The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99
George Cruikshank, Landing the Treasures, or Results of the Polar Expedition!!!, a cartoon
London, England, AD 1819
Some interesting objects are added to the Museum's collections
In its early days the British Museum had a Department of Natural History, which contained specimens of animals, plants, fossils and minerals. Travellers and explorers brought back such specimens from around the world and gave them to the Museum.
One such explorer was Sir John Ross (1777-1856). In 1818 he made an expedition to the Canadian Arctic to try to find a 'North-West Passage' from Baffin Bay to Hudson Bay. He did not succeed in this, but he did bring back many specimens of natural history, including a dead polar bear. He gave these to the British Museum in 1819.
This cartoon shows an imaginary procession of sailors, headed by Ross, carrying the bear and other gifts from Ross's ship, the Isabella, to the British Museum. In the distance on the left is Montagu House, the original home of the Museum, with the Museum's Trustees dancing with excitement on the roof. Although the character of John Bull, on the left, is unimpressed, in real life the bear proved a very popular exhibit.
By the early 1880s the departments of botany, geology, mineralogy and zoology had all moved from the site in Bloomsbury to South Kensington to form The British Museum (Natural History), better known as the Natural History Museum. By this time a lot of the stuffed animals were deteriorating, so they were buried, in the Museum forecourt (to indignant complaints from the neighbours about the smell!).
R.L. Patten, George Cruikshanks life, times (Cambridge, Lutterworth Press, 1992)