Reconstructing Sloane

Reconstructing Sloane is a collaborative research project with the British Museum and the British Library. It aims to reconnect the dispersed collection of 18th century physician Sir Hans Sloane, providing a unique insight into his extraordinary life.

An extraordinary collector

Hans Sloane (1660-1753) amassed one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of ‘natural and artificial rarities’ ever formed.  

A trained botanist and physician, he collected a great number of plant specimens for medicinal purposes during a voyage to Jamaica in the 1680s.

Aiming to create an encyclopaedic collection, Sloane acquired mineral, botanical, and zoological specimens from around the world, often procuring entire collections formed by others. His collections also include:

Nautilus pompilus, common nautilus

Carved nautilus from Sloane's collections.

  • ethnographic objects
  • antiquities
  • prints
  • drawings
  • books
  • manuscript

High society

As a man of medicine and a collector, Sloane was at the centre of a worldwide network of scholars and natural philosophers.  He became physician to Queen Anne, George I, and George II, as well as President of both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society. 

His estate in Chelsea included the Apothecaries’ Garden (now the Chelsea Physic Garden).

Dispersal of Sloane’s collections

After his death in 1753, Sloane’s collection was acquired by the nation through an Act of Parliament, which established the British Museum. As the Museum expanded however, parts of its holdings (including many of Sloane’s specimens) were transferred  to the Natural History Museum (in the 1880s) and the British Library (in the 1970s).

This dispersal of Sloane’s collections, across different institutions and departments within them has greatly hindered the study and understanding of:

  • collectors of the objects
  • geographical origins of the objects
  • the process through which collections were assembled.

Now,  the Reconstructing Sloane project aims to reconnect the disparate parts of Sloane’s collection through ground-breaking digital and collaborative research. Together the British Museum, British Library and Natural History Museum hope to uncover the rich history of Sloane’s vast collection.

  • Sapphire turban button from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane
    Sloane's Treasures

    Sloane's Treasures is a major 'Science in Culture' project, formed in collaboration with the British Museum and British Library.

Get involved

Do you have a research idea connected to Sloane or have you been working on a Sloane-related project? Please contact:

Julie Harvey BSc, DipLib, FRES
Head, Centre for Arts and Humanities Research
Tel: 020 7942 5241   
E mail

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In partnership with: