The Museums and Herbarium
William Hooker was also responsible for several museums in the
Gardens. He had set about persuading the administrators of the need
for a museum of economic botany, demonstrating the importance of
plants to mankind.
When the Royal Kitchen Garden came into the possession of the Botanic
Gardens in 1846, Hooker once again employed Decimus Burton as his
architect and oversaw the conversion of the 18th century fruit store
into a museum. As part of this development the rest of the Kitchen
Garden was also redesigned, with elaborate curvaceous parterres
creating the setting for the museum.
Hooker displayed his own personal collection of specimens of textiles,
gums, dyes and timbers in the new Herbaceous Ground Museum, opened
to the public in 1848 to instant success.
Collections grew with contributions from the Great Exhibition in
1851 and the Paris Exhibition of 1855. It soon became clear that
the Museum was too small and Decimus Burton was asked to design
a new, larger museum opposite the Palm House. This new 1857 museum
was called Museum No. 1, with the first renamed as Museum No. 2
(now the School of Horticulture).
In the meantime, the Orangery became a Timber Museum and, most
importantly, in 1852 Hooker succeeded in his campaign for more space
to house his personal herbarium. He kept this open to the public
in several rooms of Hunter House on Kew Green, now part of the Herbarium
complex. The first official curator of the Herbarium, Allan A. Black,
was appointed in 1853.
Following William Hooker's example in loaning his own collection
to the Herbarium, other prominent botanists donated their own collections.
The Herbarium grew rapidly in size and importance, especially with
the donation of George Bentham's personal herbarium and the securing
of the East India Company's collection.
During the process of identifying and cataloguing the East India
Company Collection, it was found that there were nearly 400,000
duplicate specimens, and Hooker redistributed these between the
principle British and Continental herbaria.
So many other renowned botanists and private collectors followed
Bentham's example by donating their herbaria that soon, the only
collection that rivalled Kew's Herbarium was that of British Museum.
The question of the distribution of the nation's herbaria between
Kew and the British Museum reached such a level of debate that in
1860, a Parliamentary enquiry was held. The matter was finally resolved
in 1862 when the Trustees of the British Museum decided that the
natural history collections should leave the smog of Bloomsbury,
a decision sanctioned by an Act of 1878. The Natural History Museum
was built for this purpose in the then cleaner air of South Kensington,
opening to the public in 1881.
Back to: 1841-1885:
The flowering of Kew