The British Museum – Imperial Theft?

“I was eating salad” was seen outside a London Pub near the British Museum with the introduction London Pride – Because no great story ever started with – I accept the challenge.
Let me start by saying that this British Museum is an amazing place which I feel privileged to visit. Instead of travelling to every continent, visiting hundreds of places, you can find here, distilled and kept safe, the story of humanity displayed and available for free view.

My friend Rod LeFlea replied “bunch of thieves” to my Facebook post about my visit. I sympathise. Anyone with knowledge of aboriginal heritage knows of the century long struggle to reclaim aboriginal bodies and parts (like skulls) “collected” for study and untouched in dusty drawers far from their country. Similarly, the Greeks want their marbles back, even if Lord Elgin had permission to save them from vandalism. The Egyptians know that more than 50% of the Pharaonic art works also sit in London rather than Cairo.
How did all this “stuff” end up here then. it was called the Age of Enlightenment.

Sir Joseph Banks was one of the thousands of highly educated middle class gentlemen who swarmed across the Empire collecting and classifying and returning to England with the idea that what they were doing was an important addition to the ultimate study – that of mankind itself. Banks was of course, the naturalist who accompanied James Cook on the trip that established and mapped the East Coast of Australia. He returned and, for the rest of his long and productive life, supported the colonisation of Australia and continued to collect Australiana.
Banks was just one of many such men. The writer, historian Bill Bryson considers that this group of middle and upper class men, educated but without the need to “work” revolutionised knowledge – in a day before professional scientists, they built the base from which today’s information rich society emerged.
Rod I think you are right, they were a bunch of thieves but I am grateful for the treasure trove they have kept safe and left to be still wondered at today.

Without Museums, these clocks from the 1500’s would surely be trash not treasure.


4 thoughts on “The British Museum – Imperial Theft?

  1. There’s a great book about this subject that speaks about how for a long time the western world looted the rest of the world, and the consequences of this action. The name escapes me, but there’s always Google.

  2. Someone said that “Museums are houses for dead things” – and British Museum is the biggest mausoleum of them all. The clocks , well do they tok? They dont even tick. The wooden Anstonia clock with the brass lion head on the mantle in our house was my great grandfathers. It wasnt junk a hundred years ago and it aint junk now. It records the right time of day better than any cosmic quartz nuclear chronograph with overdrive – well at least twice a day. Its stopped simply because I am too lazy to wind it up every few days but none the less like frankenstein “its alive” its a living thing. The stone axe handed down through my family didnt need to be nicked from another country, if you come to my house (or Ill take it to yours) you can actually hold it n your hand and so long as you dont use it to chop up the concrete in your driveway you can even see how efficient it is by layinto the next door neighbours blue spruce. My greatgrandfathers slate – the one he used at school , you can take a stone and write your name on it – try rocking up to something in the British Museum and ever dare to breathe upon its preciousness. Yeah! there’s no worries about tapping my uncles old digital pocket watch either (well you did mention timepieces gaz) . NO! not the one that runs a battery , this one you wind up and the little springs and things turn a widget that displays the time as 5.50 , it was not seen obsolete in our family and so has come down through the years for any four year old to marvel at as he tucks it in and out of his pocket – well it is a POCKET watch. Theres a whole heap of vibrant living things in our house – old things – rare things and beautiful things. If you like coffee in Shelley you’ve got it – most people are gutsez and want a big mug but if your taste is refined then translucent bone china is available . There’s not many breakages and if there is then thats what sometimes happens to living things. The British museum , yeah its nice to look at (been there myself and cant see any reason to bring those lumps of white rock all the way from Greece or Transylvania or wherever they come from) but if you really wanna get a feel for things old then come to my place I’ll even let you sneak a peak at the face of my grandfathers clock twice a day.

    • I will take you up on the invitation Rod – love to see that clock and know I am on time twice a day! is this what it looks like
      Museums are charnel houses only if history is the same. God made us to learn from our fathers not have to start from nought. I remember my Grandfather and I own one of his Bibles. Hardly anyone else in my family have any clue about him. Museums save the past from the barbarians! You have the look of one but not the heart.

  3. Hi there Cuz and Julie, I wish you’d taught me at school, Gary. It’s one thing to follow you and Julie to all these wonderful places, but to get an inspired history lesson in the process is such a bonus! (Could you pop over Wednesdays and teach Henry for an hour?? 🙂 So glad you’re both enjoying and sharing this big adventure. Great that you caught up with Eastmans in London. And later on I want to hear from Julie what she thought of the Mona Lisa. Take care both of you, and look forward to catching up when you’re home again. Love from Merridy, Tom and Henry.

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