Frederick York, The Ethnography Gallery, a photograph

London, England, AD 1875

The Ethnographic collections on display in Victorian times

Between 1850 and 1900 the size of The British Museum's Ethnographic collections grew tenfold. This was due mainly to the work of Augustus Wollaston Franks (1827-97). He began at the Museum as an Assistant in 1851 and retired in 1896 after thirty years as Keeper of the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography. The collections also grew following Henry Christy's bequest of prehistoric and ethnographic material in 1865. However, as there was no space available at the Museum for storage or display, it was kept for a further 18 years at his house in London where it could be seen by the public.

In 1851 there was one exhibition room in the South Wing of the Museum for the Ethnographic collections. It contained seventy-four cases. The Museum's Guide to the Exhibition Rooms stated that the room held 'both the antiquities, and the objects in modern use, belonging to all nations not of European race'.

As we see here, twenty-four years later the same space was being used for this vast range of material. This photograph of 1875 shows the Museum's Ethnography Gallery full of objects, some even displayed on the top of exhibition cases. In 1877 the Museum's Guide Book apologised that 'any scientific arrangement has been rendered difficult for want of space'.

Today the Museum's ethnographic material is displayed in a range of galleries.

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More information


M. Caygill, The story of The British Museu (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)

M. Caygill and J. Cherry (eds), A.W. Franks, nineteenth-centur (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)


Height: 203.000 mm
Width: 254.000 mm

Museum number

Archives CE114/620 (York Album)


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