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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

The Proposed Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies

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The Proposed Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies.

Dr. Forbes Watson, the Director of the India Museum and Reporter on the Products of India, has for some years past lost no opportunity of advocating the establishment of industrial museums of a complete character, as the most ready means of diffusing abroad a general knowledge of the products of our various dependencies and of foreign countries. He has lately matured a project for bringing together, in a museum or federation of museums, under a single roof, the products of India and of the colonies; and he has succeeded in discovering a site which seems to be in every way suitable for the proposed building. It would afford sufficient space, not only for the proposed several museums, but also for the accommodation of the various colonial agencies which are now scattered about London, so that the convenience of all who are interested in colonial affairs would be greatly considered and promoted. Dr. Forbes Watson has published a pamphlet* to explain and advocate his scheme, and to this pamphlet we are indebted for the following particulars :—

The suggested site is a piece of land lying close to the Thames Embankment, between Whitehall Place and Whitehall Yard, and bounded on the side facing the Embankment by a strip of public garden. According to the plans of the Metropolitan Board of Works, the space available for building would be separated from the public garden by a strip of roadway; but this roadway would be unnecessary if a museum were placed upon the ground, or would even be objectionable as a source of noise and of dust. There would be ample facilities for access from Whitehall Place, Whitehall Yard, and Great Scotland Yard, so that different colonies, or groups of colonies, might even have separate entrances, and the windows of the building might open directly into the garden. The site, which was that of Fife House, is nearly two and a half acres in extent. It is the property of the Crown, and is situated in the very heart of London. The India and Colonial Offices are almost within sight, and the whole business of the literary class is, to a great extent, localized in the Strand and in Fleet Street, close to the Embankment. The site is near 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.

A museum such as that which Dr. Forbes Watson contemplates, and which would faithfully represent all the productions of the colonies, could not fail in many ways to facilitate and promote their commercial intercourse with the mother country. Their own power of purchasing English productions is dependent, of course, upon their being aisle to dispose of their own goods in equivalent quantities, and it is impossible to doubt that among their actual or possible products there must be page 4 many which are either unknown or only imperfectly known in this country, and which might be rendered available for many purposes in manufactures and in the arts. Nothing can be conceived more valuable, for example, to a manufacturer who is seeking a new raw material for paper than a museum in which he would find ready to his hand all the fibre-producing plants of every colony, together with authentic information about their general characters, modes of growth, and fitness for systematic cultivation. Both in India and in the colonies there is now a great display of activity in seeking to find new articles of export; and Dr. Forbes Watson refers to the coffee and tea trade of India, the rapidly increasing exports of india-rubber and tobacco from the same country, the wines of the Cape and of South Australia, and the attempted cultivation of tobacco and silk in Australia, as examples which are in point, and which are sufficient to mark the direction in which the commerce between England and the colonies is likely to increase. It is in this very direction that a museum could render the greatest assistance. The experience of the present India Museum is conclusive with regard to the advantages likely to accrue from such an institution; but the India Museum is for a time banished to a place at which it is practically almost inaccessible to those who have the most frequent need of the information which it could impart. Men of business, who on the spur of the moment would seek to know something about a colonial or Indian product which was brought under their notice, cannot spare an afternoon for a pilgrimage to South Kensington. They want to run into some place contiguous to their daily haunts, and to obtain their knowledge quickly. The authorities of the India Museum could not help themselves, and so were forced to submit to their exile; but the colonies, as represented by the Royal Colonial Institute, would not consent to be placed, even for a time, in so disadvantageous a position.

Dr. Forbes Watson's plan, which seems to provide for all the requirements of the case, should be studied in detail in his own account of it; but its chief features may be condensed as follows:—
1.A combination of the present India Museum with the India Library, so as to bring together the products, manufactures, and antiquities contained in the museum, and the books, manuscripts, and publications in the library, and thus to unite within the same building the whole of the materials available in this country for the study of Indian literature, arts, sciences, and history, as well as for the investigation of the present political, social, and commercial condition of the country.
2.Connection with the Royal Asiatic Society, whose meeting rooms should be in the same building with the museum and library.
3.The foundation of an Indian Institute for lectures, inquiry, and teaching, to be organised under the direction of the Royal Asiatic Society, and to appeal both to the public in general and to the more special wants of particular classes.
4.The preparation of sets of Trade Museums, showing in a condensed form the essential facts referring to Indian products and manufactures, as well as to other special features of the country or the people. These collections should be distributed in England, in India, and in the colonies, so that every important commercial centre throughout the empire should share equally in their advantages.
The plans thus briefly stated were brought before the public some time ago, and those which relate to the colonies must be looked upon as supplementary to the original scheme, to which they not only give finish and completeness, but also a fair promise of greatly increased usefulness. Dr. Forbes Watson points out that at present there are no page 5 colonial collections at all comparable to the Indian Museum and Library. But the subject has for a long time been under discussion, and some of the colonies have already voted money for the establishment of a museum in London. A collection of the products of Queensland has for some time been exhibited at South Kensington, and has now been sent to Philadelphia, where all the other colonies are likely to be well represented. If, at the close of the Centennial Exhibition, some arrangements were made for retaining all these collections in London, they would supply at once a nucleus for a complete Colonial Museum, which, no doubt, would be speedily enriched by many special collections. The one thing which is required for the establishment of a Colonial Museum is that which is also required for making the India Museum useful to the public, namely, the erection of a proper building in a suitable locality. If the two museums were placed in the same building, they would, by their mere juxtaposition, form an Imperial museum representing the whole of the British possessions. At the same time, it would be neither necessary nor expedient that their contents should be merged into one museum. It would be of the greatest importance to retain the individuality, not only of the Indian, but also of each one of the great colonial collections, so as to maintain the individual interest of each colony in its own special museum. Subject to such a division into colonies, or groups of colonies, the general plan for the colonial section follows the same lines as that for the Indian section of the proposed institution. Dr. Forbes Watson arranges his suggestions under four heads:—
1.A Colonial Library and Reading-room would considerably enhance the value of the museum, as at present there is great difficulty in obtaining access to publications referring' to the colonies, especially to those published in the colonies themselves.
2.Provisions should be made for having the rooms of the Royal Colonial Institute in the same building with the Colonial Museum, and for placing the members of the institute in a relation with the museum such as that which the members of the Asiatic Society would hold to the India Museum. The two societies should serve as links between their respective museums and the general public, and should each endeavour to diffuse a general interest in the raw materials of knowledge which would be at their disposal.
3.The Trade Museums, referred to under the head of the India Museum, should likewise contain a full representation of colonial produce, so that the colonial trade collections would be as widely distributed as it has been proposed to distribute the Indian collections.
4.The erection of a Colonial Museum would give an opportunity for the concentration of the offices of the various colonial agents, and such a concentration, besides its other advantages, would be a very economical arrangement. The yearly rents of the several colonial offices amount at present to more than 4,000l., and the capital represented by this expenditure would not only build the proposed new offices, but would go a long way towards building the museum as well. To the colonial agents the existence of an adjacent museum and library containing full information on their respective colonies, would be invaluable in their dealings with commercial men or with intending emigrants. In many instances, where now long explanations would be necessary, they would simply have to send the inquirers into the museum; and the museum itself would benefit by such an arrangement. Each colonial section would obtain the general supervision of the representative of the colony, and the collections and the library, being frequently referred to on actual business, would necessarily be kept up to the level of the latest page 6 information, and would be constantly rendered more and more suitable for practical purposes. In Dr. Forbes Watson's own words, the combined India and Colonial Museums, established according to the above plan, would in every way become a living institution worthily representing the past history and the present resources of the British empire throughout the world. Such an institution would not only afford exhaustive materials for study and research, but would likewise be suitable for reference by the Indian and colonial authorities, by men of business or of letters, and by officials or emigrants intending to proceed to India or the colonies.

Thus it would be instrumental in furthering actual work or business, whether scientific, political, or commercial. At the same time, through its co-operation with the Asiatic Society and the Colonial Institute, through its reading-room, it lectures and publications, through the Trade Museums and other typical collections distributed all over the country, as well as throughout the most important places in India and the colonies, all the information would be rendered available to the whole empire. The picture seems not to be overdrawn, and it would surely be a wise and statesmanlike policy to provide the means for its realization.

* The Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies, by Dr. Forbes Watson, M. A., M.D., LL.D., F.R.A.S., &c.