum of money to patch up these buildings, but he thought the time had come when the House should inquire into the subject, cause all the facts to be laid before it, and then make up its mind as to the course it would adopt. So far from wishing to surround the matter with any secrecy, it was the object of his Motion to procure the appointment of a Committee which would go carefully into the matter and see what was best to be done. If, after due inquiry, they arrived at a determination unfavourable to this establishment, by all means let it be done away with; but let the collections belonging to the public be lodged in some place in a becoming manner. He gathered from certain indications which reached him, that there were gentlemen who desired that this institution should not be further extended; all he could say was that the subject was a legitimate one for inquiry, and that before a Committee every person would have an opportunity of giving utterance to the views which he entertained.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire and report what buildings are necessary for the South Kensington Museum.


said, the observations of the right hon. Gentleman were not at all in accordance with the notice which he had placed on the paper, from the terms of which—"to consider what buildings are necessary"—any ordinary individual would come to the conclusion that it was intended to erect more buildings at the South Kensington Museum. No other interpretation could be put upon the language than that the establishment was to be increased, though it certainly was not for its beauty, nor yet for its usefulness, if it continued to be carried on in the same spirit as at present. It afforded an illustration on a small scale of all the jobs which had ever been carried out in similar undertakings. £15,000 were expended at one time, £10,000 at another; £10,000 were laid out in removing things down there, and there was a fresh charge for putting them in their places. The right hon. Gentleman must admit that the spot was full of puddles of water, and that in every respect it was a complete failure. The wording of the proposition ought to be altered, so that the question for the Committee to determine would be whether the South Kensington Museum ought not to be done away with altogether. It was idle to talk of extending what in the eyes of a vast number of persons was a nuisance. Pictures were taken out of different galleries and put into most inconvenient places; buildings of a most unsightly character, called "the Brompton boilers," had been erected; a sum of £10,000 had been expended on a mere temporary erection, and altogether the concern was in a most woful plight. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have no objection to alter his Motion so as to enable the Committee to consider whether the institution ought not to be done away with altogether.


said that, agreeing in what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member (Mr. John Locke) respecting the trumpery building denominated "the Brompton boilers," he thought the matter might with advantage be referred to the Committee which was at present engaged in making inquiries with reference to the British Museum. The subject was interesting not only to that House, but to the country, and as it could not possibly receive adequate attention at that hour (five minutes to 1 o'clock), he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Debate be now adjourned."


said, the only effect of referring the question to the Committee charged with inquiring into the British Museum would be to preclude the possibility of any Report being made during the present Session, and would therefore be tantamount to rejecting the Motion. Although both were denominated "museums," the establishments were as distinct as if they were in separate towns, and it was not usual to vest in gentlemen who had undertaken particular duties other functions for which they were by no means prepared. He did not agree with the construction which had been put on the wording of the Motion, and he thought the language of his right hon. Friend was entirely neutral. He apprehended that it would be quite competent for the Committee, under the terms of the reference, to make any inquiry respecting the buildings at South Kensington, and if the House, before voting the Estimates wished for any information, it would be quite within its power to obtain it. But he hoped the expedient of adjournment, which seemed now to be employed in reference to every Motion which came before the House, would not be resorted to.


said, he had opposed the successive grants to the South Kensington Museum, and the course which he had taken was completely vindicated by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It was but too easy to perceive that the British Museum and that at South Kensington were distinct establishments when their respective agents were seen opposing each other in a public auction room in London amid the derision of the spectators. There was a tendency to unlimited expense at Brompton, as was evinced by the largely increased stipends lately voted to the fnnctionaries there, whose pay largely exceeded that of the officers of the British Museum —and but very trifling results had been obtained by the public. He could not help expressing his earnest desire that the Committee would not fail to inquire into the administration, for he had been told privately that if investigation were made into the mode of collection and sale of works of art, a system of jobbery would be exposed which would take the House by surprise.


said, he thought an inuqiry should be instituted as to whether it would not be better to transfer the South Kensington Museum to the British Museum, and thus, by combining the collections, to have but one picture gallery and one museum, instead of having, as at present, several dotted about in different places. At all events the proposed inquiry was unnecessary until the Committee on the British Museum had reported.


said, that having inspected the School of Art at the Museum, he was of opinion it was calculated to do a great deal of good. He could also state that there was no room for the pictures now there, either in the British Museum or in the National Gallery. He thought the Committee should be granted.


said, he could not understand what the object of the inquiry was, and expressed a wish to know whether it was intended to have any connection with the National Gallery. Would it not embrace the Turner and Sheepshanks collections, which formed part of the National Gallery collection? But these collections had been left to the nation and were its property, and the Committee would, he contended, be placed in an anomalous position if they were to inquire where one portion of the pictures was to remain and not the other.


said, that the Sheepshanks collection was given to the nation upon the condition that it should be exhibited at Kensington. He was willing to alter the terms of the Motion by leaving out the words "What buildings are necessary." And thus leave the Committee at liberty to consider and report generally on the question of the Museum at Kensington.


said, he thought the disussion had shown the necessity of the proposed inquiry being instituted.


said, that before the British Museum Committee the proposal had been made by those who were friends of Brompton to spend some hundreds of thousands of pounds at Kensington, with no other earthly object, so far an he could ascertain, except the gratification of a few persons who used Kensington for certain purposes.

Motion and Original Question, by leave, withdrawn.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire and report concerning the South Kensington Museum."

House adjourned at half after One o'clock.