Medical collecting on the frontiers of natural history: the rise and fall of Haslar Hospital Museum (1827–1855)

Daniel Simpson

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Very little is known about the Royal Navy’s Haslar Hospital Museum, located in Gosport, near Portsmouth, and yet the now defunct institution was one of the nineteenth century’s principal sites of medical, natural history and ethnographic investigation. Here, imperial specimens were collected, studied and used as
tools in the education of generations of Naval surgeons, servicemen and scientific explorers, most notably Thomas Henry Huxley. Although principally a Naval and medical institution, Haslar Hospital Museum both assisted and challenged Britain’s best-known scientific collections, in particular the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the British Museum. This paper presents the first history of the museum’s growth and decline, between 1827 and 1855. Particular attention is paid to the agency of Naval surgeons in developing new imperial knowledge, and so to the museum’s success in carving out a privileged space for object-based science at the intersection of medicine and natural history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253–267
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the History of Collections
Issue number2
Early online date11 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2018

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