Collecting and the Body in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Museums

  • Kate Hill
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


In 1880, a donation of the hair of Edward II was given to, and accepted by, Leicester Museum, apparently with no provenance (though the donor’s father was a local historian).1 This was merely the most startling of a number of donations of objects with strong bodily connections made to generally small, local museums in the period 1880–1914. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s hair was given to Bristol Museum in 1902, and gloves from the Franklin expedition were given to Leicester Museum in 1892; additionally, a pillion on which the donor’s grandmother rode behind Sir Isaac Newton was also given to Leicester Museum in 1896, and the cap of a Mahdi soldier was given to Warrington Museum in 1904.2 Additionally, several objects associated solely with the donor’s family were also donated to museums, and again show a close connection with the actual bodies of these ancestors. Examples include a muslin neckerchief belonging to and made by the donor’s mother and a baby’s bonnet from the donor’s family.3


Early Nineteenth Century Bodily Object Egyptian Mummy Popular Attitude Public Museum 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See James Thompson, The History of Leicester from the Time of the Romans to the End of the Seventeenth Century (Leicester: Crossley, 1849); ‘Leicester Museum Accession Book’, 1880–96. Manuscript. Leicester Museum.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Bristol Museum, Report of the Museum Committee 1902–3 (Bristol: Bristol Council, 1903); ‘Leicester Museum Accession Book’, 1892, 1896; ‘Warrington Museum Receiving Book’, 1880–1914 (1904). Manuscript. Warrington Museum.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Kate Hill, Culture and Class in English Public Museums, 1850–1914 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), pp. 76, 83;Google Scholar
  4. Gaynor Kavanagh, History Curatorship (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Peter Stallybrass and Ann Rosalind Jones, ‘Fetishizing the Glove in Renaissance Europe’, Critical Inquiry, 28 (2001), 116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Jeffrey David Feldman, ‘Contact Points: Museums and the Lost Body Problem’, in Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture, ed. Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden, and Ruth Phillips (Oxford: Berg, 2006), p. 259.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See George Daniel, ‘The Presumed Disinterment of Milton’, in Love’s Last Labour Not Lost (London: Pickering, 1863), pp. 89–104.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    See Samantha Matthews, Poetical Remains: Poets’ Graves, Bodies, and Books in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 8.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Judith Pascoe, The Hummingbird Cabinet: A Rare and Curious History of Romantic Collectors (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), p. 4.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    See Krzysztof Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice 1500–1800 (London: Polity Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Quoted in Paul A. Pickering, ‘A “Grand Ossification”: William Cobbett and the Commemoration of Tom Paine’, in Contested Sites: Commemoration, Memorial and Popular Politics in Nineteenth-Century Britain, ed. Paul A. Pickering and Alex Tyrell (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), pp. 60, 62 (emphasis original)Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Pickering, ‘A “Grand Ossification”’, p. 64. See also Ruth Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute (London: Penguin, 1988).Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    See Samuel Alberti, ‘The Museum Affect: Visiting Collections of Anatomy and Natural History’, in Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences, ed. Aileen Fyfe and Bernard Lightman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 391.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    See Edward Alexander, ‘William Bullock: Little-Remembered Museologist and Showman’, Curator, 28 (1985), 117–47;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Susan M. Pearce, ‘William Bullock, Collections and Exhibitions at the Egyptian Hall, London, 1816–1825’, Journal of the History of Collections, 20 (2008), 17–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 19.
    See Iman Hamam, ‘“A Race for Incorporation”: Ancient Egypt and Its Mummies in Science and Popular Culture’, in The Victorians and the Ancient World: Archaeology and Classicism in Nineteenth-Century Culture, ed. Richard Pearson (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006), 25–40;Google Scholar
  17. Nicholas Daly, ‘That Obscure Object of Desire: Victorian Commodity Culture and Fictions of the Mummy’, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, 28 (1994), 24–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 22.
    See Claire Loughney, ‘Colonialism and the Development of the English Provincial Museum 1823–1914’, unpublished PhD thesis, Newcastle University, 2006;Google Scholar
  19. Chris Gosden and Frances Larson, Knowing Things: Exploring the Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum 1884–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007);Google Scholar
  20. Susan M. Pearce, Archaeological Curatorship (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    See Hill, Public Museums; Samuel Alberti, Nature and Culture: Objects, Disciplines and the Manchester Museum (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009);Google Scholar
  22. Frances Larson, An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    Annie E. Coombes, Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture and Popular Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  24. 27.
    Oliver A. Douglas, ‘Folklore, Survivals and the Neo-Archaic: The Materialist Character of Late Nineteenth-Century Homeland Ethnography’, Museum History Journal, 4 (2011), 223–44;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Robert McCombe, ‘Anglo-Saxon Artifacts and Nationalist Discourse: Acquisition, Interpretation and Display in the Nineteenth Century’, Museum History Journal, 4 (2011), 139–60;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Alison Petch, ‘Muddying the Waters: The Pitt-Rivers Collection from 1850–2011’, Museum History Journal, 4 (2011), 161–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 29.
    See Neil Chambers, ‘Joseph Banks, the British Museum and Collections’, in Enlightening the British: Knowledge, Discovery and the Museum in the Eighteenth Century, ed. R. G. W. Anderson et al. (London: British Museum Press, 2003), pp. 99–113;Google Scholar
  28. Simon Knell, The Culture of English Geology 1815–1851: A Science Revealed Through its Collecting (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000); Alberti, Nature and Culture.Google Scholar
  29. 31.
    See Thomas Greenwood, Museums and Art Galleries (London: Simpkin Marshall, 1888).Google Scholar
  30. 32.
    Frances Larson, ‘The Curious and the Glorious: Science and the British Past at the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum’, Museum History Journal, 4 (2011), 181–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 35.
    Alison Booth, ‘Houses and Things: Literary House Museums as Collective Biography’, in Museums and Biographies, ed. Kate Hill (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, forthcoming 2012); Pascoe, Hummingbird Cabinet, p. 3.Google Scholar
  32. 37.
    See Chauncey C. Loomis, ‘The Arctic Sublime’, in Nature and the Victorian Imagination, ed. U. C. Knoepflmacher and G. B. Tennyson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 104.Google Scholar
  33. 39.
    See Arthur MacGregor, Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007);Google Scholar
  34. Ken Arnold, Cabinets for the Curious: Looking Back at Early English Museums (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006); Knell, The Culture of English Geology;Google Scholar
  35. Beth Fowkes Tobin, ‘The Duchess’s Shells: Natural History Collecting, Gender, and Scientific Practice’, in Material Women 1750–1950: Consuming Desires and Collecting Practices, ed. Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 247–64.Google Scholar
  36. 43.
    William Flinders Petrie, Methods and Aims of Archaeology (London: Macmillan, 1904), p. 193.Google Scholar
  37. 46.
    See ‘Leicester Museum Accession Book’, 1889; Tim Schadla-Hall, Tom Sheppard: Hull’s Great Collector (Beverley: Highgate, 1988);Google Scholar
  38. Cynthia Brown, Cherished Possessions: A History of New Walk Museum and Leicester City Council Museums Service (Leicester: Leicester City Council, 2002).Google Scholar
  39. 47.
    Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 136.Google Scholar
  40. 49.
    Marcia Pointon, ‘Materialising Mourning: Hair, Jewellery and the Body’, in Material Memories, Design and Evocation, ed. Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward, and Jeremy Aynsley (Oxford: Berg, 1999), p. 40.Google Scholar
  41. 55.
    See Thomas Sutton, ‘The Library and Museums’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 85 (1946), 82.Google Scholar
  42. 56.
    See Sutton, ‘Library and Museums’, 82–7; M. A. Lower and R. Chapman, ‘The Antiquities Preserved in the Museum of Lewes Castle’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 18 (1866), 60–73.Google Scholar
  43. 57.
    See Richard Altick, The Shows of London: A Panoramic History of Exhibitions 1600–1862 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1978), pp. 333–5.Google Scholar
  44. 58.
    See Patrick Dunae, ‘Penny Dreadfuls: Late Nineteenth-Century Boys’ Literature and Crime’, Victorian Studies, 22 (1979), 133–50.Google Scholar
  45. 59.
    See Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum (London: Routledge, 1995);Google Scholar
  46. Christopher Whitehead, The Public Art Museum in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Development of the National Gallery (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), p. xvii.Google Scholar
  47. 65.
    Beatrix Potter, The Journal of Beatrix Potter 1881–1897, ed. Leslie Linder (London: Warne, 1966), pp. 91, 136.Google Scholar
  48. 67.
    See Kate Hill, ‘Collecting Authenticity: Domestic, Familial and Everyday “Old Things” in English Museums, 1850–1939’, Museum History Journal, 4 (2011), 203–22; Booth, ‘Houses and Things’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 68.
    See Alison Landsberg, Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), p. 19.Google Scholar
  50. 69.
    Alison Landsberg, ‘America, the Holocaust and the Mass Culture of Memory: Towards a Radical Politics of Empathy’, New German Critique, 71 (1997), 64.Google Scholar
  51. 72.
    Susan Crane, ‘Story, History and the Passionate Collector’, in Producing the Past: Aspects of Antiquarian Culture and Practice 1700–1850, ed. Martin Myrone and Lucy Peltz (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), p. 187.Google Scholar
  52. 76.
    See Douglas, ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’; Kavanagh, History Curatorship; Alla Myzelev, ‘Collecting Peasant Europe: Peasant Utilitarian Objects as Museum Artifacts’, in Material Cultures 1740–1920: The Meanings and Pleasures of Collecting, ed. John Potvin and Alla Myzelev (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 171–90.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kate Hill 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kate Hill

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations