7. The London Museum


When Napoleon met his waterloo in Waterloo, his chariot was confiscated, shipped to England and donated to the British Prince-Regent, who either had no interest or needed money. He sold it to a certain Mr William Bullock for 3000 guineas. Bullock toured England and Scotland with it. This was an overwhelming success. More than 800,000 paying visitors came to see it, inside and outside. After the tour, Bullock deposited the chariot in his private museum, the London Museum.

            The London Museum, also called the Egyptian Hall at Piccadilly, was a typical example of a nineteenth century museum of curiosities. It had two departments: the Roman Hall of Antiquities and Works of Art, and the London Museum of Natural History. The collections had been gathered over a period of more than thirty years, and contained objects from all over the world. There were many things collected by Captain Cook on his famous South Sea voyages. And there were Roman antiquities, such as two enormous mosaic bath floors from the palaces of Emperor Nero. There were marble tables with legs in the shape of golden dolphins, ivory ornaments from Africa and Asia, art objects from the Aztecs and Mayas from Mexico,  a scale model of an elegant Chinese lady's leg with shoe, a garden chair made of a whale vertebra, and many more. Bullock also had a large collection of paintings, many depicting the heroic achievements of Napoleon, And, of course, the piece de resistance was Napoleon's chariot.

            The natural history department contained valuable shells, geological and archeological objects, and hundreds of stuffed birds and mammals, often grouped in dramatic scenes, like the Bengal Tiger which was being strangled by a six metre Boa Constrictor (the Tiger came from India, the Boa from South America, but never mind). There were also some very rare specimens, such as the now extinct Barbary Lion which used to live north of the Sahara.

            Birds made up the greatest part of the collection. Bullock had all the parrots and parakeets that had been collected by Joseph Banks, during his voyage with Captain Cook (1768-1771). Many species in his collection had not yet been described. Bullock had also travelled and collected many birds, and even had new species named after him, like Bullocks Oriole in North America. His must have been one of the best and most complete collections of his time.

            In 1819 Bullock decided he had enough. In a public auction sale, lasting 26 days, he sold everything. Unique collections were ripped apart and dispersed around the world. The auction sale drew a lot of interest. Buyers came from all over Europe. On the first day, many paintings and curiosities were sold. Also on the first day, Nero's bath floors were bought by an Italian gentleman for 249 and 357 pounds respectively. Where these mosaics ended up is unknown.

            More than half of the sale was devoted to birds. Selling all Joseph Banks' parrots took a whole day. It is not surprising that curators of other European natural history museums were at the sale. For the British Museum there was Leach, for Leiden, Temminck, for Berlin, Lichtenstein.

            The highlight of the auction came on the last day: Napoleon's chariot. The empty carriage was sold to a coach builder, who could convert it to something useful, for 168 pounds. Then followed the Emperor's bed, his famous overcoat, a silken undercoat, hats, caps, pistol holders, uniforms, his medals, and more. Mr Losky and Mr Lincoln both bought a tooth brush for three pounds. The razor went for eight pounds. Then there were soap boxes, mirrors, and of course the golden tongue scraper and ivory box with the sandalwood toothpicks. Thus, Napoleon's belongings were hopelessly dispersed, divided by more than 50 buyers, for a total of less than 1000 pounds.

            Not all buyers were celebreties, representing other museums. For instance, there were Mr. Winn and Mr. Ryall. Winn purchased a lot of articles from the South Sea, brought home by Captain Cook from Hawaii, Tahiti, and New Zealand: war clubs, feather hats, nose flutes, and the feather cloak, presented to Cook by the King of Hawaii. And a fly flap, the handle made out of the bone of a chief taken in battle. Winn also bought some birds, mostly pairs of European species, like Avocets, Stilts, Corncrakes, Red-throated Divers, Gadwalls, Skuas, and a pair of Moorhens.

            Ryall bought various curiosa, such as a razorblade from Napoleon, a cap made of the skin of a Wild Boar, three stuffed boas, and various birds, with no clear plan. He obtained a Red Phalarope, a Purple Gallinule, a pair of Pied Flycatchers, an eagle, a Ringed Plover, a Turnstone, crows, a Red-necked Grebe, and one Moorhen.


What happened to Winn and Ryall, and the birds they bought, is unknown. The three Moorhens they purchased were the ones Dugald Carmichael had collected on Tristan da Cunha two years earlier.

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