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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

The British Architect and Northern Engineer, 16th June 1876

The British Architect and Northern Engineer, 16th June 1876.

The growing importance of India and the colonies suggests the advisability of forming a more intimate acquaintance with the natural history, literature, art, textile fabrics, plastic ware, and the other varied products of industry peculiar to that land of many nations, and to the dependencies which have sprung into existence under the foster hand of Great Britain. No age is too remote, and few countries have been at any period of their existence so uncivilised as not to yield some useful lessons for contemplative students. The first principles of design may be much the same in all lands, and there is perhaps but little that is new under the sun. Community of thought has worked marvels all round the world, and peoples who must have been unknown to each other have had a great deal more than is generally supposed in common. There are points of detail in the ornamentation of the prehistoric temples of Yucatan which are not dissimilar to those found in connection with the architecture of Greece and Rome, and the carved figures on the clubs and canoes of Polynesian islanders, in some cases, bear a close resemblance to those which adorn the marbles brought by Mr. Layard from Nineveh. As a means of comparing notes and tracing similarity of design, or the opposite, an inspection of the work done in different ages and by various races is of the highest value, and it has been a part of the policy of all enlightened Governments to preserve for the instruction and elevation of the people whatever tangible and permanent records of the past, patient research, bold enterprise, or the lavish expenditure of money could secure.

Many years ago, when the old East India House stood in Leadenhall Street, an admirable museum was formed in that building. Although far from perfect, and rather crude in design, the place, albeit open to page 32 the general public only on Saturdays, was much frequented. The position was central, so far at. least as the City was concerned, and it was on the high road from the west end of London to the docks. There was. also a library of no mean pretension, and the objects of interest gathered together served to illustrate the literary genius and industrial skill of Oriental races. The collection was for a time removed to premises near Scotland Yard, and adjoining the United Service Museum. Subsequently it was transferred to South Kensington, in which inconvenient locality it now remains. With respect to the colonies nothing in the way of forming a museum and library on a scale at all commensurate with their importance has been attempted. About 14 years ago when the second great exhibition was opened at Brompton, the nucleus of a collection might have been secured, but the opportunity was lost, and the contributions sent from the uttermost parts of the earth were, at the close of the year, scattered once again far and wide.

In order to meet an undoubted want of the age, Dr. J. Forbes Watson, Director of the India Museum and Reporter on the Products of India, has suggested the foundation of an Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies. The first point contended for is that such an institution should be in a central position, easy of access by people who are most of all interested in acquiring a knowledge of the various productions of our dependencies. Kensington is quite out of the way, and a site near the Thames Embankment and not far from Charing Cross and Parliament Street, is warmly and wisely advocated by Dr. Watson. In a letter published a few days since, this gentleman explains that "the site which it is proposed to obtain for the Colonial" and India Museums is not the same as that on which it was intended "to erect the Mint, and will in no way interfere with the desired" approach to the Embankment through the Savoy, inasmuch as it is "situated nearly half a mile to the westward, close to the recently" opened Northumberland Avenue. It is the old Fife House site, "where the India Museum stood for a number of years, and to which" spot it is hoped it may again return to stand side by side with a "Colonial Museum, the two together affording a complete representation of the British empire." The plan proposed embraces the combination of the India Museum with the India Library, so as to bring together the products, manufactures, and antiquities contained in the museum, with the books, manuscripts, and publications in the library, thus uniting 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 its present political, social, and commercial condition. It is further suggested that the meetings of the Royal Asiatic Society should be held in the same building. The foundation of an institute for "lecture, inquiry, and teaching," in connection with which instruction in botany, geology, mineralogy, and languages, should be afforded, is also contended for. Other purposes it is justly thought may be subserved by the institution, the preparation of sets of Trade Museums, showing in a condensed form the essential facts referring to Indian products and manufactures, and sets of typical collections illustrating Indian ethnology, mythology, and other features of the country and people, being among the number. These collections would be distributed among the leading museums of England, India, and the colonies, in order that every unimportant town throughout the Empire might share in the advantages arising from the existence of the central museum in London.

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In order readily to get together the necessary materials for a Colonial Museum, Dr. Watson suggests that on the close of the Centennial Exhibition, now open in Philadelphia, arrangements should be made to bring back to London the Queensland collection, sent thither temporarily from the metropolis, and any other collections exhibited by other colonies. This museum, it is urged, should also be placed in a central locality, and Dr. Watson thinks that "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." A Colonial Library and Beading-room would also be a great boon to the public, and Trade Museums, analogous in character to those suggested in connection with India, might be advantageously formed. The trade between England and her dependencies is growing larger every year, and "throughout the colonies as well as in India the necessity is" strongly felt not only for improving the old staples, but also for "discovering fresh articles of export." Dr. Watson, in a pamphlet which may be read with advantage, supports his views by an array of facts and arguments of a most cogent description. The proposal is certainly worthy of close attention, and as an admirable site may be secured, it is to be hoped the Government will not fail to give the matter careful consideration. The question of cost is one which need not enter very largely into their calculations. A nucleus for an Indian museum and library already exists, and materials for a colonial collection would be forthcoming, at small outlay. The Colonial Offices scattered about cost, in rental alone, upwards of 4,000l. per annum, and the capital sum representing this yearly expenditure falls little short of 100,000l., which would provide not only for new offices, which Dr. Watson suggests should be built on the site proposed, but "go a long way towards paying for the erection of the museum as well." The scheme has already been favourably received by the public, and it remains to be seen whether there is a disposition on the part of the responsible authorities to assist in carrying it out in its entirety or on a modified plan.

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Printed by Eyre and Spottiswood, Her Majesty's Printers.