The Road to Albertopolis: Richard Owen (1804–92) and the Founding of the British Museum of Natural History

  • Nicolaas A. Rupke


On Easter Monday 1881, the new Natural History Museum in South Kensington was officially opened to the public. As many as 16000 visitors crowded the spacious exhibition galleries during this first, historic day. At last, adequate space had been provided for the nation’s immensely popular collections of natural history which, for nearly half a century, had suffered overcrowding, neglect and damage in the British Museum in Bloomsbury. The natural history collections had been on public display in the temple-like Bloomsbury building since 1831, having been moved there from the less commodious Montagu House. All too soon, however, a stream of new objects, antiquities, ethnographic items, plants, animals and fossils, from private collectors, from Near Eastern excavations, African expeditions, and colonial surveys had congested the Bloomsbury temple, even its basement, stairs and portico. Such an heterogeneous hoard might have been regarded as a perfectly congruous collection in the middle of the eighteenth century when the British Museum had originated from Hans Sloane’s estate; but in the Victorian era, with its growing regard for specialised expertise, this mixture of natural objects and human artefacts made uneasy bedfellows.


Natural History Natural History Museum National Museum British Museum Quarterly Review 
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© Nicolaas A. Rupke 1988

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  • Nicolaas A. Rupke

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