The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
The Advertiser, 13th June 7876
The Advertiser, 13th June 7876.
The proposal to establish a Colonial Museum in London is one that is well worthy of the attention of the Government. We have already an India Museum, and its collections are at present being arranged for exhibition at South Kensington; but that locality is by no means the most suitable, as it is felt that the museum, to be thoroughly useful to the public, ought to be situated in a more central position. Dr. Forbes Watson, the Director of the India Museum, has just published a pamphlet, in which he points out that a site, most advantageous in every way, is available in the immediate vicinity of the Thames Embankment, and the new street just opened under the name of Northumberland Avenue. On this spot there would be ample space, not only for the erection of a museum for India, but also of one for the colonies. Our relations with the latter are so extensive, and our colonial empire is so rapidly increasing in wealth and population, that it would be most advisable to have in the metropolis of the empire some edifice which page 11 would contain, gathered together under one roof, exhibits from every part of our vast possessions across the sea. Their productions are so varied and numerous that it is most essential we should possess something of the kind in London. As yet the colony of Queensland, one of the youngest and most enterprising, is the only one that has formed a permanent museum here; but it has had the drawback of being located at South Kensington, and for the present its exhibits are no longer to be seen, having been forwarded to Philadelphia to increase the display made there by the Australasian colonies. Of the usefulness of such a general museum there cannot be any question; for it would supply a want that is now greatly felt by all who are seeking information about the colonies, and who are desirous of obtaining more of it than can readily be supplied by books or obtained from verbal details. Dr. Watson has also suggested that, in addition to the museum, the offices of the Crown agents of the colonies and of the various agents-general should be located in the same building, quarters also being found there for the Royal Colonial Institute, which has, during the last few years, been doing such excellent service in spreading abroad information respecting our colonial empire, both by the publication of various works and by frequent meetings, at which colonial questions are discussed, and colonists at home, as well as residents in England, have the opportunity of interchanging ideas. The advantages of having the offices of the colonial agents-general concentrated in one spot are also self-evident. At present most of them are situated at no very great distance from the proposed site, and it is alleged that the amount of rent they now pay for the premises they occupy would go far towards meeting the interest on the sum that would be required for renting a suitable building. As the author of the pamphlet remarks "To the colonial agents the existence of a 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 cases where now long explanations would be necessary they would simply have to send the inquirers into the museum. Each colonial section would obtain the supervision of the representative of the colony, whilst the collections 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 arrangement, more suitable for practical purposes."
In this economical age, when every government has to look sharply after the expenditure, the cost of such an edifice as would be required would be a matter of some importance and consideration, and it could not be expected that the whole amount should be thrown upon the Imperial Exchequer. Although, as we have already mentioned, the rents paid by the different colonies for the offices of their agents general would probably be sufficient for the interest on the sum required for their establishments adjoining the museum, there would be the latter building itself to be provided for, as well as the cost of the ground; and doubtless several of the more important and wealthy colonies would not object to contribute for an object that would be as advantageous to themselves as to the people of this country. Some three or four years back an old colonist who had settled down in the mother country brought forward a proposal for the establishment of a Colonial Exchange, which, to a certain extent, would have fulfilled some of the objects sought to be attained by Dr. Watson. It was intended that the exchange should contain specimens of all kinds of colonial products, and it was thought probable that, were a suitable site chosen, the agents-general would remove their offices to it. The project, however, fell through, and the one now set forth by Dr. Watson is in many ways page 12 more satisfactory. It will not be a mere private undertaking, but will have the prestige of being carried out under the joint patronage of the home government and the colonies. It is stated that several of the latter have already expressed their willingness to associate in the enterprise, and there is every reason to believe that it will be warmly supported. It may be observed, as showing how appropriate the present time is for initiating the affair, that the magnificent collection of colonial productions now being exhibited at Philadelphia might be brought over here and made the nucleus of the museum. Probably not one of the colonies would object to this, and indeed many of the colonial papers have already expressed a hope that their exhibits in America might be sent over to London and displayed for inspection here by those interested in the colonies ere they are returned to the possession of the countries that forward them. The request to present them at the commencement of an Imperial Colonial Museum would be readily acceded to, and when once it was started each colony would vie with the other in seeing that its particular section of the museum was always supplied with the best specimens of its productions, and that it was made in every way the vehicle for providing the public at home with the most complete information respecting its capabilities and resources.