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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

3 — The Proposed Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies

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The Proposed Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies.

Dr. Forbes Watson writes to us:—

"In view of the abstract resolution on the subject of the India Museum which Mr. Fawcett intended to move in the House of Commons on Tuesday last, and which may come on again shortly, it may be useful to give publicity to some of the facts which were laid before a private meeting held last week in the City, with the object of promoting the establishment of an Imperial Museum for the Colonies and India.

Before considering with Mr. Fawcett who is to pay for the proposed India Museum, it may be well to give some notion of what would have to be paid in the case of its being decided to erect such a museum.

The total cost may be discussed under the three heads of cost of site, cost of buildings, and cost of maintenance. It must be kept in mind that the figures which follow apply, not to the India Museum alone, but to the combined buildings, which, according to the scheme advocated by the joint committee of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Colonial Institute, would also include a Colonial Museum and offices for the Agents-General and the Crown Agents for the Colonies. The Indian section of the proposed buildings would probably not occupy more than about two-fifths of the entire block, so that the share of expenditure which would fall on India would not amount to more than two-fifths of the total cost.

1. Cost of Site.—The selection of a suitable site is a question of cardinal importance. By attempting to economize in this respect, and by placing the museums in some outlying district where land is cheap, their whole practical influence might be compromised. They could never fail to be interesting show-places, and to attract numbers of sight-seers, wherever they were placed; but they would not be consulted by men engaged in practical affairs, in commerce, or in politics, unless they were placed near to the quarters in which political and commercial business is already transacted. The proposed site on the Victoria Embankment, where Fife House formerly stood, and where the India Museum was located for a number of years, is admitted to be the most suitable site which could be selected. The ground belongs to the Crown, and would have to be bought from the trustees of the Crown property. A key to its probable cost may be obtained from the value of land situated in the same neighbourhood. The site belonging to the India Office in Charles Street, covering rather more than half an acre, has been estimated at from 50,000l. to 60,000l., or at the rate of about 100,000l. per acre. But the plots of building ground situated on the two sides of the Northumberland Avenue, and belonging to the Metropolitan Board of Works, will give a still nearer approximation. These plots occupy about three and a half acres, and the total outlay on them by the Board amounted to 664,000l. Now, all our previous undertakings in street improvement have resulted in a loss of about 60 percent, on the total outlay. By applying the same proportion to page 2 the plots in question we obtain as their probable selling value a sum of 265,600l., or about 75,000l. per acre. At this rate the Fife House plot would sell for about 188,000l. But this site, although eminently suitable for a large public building, would certainly prove less valuable for private purposes than either of the other two sites. Its frontage is very small in comparison to its size, amounting to not much above 1,000 feet for the two and a half acres; while the Charles Street site, with half an acre, has a frontage of about 700 feet, and the plots belonging to the Metropolitan Board of Works one of 2,400 feet. It also possesses only one corner plot, against 10 corner plots in the neighbouring pieces of ground. It is, therefore, fair to presume that, even should the plots in the Northumberland Avenue realise considerably more than at the rate of 75,000l. per acre, the maximum cost of the Fife House site should not exceed 200,000l.

2. Cost of Buildings.—No plans of the proposed buildings nor estimates of their cost have as yet been prepared, as the scheme is hardly yet in the stage in which it can be submitted to an architect. What is available is only certain rough calculations based upon a forecast of the probable space which will be required, and upon estimates which at different times during the last few years have been prepared for a building to contain the India Museum alone.

The Indian section of the proposed buildings would have to contain about 60,000 superficial feet of useful floor-space. This would provide for a museum much larger and more convenient than the galleries in which the India Museum is now located, and also for an India Library more than double the extent of the present one, with a reading-room equal to that of the Guild-hall Library in the City. It is more difficult to estimate the colonial requirements. The Colonial Museum would consist of about 10 independent sections, varying in size with the importance of the Colony or the group of Colonies represented. The following are the data, which will supply some notion of the space which the united colonial sections will occupy. The Queensland Court at South Kensington measured about 1,500 superficial feet, but at least double that space would be required for a complete representation of that Colony. In a specification received from the late Agent-General, of New Zealand a space of more than 6,000 square feet is considered indispensable for the New Zealand collections alone. New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Cape could, probably, not do with less than New Zealand, while Canada might require a good deal more. Even at Philadelphia the space occupied by the combined colonial sections amounts to 18,000 square feet, not including Canada, and collections in a permanent museum would have to be more exhaustive than those sent to a temporary exhibition. It is probable, therefore, that nothing less than a space of 50,000 square feet, galleries included, would be sufficient for a thorough representation of the Colonies. With regard to the colonial offices, the space at present occupied by the offices of the Agents-General and the Crown Agents for the Colonies amounts to a little above 20,000 square feet, but in some instances double the present accommodation will be required, so that the offices in the new building must be arranged to afford at least 35,000 square feet of floor space. By taking into account a colonial reading-room and library, with say 5,000 square feet, the entire floor space of the colonial section is thus brought up to about 90,000 square feet. In addition to the Indian and the Colonial sections there would be a smaller section held in common between them of about 20,000 square feet, which would contain lecture rooms and a Trade Museum, in which all the Indian and colonial trade products would be shown in connexion with the com page 3 peting products in the market of the world. The total floor space, therefore, for which provision would have have to be made in the new building will amount to 170,000 square feet, with a certain additional space for stores, work rooms, and other purposes, including the limited amount of space which would be required for the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Colonial Institute should it be thought expedient for them to have their rooms in the building.

Now, as regards the cost, the estimate for a building supplying ample accommodation for the whole of the Indian section here indicated amounted to 100,000l., including fittings. The cost of the colonial section at the same rate should not exceed 150,000l., and the cost of the whole building should not be above a quarter of a million sterling.

3. Cost of Maintenance.—A distinguished member of the India Council, in a memorandum advocating the establishment of an Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies, estimates the probable annual charges at 15,000l. This sum would provide for staff as well as for police, lighting, and other incidental expenses. To be quite on the safe side, the annual cost of maintenance might be put down at 20,000l., of which about one-half would fall on the Indian and one-half on the colonial section. In addition to whatever special staff might be found necessary, each colonial section would, of course, remain under the general supervision of the Agent-General for the Colony.

Coming now to the second question,—that is, who is to pay for the proposed museums,—an opinion has been gaining ground for some time that it is not fair that India alone should bear the cost of institutions such as the India Museum and the India Library, from which this country derives quite as much advantage as India does. The Chambers of Commerce of Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast, and Leith, as also the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, in their memorials urging upon the Government the necessity of a better provision for the India Museum and Library, have accordingly at the same time expressed themselves in favour of a course by means of which the required expenditure would be shared equally between England and India.

Mr. Fawcett, however, goes a step further, and considers that not even a share of the expenditure should fall on India. It is impossible not to respect the motives which lead Mr. Fawcett to entertain that opinion, and which make him at all times the champion of what he considers to be justice to India; and it is impossible to deny that there have been occasions on which the Indian Exchequer has had to bear a larger share of expenditure than could in fairness have been demanded from it. But in the case of the India Museum and Library it seems that justice to India does not demand more than an equal sharing of the expenditure. To assume the contrary it would be necessary to suppose that India can derive no benefit whatever from the existence of these institutions in London. This would be contrary to the plainest facts of the case. As long as India is governed from this country, and as long as this country continues to be the chief market for the produce of India and the chief source from which is supplied the capital which she so much requires, so long will India have a direct commercial interest in advertising her productions, and a direct political interest in educating her masters. If, then, as it probably will be admitted, a well organized India Museum and library can render some assistance in the futherance of these objects, the money spent in establishing a really efficient institution of this kind will have been laid out in promoting the best interests of India.

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As regards the Colonial Museum, considerations of a slightly different nature lead to the same general conclusion,—that is, that an undertaking which promises to be alike useful to England and to the Colonies should also be established at a joint expense.

If the general principle be admitted that an Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies should be called into existence by an equal co-operation of all the parties interested in it, there still remains the question, in what manner this co-operation should be effected. It has been suggested that probably the most convenient course would be for England to bear the cost of the site and one-half of the annual cost of maintenance, while India and the Colonies would have to provide for the buildings and for the other half of the yearly charges. The mode of administering the combined institutions would have to reflect the mode of their establishment. The management would have to be vested in a special body of trustees, in which England, India, and the different Colonies should be represented in proportion to the interests involved.

As regards the actual raising of money, there ought to be no difficulty in obtaining the sums required for the accomplishment of so desirable an object. The share falling on each of the great Colonies would not be heavy, amounting from 10,000l. to 25,000l., according to the space required; and even these sums would be spread over three years. Considering that the colonies are at the present moment paying upwards of 4,000l. per annum for the offices of their Agents-General, there is every reason to believe that they would willingly incur an expenditure which would provide them not only with offices but with a museum as well.

Now, as regards this country, the question resolves itself into this,—whether at a time when 352,000l. is being spent on the buildings for a purely scientific museum like the Natural History Museum, and when 210,000l. is the annual grant for the maintenance of museums and kindred institutions throughout the country, it is advisable to spend 200,000l. once for all and 10,000l. per annum in order to establish an institution which would represent the resources of the whole British empire, and tend to strengthen the political and commercial relations among all the different dominions of the British Crown.

This and other questions bearing upon this subject will, doubtless, all come under discussion at the public meeting which it is proposed to hold at an early date in the City."

Athenæum Club, 5th July, 1876.

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Plan She Wing Proposed Site For The Nelson'S Monument Imperial Museum For India & The Colonies. The Imperial Museum For India And The Colonies.