Museums were an expression of the western conviction in the onward march of the rational. Local civilisations were also the prime focus in other Asian imperial museums. This is the first book that examines the origins and development of museums in six major regions if the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It analyses museum histories in thirteen major centres in Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and South-East Asia, setting them into the economic and social contexts of the cities and colonies in which they were located. Museums in Canada have a longer, though somewhat chequered, history than elsewhere in the British Empire. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto and the Royal British Columbia museum in Victoria were two notable, yet very different, expressions of imperial expansiveness . The book then overviews two representative museums: the South African Museum (SAM) in Cape Town and the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. The origins and development of the National Museum of Victoria (NMV) in Melbourne, South Australian Museum (SAuM) and Australian Museum (AM) are then discussed. New Zealand/Aotearoa, with its Canterbury Museum and War Memorial Museum, has discrete origins as a colony in the nineteenth century. Imperial museums in Asia were unquestionably distinctive compared with those of the territories of white settlement. A number of key themes emerge: the development of elites within colonial towns; the emergence of the full range of cultural institutions associated with this; and the modification of the key scientific ideas of the age.
Most of the imperial territories were first engrossed into the British Empire in the eighteenth century, usually acquired in stages. But New Zealand/Aotearoa has discrete origins as a colony in the nineteenth. The Nelson Institute, library and museum are actually peripheral to the main concerns of this chapter, but its almost instantaneous growth, provincial support, architectural expression and role within a 'pioneer' community are indicative of developments elsewhere. While the settlers of nascent Nelson were supplying themselves with institutions offering self-respect and self-improvement, a sense of being truly a part of the British world, Auckland was yet another community clinging to the edge. Auckland was in an area of relatively populous Maori settlement. Auckland was destined to become the largest city of the dominion with one of the most impressive museums anywhere in the southern hemisphere.
This chapter considers the founding of the Australian Museum (AM) in Sydney and, in more detail, the origins and development of the National Museum of Victoria (NMV) in Melbourne and the South Australian Museum (SAuM) in Adelaide. Australian museums were characteristically founded in each colony by a group of bourgeois dilettante scientists, wealthy businessmen and influential professionals. The dramatic mushrooming of the incipient colony, unmatched anywhere else in the British Empire ensured that a whole range of new institutions were brought into being in the course of the 1850s. The status of New South Wales (NSW) as a penal colony ensured that museum development would be delayed until the necessary elite group had formed. The territory that became the colony of Victoria was first settled in the mid-1830s when pastoralists arrived in the Port Phillip region from both NSW and Van Diemen's Land.
The implication of museums in the imperial expansiveness of the late nineteenth century is a familiar phenomenon. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto and the Royal British Columbia museum in Victoria were two notable, yet very different, expressions of this phenomenon. The fact that the ROM contains one of the richest Chinese collections of any museum is largely down to White and the encouragement he received from Charles Trick Currelly. White believed that his justification was that Canada should have the opportunity to appreciate the glories of Chinese civilisation, as well as understand a great country and potential trading partner, which shared a Pacific Rim location. The result of ROM's imperialism was that Toronto's civic coming of age had taken the form of a desire to slot itself into the world civilisations of the past, into international empires rather than British.
Museums deal in history of one sort or another, or at least contemporary perceptions of such histories. In the case of the South Australian Museum (SAuM), it has been customary to identify its origins as far back as 1834. The colony of South Australia (SA) was in the process of being conceived as a planned, idealistic and free settlement, an offshoot of the United Kingdom rather than an Australian territory tainted by transportation like its predecessors. The museums in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide had all been more interested in Pacific materials than Aboriginal right up to the last decades of the nineteenth century. By the late nineteenth century, the international exchange of natural history specimens of all sorts had been replaced by a prolific trade in ethnographic materials. This shift reflected the change in emphases of museums throughout the British Empire, apparent in Australia no less than elsewhere.
Few museums have passed through as many political changes and cultural transformations as those in South Africa. This chapter focuses on two representative museums: the South African Museum (SAM) in Cape Town and the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. These are the two oldest museums in southern Africa. George Grey appointed a commission to look into the possibility of creating a properly constituted museum. Museums interacted with a white populace both through the presentation of colonial identity (natural and economic) and with modes of presentation of black culture. They promoted local and civic pride as well as the wider provincial/colonial sense of nationalism within imperial/international webs of both competition and cooperation. Although forerunners have been identified during the era of Dutch rule at the Cape, the idea of the museum was largely a British import.
Museums in Canada have a longer, though somewhat chequered, history than elsewhere in the British Empire. This chapter examines the early and often tentative beginnings of Canadian museums while the next surveys the emergence of the modern, and rather different, museums in Toronto and Victoria. In 1851, the Canadian Institute was incorporated in Toronto, and it was to be important in the founding of the Ontario Provincial Museum. If the origins of museums throughout eastern Canada represent a number of different streams, those in Ontario clearly illustrate the educational, didactic, and multi-disciplinary forces which fed into the major development of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Among these, the emergence of a local museum in Elora some sixty miles due west of Toronto is highly significant. This museum is inseparably connected with the extraordinary auto-didact David Boyle.
Museums were an expression of the western conviction in the onward march of the rational. National identities have come to be enshrined in museums to an even greater extent than before. Throughout the British Empire, with the exception of India and other parts of Asia, the museum had to cope with the fact that its traditional juxtaposition of antiquities and of nature was somewhat skewed. European, American and colonial museums set up a quite extraordinary international traffic in natural historical, archaeological and anthropological 'specimens'. The museum's intellectual framework, its collecting habits, and so many of its methods were closely bound up with the nature and practices of imperialism. Local civilisations were also the prime focus in other Asian imperial museums. Thus the geographical and ethnic perspectives of imperial museums were often complex, but the messages of their natural contexts and incipient nationalism were highly fluid.
The influence of boredom upon history should never be underestimated. The Albany Museum in Grahamstown was partly conceived in boredom but developed in personal enthusiasms. Both those of Cape Town and Grahamstown began to flourish once the colonial revenues had been placed on a sounder footing through the 'mineral revolution' and resulting trade. Curiously in Grahamstown, the museum flourished at a time of considerable ecological crisis, when the town's economy was not doing well and drought and recession were endemic. Museums were more important in their social and intellectual effects. As Walter Hely-Hutchinson put it at the opening of the Albany Museum, the museum's objective was 'the promotion of culture and knowledge'. Selmar Schonland developed a large number of overseas contacts, founded The Records of the Albany Museum, and published extensively both in this journal, in the Transactions of the South African Philosophical Society, and in the Agricultural Journal.
Imperial museums in Asia were unquestionably distinctive compared with those of the territories of white settlement. This chapter examines the origins of museums in the British Empire in Asia with particular attention to the motivations for their founding and the justifications offered for expenditure on them. It analyses the history of the Singapore Museum in greater detail. In the first place, western-style Asian museums developed out of the foundation of the Asiatic(k) Society of Bengal in Calcutta. Similar Asiatic societies later appeared in Bombay, Ceylon and Singapore. Interestingly, the Royal Asiatic Society in London founded in 1823 by T.H. Colebrooke postdates the original Bengal society by some forty years. These societies had ambitions to study the literary, religious, philological and historical manifestations of Asian civilisations. These were perceived to be fascinating both in their great antiquity, and through their links to the ancient worlds of Europe and the East.