Popular Science Monthly/Volume 71/December 1907/Notes on Asiatic Museums








ASIA, whatever its contributions to art and science, has, humanely speaking, taught little to the west as to either the means of forming its illustrative collections or the manner of displaying them; in fact, as far as I am aware, the trend of Asiatic culture has been rather to deter its people from collecting. For such an interest, to pure eastern ideals, would foster the heresy that the things of this world are to be the more highly prized: or, in another direction, it might suggest undesirable ostentation. It is from the latter point of view, in fact, that a Japanese collector will still decline to exhibit his treasures outside of the circle of his intimate friends. In any event, whatever be the reasons, I think it may safely be said that comprehensive collections were early unknown in the east. In India, land of fabulous riches, the pre-European collections appear to have been confined to the cabinets of rulers and the wealthiest civilians, and were made up largely of decorated objects, ivories, jewels, arms, now and then menageries—the last sometimes including exotic animals. Such collections were usually little more than a gathering of valuable heirlooms, objects obtained during travels, and curiosities generally.[1] And similar conditions prevailed, as far as I was able to find, in China. In Japan, small collections were, and are, very numerous. Professor Morse, knowing his theme more accurately than Huish, describes the Japanese as a nation of collectors; but such collections, as I think all will agree, are notable for their quality rather than their comprehensiveness, and are formed in the strictest sense for private use. In Japan, as elsewhere in Asia prior to the invasion of European methods, there was not, I l believe, a single public museum, unless indeed we regard as museums the storehouses of temples. These, however, contained little more than the reserve stock from which obects for temple service or decoration were chosen.

The earliest Asiatic museum appears to have been established in the Moluccas, about half a century after their definite settlement by the Dutch, and in the classic work-of Georgius Everhardus Rumphius, written at the close of the seventeenth century, we have a record of the number and variety of objects which had been gathered together by this enterprising collector in the room of curiosities in Amboyna (Amboinsche Eariteitkamer). It is evident that this collection was well represented in mollusks, crustaceans and echinoderms. It contained a number of minerals and a small collection of fossils, the latter representing many groups. The descriptive catalogue of Eumphius, it may be mentioned, is well known to naturalists as containing the first account of the soft parts of the chambered nautilus, accompanied, too. by a figure which for a century and a half proved the most accurate in existence. Few details appear as to the organization of this pioneer Asiatic museum. Its founder was a well-to-do merchant in Amboyna. and it was probably installed in one of his warehouses. As far as I am aware, there is no proof that it was formally opened, in the sense of a modern museum, but by analogy of contemporary collections it is probable that the curiosity room of Amboyna was as freely open to visitors as the similar collections in London, Dresden or Paris.

In India the modern public museum found its definite foothold at the time of the extension of British rule. At the end of the eighteenth century, there were already active collectors among the officials of the East India Company, but in general the material then collected, whether ethnological, plant or animal, found its way into Europe. In the work of Linnaeus, for example, we find record of many Indian species which had been sent him by European collectors. It was by such early workers in various Indian cities that societies were formed which became of considerable importance toward the middle of the nineteenth century. And it is to these local societies that the origin of many of the recent museums is due.

In the present paper it is not my plan to refer even in outline to all museums of Asia. Those of Japan are so important that they might conveniently be reserved for a separate paper. The Dutch museums, moreover, I have not had an opportunity of visiting, nor yet those on the continent in the Malayan states. When in Calcutta, I

Amsterdam, François Halma, 1705. Part of the collection, as Mr. C. Davies Sherborn has kindly ascertained for me, was later sent to Europe and sold, 1682, to Cosmo de Medici III. It was subsequently transferred to Austria as part of the Medicean inheritance. was told by Dr. Annandale of the interesting museum at Kuala Lumpur in Selangor, the federal capital of the Malayan states, which promises to be most complete. A building is here in process of construction, which will make this museum Twice the size, for example, of the well-known museum at Colombo. Its present curator is the ornithologist, Mr. H. C. Robinson. formerly of Liverpool. I learned also of the museum at Thai Ping, capital of Perak, which contains a remarkable ethnological cabinet and an extensive collection of Malayan reptiles. This museum, under the direction of Mr. Leonard Wray, is, I was told, one of the most interesting in Asia. The museum at Bankok, on the other hand, is less important, in spite of the apparently more favorable conditions under which it has grown up. And its arrangement leaves much to be desired.

Of the museums in the Dutch East Indies, that at Batavia is easily the first, containing extensive local collections, both ethnological and faunistic. A second museum, at Trevandrum on the west coast of Java, has received the favorable comment of experts. Its collection of whales is especially complete.

The museums in China may be dismissed with but few words. In the Chinese treaty-ports there is little interest in museum matters on the part of resident Europeans, whose ways are commercial, and under existing conditions the Chinese authorities can hardly be expected to grant funds for such purposes. The best Chinese museum is the one at Hong Kong. It has a separate building with well-lighted galleries, and exhibits a fairly extensive series of natural history and ethnological objects, coins, etc. It is clear, however, that its resources are very restricted, and such a museum, whatever its effect upon the oriental visitor, is apt to be uninspiring. In Peking, however, in connection with the Imperial University of China, an important museum will soon be opened; it may be mentioned that this branch of the governmental educational work has been largely directed by the Japanese.

The museums of the following cities may be given a more detailed report, viz., Singapore, Colombo, Madras, Calcutta, Lahore and Jaipur. The museum in Bombay is said to be uninteresting, and I neglected to visit it.


The museum at Singapore, known as the "Raffles Museum," had itsorigin (1844) as a proprietary library in which local curiosities came to be preserved. In 1874 the institution was taken over by the British government (Straits Settlements), and in 1887 the present building was provided to house a collection acquired at the time of the Victorian Jubilee. The building is well proportioned, suitably lighted and planned, Fig. 1. but too small for its needs, and the authorities are now constructing an addition. This will be of the same size as the
Fig. 1. Singapore. The Raffles Museum and Library.

earlier building, and is to be connected with it by a wide gallery passing from behind the main staircase. Each building measures about 250 feet long by 50 feet wide; the cost of both buildings amounts to about $100,000. Building, it will be seen, is distinctly less expensive than in the Occident!

The site of the museum is in a small city park. Entering the building from the town side, one passes into a spacious rotunda well filled with cases, and giving one the preliminary color of the local fauna. Prominent, for example, is a tiger fairly we I mounted, and with a jungly background. This huge creature had been, I was told, the household pet of a local Rajah. One may mention, incidentally, that the tiger is decidedly on the increase in the Malay Peninsula, indeed even in the immediate neighborhood of Singapore. The collection of insects in the museum is important. In the rotunda is a series of native beetles and orthopters, including among the former, wonderful longicorns and Scarabœids; and, among the orthopters, the best examples I have seen of leaf insects and walkingsticks. At one side of the rotunda is the entrance of the Raffles library (now grown to 30,000 volumes), which is devoted largely to works dealing with local natural history and ethnology. At the back of the rotunda, one ascends the stairs and enters the natural-history gallery and the ethnological rooms. Among noteworthy exhibits I recall the collection of local butterflies and moths, and a series, possibly the best extant, of paradise birds. The reptiles include turtles, crocodiles, and a great number of local snakes. The cases containing the gibbon and ourang would. I am sure, be cordially envied by the best western museums, even though the mounting is not quite up to the present standard. I recall particularly one male ourang with a splendid head, and of extraordinary size. Among the zoological rarities are the relics of a very young dugong. This had been brought to the museum living and the preparations are accompanied by sketches of the living animal. In invertebrate material there is the usual range of Crustacea, corals and sponges, most of them carefully determined. The ethnological cabinet (Malayan) is important, as one might expect, and its arrangement is well carried out. There are models of houses, some with inao suspended about them, suggesting primitive Japanese buildings, even with the curious "frog-thigh beams" crossing at the ridge pole, as in the most primitive Shinto temples, and with these are many suggestions of relationship with Japan. Of Dyak objects there are rich gatherings, including a collection of krisses, costumes, ornaments, etc. There are a number of the sharply-perforated carvings still used to decorate Urala ceremonial feasts, groups of objects used in marriage ceremonies, collections illustrating local basket-making, an art in which the Malayans are especially skillful. There are also cases of native cloths, coins and ornaments of gold and silver, the latter not as good in quality as one might reasonably expect. In the artistic treatment of many of these objects there are obvious affinities with the South Seas. Much of the success of the present museum has been due to the labors during the past dozen years of the director. Dr. E. Hanitsch, whose picture, as he stands in front of his bungalow, near

Fig. 2. Singapore. Bungalow of the Museum-Director. Dr. Hanitsch.

the museum garden, is shown in Fig. 2. Dr. Hanitsch is a graduate of the University of Jena, and was for many years demonstrator in zoology in the University College of Liverpool. The former director was the well-known ornithologist, Mr. W. Davidson.


This museum, oldest in its building (1877) and in some regards best of Asiatic museums, was built on the outskirts of the city in the middle of the old cinnamon gardens. It is especially important to the general visitor as giving him the only practicable glimpse of the antiquities of Ceylon. It stands back from the red road, its buff-colored and long two-storied facade appearing prominently against a setting of tropical trees. On the ground floor are arranged the antiquities: in one room are objects in precious metals and stones, arm-rings, necklaces, utensils, caskets, sword handles; and near by are figures dressed in Cingalese finery of early times; on another side is a library containing Ceylonica, and a mass of the ruler-shaped books with palm-leaf pages scratched with Sanscrit; on still another side, in an imposing gallery, is a collection of architectural and decorative objects in wood and stone, including the colossal lion brought from Pollonarna, on whose back the native kings sat when they administered justice. Here also is the beautiful window from the ruin of Yapahoo, and a huge portrait statue of a twelfth-century king. On the walls of the main staircase are copies of the frescoes of the caverns of Sigiri. The collection of antiquities extends even into the garden, where several of the larger statues and a shrine are exhibited. The upper story of the museum is devoted to natural history, and here the distinguished director, Dr. Arthur Willey, has arranged groups of animals to give the visitor an adequate picture of the wild life of Ceylon. Alcoholic and dried specimens are well displayed and labeled, and even living specimens are interspersed, as in a case containing leaf-resembling insects. Dr. Willey has taken greatly to heart the need of exhibiting living creatures in the interest of his museum and, in the garden adjoining his office, he has arranged a small menagerie, which has proved a great attraction no less to foreign visitors than to natives. Nor does Dr. Willey escape his living charges even when he goes to his bungalow, for there I saw a flue series of the rare lemur, Loris, as well also as a specimen of Ichthyopis glutinosa, the earthworm-like amphibian whose development was studied by the Sarazins.

No one should leave Ceylon before paying a visit to the renowned botanical gardens, with a small museum, at Peradeniya; for it is but seventy miles from Colombo and at a delightful altitude (1,500 feet). For here within a small area, one may see, with a minimum of discomfort, the rarest and most striking tropical plants, from minute orchids to banyan trees: and one wanders about as in a land of enchantment, amid traveler's palms, which will spout water if one punctures a stalk, breadfruit, cocoanuts, nutmegs, cinnamon, deadly upas trees, Bauhinia racemosa, with its cable-like stems, and the telegraph-plant, Desmodium gyrans, automatically lifting and dropping its leaves. Incidentally, too, there are zoological interests. Not uncommon are trees infested with flying foxes: and in the neighborhood the traveler to the east may see his first elephant working in the fields, but willing to show his paces for a few pice; so too one might happen to make the acquaintance of land-leeches, which find their way unpleasantly through the

Fig. 3. Colombo. City Museum.

buttonholes of his shoes. But as an offset to this he may see a wild peacock, glorious in color. Or he may discover a cobra and induce it to display its hood.


The Museum in Madras is in many regards a quite modern institution. Its buildings are new and spacious built of dark brick and terra-cotta in Indo-Saracenic style, Fig. 4. Its collections illustrate admirably the natural history, archeology and art of southern India. Included with it, also, is the important Connamera library, rich in material relating to the history of Madras. The natural-history section is the oldest of the museum, part of its collection dating from 1846, Fig. 5, and it has the interest of including within its animal galleries a number of living specimens. The archeological section is rich in prehistoric objects, especially pottery: it contains, however many objects of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, arms armor and cannon, of the days of European as well as native wars. Among the other curious

Fig. 4. Madras. Museum Building.

Fig. 5. Madras. View is one of the Natural History Galleries.

Fig. 6. Madras. Gallery of Metal Work.

relics is a large swinging-post terminating in an elephant head, probably unique, which in a remote village was used up to relatively recent times for human sacrifices. The art objects are represented in great variety and are attractively exhibited, textiles, pottery, wood and metal work, musical instruments, drawings. One recalls especially the suite of pictured cotton curtains for which Madras has long been noted; also the beautiful repoussé work in precious metals (Fig. 6). The museum is distinctly one of the most successful in India. Its director is the zoologist. Dr. Edgar Thurston.


The museum of Calcutta is far and away the most imposing of Asiatic museums, representing, as it does, the government of India in the imperial capital. Its buildings, Fig. 7, are the most extensive and its collections the most important. In this region, moreover, it is the oldest, for it preserves the collections of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, founded in 1784.

The success of the museum, it may be remarked, has been due in no small degree to its tradition of selecting directors eminent both as scientists and as executives. It was to Mr. Bly. an early curator of the Asiatic society (1842 to 1862), a voluminous correspondent of Darwin, by the way, that the credit belongs for securing governmental assistance in erecting the museum's first building. His successor was John Anderson, who remained in charge until 1886. And his. in turn, was Dr. Wood Mason, 1886 to 1893. And from that time to the present, the director has been Major A. Alcock, widely known for his researches on the deep-sea fauna of the Bay of Bengal.

Fig. 7. Calcutta. The Indian Museum. Front view. From Chowringhee.
Fig. 8. Calcutta. Hall of Indian Mammals.

At the time of the opening of the new museum (about 1890) the collections of the Asiatic Society were transferred to the British government. They comprised principally three classes of objects, zoological, ethnological and archeological, the last of unique importance. They include the antiquities secured by Colonel Mackenzie from the Amravatitope (1796 and 1816), and the collections of the Tytlers, Kittoe and General Cunningham. The last named investigator, one of the founders of the museum, secured for it also the objects from the Bharhut stupa. The entire collection thus contains in large measure the figured specimens in Indian archeology and it is especially rich in the finds from the neighborhood of Lucknow, Nagpore, Benares and Delhi. The ethnological cabinet is based upon the collection of Roer, whose catalogue dates from 1843. By 1882 no less than 600 crania were listed. The zoological division of the museum is based upon the Blyth collection of the Asiatic Society. As early as 1862 there were represented 600 species of mammals, 2,000 species of birds, 300 of reptiles, and 1,000 of mollusks; and since this time the zoological collection has increased vastly. Figs. 8, 9, 10.

The Calcutta museum expanded notably about two decades ago, when it incorporated two allied institutions. The first of these was the economic museum of the government of Bengal (added in 1887), whose collections are arranged in separate galleries, and the second, the collections of the geological survey, these added (about 1890) when the public museum was opened. The subsidy. for the latter institutions, it may be mentioned, is separate from that of the main museum, about 40,000 rupees a year being granted by the government for their annual support. And a similar appropriation is made for the remainder of the museum.

Fig. 9. Calcutta. Portion of the Bird Hall. Under the present director the work of the museum has made notable advances. During the past twelve years over 100,000 specimens have been entered in the books of the museum and the new material has been extensively studied. Especially through the cruises of the Investigator carried out under Major Alcock's direction (Major Alcock came to India as surgeon-naturalist (1888-1892) to examine the sea-barriers of India), a wealth of marine material has been placed in the hands of specialists throughout the world. And the museum had already published many memoirs upon it—twenty-five, or thereabouts. It might be mentioned, as a sad commentary upon the relation of politics and science in India, that the well-known gallery of fishes arranged by the director, after years of labor, has recently been demolished by order of the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, who could find in Calcutta no other gallery in which to house a collection of relics of the Sepoy rebellion!

The invertebrate collections of the museum are extensive and well displayed. Particularly interesting is the entomological cabinet which includes the de Nicéville lepidoptera and the Dugeon hymenoptera, the latter comprising about 1,000 type specimens. The entomological survey undertaken by the museum is its last development, establishing in 1903 the first entomological laboratory in India, in connection with a commission of forestry. Equally important are the geological materials exhibited in the museum. Fig 10. Calcutta. A Case in the Reptile Gallery Of meteors, no less than 400 falls are represented. Of ores there are many varieties, especially in manganese. In fossils there is valuable Cretaceous material, including the types of Blanford; among late acquisitions there is a wonderful specimen of Elephas antiquus (namadicus). The fossil mammals from the Sewalik Hills near Simla are also preserved in the gallery of paleontology, but they fail to impress a visitor who has seen the associated remains of late Tertiary mammals in other museums.


The museum at Lahore is known to most foreigners as the "wonderhouse" of Kipling, and in front of its door stands the ancient cannon with its memories of Kim and his lama. Although intended to represent the natural sciences as well as the arts, this museum need hardly be referred to in the former regard, for its specimens are few and poorly displayed. In its materials for the study of art, however, it ranks among the foremost in the east. Its predecessor was a school of arts, founded as a memorial to the Viceroy, Lord Mayo, and carried out during the early seventies, under its first principal and curator, Mr. J. Lockwood Kipling (1875-92). The development of the present museum then came about as a result of the Victorian jubilee. A general subscription secured the necessary funds, and the corner-stone of the present building (Fig. 11) was laid by Prince Victor in February, 1890, and its collections were opened to the public two years later. The design was furnished by Mr. Lockwood Kipling in cooperation with the Indian architect Bryam Singh.

As in the majority of the Indian museums, the native style has been as closely followed as museum needs would permit, and the tall galleries and massive doorways (Fig. 14) leave pleasant impressions in the

Fig. 11. Lahore. The Museum.

Fig. 12. Lahore. The Hall of Græco-Bactrian Sculpture. visitor's mind. The exhibit space includes about 28,000 square feet and the galleries are 45 feet high. As already noted, the museum is interesting in its art exhibits, especially in its Græco-Bactrian sculptures, for these, as is well known, played a most important part in the early art of northern India. This collection, occupying a special gallery 100 feet in length (Figs. 12 and 13), was brought together in the northwest provinces during the early seventies, and is unique. To lie mentioned also are the collections of carved wood, musical instruments, Hindu portraits, including a series of the Singh, Hindu drawings, many Afghan documents, and technical exhibits decidedly modern in museum technique, illustrating, for example, the arts of the Punjaub, glass making, lac turning, leather work. etc. In connection with these there are models of local industries cleverly carried out in terra-cotta by native artists. One may mention also a remarkable series of Madras curtains elaborately stamped with Fig. 13. Lahore. Detail in Hall of Sculpture. religious ceremonies and personages. The present administration of the art school and museum is in the hands of Mr. Percy Brown, artist and archeologist, well known for his studies on Græco-Bactrian art. The museum is now affiliated with the Asiatic Society of Bengal, with the Geological Survey of India and with the Forestry Commission. As an echo of Indian social conditions one hears that the museum has been opened one day a month for Hindu women, women attendants then taking charge of the galleries. The museum is popular, and the attendance averages over 1,000 a day.

Fig. 14. Lahore. The Hall of Native Arts.

Fig. 15. Jaipur. Hall of Metal Work.

Fig. 16. Jaipur. The Museum.


Jaipur may be mentioned, finally, as furnishing the best type of a museum supported by a native prince—in the present case by the reigning maharajah, Sir Sawdi Madho Singh. It is an imposing monument to this ruler's modernness, and it has already borne interesting fruit in developing and bettering the many art-industries of Jaipur.

The building is by no means a small one—at least two hundred feet in length. It stands in the public gardens, an elaborate structure in Indo-Saracenic style, with shaded balconies and corridors, and with numerous courtyards cooled by plants and fountains. Fig. 16. Its scientific collection is small, limited to models and specimens of minor interest. But in modern and semi-modern art objects, in metal, stone, wood or textile, the present museum is, I believe, unsurpassed. Especially beautiful are the examples of metal work. Fig. 15, many of which are the family treasures of the maharajah—gun-metal and silver bidri work, damaskeens from Kashmir, silver repoussé from Trichinopoly and Ceylon, articulated objects in silver from Bengal, silver figures from Mathura, enamels in gold from Jaipur, in silver from Multan, brasses numberless, and a bewildering series of jewelry from all parts of India. Nowhere can one receive a more illuminating impression of the decorative possibilities in native art. An excellent reference, by the way, is the beautifully illustrated handbook of the museum prepared by its honorary secretary. Colonel Hendley (1895).

  1. I recall, as a typical specimen in such an early collection a copy in ivory of a human skeleton which a rajah (of Tanjore) had caused to be prepared in Paris—for a genuine one could not, according to the rules of caste, be used in his anatomical inquiries.