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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

The Standard, 13th June 1876

The Standard, 13th June 1876.

The inhabitants of the Strand, having been relieved from their apprehensions that the Royal Mint was about to be removed from Tower Hill to the Thames Embankment, have lately taken a fresh alarm under the impression that an Imperial Museum representing India and the colonies was likely to be erected on the site which had been proposed for the Mint. The objections in the latter instance were founded in a misconception. As explained by Dr. Forbes Watson in a letter which we published yesterday morning, the site proposed for the India and Colonial Museums has nothing whatever to do with the Strand, and cannot by any possibility block up the desired approach to the Embankment through the Savoy. The spot proposed is to the west of Whitehall Place. Somewhat curiously it is the old Fife House site, where the India Museum stood for a number of years, in the past. This museum has had a wandering history. Lately it was to be found page 9 in the attics of the India Office, and now for a time it is in the far west, occupying a portion of the galleries which fringe the Horticultural Gardens at South Kensington. It was hoped that it might have found a permanent home in a building to be erected on the vacant ground belonging to the India Office in Charles Street. But Her Majesty's Government have decided to devote the whole of the ground between Great George Street and the new India and Home Offices to other public purposes, and consequently the India Museum has been denied a resting place in that quarter. It might be suggested that the India Museum should stay where it is; but on the other hand, there are some grave reasons why it ought not to stay there. One is, that since the removal of the museum to the exhibition galleries, it has scarcely had so many visitors as when perched aloft at the India Office. The real use of the India Museum is such as to make South Kensington an unfit place for it. Dr. Forbes Watson, who, as Director of the India Museum, and Reporter on the Products of India, has especial charge of the interests of this institution, has elaborated a scheme which includes the appropriation of the Fife House site for the erection of buildings which shall accommodate a confederation of museums, representing both India and the colonies. The ground connected with Fife House is nearly acres in extent, and belongs to the Crown. It is well situated for the contemplated purpose, being near the India and Colonial Offices, besides being contiguous to the business centre of London, and within easy reach of what may be termed the literary quarter. Besides, it is not impossible that we may see a revival of the annual International Exhibitions at South Kensington, under better arrangements and with fair prospects of success, in which case the India Museum could not be allowed to retain the space and position which it now occupies. With an enlarged and improved architectural plan we might hope to see the Exhibition scheme revived and carried on to its proper issue. The success which attends the present loan scientific collection proves that the public taste is already elevated above mere show and superficial entertainment.

The project of Dr. Forbes Watson is one which possesses many important features, affecting the material interests not only of the nation, but of the empire. He proposes to combine the India Museum with the India Library, so as to bring under cover of one building the various products, manufactures, and antiquities contained in the museum, together with the books, manuscripts, and publications constituting the library. It is proposed that the meeting rooms of the Royal Asiatic Society should be in the same building as the India Museum and Library, and that an Indian Institute should be established under the auspices, of this society. On the same spot it is intended to establish a Colonial Library and Reading-room, provision being also made for the reception of the Royal Colonial Institute, which would stand in a similar relation to the Colonial Museum as the Asiatic Society to the India Museum. Sets of Trade Museums are to be formed representing India and the colonies, these being intended to illustrate the products and manufactures of the several parts of the empire. The collections thus formed are to be distributed among the leading museums of England, India, and the colonies, thus affording in various quarters an epitome of the central collection.

For the realization of this scheme certain elements already exist, and there is a great preparedness for action. The India Museum is already formed. There is an excellent Queensland Museum, temporarily removed from South Kensington to Philadelphia, where other page 10 colonial collections are now to be found. A suitable representation of the colonies by means of a museum in England is a subject which has long been discussed, and some of the colonies have already voted money for the establishment of such an institution in London. A proper building in a suitable locality is the great desideratum, and this now seems attainable. It is not proposed that all the various collections shall be merged in one museum, although the whole will be on one site. To destroy the individuality of the several collections would 'be fatal to the true design of the undertaking. India will constitute one collection, though we presume there will be much of local distinction even in that instance. But the colonies would appear each one for itself. The commercial value of the information thus afforded would be great, and on this account it will be readily apprehended how utterly inappropriate South Kensington site would be. It is even expected that the colonial agencies which now exist in London would locate themselves in this institution, and the aggregate rent they would pay is reckoned upon as affording important financial assistance. There can be no doubt that the project, worked out after the manner described by Dr. Forbes Watson, would tend to the more rapid development of commercial relations between the various parts of the British empire. The associated museums and libraries, with all the appliances which are specified, would place a world of facts at the command of every inquirer. Speaking in plain terms, we might say that the museums would be the sample rooms of the empire, although at the same time there would be ample provision made for gratifying the spirit of research on the part of the student. The history and mythology of India could be readily studied, as well as the special features which characterise the several colonies. To launch this enterprise it is suggested that the British Government should obtain from the Crown the specified site on the Embankment, and present it to India and the colonies "for the establishment of a great Indian and Colonial Museum," such as shall be worthy of the political and commercial importance "of the British possessions throughout the world." It is believed that if this step were taken by the British Government, the colonies, as well as India, would be found ready to do their part. The project certainly presents a very attractive appearance, and is calculated to be of great public utility.