Eric Rudsdale wrote a series of articles for the Essex Review (Vol LVI Nos 221-224, 1947) commemorating the centenary of the Colchester Museum (1846-1946).
“It was in May 1846, that the Colchester Town Council … agreed to Councillor John Taylor’s suggestion that provision be made in the new building [Town Hall] ‘or some other place, for the deposit of articles of antiquity or curiosity intended for a Museum to be erected in this Town’. Taylor was an antiquarian and it was really his persistence which opened an accessions book, beginning with the first entry on 2 September that year, “The gift of ‘An Antique Cabinet containing 497 coins (chiefly Roman), collected by Issac Lemyng Rebow, Esq., (grandson of Sir Isaac Rebow), who died in 1734.’”
The Colchester citizen who was destined to do a considerable amount towards the creation of a Museum was William Wire, who descended from an ancient Colchester family. He was “a born archaeologist”. He had separately acquired in the 1840s what was the nucleus of a Museum and recorded in his diary on 28 October 1846: “’Carried to the Town Hall, where a room is set apart for the reception of articles … a pair of hippopotamus tusks and a spermaceti-whale tooth.’”
By 1852 it was recognised that a new building was required to house the artefacts. “It was obvious that the Corporation would not go to the expense of erecting a new building, so discussions of ways and means were held with the newly formed Essex Archaeological Society, and at their inaugural meeting, under the presidency of the famous Dr Disney, on 14 December 1852, a resolution was passed as follows:
“’That this meeting considers that the Society will be much assisted in its operations by the establishment of a Museum in the Town of Colchester, for the preservation of the objects of antiquity it may acquire by its own exertions and the donations of its supporters; and suggests that Subscription Lists be opened for that purpose, at such places as the Council shall direct.’”
Charles Gray Round, who was the Treasurer of the Essex Archaeological Society, was the owner of Colchester Castle. He offered the Crypt of the Chapel within the shell of the building for the purpose of a Museum. In 1859 it was decided that a Museum Committee be formed of three members of the Corporation and three members of the Society.
The Essex Standard reported in 1860 the opening of the Museum, “the first exhibition contained the Vint Bronzes, the Taylor collection of Roman grave groups and the collections of the Essex Archaeological Society. Shortly after the opening, the celebrated Colchester Sphinx, found at the hospital in 1821, was acquired from the Committee of that institution.”
Notable acquisitions in the early years of the Museum were an archaeological library given by Revd Henry Jenkins (“since transferred to the Public Library”); a large collection of seashells, given by Mr Ambrose, of Mistley; the Holman and Morant manuscripts, given by Mr Robert Hills of Colne Park, a descendent of Philip Morant the Essex historian. In June 1870 a catalogue was printed and in 1871 and 1872 it was reported that there had been 28,000 visitors to the Museum. In 1876 Colchester hosted the Annual Congress of the Royal Archaeological Institute, which was not without incident: “Mr Piggott, a member of the Essex Archaeological Society, challenged Freeman to a duel, for ‘insulting the memory of Lisle and Lucas,’ who in Freeman’s opinion deserved their fate.” In 1885 Alderman Henry Laver joined the Committee, to serve until his death in 1917.
To be continued