- Haslar Hospital
- Also known as
primary name: Haslar Hospital
- organisation; institution/organisation; British
- Other dates
- Gosport, near Portsmouth, Hampshire.
- Naval hospital in Gosport, near Portsmouth. The Royal Hospital Haslar was founded to provide medical care for the Royal Navy. Completed in 1762, it was one of three 18th century hospitals built to care for sailors of the fleet and the last to remain in service. In 1966 its remit was expanded to include all armed services. It became a civilian hospital under the NHS in 2007 and finally closed in 2009. The building is now part of a community regeneration project, planned to include healthcare, residential and commercial facilities. Attached to the Hospital was the Haslar Hospital Museum, founded in 1827. When the museum was closed in the year 1855 many items were given to the British Museum, and 293 objects were registered under the accession date of 20 December 1855 (see 1855,1220.1 to 293). 130 more Haslar items were registered as part of the Christy Collection in 1868 (see Christy numbers 4677 to 4806).
The hospital in Gosport was the main Royal Navy hospital, and among its duties was the training of surgeons. To do this a collection of anatomical specimens was built up. Naval surgeons who were involved in naval voyages of exploration were expected from the 1820s onwards to bring back natural history (botanical and zoological) specimens, and along with these came ethnographical objects. A museum was set up within the hospital to hold these in 1827: John Scott was appointed as curator and librarian / lecturer, and he was succeeded in 1838 by John Richardson, the Arctic explorer. An assistant named Barron (who was called the keeper) did the day-to-day work, and looked after the many visitors who were admitted to see the collection. The impetus behind the museum was provided by Sir William Burnett who had been appointed Inspector of Hospitals in 1822. He retired in 1855, and his successor was controversially appointed. At that point in 1855 the Museum was abruptly shut down, and the collections transferred elsewhere. The botanical material went to Kew, and the ethnographical material to the BM, and in part (it has been said) to Henry Christy (who died in 1865). There is no inventory of what had been at Haslar; a document in October 1833 published by Simpson records that there were then 620 items classified as ‘specimens in rude arts’, plus 30 ‘antique vases’, 438 coins and 12 casts. 293 objects were registered when the museum was closed in the year 1855 and many items were given to the British Museum(see 1855,1220.1 to 293). 130 more Haslar items were added to the Christy Collection in 1868 (see Christy numbers 4677 to 4806).
It is often stated that part of the Haslar collection had been directly given to Henry Christy, who was still alive in 1855. This seems extremely improbable: the Lords of the Admiralty would not have given or sold objects that were public property to a private individual. It is far more likely that the entire ethnographical section was transferred to the BM, as the existence of two ‘rival’ collections had long been a source of some dispute (see the 2017 article by Simpson). The clue as to what had happened is offered by 128 pieces of Scandinavian jewellery that were registered as a group in 1868 (see 1868,0309.1 to 128). These were recorded in the acquisition register as 'Received from the Trustees of the Christy Collection in exchange for duplicates from Haslar Hospital.' Christy had died in 1865, bequeathing his collection to four Trustees who were charged with deciding on its future (for more on this see the biography of Henry Christy). Christy had always intended his collection to come to the BM, but this was physically impossible in 1865 as there was nowhere to put it. So the collection remained together in his house, and only when space became available in the BM in 1883 was it physically moved from Christy’s house to the BM. A W Franks was both the leading Trustee of the Christy collection, and the Keeper of what became in 1866 (the year after Christy’s death) the newly named ‘Department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography’ (there had not previously been any department labelled Ethnography). Franks was therefore in charge of both the ‘British and Medieval’ and ‘Ethnographical’ sections of his department: the Christy collection was destined for the Ethnographical section. Franks had to face the problem of the still uninventoried remainder of the Haslar transfers of 1855 (registration always lagged behind acquisition as there were so few staff). It was clear to Franks from the moment that the Christy collection arrived in 1865 that the Haslar backlog had no prospect of being cleared unless it became part of the Christy Collection, and moved to Christy’s apartment where it could be stored and registered at the same time as the Christy Collection. So he decided to make a swap, and in 1868 transferred directly to the BM from the Christy collection a large group of European folk jewellery that Christy had acquired and which could easily be added to what was in the BM as it was small and belonged with other objects already in the BM. In return the Haslar remainder was made part of the expanding Christy Collection (which had already in 1865 been accepted by the BM Trustees and counted as part of the BM collection). The 130 ex-Haslar items were assigned Christy numbers from 4677 to 4806. These numbers support the account proposed here, as by 1868 Franks had finished cataloguing Christy’s ethnographic collection: the works from Christy’s own collection had been assigned numbers up to 4350; numbers after this are (with few exceptions) additions made to the Christy Collection from 1867 onwards. For this reason ALL the ex-Haslar objects (regardless whether the numbers are in the BM or Christy Collection series) should be regarded as a single gift, and should be re-catalogued on the database as being part of the gift to the BM from the Lords of the Admiralty in 1855.
(Antony Griffiths, July 2023)
- Haslarheritagegroup.co.uk (by Eric Birbeck)
S. Hooper, 'Pacific Encounters: art and divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860', Sainsbury centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, 2006, p. 272
Daniel Simpson, Medical collecting on the frontiers of history: the rise and fall of Haslar Hospital Museum, Journal of the History of Collections, Vol. 30 (2):253-267. 2017
Daniel Simpson 'The Royal Navy in Indigenous Australia, 1795-1855. Maritime Encounters and British Museum Collections'.2021
Gaye Sculthorpe, Maria Nugent & Howard Morphy, 'Ancestors, artefacts, empire: indigenous Australia in British and Irish museums', London (BMPress) 2021