New exhibition highlights story of Scotland’s oldest museum

A new exhibition will celebrate the origins of Scotland’s oldest museum through objects and specimens from its first visitor guide, published in 1813. This Unrivalled Collection: The Hunterian’s first catalogue will celebrate one of the first museum catalogues in existence, and explore contrasts between pre-Victorian knowledge and what we know today. Many of the items will be on show for the first time in over 150 years.

This room-by-room guide to The Hunterian Museum was written by Captain James Laskey (1760–1829), a soldier, dealer and collector. He carefully recorded, catalogued and commented on the cornucopia of items on display, from coins to giant clams and rare insects to Renaissance manuscripts.

The exhibition will capture the atmosphere of an Enlightenment museum as well as explore the catalogue and the story of its enigmatic author. It provides a snapshot of a time before scientists such as Charles Darwin changed our perception of the world, and will allow visitors to compare the wisdom of the time with modern knowledge. For example it includes a rare original cast of the Rosetta Stone, made on the arrival of the Stone inLondonin 1802 and displayed in The Hunterian in 1807, several years before its hieroglyphs were understood.

Other exhibits will include a three toed Sloth, a Renaissance shield, ‘artificial curiosities’ from the voyages of Captain Cook, rare insects and butterflies, and the tooth of a Mastodon. Time has shown some of Captain Laskey’s descriptions to be wrong – for example a ‘magnificent specimen of amber’ is now known to be a sample of less important subfossil resin.

Captain Laskey’s guide was one of the first ever created and published, making the museum’s collections publicly accessible. Extraordinarily rich in detail, The General Account of the Hunterian Museum captures the spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment, whenScotland’s great thinkers sought to understand the natural world and the human mind.

The Hunterian, which opened in 1807, is one of the oldest museums in the world and the oldest inScotland. It was created as a museum of the Enlightenment, to house the collections bequeathed by the anatomist Dr William Hunter (1718-1783). The museum’s displays covered medicine, natural history, art and antiquities, an extensive library and the first public gallery of paintings inBritain.

Geoff Hancock, Curator, The Hunterian, says: "Captain Laskey can be seen as an 18th century Lovejoy, a wheeler and dealer in antiquities of all kinds, who was obsessed with capturing and recording the wonders of the world. His account is rich in lavish detail and personal opinion, providing a unique insight into the mind of a gentleman collector in Georgian Britain."

This Unrivalled Collection: The Hunterian’s first catalogue will run from 15 March at theHunterianArtGallery. 

For further information please contact Hannah Dolby, Communications Manager, The Hunterian, on 0141 330 3310

The Hunterian

The Hunterian today is one ofScotland’s most important cultural assets and one of the leading university museums in theUK. Its collections have been Recognised as a Collection of National Significance.

The Hunterian collections include scientific instruments used by James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin; outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; major natural and life sciences holdings; Hunter’s own extensive anatomical teaching collection; one of the world’s greatest numismatic collections; impressive ethnographic objects from Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages and a major art collection.

The Hunterian is also home to the world’s largest permanent display of the work of James McNeill Whistler, the largest single holding of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from hisGlasgowhome. TheHunterianArtGalleryre-opened in September following a major refurbishment.


First published: 15 March 2013

<< March