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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Ewart Gladstone   14 May 1866

London, May 14, 1866. To the Rt. Hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sir,—

It having been stated that the Scientific men of the Metropolis are, as a body, entirely opposed to the removal of the Natural History Collections from their present situation in the British Museum, we, the undersigned Fellows of the Royal, Linnean, Geological, and Zoological Societies of London, beg leave to offer to you the following expression of our opinion upon the subject.1

We are of opinion that it is of fundamental importance to the progress of the Natural Sciences in this country, that the administration of the National Natural History Collections should be separated from that of the Library and Art Collections, and placed under one Officer, who should be immediately responsible to one of the Queen’s Ministers.2

We regard the exact locality of the National Museum of Natural History as a question of comparatively minor importance, provided that it be conveniently accessible and within the Metropolitan district.3

George Bentham, F.R.S., F.L.S., F.Z.S.

William B. Carpenter, M.D., F.R.S., F.L.S., F.G.S.

W. S. Dallas, F.L.S.

Charles Darwin, F.R.S., F.L.S., F.Z.S.

F. Ducane Godman, F.L.S., F.Z.S.

J. H. Gurney, F.Z.S.

Edward Hamilton, M.D., F.L.S., F.Z.S.

Joseph D. Hooker, M.D., F.R.S., F.L.S., F.G.S.

Thomas H. Huxley, F.R.S., V.P.Z.S., F.L.S. F.G.S.

John Kirk, F.L.S., C.M.Z.S.

Lilford,4 F.L.S., F.Z.S.

Alfred Newton, M.A., F.L.S. F.Z.S.

W. Kitchen Parker, F.R.S., F.Z.S.

Andrew Ramsay, F.R.S., V.P.G.S.

Arthur Russell, M.P., F.R.G.S., F.Z.S.

Osbert Salvin, M.A., F.L.S., F.Z.S.

P. L. Sclater, F.R.S., F.L.S., F.Z.S.

G. Sclater-Booth, M.P., F.Z.S.

S. James A. Salter, M.B., F.R.S., F.L.S., F.Z.S.

W. H. Simpson, M.A., F.Z.S.

J. Emerson Tennent, F.R.S., F.Z.S.

Thomas Thomson, M.D., F.R.S., F.L.S.

H. B. Tristram, M.A., F.L.S.

Walden,5 F.Z.S., F.L.S.

Alfred R. Wallace, F.R.G.S., F.Z.S.

London, May 14th, 1866.


No recent statement regarding the opposition of the scientific community to the removal of the natural history collections of the British Museum has been found. CD had signed two memorials in 1858 on the location and organisation of the natural history collections; the first of these proposed the enlargement of the existing Bloomsbury site (see Correspondence vol. 7, Appendix VI, and n. 3, below). The present memorial was printed in the Athenæum, 23 June 1866, p. 836; it may be the memorial referred to in the letter from Charles Lyell, 1 March 1866.
In 1856, a new post had been created for Richard Owen as superintendent of the natural history departments of the British Museum; however, all of the museum’s collections had remained under the direction of the principal librarian, Anthony Panizzi. The second memorial of 1858 (see n. 1, above) had proposed that a museum and library of scientific zoology be placed under one person who was directly responsible to a government minister, and that most of the botanical collections be consolidated with the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which was already under the supervision of a director responsible to the minister of Works. See also Correspondence vol. 13, Supplement, letter to John Russell, [10 March 1847]. In June 1865, Panizzi had announced his plans to retire in the following year, and questions about the future administration of the museum were raised in Parliament in February and March 1866 (see Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, 3d ser. 181 (1866): 814–15, and 182 (1866): 730–1), and Fagan 1880, 2: 257–62. For more on the debates over museum administration and relocation, see Stearn 1981, pp. 34–46; on Owen’s role in the debates, see Rupke 1994, pp. 31–47.
CD had earlier been apprehensive about the removal of the natural history collections from the British Museum in Bloomsbury to South Kensington, which he thought was less accessible to the public (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to J. D. Hooker, 29 [October 1858]); on the opposition of others to the proposed removal, see Rupke 1994, pp. 37–9. In February 1866, Alfred Waterhouse was appointed to complete an existing design for a new natural history museum in South Kensington, although other locations for the museum continued to be considered until 1870. Construction of the British Museum of Natural History began in 1873 and was completed in 1880. On the construction of the museum, see Stearn 1981, pp. 43–9, and Forgan and Gooday 1994.
Thomas Littleton Powys, fourth Baron Lilford.
Arthur Hay, Viscount Walden.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Fagan, Louis. 1880. The life of Sir Anthony Panizzi, K.C.B. 2 vols. London: Remington & Co.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

Stearn, William T. 1981. The Natural History Museum at South Kensington: a history of the British Museum (Natural History), 1753–1980. London: Heinemann in association with the British Museum (Natural History).


Memorial to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the fellows of the Royal, Linnean, Geological, and Zoological Societies of London, stating the importance of separating the administration of the national natural history collections of the British Museum from that of the library and art collections, and placing it in the hands of one officer, immediately responsible to one of the Queen’s ministers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Ewart Gladstone
Sent from
Source of text
Gunther 1975, p. 238 (facsimile of printed copy of memorial)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5090F,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14