Full Record

The Museum and Art Gallery Overcrowded with exhibits More accommodation wanted.
Record no:
14 October 1902
Kept:Press clippings book 1, p. 80


The necessity for providing increased accommodation for the varied and valuable collections at the West Australian Museum daily makes itself more strongly felt. This matter has frequently been referred to in these columns, and it will be remembered that a few months ago in the history of the unfortunate circumstances which brought about the delay in erecting the National Art Gallery facing Beaufort-street—a delay which still exists—it was pointed out how, when arrangements were made for laying the foundation stone of that wing of the buildings which, when completed, will form the Public Library, Museum, and Art Gallery of Western Australia, full consideration was given to the stipulation that the Duke of York would only lay the foundation stones of such structures as it was determined to proceed with immediately.

This stipulation, it was understood, would be observed, and the Administrator of the day so far observed it that plans were prepared and tenders invited. Beyond that stage matters did not progress. The succeeding Ministry apparently considered the finances of the State were not in such a position as would admit of the promise being fulfilled.

Since then efforts have been made by the committee of management to ensure the immediate erection of the wing but to the present moment all that can be seen of the intention of the Government are the foundation stone which was laid by His Royal Highness, and the building which is being erected to the east of it, and which is intended mainly for the use of the Government Geologist’s Department, although it is understood that a portion of it will be available for Museum uses.

In the meantime valuable collections lie about the rooms belonging to the old gaol, which is now converted to the uses of the Museum, and in the annexe which was erected behind it a few years ago. Not only are the collections intrinsically valuable, representing thousands of pounds sterling ; over and above all this, there is their educative and representative value, which cannot be expressed in figures.

Many of the collections are representative of the State itself—its minerals and other resources, its flora and fauna, its ethnological and other features. In the badly-lighted, cramped-up room which does duty for an Art Gallery, are literally cribbed, cabined, and confined an art collection, the value of which is completely lost, while other treasures which belong to the same department lie in boxes and cabinets on trays and stands, covered up, and entirely hidden from view.

Collections from various parts of the world, full of interest, each in itself a valuable aid to the higher education of the people, are awaiting cases and shelves, classification, and arrangement, and even if these were available there is no space provided for them. Thus, the purposes for which the Museum and Art Gallery exist can only be inadequately fulfilled, and much of the money which has been spent in procuring the collections is yielding no return, and the interest shown by scientific men and institutions outside the State as well as the interest displayed many of the colonists in the State in forwarding collections and specimens, has not yet produced that benefit which is so much to be desired. And as if this were not enough, the pecuniary, as well as the representative and educative value of the thousands of treasures which have not yet been placed for lack of room is deteriorating.

Those who have but the merest smattering of knowledge of these matters cannot but recognise that no matter how careful and anxious may be the director of a Museum and his assistants to preserve the value of the collections committed to their charge, their efforts must fall far short of success if they have not the necessary facilities for such a purpose at their disposal. Indeed, it could hardly be said that the language of exaggeration were used if it were stated that unless some steps are taken in the immediate future to satisfy the want of accommodation that now exists, much of the valuable treasure in the Museum will all too soon become worthless, and in many instances it will be difficult and costly, if not utterly impossible, to replace what is lost. If only half the accommodation required were provided, it would probably be found that the value of the Museum to the thousands who visit it would be at least doubled, while if the necessary space were provided for exhibiting the collections now stored, and those which will arrive very shortly, such a show could be made as would render the Museum a worthy competitor with its sister institutions in the Eastern States.

The need for additional accommodation once again came under the notice of a representative of this journal, who yesterday visited the Museum, to obtain some account of the more recent additions made to the collections.

Mr. B. H. Woodward, the Director, conducted his visitor over the building, and detailed many of he collections received of late. Some little time ago Mr. Woodward sent to Professor Giglioli of Rome, a collection of aboriginal weapons and curios, and some idea of the store set upon these will be gathered from the fact that in return a most valuable collection of exhibits has been received from the professor. These include a sixteenth century painting of the Madonna ; plaster busts of Apollo and Juno ; a number of Grecian and Roman antiquities, among them nearly a score of vases and cups, in an excellent state of preservation, an old porphyry pestle and mortar of prodigious weight, an antique Roman lamp, and other pottery : a piece of the old Forum at Rome ; a lamp used in Catanzaro, Southern Italy ; Italian pottery of the present day ; sixteenth century Venetian glass ; a curious olive-oil brass lamp of the seventeenth century fashioned after the antique ; several natural history specimens, including a couple of armadillos ;  collection of arrow-heads, and other flint weapons, chiefly of the European stone age, although there are some belonging to a similar period in America, and it is curious to notice the strong family resemblance between these and the flint arrow and spear heads which the Australian aborigines of the present day use in the interior of  Australia, evidencing, as it does, that for the latter the stone age is still existent.

Professor Giglioli also presented a Sardinian vulture, a young crocodile from the Nile, the exceedingly rare and curious earth-pig of South Africa, a vulture received from the Prince of Naples, and the head of the almost extinct wild sheep of Corsica.

Other interesting specimens were also received from the professor, and, to those named, form a collection of great value and interest, but at present they cannot be exhibited for want of room. Of the lasting qualities of jarrah, there is an excellent specimen in the shape of a venerable survey-post planted by Surveyor Watson in Swan Location 110, Wanneroo, in the year 1838, and taken up by Mr. A. J. Wells in May, this year, and presented to the Surveyor-General, who sent it on to the Museum. This, too, is stowed away.

Wherever the visitor goes, the thought uppermost in his mind is the need for additional accommodation. As he pauses from room to room, various trays and trunks, cabinets and cases, meet his eye, and Mr. Woodward, as he explains them, invariably finishes up with “that, too, is awaiting room to show it.”

Trays of trapdoor spiders are piled on trays of semi-opal specimens from the Murchison. A number of genuine and curious-looking aboriginal utensils lie in one corner. On stands are placed huge stores of local and other minerals, awaiting the hands of the sorter and classifier. In another room are early collections of plants, lying between the leaves of books, and the latter stowed away. Cases, containing a number of the specimens returned from the recent Glasgow Exhibition, lie unopened, for the place where once they rested has been filled with other collections. Native weapons—the real genuine articles, with their bloodthirsty-looking points and sharp edges—lie piled up against the wall of what used to be a prison corridor, while in another part are cases of Western Australian birds and shells sent in by the collector. In another room, among pictures that cannot be hung for lack of room, are the specimens of Barotsi pottery presented by Sir Arthur Lawley, and the fine collection of ancient Roman and Phoenician glass, Syrian repousse work, and quaint old Venetian glass, which was noticed in these columns some time ago.

In another room lie the packages containing the weapons and curios brought back down by the late Kimberley exploring party, and these gain additional interest from the fact that they are the only specimens of the kind in the Museum. In another room, packed away in eight large iron travelling trunks, is the Rothschild collection of British birds presented to the Museum in exchange for local specimens. Upon a cabinet in another room is a fine assortment of genuine old Bohemian glass, some quaint and curious, some of great beauty, and these stand upon one of several cabinets which are filled with rock specimens, illustrating products of the State.

Entering the rooms sacred to the taxidermist, in one is seen a fine example of West Australian marsupial skeletons, which need mounting and exhibition. In another are numbers of birds in various stages of preparation, skeletons of various animals, and also native weapons from the Northern Territory.

In what used to be the convicts' washhouse are to be seen numerous fish and reptiles in spirits awaiting room ; unpacked cases of exhibits returned from the Paris and Glasgow Exhibitions ; some extremely interesting and valuable donations from various mines on the Eastern goldfields, showing the entire width of the lodes in the mines whence they were taken ; imitations of English plants, to be used for mounting the Rothschild collection of birds, when there is room to mount it.

Other rooms contain specimens of bores, 50 jars of snakes and fish, birds'-nests of many kinds, and almost wherever one goes there are packages of birds. At Fremantle, our representative was informed there are 1,017 fossils, presented by the trustees of the British Museum, and there are now on the was from the East specimens of the ceramic wares and tiles made in the factories at Victoria and New South Wales.

Specimens are shortly to arrive from Paris and Glasgow, in exchange for local collections presented to those cities. The Japanese Government is sending over a number of various specimens. Pottery is coming from the Della Robbia works, in Italy ; antiquities from Copenhagen, a number of busts from London, and a collection of early British glass will arrive this week or next. And ever and again, Mr. Woodward mournfully observes that they cannot yet be exhibited to the public for want of room. In the large gallery on the ground floor, hundreds of birds lie packed away in their neat paper parcels. Upstairs in a cabinet in the bird gallery is the Tennant collection of fossils, sufficient to fill eight showcases ; and those in Fremantle, from the British Museum will be at least sufficient to fill five more. In cabinets, also, are hidden away the West Australian plant collections, arranged alphabetically and geographically to facilitate reference.

It would be possible to continue this enumeration much longer, but enough has, perhaps, been said to show that, no matter how attractive the Museum is—and the thousands of visitors who attend it and the opinions expressed are sufficient guarantee—there remains stowed away in the rooms treasures not only valuable to the trained scientist, but of great educative value to the people generally, and many of them illustrating the wealth of Western Australia to a degree that apart from educational considerations, should be an advertisement for the State. At present, however, as already said, they lie hidden almost as completely as if they had never been taken from the depths of the ocean, the bowels of the earth, or from the wilds of the bush, and must continue to so lie until the necessity for bringing them within public view has been recognised and provided for by the erec[tion] of the much-needed additional [accommo]dation.
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