The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
In fact, in all such relations as those subsisting between England on the one hand, and India and the Colonies on the other, it is idle to try to apportion the relative costs and benefits. The relation is mutual, and the benefit is mutual. There is no class of institutions which would better reflect all the beneficial influences of this mutual relation than the institution proposed at the beginning of this paper—a great Imperial Museum, giving a picture of the resources of the whole of the English possessions of India on the one hand, and of the Colonies on the other. This relation of mutual benefit would be only page 34 emphasised if such an institution were to be called into life by an equal co-operation of all the parties concerned in it.
The form which this co-operation could best assume on the part of England, would in the first place be by providing a site suitable for the erection of the combined Colonial and India Museums. They should certainly be placed in a position which would be easily accessible to all the special classes interested in their working, that is, mainly to those who take part either in the Government or in the commercial exploitation of the countries which these museums will represent. As regards the India Museum, the special classes to whom it appeals may be all included under four heads—the India-office, the Indian Army, the Medical and Civil Services—the Houses of Parliament—the Press and Literature—and the City. The same classes, with the substitution of the Colonial for the India-office, will also apply to the Colonial Museum. The position of the new Museums should be as near as possible to the places in which the business of the classes likely to consult them is already localised, and the additional circumstance must be kept in mind, that if the Museum building is to be a suitable locality for the offices of the Colonial and Emigration Agents, it must not be removed out of the business quarters of London.
In the paper on the India Museum, read before the Society of Arts, the site in Charles-street, already in the possession of the India-office, is referred to as the one which would, for all official and other purposes, best answer the requirements of the case, and the same opportunity was taken for indicating that the adjoining ground would also be suitable for the location of a Colonial Museum. Her Majesty's Government having, however, decided to devote the whole of the ground between Great George-street and the new India and Home-offices to the important purpose of erecting the additional public offices, so urgently wanted, it will probably be necessary to seek elsewhere for a site for the India and Colonial Museums. It fortunately happens that the old Fife-house site, nearly acres in extent, belonging to the Crown, and lying between the United Service Institution, in Whitehall-yard, and the Thames Embankment, where the India Museum was located for a number of years, is still unappropriated, and it is one which would afford an admirable position on which page 35 worthily to place these museums. There they would be situated in the very heart of London. The new street from Charing-cross through Northumberland-house and grounds, terminates opposite the spot on which they would stand. They would form the prominent object at the end of the new street, as also from the river and its embankment, and no site could be indicated which, taken as a whole, would be more convenient for each of the four classes just mentioned as specially interested in these museums. The India and Colonial offices are almost within sight, and the whole business of the literary class is, to a great extent, localised in the Strand and in Fleet-street, close to the Embankment. The site is near to the City and the hotels frequented by business visitors from the provinces; and it also has the recommendation of being within easier reach of a larger proportion of the working men of London than any other which could be suggested.
An alternative proposal is, to allow the India Museum to remain in the inconvenient galleries at South Kensington, where it at present is, and to relegate the Colonial collections to the galleries placed at some distance off, on the opposite side of the Horticultural Gardens. The evidences, however, of the unsuitable position of South Kensington are ample. It is a place where no one would ever think of establishing a public office, a central bank, or a club; and the ill-success of the Albert Hall popular concerts is a sign that even the attractions of music are not sufficient to make up for defects of situation. The one undoubted success which South Kensington has achieved is as an educational institution. Space, light, quiet, and all the conditions which remove it from the centre of business and of public life, render it the more fit for this purpose; but it is hardly doubtful that its influence on the general public and on the country would have been intensified tenfold if it had been possible to locate it in a central position, like that here proposed for the India and Colonial Museums.
The only argument, or rather show of argument, which has been adduced in favour of placing the India and Colonial Museums at South Kensington consists in the supposed advantages of a concentration of all the museums of London in one place, although it must be page 36 admitted that a concentration in an unsuitable locality would simply intensify the inconvenience. Concentration may be allowed to present certain advantages whenever a similarity of functions exists, but at best the arguments for it are more specious than real, and certainly there is no conceivable manner in which the neighbourhood of a picture gallery or of a zoological museum could, for instance assist the working of a patent museum; and even if, by means of such a neighbourhood, a certain proportion of sightseers were tempted into the latter, this would be but a poor compensation for the loss to the business public consequent upon the removal from the business quarter. The India and Colonial Museums belong to the same class of practical or business museums, and it is doubtful if anything more than a fraction of the benefit which they ought to confer could be secured if they were located at South Kensington. Even as regards mere numbers of visitors, it has to be remarked that, although a great deal has still to be done to make the India Museum as attractive even to the sightseer as it might be, this fact will not of itself explain the circumstance that the visitors to it, during the past ten months of its sojourn at South Kensington, are hardly so numerous as those which found their way to it when situated in the attics of the India-office. And if this be the case with regard to a Museum which, notwithstanding the unfinished condition of certain of its arrangements, presents to view a large number of attractive manufactures and other objects of special interest, what, it may be asked, would be likely to be the case with regard to the colonial collections if placed in the still less accessible position proposed for them.
If, then, even as regards the mere numbers of visitors, the position of South Kensington is a disadvantage, there is no doubt that it would still more disastrously affect the practical influence of the proposed India and Colonial Museums on business and on public life. Besides, it is hardly conceivable that the Colonial agents, though they might be willing to exchange their present locations for one on the Embankment, would ever even listen to a proposal for establishing offices in which their financial, emigration, and other important business was conducted, at such a remote place as South Kensington. Indeed, viewing the matter page 37 as a whole, it is not too much to say that no amount of saving in rent, of either the offices or the museums, could compensate for the loss entailed by such an arrangement, not even if the whole accommodation required for them could be obtained for nothing, because the loss in usefulness would be far greater than the saving so realised.
But, although unsuitable for a permanent home for the Colonial Museum, the South Kensington galleries are well adapted for rendering to it the same service which they are now rendering to the India Museum. Pending the erection of a suitable building, the spare galleries to the west of the Horticultural Gardens might be used for the reception and arrangement of the Colonial collections on their arrival from America at the close of the Centennial Exhibition.
Nor would these galleries remain useless after the removal from them of the India and Colonial collections to the proposed building on the Embankment. By that time circumstances will in all probability have become favourable for the institution of the new series of International Exhibitions, required to fulfil the important public functions already referred to, and which should be borne in mind when deciding on any course of action for the relief of the financial difficulties incurred in connection with the former series. The .erection, in the miscalled "Horticultural Gardens," of the large central hall required for the Exhibition of the great "Representative Series" of the year, is alluded to in Appendix C. The absence of such a Central Hall formed one item amongst the causes which led to the failure of the late Exhibitions. The present galleries would be suitable for the "Exhibitors' Series," and some of the other purposes outlined in Appendix C, and would form the wings, so to speak, of the proposed hall, which would not only be united with them from each end, but also with the great Conservatory and Albert-hall, by means of a gallery leading from its centre on the north, having its main entrance for the public in its south centre—proper roadways from the streets on both sides being secured by breaking the connection between the ends of the present galleries and the straggling series of passages and ill-built rooms on the south of the gardens.
In any case, whatever may be the fate of any specific proposals, it would be clearly impolitic, by a permanent alienation of the existing page 38 galleries, to increase the difficulties of resuming at some future time the International Exhibitions, as it may be predicted that no long time will elapse before the expediency of again having such exhibitions will manifest itself.
We may infer from the preceding arguments that, on all grounds, and with due regard to the interests of the property of her Majesty's Commissioners at South Kensington, as well as of the India and Colonial Museums, it is unquestionably best that these last should be placed at the spot proposed on the Thames Embankment. The public would hail with satisfaction a proposal by the Government to obtain from the Crown the site on the Embankment, and to present it to India and to the Colonies, for the establishment of a great Indian and Colonial Museum, worthy of the political and commercial importance of the British possessions in every part of the world.
There is no doubt that if such a step were taken by the Mother Country, the Colonies and India would be found ready to do their part. Several of the Colonies indeed have already voted grants of money for the purpose of establishing a Museum in London, and the others would follow, as soon as a certainty existed that a really useful institution, worthy of them and of us, would be established.