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A museum stuffed with specimens

8 March 2010 by Lisa

It’s time to peer back into the mists of time again in our series of blogs celebrating World Museum’s 150th anniversary. Today is one of the most significant dates in the museum’s history, as we revisit the day the museum first opened. Our archives tell us about the challenges that had to be overcome in order to fit the massive natural history collection into the museum…


The corner of a brown brick building

Slater Street, the location where the museum first openend.

On 8 March 1853, the museum first opened in a building on Slater Street in Liverpool, and it was called the ‘Derby Museum of the Borough of Liverpool’.  The Mayor and council marched in a procession from the Town Hall, arriving at the museum just after 2pm.  The Mayor spoke from a temporary dais about the collection of natural history in the museum which had been bequeathed to the town of Liverpool by the Earl of Derby. He said;

“The museum, as is well known, consists of stuffed birds and a large number of birds prepared for stuffing, collected by that eminent patron of natural history, the late Earl of Derby.”

“…we may consider this collection the nucleus of one which I fervently hope may exceed in extent, magnificence and in beauty, that of the British Museum itself…”

Then a Mr J.A. Picton came forward to add;

“In regard to the museum, which has just been opened, the problem which was given us to solve was as follows;  [We were] given 18,000 specimens of natural history and to determine how to lace them in a space only calculated to hold 6,000 specimens…I think it would surpass the accomplishment of any conjurer…”

The Bishop of Chester said that he little expected to be called upon to do more than be a spectator.


I wonder if in 1853 anyone apart from the keepers of the collection were allowed to touch the specimens? I doubt that the general public would have got any closer than looking at them in the display cases.

If you visit the museum today however, you can get up close and handle some of the specimens. Head over to the Clore Natural History Centre and see what you can get your hands on!

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