HL Deb 08 August 1879 vol 249 cc491-4

rose to ask the Secretary of State for India for an explanation as to the intended dispersion of the Indian Museum, and to move for Correspondence between the Secretary of State and the Government of India on the subject. The subject to which his Question related had excited a very strong feeling not among individuals only, but among persons who represented various communities. The Indian Museum, which dated from a century back, owed its origin to the munificence of persons whose names were indissolubly connected with the history of that Empire. It was a collection highly valued, not only by those who admired it on historic and artistic grounds, and as illustrating in an admirable manner the industries and arts of India, but also by those who regarded it as being of importance in connection with the commercial interests not of this country only, but of India itself; and representations had come from several of the large manufacturing towns and Chambers of Commerce against the proposal to disperse it. The plan which Her Majesty's Government had in view with respect to the Museum had been indicated in "another place" a few nights ago; and it was further stated, but he hoped not with truth, that after several portions of it had been dispersed to the British Museum, to Kew, and elsewhere, a portion of it would be put up for sale. He would strongly protest against that as a step entirely unworthy of a great nation. If, indeed, it was necessary that the collection should be broken up, the plan indicated by the Government—except, of course, their intention to sell a portion—was, perhaps, the best; but he denied that the reasons alleged by the Government were a sufficient justification. It was alleged that, as at present constituted, the collection was not an object of much public interest. If the interest in a Museum was to be measured by the number of visitors who went to see it, he must admit the allegation; but he thought that was not a correct way of estimating the matter. It might be that the place in which the collection was now lodged was not favourable for those who did take an interest in it. Again, the charge for admission might operate to prevent persons from visiting the Museum—because when it was in the hands of the old East India Company a large number of visitors used to go to see it. Then it was alleged that the collection would be more useful if scattered. Well, he was not prepared to say that there were not some portions of it which might with advantage be handed over for exhibition in other institutions; but that did not mean a dispersion of the whole collection. Objection was taken to the maintenance of the Museum on the ground of expense. This appeared to him to be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. He was not opposed to a more economical management of the Museum—on the contrary; but he thought it would be better for India and England to divide the expenses than that the financial question should be settled in the way proposed. The question of maintaining the Indian Museum was connected with that of forming a great Colonial Museum. Up to the present time there had been difficulties in the way of the latter project; but he believed that before long it would be solved, and he had always thought that if a Colonial Museum were formed it and the Indian Museum should be combined. This led him to regret the proposition of the Government, and he would be glad to hoar from his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India that it had been abandoned.


said, it could not be alleged that this was a question which had not boon thoroughly discussed, for it was a question which had been much under discussion during the last five or six years, and considered even long before that time. It was true the Government had arrived at a conclusion on this subject, and that various opinions had been stated against the plan of the Government. Now, if there was any prospect of an adequate building for the Indian Museum, the position of affairs would be very different. But there was not. There were several buildings of a public character which were much more important and much more needed, but the erection of which had to be deferred because there were no funds available for the work. In that state of things it could not be expected that the Imperial Government would build an India Museum; and having regard to the objects in view it would be unjust to spend the money of India for such a purpose. His noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) declined to admit that the number of visitors to the Museum was a test of the interest taken in it; and, at the same time, he referred to the numbers who visited it when it was under the care of the East India Company. As a matter of fact, in former days, when the Museum was in Leadenhall Street, it was accommodated in dark rooms where it could only be seen with artificial light, and a great part of it was shut up in boxes. It was quite a mistake to suppose that in those days the Museum attracted the attention of great numbers. In his opinion, it would be far better, and more to the advantage of art students, if the collection were dispersed and placed among other collections of ethnological and natural objects, where more complete comparison could be made. Now, as a matter of fact, the present India Museum was not visited in large numbers, either by students or the general public. The only destination of the collection, as at present settled, was that the economic and botanic portions would be moved to Kew, where they would supplement a collection already there. This would be a great improvement, for the public would have free access to it, and the Museum was frequented by large numbers of visitors. The natural history collection in the Museum was so small that he need not speak of it. It was proposed, but had not yet been arranged, that the historical and ethnological collections should be handed over to the Trustees of the British Museum, where they would be invaluable to students. These points were under consideration, and would be carefully weighed before a conclusion was come to. The Council of India did not think itself a proper body to manage such an institution as the Museum, and there were not sufficient members constituting that body to take an interest in its various departments; and it was clear that there would be an advantage in placing the collections under such skilled persons as were to be found at Kew and the British Museum. Moreover, there was the question of expense. For the last two years the expense had been £9,000 a-year, and the lowest sum estimated for the future was £7,000 a-year. Now, the Museum was kept up principally for the instruction and amusement of the people of England, and the Council did not think it right that the burden should fall exclusively on the resources of India. He would be deceiving their Lordships if he said that Her Majesty's Government had not made up their minds not to keep up the Museum in its present position. It was not fulfilling the purposes for which a museum of the kind ought to exist; but in the arrangements for a distribution of it Her Majesty's Government would have in view the displaying of all the articles it contained in the best way for the benefit of India as well as of this country.


said, that he sympathized with the Secretary of State as to the reception which his endeavours to make some reduction in the Home Charges of India had met with. He (the Earl of Northbrook) would support Her Majesty's Government in economizing for India, even if they should propose to defray the salaries of the Secretary of State for India and the other officers of the India Office out of Imperial funds, as was the case with regard to the Colonial Office. He thought the transfer of the botanical collection to Kew, where it would be under the care of the Curator, might be advantageous, for the India Office would have the advantage of being able to consult the highest authorities on the botanical products of India. The arrangements with regard to the other portions of the Museum might, in his opinion, be safely left to the Secretary of State for India in Council.