Collections

Collecting in the Victorian era

Museums are partly the result of industrialisation and urbanisation and the growing desire to preserve elements of the past. In 1860 there were approximately 90 museums and by 1880 the number was closer to 180.

When Victorian museums first opened to the public many of the exhibitions consisted of objects loaned to them from wealthy benefactors and private collectors. The Victorian’s collected and displayed a diverse range of artefacts from oil paintings, watercolours and sculptures to items such as contemporary machinery from the industrial revolution. Explorers brought to England exotic items from across the British Empire including: species of plants and animals, ethnographic collections from indigenous people (including items such as clothing, objects used in rituals, clothing, and toys), geological specimens and antiquities. Large and diverse collections were exhibited and galleries were often filled with hundreds of artefacts crammed into cases and hung from the walls. The effect was similar to early collections known as cabinets of curiosity.