Sir Hans Sloane, an engraving from a portrait by T. Murray
London, England, AD 1728
The founder of the British Museum
Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was the founder of The British Museum. This engraving from a portrait shows him at the age of 68. The inscription at the bottom can be translated as: 'Sir Hans Sloane, baronet / Pres[ident]. of the College of Physicians of London and the Royal Society. etc.'
Sloane was born in Ireland in 1660, and trained as a doctor of medicine. At the age of 27 he went to the West Indies as personal doctor to the Governor of Jamaica and while living there he began to form his great collection of natural history specimens. For the rest of his long life he collected plants, fossils and minerals, as well as objects from ancient Rome, Egypt and Assyria. He also amassed an impressive collection of books, manuscripts, prints and drawings.
After he had returned from Jamaica to England, Sloane moved into a house in Bloomsbury (the part of London in which the British Museum now stands), and quickly became well known as a scholar and as a doctor. He had many notable patients, among them Queen Anne.
When Sloane retired he moved to Chelsea (where Sloane Square and Sloane Street are named after him). He died in 1753, aged 92. In his will he left all his collections to the British nation, provided that the Government would pay £20,000 to his two daughters. The Government raised the money by holding a national lottery, and in June 1753 The British Museum Act received Royal Assent from George II, setting up a national museum to house Sloane's collections and other collections of books and manuscripts, and directing that a state lottery be held to raise the necessary funds. This was to be called the British Museum.