University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Henry Augustus Ward And Museum Development in the Hinterland

Volume 38 · 1985
Henry Augustus Ward And Museum Development in the Hinterland

The late nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented explosion in the creation and expansion of natural history museums all over the world. Indeed, by 1910, the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannicacounted 2,000 scientific museums. Dominating this number were institutions located in European and American metropolitan centers. Yet with the gradual accumulation of capital in the hinterland--coming from the development and exploitation of natural resources, made possible by improved transportation networks--colonial legislatures also began to support public museums.1

Not infrequently fine institutions were almost literally carved out of the wilderness. Images of Victorian science palaces danced in the heads of museum men in the hinterland and they sought to forge reasonable facsimiles under adverse circumstances. Some of these museums emphasized local objects, including the artifacts of aboriginal peoples, technological implements, and examples of native flora and fauna. But other museums, especially those associated with universities and colleges, sought to display broad collections selected to represent the diversity of animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms on a world-wide scale.

The architecture of nineteenth-century museums was monumental and imposing, due to their association with national prestige and civic pride. A grandiose effect came from incorporating "colonnades and arches, high vaulted interiors, [and] vast flights of stairs" into buildings often situated in parks or on broad avenues.2Museums in the hinterland usually followed the design of a classical temple. This convention dictated a symmetrical facade, a commanding entrance, perhaps with a portico, and a multi-storied central hall surrounded by balconies and staircases.3 The third edition of James Ferguson's History of the Modern Styles of Architectureof 1891 singled out Montreal's Peter Redpath Museum as a particularly fine example of neoclassical style emerging from a rather conservative and provincial tradition of British colonial architecture.4

A unique glimpse of these architectural wonders is supplied by an examination of the letters and diaries of the Rochester "natural history merchant" Henry Augustus Ward. His important role in stocking and staffing the museums of America is by now familiar.5 Less well known is the part he played in shaping the inventories and training the curators of museums located beyond the borders of the United States. Museums in the hinterland encouraged his entrepreneurial activities by becoming eager customers for his firm's diverse and high quality stock, which led directly to the expansion of their holdings. Colonial museums also welcomed young taxidermists and preparators who had trained at the Rochester establishment, as they had earned the reputation of being the most proficient in the world.

As owner of perhaps the largest and most important taxidermy firm of the day, Ward's Natural Science Establishment, Ward had been a frequent traveler to Europe since his early twenties. By the mid-1870s, however, he exhausted his sources of supply there. He began to undertake ever more extensive and strenuous trips, leading his descendant and biographer to call him "a man who often wandered beyond the frontiers of civilization."6 During the 1880s, Ward traveled to New Zealand, Australia, and South America, principally in order to acquire new rarities and secondarily to hawk his specimens. The simple love of adventure also stimulated his collecting expeditions.

In the course of conducting his business affairs, Ward established long-term correspondences with museum directors like John William Dawson in Montreal and Julius Haast in Christchurch, New Zealand. In addition, Ward was one of the few North Americans or Europeans to have visited the museums of the Southern hemisphere. His remarks about these institutions become particularly valuable, due to his knowledge as a dealer, collector, and taxidermist. In summary, his long and varied experiences with museums and museum men all over the world make his observations especially valuable for unifying and connecting a number of diverse situations.


During spring and summer 1881, globe-trotting Henry Ward traveled to the South Pacific. His main purpose in undertaking the long ocean voyage was to set up an exhibit at the international exposition in Melbourne, which would serve to advertise his wares to a new continent. One British competitor feared that as a result of Ward's forays into this market, he would be shut out totally thereafter. Ward also used this opportunity to scour exotic markets for new materials, such as birds of paradise and proboscis monkeys. Besides stops in Australia and New Zealand, Ward's itinerary included Hawaii, Java, Borneo, Singapore, Siam, Saigon, China, and Japan. Only a recent case of cannibalism in New Guinea dissuaded him from visiting that inhospitable island.7

On the way to Australia, in March 1881, Ward broke his journey at New Zealand with the intention of meeting his correspondent of some years, Julius Haast. But Haast, unfortunately, had chosen just that time to visit the Melbourne exposition. Though he did not get to meet his long-time friend-by-mail, Ward did get to see the province of Canterbury's museum in Christchurch, directed by Haast since 1869 after the completion of the first phase of his work on the Geological Survey of Canterbury.8

"A soft, wet, green version of Hollywood's Wild West" is the way one writer has recently described the New Zealand of the 1870s. Yet the young colony--far from being dominated by cowboys, Indians, or outlaws--valued scientific and educational pursuits. Within three decades of its creation, various institutions were established to further these aims, including the Canterbury Museum, founded at Christchurch in 1861. The Canterbury pilgrims--those Anglican settlers who followed their Oxford-educated leaders to New Zealand in the 1840s aimed to replicate at Christchurch the ambience of an English residential town. This vision called for developing a pleasing landscape of well-designed gardens, avenues, and stone buildings, under the domination of a 240-foot-high cathedral spire.9.

Due to the leadership of Haast, the Canterbury Museum quickly established an outstanding reputation and came to occupy the largest museum building in the country. Haast himself raised over one-quarter of the initial £1,700 spent on the edifice and, in addition, supervised its construction. However, despite his enthusiasm, the absence of long-term planning and stable resources from the beginning meant that the development of the Canterbury Museum was shaped by ad hoc arrangements.

Though collections had been displayed in temporary rooms in Christchurch since 1867, the gray stone, lancet-windowed Canterbury Museum was opened to the public in 1870. Even today one of the finest buildings in the town, the museum enjoyed a central location on the winding river Avon, adjacent to Hagley Park. The most impressive display in its main room was a small group of skeletons of the extinct giant moa bird, which ranged in height from four feet to nearly twelve feet. Ethnological objects hung from the surrounding gallery, where pictures, geological maps, and geological and mineralogical specimens were exhibited. At one end of the main room a modest-sized lean-to housed an office and workroom.l0

At first Haast claimed that double the amount of specimens contained in the museum could be arranged in the new building. He built up Canterbury's collections with alacrity, by exchanging duplicates with institutions all over the world and buying from a few dealers like Ward. But soon Haast began to complain that materials were outstripping exhibition space, leaving him with thousands of birds and insects as well as numerous mammals awaiting display.l1 Haast thereby initiated a vicious circle, a pattern that would characterize the growth of nearly every museum treated here. Empty galleries called for specimens to exhibit. Success in acquiring materials, in turn, even if carried out without capital outlay, meant that further space and increased curatorial care had to be provided. The result: ever spiraling costs, increasingly straining the goodwill of the authorities who had initially promoted the development of museums in the hinterland.

Canterbury's provincial council, at that time supportive of the museum's expansion, voted £2,000 early in 1872 to add a two-story, gabled, Gothic-style structure at right angles to the original building. Uppermost in the minds of legislators, however, was the desire to keep costs to a minimum, despite Haast's warning against the shortsightedness of being guided by price alone. Display cases, he insisted, unless properly built of special timber and made to be airtight, could irreversibly damage the specimens contained. In the case of the construction of the building itself, clearly the authorities ignored Haast's dictum. The new addition was shortened by seven feet (to save £160) and a gang of convicts was drafted to lay the foundations.l2

As a result of further building improvements carried out during the early 1870s, a fifty- by thirty-foot "moa room" was opened to the left of the museum entrance, along with two smaller lecture rooms on the first and second floors. This development served to differentiate local fauna from foreign collections. Construction also began on detached workrooms where large mammals could be prepared for exhibition.l3Previously, visitors had complained of "offensive odours" that ruined a stroll through the galleries, due to the proximity of nearby taxidermy rooms.l4 By this time, public sentiment could weigh, as around 16,000 signed the guest register each year. The methodical Haast even conducted a study to demonstrate that, since only one in three persons bothered to record his visit, actual attendance reached nearly 50,000.l5

By the mid-1870s, financial restraint replaced the relative largesse that had previously been exercised towards the Canterbury Museum by the provincial government. Perhaps Haast's arguments for the importance of the museum as a counterforce to political centralization were undercut by the abolition of the provincial system in New Zealand at this time. In addition, management of the museum had passed from a Board of Trustees to the Board of Governors of Canterbury College (the forerunner of the present Canterbury University). Although all the former trustees were included in the new board, the very existence of the new university probably siphoned off funds from the museum.l6

An impressive allocation of £14,000 in 1874 was overturned by a succeeding government the following year, which halted construction on yet another extension to the original building. Hereafter progress on new additions could only be made in haphazard fashion as small grants were received through litigation instigated by Haast against provincial authorities.l7One cannot help but be amazed at Haast's aggressive posture towards state parsimony. Not only did he refuse to accept a reduction in his allocation, but he successfully sued the government for failing to deliver promised support.

During this phase of the museum's development, Haast's attention turned to ethnological materials in particular, as the museum opened a complete "Maori House" as an exhibition room. Other prehistoric items acquired from Europe and North America were displayed separately. Thus, in ethnology, as in natural history, New Zealand and foreign collections were segregated. A second series of additions to the Canterbury Museum was inaugurated in 1878, among them a large mammal room or "Great Hall." The former entrance hall was replaced by a "skeleton room" (with both human and animal remains) which was adjoined by a paleontological room.l8

By the early 1880s Haast concentrated upon further improvements to the museum's metallurgical, technological, and ethnological branches. A somewhat less austere government awarded £2,000 for renovating the Maori House alone. A Technological Hall--at ninety feet by forty- eight feet the largest room in the museum--was opened to the public.l9 Even these modest accomplishments cost Haast more than a decade's struggle. Henry Ward, visiting the Canterbury Museum at this time, saw the museum as it was attaining its final expansion.


After spending a month in New Zealand, Ward traveled on to Melbourne via Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). By then Melbourne had been transformed from "a very inferior English town, unpaved, unlighted, muddy, miserable, [and] dangerous" into "a great city, as comfortable, as elegant, as luxurious, as any place out of London or Paris," it was claimed. At the international exposition in Melbourne, Ward tended his own display and purchased from other exhibitors as well. The size of the exhibition and the Australian government's handling of the whole affair impressed him, in particular their decision to purchase his exhibit. Afterwards he proceeded into the bush as far as the great desert.20

Before leaving Melbourne, Ward met Frederick McCoy, a commissioner for the exhibition, who directed the National Museum of Victoria in that city. Its impressive title notwithstanding, the museum was supported by the colony of Victoria alone and could not claim to represent the rest of Australia. Indicative of an unusual concern with intellectual matters, Melbourne could count a university and public library, in addition to the natural history museum, within twenty years of its foundation in 1836. These institutions befitted a place that aimed, like Christchurch, to replicate the cultural life of an English provincial city. The museum, founded in 1854, at first had to compete with a proposed museum of economic geology for state funds. Two years later the fledgling natural history museum absorbed its rival institution.21 By 1854, McCoy, a young Irishman who had come to Victoria as the first profzssor of natural science at the University of Melbourne, became director of the museum. He would hold this post for the next forty years.

Probably the most controversiatact of McCoy's early administration involved his decision to move the collections of the museum away from the assay section of the Crown Lands Building out to the University of Melbourne, located in what was then the suburbs of the city. The Philosophical Institute (later Royal Society) of Victoria, which had been built up to complement the museum, petitioned various government officials to prevent the transfer of the collections to such a remote location. McCoy enflamed his opposition by reading a paper to the society which argued that a museum should provide for scientific research and education, rather than offering idle shows for the entertainment of the curious.22 During the ensuing discussion--which convulsed the society for a number of weeks--McCoy simply moved the specimens himself.

Following McCoy's clever but headstrong maneuver, the government voted £10,000 to construct a suite of four rooms for the museum. These were to be located over the lecture rooms at the university, which was then in the process of being built. Despite this close physical relationship between the two institutions, McCoy insisted upon "the complete integrity and independence of the collections" from the university. He warned one of his correspondents not to call the National Museum the "University Museum," as "it would be cakes and ale to some opponents of the Museum here."23

For a time the new rooms were adequate for the museum's needs and convenient enough to the city to accommodate 35,000 visitors during 1860 alone.24 According to one informal survey conducted by McCoy, most museum guests stayed in the galleries for around an hour and a half. McCoy's survey also led to the surprising conclusion that Chinese visitors numbered in the thousands each year.25

As in the case of Haast a decade later, McCoy's aggressive acquisitions policy meant that the museum soon began to outgrow its quarters. By the end of 1861, McCoy had petitioned the government on four separate occasions to provide more space for workshops and for materials in the area of economic geology. In June 1862 the government agreed to support the expansion of the museum, and supplied the first installment in a series of grants that would eventually total nearly £12,000. The new building, constructed of locally produced yellowish- white brick at the rear of the university grounds, copied the gothic architecture of Oxford's New Museum. Inside, rooms for the director, taxidermists, and assayers ringed a main hall.26

It was not part of McCoy's nature, however, to be satisfied with what the government had accorded him. He felt that monetary constraints, which had reduced his budget by thirty percent during the late 1860s, interfered with the realization of his plans for the institution.27 From 1870 onward, the museum's annual reports registered concern about space inadequate for exhibiting the collections and demanded a larger structure to ease the crowded conditions. The report of 1879 threatened to restrict acquisitions--a consequence that must have amused those accustomed to McCoy's extravagance in this area--unless more room for display was provided. Three years later the annual report pointed out that major accessions had come from the lower divisions of animals, such as insects and fishes. These, McCoy sniped, fortunately occupied less space than other classes.28

Beginning in the mid-1880s, McCoy began to complain more stridently about crowded conditions in the museum, which, he claimed, were spoiling the system of classification and making display and preservation of specimens increasingly difficult. Perhaps particularly galling to McCoy, other museums in Australia were at this time experiencing unprecedented support and expansion on the part of individual states. The government of Victoria finally began to proceed with building construction during the late eighties and voted money to this end, but progress was so slow that the collections deteriorated further.29 To his annual lament about this state of affairs McCoy added, in 1891, that the taxidermists, in the absence of proper workrooms, were forced to work under unhealthy conditions.30 He contrasted his straitened circumstances in Melbourne with the Australian Museum in Sydney, whose budget amounted to nearly three times as much as his.3l Just for "contingencies" or general expenses the Australian Museum received more than £2,000 a year as opposed to only £400 for Melbourne.32

McCoy's grumblings aside, the 1870s and 1880s were in other respects propitious years for the National Museum of Victoria. Its record in facilitating research improved when twenty installments of the Zoology of Victoria were published between 1878 and 1890 along with seven parts of the Paleontology of Victoria between 1874 and 1882.33 The museum excelled in the role of popular educator at the same time, as record attendance levels were attained during the late 1880s when over 130,000 visitors were admitted each year.34 The result of these triumphs, unhappily for McCoy, seems to have been only further estrangement and isolation from fellow curators and neighboring museums in Australia.


Henry Ward's return from the Far East was not announced in his Natural Science Bulletin (the house organ of his firm) until January 1882. An outbreak of cholera and smallpox imposed a quarantine on his steamer and delayed his arrival at San Francisco. Perhaps because his trip to the South Pacific had lasted so long, Ward stayed in Rochester and sent his partner and brother-in-law Edwin Howell to Montreal to set up materials for the opening of McGill University's Peter Redpath Museum. In the July issue of Ward's Bulletin, however, he announced that the firm had supplied $2,000 worth of skeletons, invertebrates, geological models, fossils, and casts of fossils to the new museum. Indeed, Redpath Museum's director, John William Dawson, had visited the Ward and Howell "natural science establishment" less than two years before, in the interest of locating collections for the new museum.35

Ever since 1869, Ward had been corresponding with Dawson, whose main responsibility was to act as principal of McGill University.36 When Dawson arrived at McGill fifteen years earlier, the university museum had consisted of but one fossil. Such a deficiency was serious to the Edinburgh-educated paleontologist. At Edinburgh a measure of Professor Robert Jameson's natural history empire had been the collections he amassed over fifty years, which served the university and acted as a mecca for scientifically inclined inhabitants for miles around. With the example of his alma mater fresh in his mind, Dawson set out to create a respectable natural history museum at McGill.

By the early 1860s, when the first college buildings were completed, a room was set aside to house such a museum. Slowly the collection grew as a result of purchases made possible by occasional monetary gifts, the fees collected from Dawson's lectures to medical students, and a museum fund established by the banker and brewer William Molson. Important donations of specimens came from other Montreal residents including Philip Pearsall Carpenter, who gave a collection with more than 4,000 species of shells, and the medical practitioner and dean, Andrew Fernando Holmes, who provided a herbarium. Dawson himself gathered fossils and rocks during his summer holidays. Some of these objects were deposited in the museum, while duplicate specimens furnished materials for exchange with other institutions.37

In 1862 Dawson boasted that McGill's museum held 10,000 natural history specimens, arranged to illustrate successive lecture topics on that subject. Besides their function as a teaching aid, the collections could be used by local naturalists to facilitate their research. Yet Dawson was careful to explain that McGill did not intend to amass a "large general collection" to rival those belonging to two other institutions based in Montreal, the Geological Survey of Canada and the Natural History Society. In fact, Dawson promised that future additions to McGill's holdings would be made in areas not represented in these two museums.38

Fifteen years brought dramatic change to Dawson's view of the purpose of the natural history museum at McGill and its relationship to others in Canada. Foremost in precipitating this change was the Dominion government's decision to transfer the Geological Survey and its museum to Ottawa, the backward national capital. Dawson had maintained almost a proprietary interest in the survey and its museum, having lavished time and effort on imprOving its collections in paleontology and geology. He felt betrayed by the move to Ottawa and mounted a furious but futile lobby against the plan.

No longer was Dawson content to build a modest museum, but he aimed to establish "a better collection illustrative of Canadian Geology" than that of the survey in less than a year. Furthermore, those at McGill were "straining every nerve to bring ours up" to the level of a good general museum. What gave conviction to Dawson's determination was an offer from the Montreal industrialist Peter Redpath to provide McGill with a museum building intended to be "the best of its kind in Canada." Besides consoling Dawson for the loss of the survey collections, Redpath sought to commemorate his twenty-five-year tenure as principal of McGill and, perhaps most important, to dissuade him from accepting a post at Princeton University.39

Late in August 1882, the Peter Redpath Museum opened its doors. Dawson called the sight that greeted the 2,000 guests who reveled at the formal reception "the greatest gift ever made by a Canadian to the cause of natural science, and the noblest building dedicated to that end in the Dominion." Journalists acclaimed the museum as "one of the greatest architectural beauties of Montreal" and praised "its simplicity of outline and marked constructive strength." The Grecian-style exterior, built of limestone quarried near Montreal, represented conventional architectural practice. The museum nevertheless exhibited pleasing external proportions and a well-designed interior plan, with space adequate to display a series of natural history specimens for teaching purposes.40

Entering the Redpath Museum, the visitor saw at the back of the ground floor a handsome lecture theater with seats for 200 students. Rooms closer to the front of the building would soon accommodate a herbarium, reference library, classroom, boardroom, and office. To the right of the entrance, a staircase fitted out with archaeological objects and large slabs of fossil footprints on the landing led to the main floor or "Great Museum Hall." Henry Ward's imposing cast of the British Museum's megatherium (a giant sloth)--set up by his partner Howell and a status symbol for new museums--distinguished this floor, which displayed paleontological, mineralogical, and geological specimens. Fossils in the center and along either side were arranged according to their progression in geological time; subordinate to this organization came their botanical or zoological classification. The visitor, then, could view the general order of geological succession or trace any group of animals or plants through several geological formations. The second floor of the museum--the gallery of the great hall--contained zoological material, both representative types and local forms. Invertebrates were stored in table cases, while vertebrates were displayed in upright cases. The basement contained a laboratory for preparation and storage of specimens. Dawson, describing the museum to Alexander Agassiz at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, called it "the first properly organized thing of the kind we have had in Canada."4l

The primary function of the Redpath Museum was to serve McGill students and faculty, but a variety of educational and professional organizations also came to enjoy its facilities. The American and British associations for the advancement of science held geological sessions in the lecture theater and receptions in the Great Hall during their Montreal meetings of the early 1880s. Quebec province's Protestant Association of Teachers and the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers also met in the Redpath Museum. There the Ladies' Educational Association of Montreal regularly heard lectures on botany, zoology, and the "geology of Bible Lands." By coupling its utility for the university with an average annual attendance of around 2,000 during its early years, the Redpath Museum could lay claim to being "the foremost educational institution in Canada."42

The numerous accomplishments heralded by the press and paraded by Dawson were nonetheless maintained with difficulty over the next decade. The group of distinguished Montrealers who made up the Redpath Museum Committee, which managed the affairs of the institution, labored under severe financial constraints. From the university came a small portion of medical students' fees (several hundred dollars per year) in exchange for their use of laboratory facilities in the museum building. On occasion the board of governors advanced funds to allow the museum to balance its accounts, but these amounts had to be repaid. Because McGill had agreed to preserve the museum, according to the terms of Peter Redpath's bequest, the corporation paid for repairs and improvements while the museum itself was held responsible for general maintenance. Revenue also came to the museum from the twenty-five-cent admission charge, levied upon all visitors except university staff and students, McGill graduates, school teachers, and clergymen. A small sum of money accrued, in addition, from interest on the various museum funds and from lecture fees paid by the Ladies' Educational Association (about $100 a year).43

Perhaps because of their first-hand knowledge of the museum's dire financial situation--which seldom moved outside the red--members of the museum committees gave generously of their money as well as their time. In addition to Redpath's annual grant of $1,000 for maintenance of the museum building (continued by his widow who increased the sum to $1,500 in 1894), Louisa Molson, wife of Montreal brewery magnate J. H. R. Molson, contributed $2,000 to establish a fund for paying the salary of Thomas Curry, the assistant curator.

Lack of funds also impeded the museum's development as a research institution from the beginning. In 1886 Dawson proposed to publish a series of bulletins or memoirs that would describe and illustrate important specimens in the museum collections. After a short trial in the annual report, the scheme lapsed. Two years later, a monograph called Notes on Specimens began publication. But again because of financial difficulties, the series suspended publication after only one number had been issued.44

Though Dawson had accomplished a great deal in the first decade of the Redpath Museum's existence, resources were not forthcoming to sustain it in its multiple functions. The move of the survey museum to Ottawa had propelled the Redpath museum into an institution that ultimately had to serve not only a college, but also a municipality, a province, and a nation. Unfortunately its initial mandate could scarcely be fulfilled, let alone its acquired responsibilities, given the austere financial climate that it was forced to endure.

Buenos Aires

The North American continent, whether Montreal or elsewhere, held few attractions that could satiate the curiosity of Henry Ward. Perhaps it was all too familiar to someone who never crossed the same country twice if he could avoid it. Africa succeeded in luring him away from Rochester in the mid-1880s. Later in the same decade it was South America, when Ward sailed from New Orleans to Costa Rica and Panama. From there he proceeded south, stopping in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. All the time he searched private collections, public museums, and even village markets for natural history specimens. He found anteaters, condors, and Indian artifacts such as bolas.45

Among museums, however, Ward discovered that only those of Brazil and Argentina merited attention. He dismissed as poor, ill-kept affairs others in Lima and Montevideo; the same judgment applied to that of Santiago, which had thrived earlier under the direction of Rudolph Amandus Philippi. On the twenty-seventh of June, 1889, Ward arrived in what he called the "great, flat, dingy city of Buenos Aires." More impressive to him than the city itself was an imposing collection of Pampean fossils in the National Museum, which he viewed on the following day. Two days later Ward made a return visit to the museum. 46

The Museo Ptiblico de Buenos Aires had been created by the government of Bernardino Rivadavia in 1812, making it the first natural history museum established in South America. Another eleven years elapsed, however, before its actual physical foundation on the second floor of the convent of Santo Domingo, which faced the largest city market of the day at the corner of Belgrano and Defensa streets. A few years later the museum could claim but two quadrupeds, several fishes, a few hundred birds and shells, and some 800 insects among its holdings. Under the dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas (1830-1854) and the directorship of the chemist Antonio Demarchi the institution continued to languish. In one five-year period during what has been called this "time of decadence" only about 200 new objects were donated to the museum.47

Beginning in the late 1850s, the newly created AsociaciOn de Amigos de la Historia Natural del Plata took charge of the museum and worked to revitalize it. As the institution was now under the protection of eminent Argentine citizens, gifts poured in and the size of the collections doubled in only two years as a result. Because the rector of the University of Buenos Aires was named president of the AsociaciOn, the museum became closely linked with that institution. The university thereupon provided new accommodations for the museum near the entrance to campus, in an old building at the corner of Peru and Potosi streets. It acquired four exhibition rooms--including one more than 100 feet long--with space for a laboratory, storage, a library, and private rooms for the director. With this recasting of the museum on a grander scale, new materials were acquired and the old collections in some areas, such as mineralogy and paleontology, became better classified. The French naturalist Auguste Bravard, founder of the short-lived National Museum in the Argentine capital of the time, Paranà, declined the post of director. Another European, Hermann Burmeister, accepted the call to a continent he had viewed with increasing interest since his long visits to Brazil and Argentina during the 1850s.48

In February 1862, Burmeister was named director of the Museo Publico de Buenos Aires, succeeding Santiago Torres. Instead of having his museum subordinated to the university, as originally planned, Burmeister was granted "independent direction" of the museum and allowed to report directly to a provincial government minister. Enjoying, then, considerable autonomy, as well as an initial grant of 20,000 pesos, Burmeister transformed the museum into an institution organized according to scientific principles, or, as he said, "arranged in the European manner." He related that when he arrived, the birds, for example, had been classified according to color and size. Sorting out parrots from paintings and pottery, Burmeister divided the museum into three principal sections: art, history, and science, emphasizing natural history. The artistic section, said Burmeister, held not a single painting or sculpture of the first rank. The much more valuable historical section contained archaeological objects, including mummies, coins, and earthenware, as well as recent items, such as war trophies and even the desk of Rivadavia. But it was the last division, the dominant part of the museum since its foundation, that particularly attracted the attention of Burmeister, himself a paleobotanist.49

Burmeister's happy relationship with the government--which provided funds for daily expenses as well as special appropriations for books, specimens, and building construction--began to change fifteen years later. In mid-1876 Burmeister received the first of a series of directives asking him to curtail expenditures. That year, the total budget was reduced by fifteen percent or 30,000 pesos. The following year funds were decreased by nearly the same percentage, which ran to 20,000 pesos this time. All domains of museum activity suffered as a result of the first set-back to its heretofore continuous economic expansion.50 The museum's journal, the Anales del Museo Publico, for example, which had been funded by special government monies since its inception in 1864, suspended publication in 1874, not to resume again until 1883. During the interim, the museum had no official publication to offer in exchange for those of foreign museums or to draw attention to its achievements.5lFinancial restraint thereby impeded the ability of the museum to encourage, disseminate, or reward research based upon its collections.

In 1878, a young Argentine naturalist named Eduardo Holmberg wrote an impassioned plea for wider public recognition and greater government support for the museum. He took the reader on a "tour" of the institution, pointing out how paintings, archaeological objects, minerals, mollusks, and large fossil skeletons were still housed together in the biggest room. Collections in ornithology and entomology were dispersed among several rooms and displayed alongside other kinds of items. Holmberg maintained that to divide the museum into clearly demarcated sections or departments would improve its scientific utility as well as increase its comprehensibility for the public. Such reorganization, however, required a major extension to the museum's quarters, which in turn necessitated increased funding.52

To Holmberg, lack of government patronage for the museum had undermined its function as a popular educator in a number of subtle and interconnecting ways. Although the museum was open to the public every Sunday, the average citizen did not understand what he was seeing. Visitors could merely view objects in their cases as no supervisory personnel were in attendance. Close examination or comparison with other specimens was impossible. In addition, because the Anales had suspended publication, residents of Buenos Aires had to consult foreign works to learn about scientific developments at home. Yet the museum library that contained these publications was closed to the public because it lacked a librarian. A shortage of competent staff furthermore meant that the institution of popular lectures, for example, could not be entertained.53

Financial austerity had thus reduced the Buenos Aires museum to a condition where neither its scholarly nor public mandates could be fulfilled. A second government directive to economize, issued in 1881, provoked Burmeister to defend his budgetary position. Expenses could not be curtailed, he argued, due to the continuous augmentation of objects in the museum and the increasing cost of scientific books and periodicals. In fact, as a result of the limited funds available to him, Burmeister had spent 25,000 pesos out of his own pocket on the museum during the past year.54 From this time onward, Burmeister's relationship with the government deteriorated steadily. Special requests were often denied, if they were answered at all.55 As a result, both staff and collections lacked adequate appropriations.

By the time Henry Ward saw what he called "Burmeister's Museum," it had fallen into a sad state of neglect. Ward complained of its "wretched quarters" and the poor maintenance of what had been basically good material. Burmeister himself, by then aged 81, still held the reins of power but had antagonized everyone, even his own son, by his irascible disposition.56 Only death three years later forced him to release the grip he had kept on the museum for the previous thirty years. Poignantly this occurred as the result of a blow to the head that he suffered upon falling from the top of a ladder in the museum itself.57

La Plata

The chief reason for the rupture between Burmeister and the government seems to have been the uncertain political climate of the day. In June of 1880 the uneasy alliance between portenos (residents of the city of Buenos Aires), provincial authorities, and the national government erupted into violence in the southern part of Buenos Aires. Longstanding differences that had divided these parties were finally resolved when, later in the same year, the national government proclaimed the city a federal district and forced provincial powers to withdraw. However, despite the turmoil that these events produced, there were benefits involved for a new museum, arising from the creation in 1882 of the provincial capital at La Plata, forty miles southwest of Buenos Aires. In order to underscore the political significance of this location, impressive new provincial buildings were erected shortly afterward, including a Graeco-Roman edifice intended to house a natural history museum.

In contrast to his qualified praise for Buenos Aires, Henry Ward was overwhelmed by the "wide streets, shade trees, and splendid ornate buildings" of La Plata. In one park, beyond a dense grove of eucalyptus trees, Ward caught his first glimpse of "a large, elegant museum building of chaste architecture." Ward was so impressed with the collections in Argentine ethnology, archaeology, paleontology, and zoology, that he made three excursions to La Plata during his eight-day stay in Buenos Aires. He returned to the museum at the end of July and twice again during August.58

The Museo General de La Plata, founded in 1884 and opened to visitors in an incomplete state in 1887, owed much to the Buenos Aires museum. Its future director, Francisco Moreno, was so impressed by his visits to the Buenos Aires institution and, when a child, meeting Burmeister, that he spent his youth collecting anthropological, archaeological, and natural history materials, which he exhibited in his home. His enthusiasm for these pursuits earned him the nickname "fossil."59 Aided by two brothers in his quest for objects, Moreno won praise for the quality of his specimens from Burmeister himself, as well as from European savants like Pierre Paul Broca, Jean-Louis-Armand Quatrefages, and Rudolf Carl Virchow. By 1873 Moreno's collection contained more than 15,000 items. Four years later Moreno donated his museum to the province; it became known as the Museo Anthropologico y ArqueolOgico de Buenos Aires. It opened to the public in 1878 and Moreno was appointed director with a salary of 5,000 pesos a month.60

When provincial institutions were transferred from Buenos Aires to La Plata in 1884, it was decided, over some opposition, not to move Burmeister's museum. The decision was made because of the museum's importance to the general population concentrated in the city and the great risk posed to its fragile paleontological specimens. With the exception of some collections of special interest to the province that were shipped to La Plata, provincial authorities ceded the Buenos Aires museum to the Argentine nation. Moreno, for his part, was delighted to have his more modest holdings transferred to La Plata where they would serve as the basis of a new provincial museum. 61

The passage of the Buenos Aires museum from provincial to national authority sealed its fate as an institution accorded spartan financial resources. For Moreno, in contrast, the province's relocation at La Plata proved to be just the event he had been hoping for. During his European travels of the early 1880s, he had been profoundly impressed by the great museums of Europe. By moving his anthropological materials to La Plata where they would fill the void left by the absence of the Buenos Aires museum, Moreno had the opportunity to expand them to include all realms of natural history. This development transformed his collections into the cornerstone of a natural science museum of the first rank.62 Especially important for the La Plata Museum's future was the enthusiastic support of the provincial governor, Carlos D'Amico. Chronology shows the importance attached to this undertaking in a part of the world where things usually moved slowly: on September 4 the Buenos Aires museum was federalized, on September 17 the La Plata Museum was created, and in October the foundations of the new building began to be laid.63 As Moreno described the situation to the Smithsonian Institution's George Brown Goode: "In my country activity is not [the] rule in official establishments. The La Plata Museum is an exception and people is [sic] astonished."64

With his collections housed in temporary quarters at La Plata, from 1884 until 1889 Moreno supervised construction of the new museum. Its shape--designed by the Swedish and German architects Aberg and Heynemann--followed a 135- by 70-meter oval. Motifs taken from Mayan, Aztec, and Inca ruins decorated the three-floor structure inside and out. Guarding the entrance were the museum's "lions," actually replicas of the extinct Pampean tiger or smilodon. Moreno had planned to place seventy-four busts of famous naturalists in the spaces between pillars all around the edifice. The legislature, however, found this plan excessive and reduced the number to the twelve that still grace the front portico of the building. To soften and complement the imposing structure, Moreno planned a zoological and botanical park to surround it. The building's cost of 300,000 pesos amounted to about twenty times the price of the nearby astronomical observatory and made it one of the most expensive of the impressive new provincial buildings.65

Moreno supervised every other aspect of the museum's formulation in addition to overseeing construction of the building. Collections were arranged and exhibited so that visitors--who numbered around 50,000 a year during the late 1880s--advanced through the evolutionary history of the earth and life on earth. Thirteen large rooms forming the perimeter of the museum displayed Argentine fauna, both fossil and recent, in what Moreno called a "phylogenetic gallery." The central space treated the physical and cultural evolution of man.66

The significance of the La Plata Museum's paleontological collections was demonstrated to the scientific world when British museum curator Richard Lydekker traveled there to study Argentine fossils during the early 1890s. He praised them as extraordinary and of world-wide interest.67 No less impressed was Henry Ward, who placed the La Plata Museum in the same category as those of Berlin and Vienna or Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. He appraised the collections at around a quarter of a million dollars. The La Plata Museum was the only museum he had seen in South America where all was orderly and systematic. Furthermore, he knew of none other in the world with so many large, mounted fossil skeletons.68


Ward's travels through South America, Australia, and New Zealand were motivated principally by his desire to find new sources of rare and therefore commercially valuable specimens. Yet the contacts he forged with museum men in the process enabled him to aid colonial institutions in two distinct ways. First, museums in the hinterland presented a ready market for the wide range of products sold by his firm. The relationship was mutually beneficial, enabling Ward to conduct his business and allowing colonial museums to expand their collections at the same time. In addition to natural history specimens of every description, Ward and Howell sold plaster casts of fossils and skeletons almost indistinguishable from the originals, Blaschka glass models of invertebrates and plants, and even special natural history cabinets packaged as teaching aids for colleges and universities. Ever diversifying their stock, they also came to offer relief maps, microscopic slides, and anatomical models.

Collecting expeditions into the hinterland, then, not only allowed Ward to tap local sources of natural history materials, but also permitted him to find new customers for his wares. McCoy and Haast ended up buying Australasian specimens from Ward, as he had succeeded in finding rarities that escaped them, even within the boundaries of their own countries. As late as 1885, when McCoy's funding had practically dried up, he still ordered stuffed North American mammals from Ward, due to the remarkable quality of his firm's work. Generally able to swap his moa bones but without cash to make purchases, Haast tested the waters of the North American market with Ward's assistance.69 Another curator in New Zealand complained of Ward's high prices, but nevertheless appreciated saving six weeks' time as a result of his San Francisco delivery route.70 Francisco Moreno at La Plata risked government censure for his eagerness to trade specimens with Ward.71 In Montreal, Dawson purchased over $2,000 worth of natural history materials from his firm.72

A second way in which Ward aided colonial museums is that his Natural Science Establishment had won acclaim for producing some of the most proficient preparators and taxidermists anywhere in the world. Since metropolitan markets were increasingly saturated in their ability to absorb these young men, it was not unusual for new trainees to seek their fortunes in the hinterland. Sent out from Rochester, for example, was Jules Bailly, a specialist in mounting skeletons, who had been imported earlier from the Verreaux taxidermy firm in Paris. Perhaps it was the French milieu that persuaded Bailly, responsible for training a whole generation of American preparators, to join Dawson in Montreal.73 Ward sent another trainee to New Zealand, C. F. Adams, who ended up at the natural history museum in Auckland.74 In addition to personnel, Ward also freely exported expertise that helped to diminish the need for permanent staff in colonial museums. For example, he gave Haast in New Zealand directions for the preparation of specimens, and set up a gorilla skeleton for the Redpath Museum that Dawson had acquired from Liverpool.75 Whether as a source of specimens, personnel, or advice, then, Henry Ward offered invaluable assistance to colonial museums at a critical stage in their development.


Portions of this paper have appeared earlier in slightly different versions in "'Stones and bones and skeletons': the origins and development of the Peter Redpath Museum," McGill Journal of Education, 17, Winter 1982, pp. 45-64, and in "Better than a travelling circus: museums and meetings in Montreal during the early 1880s,"Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Series IV, 20, 1982, pp. 599-618.


BAM Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales "Bernardino Rivadavia" archives: Correspondencia de oficio del Director del Museo Publico de Buenos Aires
CM Canterbury Museum, Christchurch
CPL Canterbury Public Library, Christchurch (New Zealand Room)
HAW Henry A. Ward papers, University of Rochester Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (Rochester, New York)
JWD John William Dawson papers, McGill University Archives
MC McGill University Archives
MCZ Museum of Comparative Zoology Archives (Harvard University) 
NMV National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne
SI Smithsonian Institution Archives


1. A. E. Gunther, A Century of Zoology at the British Museum through the lives of Two Keepers, 1815-1914(London, 1975), 152-53.

2.    "Museum Architecture," Encyclopedia Britannica, 1970, 1033.

3. Mark Girouard, Alfred Waterhouse and the Natural History Museum (London, 1981), 25-26

4(London), 170

5. From the exemplary article of Sally Kohlstedt, "Henry A. Ward: the merchant naturalist and American museum development," Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 9, 1980, 647-61.

6. Roswell Ward, H.A. Ward: Museum Builder to America, Rochester Historical Society Publications, 24, 1948, 178-79, 185.

7.    HAW: Edward Gerrard to H. A. Ward, 8 April 1881. Ward (op. cit., n. 6), 216-17.

8.    H. F. von Haast, The Life and Times of Sir Julius von Haast (Wellington, New Zealand, 1948), 787.

9.    David Wilson, Rutherford: Simple Genius (London, 1983), 13, 19-21. For the history of Canterbury province see Samuel Butler, A First Year in Canterbury Settlement (Auckland, 1964; 1st ed., 1863); James Hight and C. R. Straubel, gen. eds., A History of Canterbury in 3 vols., (Christchurch, 1957-1965), and especially A. H. Reed,The Story of Canterbury: Last Wakefield Settlement (Wellington, 1949).

10.      von Haast (op. cit., n. 8), 601-602.

11.      Ibid., 609, 623.

12.      CPL: Canterbury Museum Records, Haast to W. Kennaway, 7 May 1872. von Haast (op. cit.,, n. 8), 628.

13.    von Haast (op. cit., n. 8), 630

14.      CPL: Canterbury Museum Records, Haast to W. Kennaway, 3 May 1872.

15.    CM: Session XXXVIII, Annual Report of the Canterbury Museum for the financial year ending September 30, 1872, Appendix A.

16.      CM: Canterbury Provincial Secretary for Public Works, incoming letters, no. 220, Haast to Edward Jollie, 22 February 1869. Guide to the Collections in the Canterbury Museum, 3rd. ed. (Christchurch, New Zealand, 1906), 1.

17.    von Haast (op. cit., n. 8), 759, 764.

18.    Ibid., 763-64, 805, 819, 822.

19.    Ibid., 884-85, 887, 893.

20.      Geoffrey Serle, The Golden Age: A History of the Colony of Victoria, I 851-1 861 (Melbourne, 1963), 369. Ward (op. cit., n. 6), 214.

21.      S. F. Markham and H. C. Richards, A Report on the Museums and Art Galleries of Australia (London, 1933), 5. Serle (op. cit., n. 20), 353. R. T. M. Pescott, Collections of a Century: the History of the First Hundred Years of the National Museum of Victoria (Melbourne, 1954), 4.

22.    G. C. Fendley, "Sir Frederick McCoy," Australian Dictionary of Biography, 5, 134.

23.      NMV: Letterbook 1, McCoy to J. E. Gray, 24 October 1860.

24.      Pescott (op. cit., n. 21), 173 ff.

25.      NMV: Letterbook 2, "Return of the National Museum for 1861," 34.

26.      Pescott (op. cit., n. 21), 46-47, 51-54.

27.    Ibid., 68.

28.      Annual reports appear in the yearly Report of the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria.

29.      Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, "Australian Museums of Natural History: Public Priorities and Scientific Initiatives in the 19th Century," Historical Records of Australian Science, 6, 1983, 1-29. Report of the Trustees . . . for 1888, 1889, 1890.

30.      Report of the Trustees . . . for 1891.

31.      Report of the Trustees . . . for 1897.

32.      Report of the Trustees . . . for 1898.

33.      Natural History of Victoria. Prodromus of the zoology of Victoria; or, Figures and descriptions of the living species of all classes of the Victorian indigenous animals (Melbourne, 1878-90). Prodromus of the Palaeontologyof Victoria; or, Figures and descriptions of Victorian organic remains (Melbourne, 1874-82). Pescott (op. cit., n. 21), 43.

34.      Pescott (ibid.), 173.

35.      Ward's Natural Science Bulletin, 1 Jan. 1882, 1; 1 July 1882, 2. HAW: J. W. Dawson to Ward & Howell, 26 November 1880; Dawson to H. A. Ward, 9 December 1880.

36. The earliest letter located is dated 10 June 1869, J. W. Dawson to H. A. Ward, HAW.

37.      William Dawson, Fifty Years of Work in Canada: Scientific and Educational (London, 1901), 169-72

38.      "Notice of the Natural History Collections of the McGill University," Canadian Naturalist and Geologist, 7,1862, 221-23.

39.      JWD: Acc. 927, no. 47, ref. 38, J. W. Dawson to Charles Tupper, 12 February 1881. Public Archives of Canada, J. A. MacDonald Papers, vol. 313, J. W. Dawson to Thomas Ryan, 17 March 1881. JWD: Acc. 927, no. 47, ref. lb, "The Geological Survey," [Gazette?]

40.      Dawson (op. cit., n. 37), 174. "The American Association: Opening the Redpath Museum," Witness, 25 August 1882. "The Peter Redpath Museum: Formal Opening of the Building," clipping dated 25 August 1882 in Box 37, JWD. Stanley B. Frost, McGill University for the Advancement of Learning, 1: 1801-1895 (Montreal, 1980), 243.1. W. Dawson, In Memoriam: Peter Redpath, Governor and Benefactor of McGill University(Montreal, 1894), 17. For more information on the creation of the Peter Redpath Museum see my "'Stones and bones and skeletons': the origins and development of the Peter Redpath Museum," McGill Journal of Education,17, Winter 1982, 45-64, esp. 51-52.

41.      Guide to Visitors to the Peter Redpath Museum of McGill University (Montreal, 1885), 2. MCZ: J. W. Dawson to Alexander Agassiz, 18 July 1882.

42.      By the early 1890s, evening entertainments were banned from the museum due to the fear that fire might result from the use of gas for illumination. Minute Book (1892-1917), 10, 107. (JWD: Acc. 1459, 1.) Also in the Corporation Minutes, 1889-1894, 392 (MC).

43.      Upon reducing the admission fee to ten cents, the Peter Redpath Museum Minute Book (1882-1892), however, claimed that it was "not imposed for revenue" (p. 128), JWD: Acc. 1602, lb.

44.      Report of the Peter Redpath Museum for the Year 1886, 82; ... for the Year 1888, 105; ...for the Year1890, 127.

45.      Ward (op. cit., n. 6), 233.

46.      HAW: Notebook, 1889, 41, 103, 123-25.

47.      L. V. Coleman, Directory of Museums in South America (Washington, D.C., 1929), 5. Angel J. Carranza, "Anales del Museo Ptiblico de Buenos Aires," Revista de Buenos Aires, 8, 1865, 273-83, 442-46, 612-617, on 274. "Sumario sobre la fundacion y los progresos del Museo Publico de Buenos Aires," Anales del Museo Pliblico de Buenos Aires, 1, 1864, 1-11, on 3. J. J. Parodiz, Darwin in the New World (Leiden, 1981), 71.

48.      Horacio H. Camacho, "La Enserianza y los estudios de las ciencias naturales," unpub. ms., shown to me by the late Jose Babini of Buenos Aires, 5, 8-10. Anales del Museo (op. cit., n. 47), 2-4. Eduardo L. Holmberg, "El Museo de Buenos Aires," El Naturalista Argentine, 1, 1 February 1878, 33-43, on 36, 38.

49.      Jose M. Gallardo, El Museo de Ciencias Naturales en la Manzana de las Luces (Buenos Aires, 1976), 6. Antonio Lascano Gonzalez, El Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Buenos Aires: Su Historia (Buenos Aires, 1980), 86. Max Biraben, German Burmeister: Su vida, Su obra (Buenos Aires, 1968), 30. Anales del Museo, (op. cit., n. 47), 4. H. Burmeister, "Observations on the various species of Glyptodon in the Public Museum of Buenos Aires,"Annals and Magazine of Natural History, ser. 3, 14, 1864, 81-97, on 81.

50.      Information on the budget of the Buenos Aires museum comes from its archives. See especially BAM: File M, no. 486, 10 July 1876, Burmeister to Ministerio de Gobierno; File M, no. 490, 10 January 1877, "Gastos para el Museo en el ario de 1876"; File M, no. 505, 6 January 1878, "Cuenta de gastos del Museo Ptiblico durante el ario 1877."

51.      "Proemio,".Anales del Museo Ptiblico de Buenos Aires, 1, 1864, iii-iv, on iii. Gallardo (op. cit., n. 49), 6.

52.      Holmberg (op. cit., n. 48), 33-38, 41.

53.      Ibid., 38-39, 41-42.

54.      BAM: File M, no. 556, 7 May 1881, Burmeister to Ministerio de Gobierno.

55.      For example, see BAM: File M for 1884.

56.      MCZ: H. A. Ward to Alexander Agassiz, 26 July 1889.

57.      Gallardo (op. cit., n. 49), 9.

58.      HAW: Notebook, 1889, 125-26, 133, 138, 146.

59.      Gallardo, (op. cit., n. 49), 8-9. Jose Lieberman, "Francisco P. Moreno, Precursor Argentino," Anales Sociedad Cientifica Argentina, 140, 1945, 417.

60.      Universidad Nacional de la Plata, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Museo, Obra del Centenario del Museo de La Plata, 1: Reseria HistOrica (La Plata, 1977), 6, 12.

61.     Ibid., 8-9.

62.      Ibid., 9-10.

63.      Luis Maria Torres, ed., Guia Para Visitar el Museo de la Plata (La Plata, 1927), 3-5, 9.

64.      SI: Moreno to G. B. Goode, 28 December 1895.

65.      Obra del Centenario (op. cit., n. 60), 13-15, 25-57. Guia (op. cit., n. 63), 7-8, 17.

66.      Guia (op. cit., n. 63), 7. La Prensa, 16 September 1934. F. Moreno, "Breve Resefia de los progresos del Museo La Plata, durante el segundo semestre de 1888; "Boletin del Museola Plata, 1889, 5-44, on 11-12, 18, 43.

67.      Natural Science, 4, February 1894, 1-21.

68.      MCZ: H. A. Ward to Alexander Agassiz, 26 July 1889 (bAg879. 10.1).

69.      HAW: Haast to Ward, 7 July 1881; McCoy to Ward, 7 April 1885. Haast (op. cit, n. 8), 779-80.

70.      HAW: T. F. Cheeseman to Ward, 22 June 1885.

71.      MCZ: Moreno to Alexander Agassiz, 6 April 1892.

72.      HAW: J. W. Dawson to H. A. Ward, 9 August 1882; "Eighty Natural Science Cabinets ..."; in this circular, where Ward lists eighty purchasers of natural history cabinets valued at $1,000 or more, McGill ranks 49th.Ward's Natural Science Bulletin, 1 July 1882, 2.

73.      Ward (op. cit, n. 6), 172, 211; Kohlstedt (op. cit, n. 5), 658 n. 30.

74.      HAW: T. F. Cheeseman to Ward, 29 April 1885.

75. Haast (op. cit, n. 8), 784; HAW: Dawson to Ward, 9 April, 1 May 1885.


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