This lecture by Professor James Delbourgo explores the astonishing story of Sir Hans Sloane, a young Irish doctor who became one of the greatest physicians, collectors and figures of the 18th century.
6pm Arrival and refreshments
6.30pm Lecture starts
7.30pm Lecture finishes
During his life, Sloane succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society and was President of the Royal College of Physicians, he made a fortune as a society doctor and personal physician to Georges 1 and II, and was a founding governor of the Foundling Hospital, the nation’s first institution to care for abandoned children.
Following a period in the slave colonies as physician to the plantation owners and later to the British Navy, he established the core of his collection of cultural, medical and scientific artefacts which were later published in two volumes as the Voyage to Jamaica, and which both cemented his reputation as a collector and fomented a contemporary discourse about taxonomy and the methodological merits of observing and archiving knowledge which remains relevant today.
It brings to life his extraordinary life, vision, wealth and status in Georgian society as he rose to become one of the most celebrated 18th century collectors and successful physicians in Europe. His collections spanned natural history, books and manuscripts and ancient and contemporary treasures, forming the founding collections of the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and, your neighbour, the British Museum. The British Museum was founded in order to house this collection, the government having bought it for the nation for £20k with a promise to make it available for free in perpetuity, the world’s first free national museum.
Delbourgo reimagines this vital period in our history, on the cusp between the pre and post enlightenment mind, offering a rich exploration of the life of a largely forgotten 18th century giant.
Professor James Delbourgo
James Delbourgo is a British historian educated at East Anglia, Cambridge and Columbia Universities, who specialises in the Enlightenment. In 2008, he became Associate Professor in the History of Science and the Atlantic World at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
His new book, Collecting the World, explores global natural history collecting and the career of Hans Sloane, which culminated in the foundation of the British Museum in 1753, the first public encyclopedic museum in the world. The book examines Sloane's career from his background in Ulster and voyage to the slave society of Jamaica to his creation of a network of collectors who gathered curiosities throughout the world, making possible the establishment of the British Museum. It draws on the histories of science, medicine and collecting, as well as Caribbean, imperial and global histories, and is based on extensive research in Sloane's surviving specimens, objects, manuscripts and catalogues in London's Natural History Museum, the British Museum and the British Library. The book is the first study of Sloane in over 60 years, published by Penguin in the UK and Harvard’s Belknap Press in the US and Canada.