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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

The York Herald, 14th June 1876

The York Herald, 14th June 1876.

The present age has a decided taste for museums, not only as illustrating the past, but as foreshadowing the future. They are found to be useful in a dozen different ways. The cynical ridicule them, the philosophic complain that they materialise our conceptions, and the wits declare that it is a motley, exhibition age. But the people appreciate them, all the same, and the truly scientific find in them materials for useful instruction and special knowledge. They improve current taste, correct the current narrowness, and open out new sources of industry and study. In fine, they do for the eye what travel does for the mind, as a whole, and bring it on a level with what it might not otherwise have known. There are general uses, but the last large scheme is one of a peculiarly special and Imperial character. Our Indian empire is a precious possession, but it is marvellously little that common people know about it. Our colonies constitute this country a second Rome, and make our history second to it in universal importance. But where is the central point at which a casual observer can understand the peculiar products of India or the colonies, and find all the information he may require about their history, their modes of government, their commercial growth, their geological features, and their natural and manufactured articles ? There is no such place, and to our shame be it said. We have an Indian Museum, so called, but it is at South Kensington, away from the busy part of London, and as yet unconnected with agencies that would extend its power and usefulness. It has been shifted about from time to time, and the hope that it would find a permanent location near the new India Office has been disappointed. The unsuitableness of the present site is proved by the fact that fewer persons visit the India Museum than used to do so when it was "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd," in the attics of the old India Office. If, however, we ask for our Colonial Museum, a certain amazement seizes upon the person from whom we expect to obtain the information. Are we really so ignorant as not to know that such a museum is a mere dream, to be heard of in Australia perhaps, but not to be found in this country ? We have had a small nucleus, representing the colony of Queensland, which used to be visible also at South Kensington, but it has been despatched to Philadelphia, and it may be that our colonies will be much better represented there than they are in the mother country. But the collection will be brought back, and before such an event arrives it will be as well if we can decide whether the present discreditable state of things is to continue, and begin a healthy movement with the view of its prompt termination.

Dr. Forbes Watson, the able Director of the India Museum, who is entitled to be heard as one speaking with authority, has published an important pamphlet on the subject, which is now attracting just and page 30 general attention. He boldly advocates an Imperial museum for India and the colonies, located upon a central site, and capable of being used as an educational organization of the highest type. Accompanying the pamphlet is a plan of the proposed site, which seems in every way admirably suited for the purpose. It lies at the back of Whitehall and Middle Scotland Yard, and between them and the public gardens on the Victoria Embankment. It is the old Fife House site where the India Museum was once placed. Such a site is central, accessible, and in every way convenient for all the classes, official, literary, commercial, and operative, which would be likely to use the museums. It is near the India and Colonial Offices, and the Houses of Parliament. Moreover, it belongs to the Crown. Here, then, is the very place for the scheme proposed. The scheme itself is an ambitious but a very practical one. Dr. Watson suggests that there should be two museums, in order to preserve the individuality of the collections to be exhibited; but they might or might not be under one roof. He would like to see the products of each colony kept distinct, so as to make "rather a federation of museums than a single museum." He would, to consider his plan more in detail, combine the India Museum with the India Library, connect them with the Royal Asiatic Society, found "an Indian Institute for Lectures, Inquiry, and Teaching," and use the resources of the establishment for the preparation of sets of Trade Museums for distribution through the leading museums of England, India, and the colonies, "so that every" important commercial or manufacturing centre throughout the empire "should share in the advantages arising from the existence of the India" Museum, and possess an epitome of its contents." The Colonial Museum would require more effort, but it would be readily made when once a suitable building was found in a good locality. In connection with the Colonial Museum he suggests a library and reading-room, where access could be had to publications referring to the colonies, and especially to those published therein, which are difficult to procure. Provision should also be made for the location of the Royal Colonial Institute in the building, for the preparation of sets of Trade Museums, and for the concentration therein of the offices of the various colonial agents now dispersed throughout London. "To the colonial agents the" existence of a museum and library would be invaluable in their "dealings with commercial men or intending emigrants. . . Each" colonial section would obtain the general supervision of the representative of the colony; whilst the collection and the library, by being "constantly referred to on actual business, would have to be kept up to" the level of the latest information, and would be constantly tending "to become in their arrangements more suitable for practical purposes." The question of expense has to be considered apart from that of usefulness. If the Government were to give the site, and make a grant for the India Museum, we believe there is public spirit enough in the colonies to provide their share of the expense. Money has already been voted by some of the colonies for the establishment of a museum in London, and more would be forthcoming were this large scheme adopted. The rents already paid by the colonies for offices in London amount to upwards of 4,000l. a year, and, as Dr. Watson says, "the capital sum representing this yearly expenditure would fall not" far short of 100,000l., a sum which would provide not only for the "building of the offices but would go a long way for paying for the "erection of the museum as well." If the Government devoted a quarter of a million to the joint scheme, the money would be wisely and profitably spent.

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Such museums are becoming more and more a practical necessity. They are not required for mere show and curiosity so much as for use and study. Our commercial progress must depend in the future upon our scientific knowledge, and not upon haphazard information and custom. Technical instruction is only possible by means of representative and trade museums, located in busy centres and well supplied with specimens. Our India and colonial trade will owe its future importance to our acquaintance with natural products and native wants and tastes. We cannot study these on the spot, and hence the importance of an Imperial Museum, sending out trade sets through the land. In memorializing the Government on the question of rendering the Indian Museum more efficient, the Associated Chambers of Commerce dwell upon the utilization of newly discovered raw material, and upon the guidance a good collection of such products would afford "at a time when foreign competition and the growth of native manufactures in India render it more and more imperative to study the "tastes of the native consumers." What holds good of India is equally true of the colonies. The literary and legislative benefits of the scheme in question do not need any commendation, as they readily suggest themselves. Here, then, is a grand opportunity for an Imperialising Government to distinguish itself, to cement existing bonds, to promote commerce and peace, and to extend the blessings of civilization. The same force expended in obtaining a change in the Royal Title would have given the Government a title to be remembered in the long ages to come.