Sloane and the Natural History Museum

Sloane's Jamaican collections grew into an international curiosity collection so large it eventually formed the basis of the Natural History Museum.

Pharma drawer

A pharmacopea drawer from Sloane's collection, containing the different ingredients for the preparation or mixing of medicines.

Distinguished visitors

Sloane's 'Museum' in his house became a major attraction of its time and was visited by a stream of distinguished visitors from Britain and abroad. One in particular, the great Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, was to use Sloane's text and drawings as the basis for descriptions of new species in his major work the Species Plantarum.

Sloane must have been aware of the conflict between access to, and conservation of, his collections that museum curators experience today. On one occasion the composer G.F. Handel was visiting Sloane and, so it is said, placed a buttered muffin on one of his priceless manuscripts, much to Sloane's consternation.

Creating the Museum

Sloane died at the age of 93 in 1753 after a long illness. He had been keen for his collections to survive beyond his death and be available to the nation and had made provision in his will that his curios:

'...may remain together and not be separated and that chiefly in and about the city of London, where I have acquired most of my estates and where they may by the great confluence of people be most used.'

He offered this vast collection to the nation for the sum of £20,000, a large sum in those days but probably much less than the collection's real worth. After his death, money raised by a lottery was used to purchase the collection and so was created the British Museum at Bloomsbury and later its offspring the Natural History Museum at South Kensington.