The first national museum harboring about 8 million objects, the British museum in London, is the collection of the well known physician, Sir Hans Solane. Although a physician, he was fond of collecting exclusive stuff. Many of his patients, including Queen Anne and King George I and II used to bestow him expensive gifts and he himself used to buy precious items while on tours along with his patients.
On 7th of June 1753, the British Parliament passed an act to declare this collection as the national museum.
It is recorded that during the 18th century about 5000 people used to visit it every years and these days this number has risen to become 6 million per year!
A brief view on the timeline!
Sir Hans Solane had collected innumerable items, starting from coins, medals, books, prints to drawings! Modern technology has been successful in preserving the organic ethnographic and natural specimens. The museum was opened to the public in 1759 and right from the very first day, its entry was free. In the beginning, the collection was displayed in the Montague House in Bloomsbury, where the original structure now stands.
The museum received its first Egyptian mummy in the year 1756. In 1757, King George II gifted the “Old Royal library”. A stone representing a petrified loaf and a bark of a tree gnawed by a beaver were received in the year 1760. In 1765, the museum was handed a live tortoise from North America. Assortments of precious objects including the Tahitian mourner’s dress were acquired after Captain Cook’s three Pacific voyages ranging from the year 1767 – 1770. In 1772 the Greek Vase belonging to Sir William Hamilton was attained.
In the year 1802, the Rosetta stone from Egypt pertaining to the Ptolemaic period was obtained by the museum closely followed by the purchase of bronze statue of “Discobolos” (a man throwing a dish) of the 5th century and the marble bust of “Clytie” of the Roman era belonging to Italy from British collector Charles Townley. It was then in the year 1807 when the Department of Antiquities was found. The museum received a sculpture, i.e. a marble block, from the Temple of Apollo the Helper built on Mount Kotylion at Bassae located in Greece. In 1816 The Parthenon gave a number of marble sculptures. The Nereid or the sea nymph Monument depicting Greek and Lycian style was obtained in the year 1842. Then the remains of the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos from south west Turkey were received between the years 1856 and 57. During the same time, ‘Great Winged Bull’, one of the first stone sculptures excavated at the site of Nimrud, Iraq were added to the exhibits.
In 1897, the demise of A.W. Franks was followed by an inheritance of the Oxus treasure along with 3,300 finger rings, 153 drinking vessels, 512 pieces of continental porcelain, and miscellaneous items of
During late nineteenth century, the natural history remains were transported to the British Museum of Natural History. In 1898, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bestowed the Waddesdon manor with glitters known as the Waddesdons Bequest. This consisted of 300 pieces of exclusive jewelry, plate, enamel, carvings, and the Holy Thorn Reliquary. Baron Ferdinand’s will stated that the collection be exhibited in a special room called the Wadessdon Bequest Room and apart from the rest of the collection.
In the year 1997, the library department was shifted to the new British Library in St Pancras.
The new century opened up projects for new buildings. The trustees purchased the 69 houses around the museum with intentions to demolish them and expand the museum. The removal of books had provided for the needed space for the overflow of manuscripts and written material and after the new buildings emerged, the ethnography collections were retrieved from their temporary place in the Museum of Mankind.
In the year 1972, the act to the British Library was passed, separating the manuscripts and books from the museum. They were dispatched to the library.
In 2000 the centre of the museum underwent renovation to be known as Queen Elizabeth II Great Court or simply the Great Court. It includes the original reading room. Various new galleries were opened. The whole system museum was re arranged keeping in view the modern world requirements but preserving the old world beauty.
In the twentieth century, a number of changes were incorporated. In 1920, the research laboratory was started up.
The museum today !
The British Museum yet has not stopped increasing its collection. By the gifts of wealthy people and assistance from great curators and collectors, the museum has been able to build its collection. This museum has been open through all the days of the year accept a few days during the world wars. It has consistently worked and served the people of Britain through thick and thin and has become the pride of Britain. Today it no more houses the artifacts of natural history and the fragile manuscripts it once used to. All that has been exhibited in individual British museums. Nevertheless, it still preserves the property of making the history come alive with the artifacts from around the world representing vivid cultures!
Throughout the history, the museum has faced ups and downs but excellent organization has kept it up and has helped in the attraction of tourists from all over the world!