The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12
The Proposed Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies
The Proposed Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies.
The extent and the surprising nature of the collections furnished by the British colonies in the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia form one of its most striking features, as an evidence of which I need only refer to the universal admiration excited by the unexpected display of manufactures and machinery from Canada. Equally remarkable was the amount of interest shown in the Exhibition on the part of the Australian colonies, although the collections forwarded from Victoria were partly damaged on the voyage to America. To find so complete a representation of the products of our Colonial Empire we must go back to the Exhibition of 1862, the annual Exhibitions at South Kensington in the years 1871-4 being too fragmentary in their scope and too exclusively artistic in their tendency to call forth on the part of the colonies anything like the same degree of effort as that witnessed at previous exhibitions, and now again manifested at Philadelphia. The display there is full of interest to the colonists themselves as showing them the vast resources contained within the British Empire itself. As a consequence of the display made at this exhibition several of the Austra- page 4 lian Commissioners visited Canada, and were surprised to discover how numerous are the articles suited to the Australian market which are there produced, and as the result we learn that ventures of a direct trade between Canada and Australia are about to be made. It is not a little mortifying that it should be necessary to go to Philadelphia to make such a discovery, and that even in London, the capital of the whole empire, it is still impossible to find any public institution in which the productions of Canada, Australia, or any of the other British colonies are permanently exhibted and rendered accessible to men of business. The only British possession represented by a museum in London is India, and even the Indian collections have never since the abolition of the East India Company had any special building suited to their purpose appropriated to them, but have been shifted about from place to place, stowed away in attics and corners, and even now, in their temporary resting place at South Kensington, they are far removed from the centres of business and political life. The neglect of England in this matter is the more astonishing, as the only other two powers with any colonial pretensions—France and the Netherlands—have both comparatively perfect colonial museums. It is also remarkable that this neglect prevails most where it might have been least expected, in England itself, the very seat of the central power India and most of the colonies are, within their own limits very fairly provided for in this respect, although they are inadequately or not at all represented at head quarters.
When in India some years ago I had occasion to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in Bombay and the magnificent India Museum, then in course of erection at Calcutta. Similar museums exist likewise at Madras, Lahore, Agra and several other seats of provincial governments. In Australia, page 5 also, nothing has been more remarkable than the energy and admirable foresight with which these young communities hardly emerging from the first struggles for existence, have set themselves to acquire at once scientific and commercial collections of all their productions, and the rapidity with which they appropriate to themselves the results of the scientific and practical investigations to which these collections give rise, strikingly attests their value. The neglect however in providing a central museum in London to show the productions of the whole Empire is easily explained. It was clearly in the interest of all the parties concerned to possess such an institution—England, India, and everyone of the colonies would have shared alike in the advantages resulting from its influence—but it was amongst the things which being everybody's business, becomes nobody's business. The colonies would feel that a museum of that kind established in London would be as much an imperial institution as the British or South Kensington Museum, and that consequently they should not be called upon entirely to provide for an institution of that character from their local resources. The same feeling accounts for the somewhat grudging support which the India Museum has received from those charged with the care of the finances of India, and may explain the reluctance on their part to come to any decision with regard to the frequently mooted question of the erection of a special building for that museum. Dr. Forbes Watson, the director of the India Museum, has accordingly for many years advocated the plan of sharing between England and India the expenditure required for such a purpose, on the ground that in an undertaking the benefits of which would be mutual the costs should be so likewise. This view has since been endorsed by the different chambers of commerce in their memorials to Her page 6 Majesty's Government on the subject. The same principle clearly applies to the Colonial Museum as well. In his proposal therefore for the erection side by side, on the old Fife House site on the Victoria Embankment of the two museums—the Indian and the colonial—Dr. Forbes Watson suggests that the expenditure of the undertaking should be covered by the co-operation of the Mother Country with the colonies and India. This seems to be alike fair and politic. The two museums would by their juxtaposition form an Imperial Museum representing the whole of the dominions under the British Crown.
Such an institution could not fail to exercise a considerable influence on the development of the commercial and political relations between England and all its dependencies, and to direct popular attention to colonial and Indian questions, which are rapidly assuming increased prominence and importance. One of the most marked changes, indeed, during the last few years has been the rapid development of the imperial idea, an increased appreciation of the community of interests prevailing between all the different parts of the empire, and a growing tendency to give some legislative expression to their mutual interdependence.
The success which has attended the foundation of the Royal Colonial Institute, established by a number of representative colonists and their friends for the advancements of the above objects, is a proof of the interest with which these matters are now regarded, and the establishment of a museum, representing the resources of the whole empire, and embracing both the colonies and India, has from the very beginning been an object towards the realization of which that institute has directed its efforts in the firm conviction that such a museum would do far more page 7 towards educating public opinion in England on colonial and Indian subjects than any number of eloquent speeches or elaborate pamphlets. Accordingly, when Dr. Forbes Watson's plans were made public, the Royal Colonial Institute accepted them at once in their main outlines as affording a practical embodiment of one of the principal points of their programme. It has since appointed a committee for the purpose of promoting by every means in their power the establishment of this proposed Imperial Museum for the colonies and India, and it is satisfactory to know that a large number of the leading firms of the city of London have already signified their approval of the scheme. The light which such a museum will be able to throw upon many important problems of the immediate future, such as the question of emigration, of imperial federation, and others in which the Social Science Association has always taken a warm interest, and in connection with which an India and Colonial Committee already exists, is a sufficient excuse for bringing this matter to the notice of its members.
For all details of the scheme I must refer the section to the able pamphlet* in which Dr. Forbes Watson advocates his proposals, and I will here only touch on some of the more salient features of his plans as showing that such a museum deserves support not less on account of the merit of the general idea than because of the practical means suggested for its efficient working.
The proposed site on the Victoria Embankment is one of the most central and prominent in London, and is most readily accessible to all the classes likely to be practically interested page 8 in the proposed museums. By connecting the India Library with the India Museum, and by the establishment of a colonial library and reading-room in conjunction with the Colonial Museum, the new institution would combine within its own walls all the sources of information which are available with regard to the commercial, social, and political condition of the whole empire. The offices of the Agents-General for the different colonies would be placed in connection with their respective sections in the Colonial Museum, and the offices of the Reporter on the products of India with the India Museum; and if the suggestion of locating the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Colonial institute within the same building should be adopted, the museums would be brought into direct relation with all the currents of public opinion prevailing with regard to the subjects illustrated by these collections. It is to be hoped also that the suggested establishment of lectureships in connection with the India Museum may be accomplished. This is a matter to which scarcely sufficient attention appears to have been paid in the usual management of such institutions. Courses of lectures attract persons who are drawn to the museum for real study, they serve to give definite purposes to the collections, and are instrumental in keeping them up to the requirements demanded by the progress of knowledge and investigation. An illustration of this effect is afforded by the interesting account in The Times of 5th October, of the rise and progress of the Paris Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, from which it appears that the whole life and public usefulness of this typical institution dates only from the introduction of the system of regular courses of lectures, for which the collections were made to supply the illustrations. Those who at the present time, in various parts of the country, are endeavouring to extend the action of page 9 existing museums, or to establish new ones, would do well to bear this in mind.
We have lately witnessed the liberality of some of the London city companies in the cause of industrial education, and I may here cite the foundation of chairs of textile industries by the Cloth-workers Company. The most efficient manner of utilizing these endowments is certainly by combining such chairs with some of the museums which possess collections fitted to illustrate the subject of the lectures delivered.
There is yet another most important feature in the plans to be mentioned—viz., the utilization of the museum in London as a kind of dep⊚t, from which information should be supplied to the whole country. It is proposed to make use of the accumulated resources for the purpose of preparing sets of trade collections, in which the products of the colonies and of India shall be shown, according to their trade classification, side by side with similar products from other countries, competing with them in the markets of the world. These sets would then be available for general distribution. The collections of Indian textile fabrics prepared at the India Museum and which have been subscribed for by most of the principal seats of commerce and manufacture in this country, afford an illustration of what is intended. By this means the institution, instead of being merely local, would become national in the widest sense. Every place of importance throughout the empire would thus become directly interested, and would in an important degree participate in the advantages resulting from its establishment.
There remains now the all important question of cost to be considered. If the plan of sharing this between England on the one hand and the colonies and India on the other be page 10 adopted, it is suggested that England should provide the cost of site, whilst India and the colonies should defray the expenditure required by the building. The proposed site on the embankment, on which Fife House formerly stood, belongs now to the Crown, and would have to be purchased from the trustees of the Crown property. No estimate of its market value is as yet available, but it cannot be much less than £200,000. This is a large sum, but not more than commensurate with the importance of the objects proposed. The first step, therefore, to be taken is to induce the Government to ask from Parliament a vote of £200,000 for the purchase of the site. Should the vote of a lump sum of £200,000 be objected to, there are special features in this case which would make it quite legitimate to raise the required amount by means of terminable annuities according to the precedents which have already been so often acted upon. It must be remembered that as the purchase is to be made from the Crown the money would be at once reinvested by the trustees of the Crown property, and the proceeds of that investment being payable into the treasury, they would thus supply the greatest portion of the amount of terminable annuity. Calculated according to the usual rate, a capital sum of £200,000 could be raised by means of an annuity of less than £13,000 terminable in twenty-five years. But whichever way may be finally adopted it cannot be doubted that a strong expression of opinion with regard to the usefulness of such an institution from the bodies representing all who are interested, commercially, financially, or politically, in the maintenance and development of our relations with India and the colonies, that is from every Chamber of Commerce or Town Council of any standing throughout England, would materially affect the decision of the Government and of Parliament.page 11
There is another way in which help might be rendered at the present time. The Philadelphia Exhibition is drawing to a close. The colonial exhibits there would be invaluable as affording a nucleus for the formation of the collections for the new museum, and steps should be taken to secure them for this purpose. It would, of course, take several years to provide the necessary building for their reception, but in the meantime they might be accommodated in some of the vacant exhibition galleries belonging to the Commissioners for the 1851 Exhibition at South Kensington. These galleries, though from their remote position entirely unsuited for the location of a permanent institution like the one in question, would be convenient for the temporary purpose of laying out and arranging the collections, in the same way as they are being utilized already for the Indian collections. There are at present several schemes afloat with regard to the best mode of utilizing the property of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851. The whole of this property, now valued at about one million sterling, is the result of the investment of the surplus of £186,000 remaining after the close of that exhibition. There could hardly be a better way suggested for the utilization of part of this property than by its being temporarily devoted to the purpose mentioned. There should be no question of rent, because the large sums spent by the colonies and India on account of that exhibition—the Indian Government alone spending £160,000—certainly contributed in a great measure to the formation of this surplus, so that the colonies would on that account possess a fair claim to the free enjoyment of some of the results of that surplus. Of course even the larger question might be mooted how far it is desirable to keep up the property of the Exhibition Commissioners in its present extent, page 12 and whether it would not be advisable to capitalize the whole or a considerable portion of that property, and devote the proceeds to the establishment of industrial and other museums in different parts of the country. If such a course were adopted the proposed India and Colonial Museums might certainly put in a claim to a share in the division.
It may also be fairly argued that the great provincial towns, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and others, which on the same occasion made considerable sacrifices, have a just claim to consideration in the appropriation of the funds, which might be obtained by realizing at least a portion of the splendid land investment originally made by the Commissioners at South Kensington.