Ipswich Museum opened in 1881 – purpose built for the education of the working classes in the natural sciences. Its founders were at the cutting edge of scientific debate and generations of benefactors donated outstanding collections of natural history, archaeology, geology and ethnography.
George Ransome, a member of the Ransome engineering industry that helped to build Ipswich’s prosperity in the 1800s, conceived the idea of a museum in Ipswich. Over sixty leading scientists lent their support as Honorary Members or Vice Presidents and soon the Museum acquired a national reputation.
Ipswich Museum’s members were at the heart of cutting edge and controversial debate about evolution. In the years before the Origin of the Species was published, displays were set up to illustrate these revolutionary ideas. These early radical thinkers gave public lectures at the Museum on astronomy, geology and natural history.
On this astonishing foundation, generations of curators, many of whom were at the top of their field, added to the collections and continued the tradition of free public lectures. Local collectors and benefactors donated their collections to the Museum, such as the Ogilvie bird collection and the Claude Morley insect collection. Nina Layard and many other archaeologists excavating across Suffolk deposited their finds at Ipswich Museum, creating outstanding prehistoric and Anglo-Saxon collections.
The story of the Museum is bound up with the stories of significant people who created the Museum, such as Ransome; those who contributed to its thinking, such as Professor Henslow, the second President of the Museum and Charles Dawin’s mentor; the curators, such as Dr John Ellor Taylor; the collectors, such as Ogilvie and Morley; and the archaeologists, such as Basil Brown and Nina Layard.
This rich tapestry weaves together national debate, people’s stories and the collections, that makes Ipswich Museum so distinctive. It gives the Museum the ability to bring the collections alive through the eyes of those individuals and reinterpret them through a contemporary lens by Ipswich people. Ipswich Museum has collections of national and international significance because of this amazing history.