HC Deb 07 July 1868 vol 193 cc828-31

(In the Committee).

(1.) £67,380, to complete the sum for the British Museum.


The grant to the British Museum last year was £95,446, and the sum for which I am to ask this year is £99,380, showing an increase of £3,934. That increase is accounted for mainly by grants for different special purposes. For instance, £1,000 extra have been granted for the purchase of Mr. Hay's very curious and interesting collection of Egyptian antiquities; £1,300 for the purchase of a bronze head of Hypnos, with an owl's wing on one side of the head, and other bronzes of great value; £1,000 for researches in Asia Minor, conducted by Mr. Dennis, mainly into the tombs of the Lydian kings at Sardis; and £1,000 to the gentleman who was sent with the Abyssinian Expedition. These sums together nearly cover the increase upon the former Estimate; and, as the year has been very uneventful, it is not necessary for me to detain the Committee with further observations. I ought, however, to mention the munificent bequest which has been made to the Museum by Mr. Slade of a very curious collection of glass worth £8,000, and prints worth £1,600. The gentleman whom we despatched to Abyssinia upon a scientific mission with the expeditionary force seems have acquitted himself of the task with great energy and considerable success. He obtained a large quantity of Ethiopic manuscripts, which we have not yet had an opportunity of inspecting, but which may, perhaps, contain something of interest and value, remembering that in 1820 the remarkable Book of Jasher was recovered from Abyssinia. Mr. Holmes, it seems, contrived to get into Magdala within ten minutes after the troops entered; he found the dead body of Theodore, and made a sketch of him as he lay, which competent judges have pronounced to a most faithful and admirable likeness. He also secured from a private soldier, for the very moderate sum of £4, the crown of the Abuna, and also a chalice and some other articles. I am sorry to add that, though these were obtained for the modest amount which I have stated, we are now offered by the Government the option of purchasing our own collection for the sum of £2,000. These were the only items which it was necessary for him to mention in connection with the Vote. There is only one subject more; but it is one which ought always to be mentioned on these occasions, and that is the question of room. There is no complaint against the Government on this account. They have taken all the necessary information, and I trust that before long we shall have a comprehensive scheme, which is so much needed for the proper display of the objects in the Museum. The fact is we are proceeding in a most absurd manner. We are spending large sums in obtaining a valuable collection, a great part of which is useless and packed away, I because this House has not made due provision for the treasures it has so liberally acquired. This is a state of things which is an opprobrium to the national liberality and taste. We have a collection that would make the fortune of twenty ordinary museums, yet they are lost to view as if they did not exist, and they are undergoing a process of injury and dilapidation. He hoped that something would soon be done to remove this opprobrium on the public taste and sense. The right hon. Gentlemen concluded by moving the Vote.


congratulated the Trustees on the success of their efforts in obtaining works of art; but could not congratulate the Museum upon its success in a popular point of view. Notwithstanding the sums that had been spent on it, the people did not go to it as they were expected to do, and the number of visitors fell off every year. Even the readers frequenting the Reading Room showed a diminution of more than 30,000 in the last six years. There was far too much of some things, and too little of other things. People got tired of seeing so many cats, dogs, monkeys and birds—in fact it wanted weeding. Many of the gems and articles of value the right hon. Gentleman admitted were put away in cellars. Even celebrated antiquities did not please everyone. A person he knew said of one room that it was "full of big stones, and men without heads, and he did not see much merit in them." He told his friend he was not perhaps a judge of Fine Art; but being himself in the room devoted to antiquities the other day not a single person was to be seen. The public wanted greater variety, and the tastes of all should be considered and not that of only one part of the community. At present he could not-regard the British Museum as a success, or as a proof of good management.


said, that as it appeared that some of the greatest curiosities that would give the Museum greater novelty were "going to the bad" for want of more space, he wondered why the worthy Alderman did not propose a large sum for a proper building.


agreed in thinking that the present managemement of the Museum was not satisfactory; but the fault was not with the Trustees. One great drawback to the library was the want of a printed catalogue. If a catalogue were published every three or four years the sale would be to a considerable extent remunerative, and it would greatly add to the usefulness of the Museum.


said, that a few years ago property might have been purchased adjacent to the Museum on very' reasonable terms. He believed that it would be an economical thing even now if on estimate were made for the purchase of the property in Montague Street, and if negociations were forthwith entered into to buy the property. Such a step would, of course, invoke the question of the separation of articles of vertu from the collection of natural history. Ought it not to be the duty of some one to ascertain what articles were now stowed away and perhaps going to ruin for want of proper accomodation in the Museum? He believed the time had arrived when there ought to be a proper depositary for the invaluable treasures of every description collected in the British Museum.

Vote agreed to.