Government Museum, established in 1851, is located in Egmore, Chennai, South India. The Museum complex consisting of six buildings and 46 galleries covers an area of around 16.25 acres (66,000 m²) of land. The objects displayed in the museum cover a variety of artifacts and objects covering diverse fields including archeology, numismatics, zoology, natural history, sculptures, palm-leaf manuscripts and Amravati paintings.
History of the museum
The proposal for a museum in Madras was mooted by the Madras Literary Society in 1846 AD and Sir Henry Pottinger, the then Governor, obtained the sanction of the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London.
In January 1851 AD, Dr. Edward Balfour, Medical Officer of the Governor's Body guard was appointed as the First Officer in charge of the Government Museum. The notification in the Fort St. George Gazetteer dated 29th Aprtil 1851 AD contained the first announcement regarding the opening of the adras Government Museum. The Government M m otherwise called as the tral Museum was started in the College of Fort St. George, in the premises of the present office of the Director of Public Instruction, on College Road. The college ha een established in 1812 AD and made a signi cant contribution to th development of South Indian Languages. The Museum was started in the first floor of the college with the 1100 geological specimens of the Madras Literary Society. It ste developed and expan
As the building w as in a dilapidated condition, the Museum’s Su erintendent, Dr. Balfour advo ted shifting it to another building.
In December 1854 AD, it was shift a building named the Pantheon, al known as the Public Rooms or Assembly Rooms, wh ere the elite of the city met.
The building was being utilised for banquets, balls and dramatic performances from t ant and public works contract nts in the city at that time. In 1821 AD, the Committee sold the main house and central garden space to E.S. Moorat, a wealthy Armenian merchant, wh turn, sold it back to the Government in 1830 AD, for Rs.28,000. The proper d, and it was flanked by the Pantheon Road and Halls Road.
The Public Library was started in 1853 AD. It was opened to the public pleted in 1875 AD and formally opened by the Governor on March 16, 1876 AD. Captain Mitchell, Superintendent, was responsible for strengthening the library. He is regarded as e originator of the Connemara Public Library.
It was formally opened on December 5, 1896 AD by Sir Arthur Elibank Havelock, the then Governor and named after its progenitor, Lord Connemara, Governor of Madras. Designed by H.Irvin, the then Consulting Architect to the Go nment of Madras, it had a magnificent hall with a splend reading room and beautiful teak
Libraries controlled by different bodies which were in need of space were invited to occupy some portion of the Connemara Library. The M s Literary Society Library was the to function inside the Connemara Library until it was shifted in 1905 AD to its present building on College Road. The Madras U niversity Library occupied the space vacated by the Madra Literary Society Library and functioned there until 1928 AD when it moved to Chepauk. Oriental Manuscripts Library which was also housed in the Connemara Library till 1935 AD, moved into the University Buildings at Chepauk. Books were purchased on behalf of the Victoria Technical Institute from the Dhanakoti Mudaliar Endowm and still housed in the e Arts Section of the Connemara Public Library. Later the library came under the control of the Director of Public Instruction.
In 1854 AD, a young cheetah and tiger were kept in the museum and visitors came to see them from distant places. As visitors to the m um increased, Dr. Balfour re ested the Nawab of the arnatic, to send the wild animals he had to the museum. In September 1855 AD, a notification was issued asking for the animals to be gifted to the Muse Zoological Gardens. By the first half year of 1856 A e Madras Museum had zoological garden with 360 animals. In 1863 AD, the City Municipality took over the Zoological Gardens and shifted it to the People’s Park.
The plans for the Madras Aquarium were drawn up in 1905-1906 AD by Dr. Thurston, the then Superintendent of the Museum in ltation with a Committee. As this was th Aquarium, methods of aer etc. found useful in Europe had to be suitably modified and adopted. The aquarium was opened to the public on October 21, 1909 AD and was very popular.
When the Fisheries Department came to be organised, the management of the aquarium was taken over by it on April 1, 1910 AD. During 1942 AD, owing to the threat of a Japanese attack on Madras, the city was evacuated, the collections in the Aquarium were thrown and it ceased to exist. Attempts to rebuild the aquarium have not fructified.
The period 1941-1946 AD were bad years for the Museum. A great part of the be used as storage rooms and therefore th howcases were removed. The most uable among the collections, such as bronzes, copper plate grants, selected coins, relic caskets of Bhattiprolu, etc. were sent to places of safety. As the Amaravati sculptures were too heavy and difficult to transport, the Government ordered that they should be protected in situ in the Gallery.
In December 1896 AD, the Front Building (Anthropological Galleries) and The Museum Theatre were opened. The new extension was built in 1939 AD in order to display stone sculptures, period-wise. The Government Museum took over the Victoria Technical Institute Building and named it as National Art Gallery and was thrown open to the public on November 27, 1951 AD.
The Museum celebrated its Centenary on November 27, 1951 AD which was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In Order to display the w block was added to the Chemical Conservation Section to cope with the increasing work of preservation. A new building for the Birds Gallery was also opened in 1963 AD.
A separate building for Contemporary Art was opened in January 25, 1984 AD and a new Children’s Museum building was opened in April 1988 AD. The Raja Ravi Varma paintings, which hting gives a dramatic lighting effect. The Co t. They also have a pleasing sual effect. These lighting methods are technology demonstrators and a first for museums in India at the time of their installation in 2001 AD.
Notable collections in the Museum are the world famous South Indian bronzes, Amaravati sculptures, Tanjore (Thanjavur) armoury, inscriptions on stones and copper plates, the Dowleshwaram hoard of gold coins of Raja Raja I and Kulothunga I, the Chengam hoard of copper coins, artifacts from the Megaliths of Adichanallur, the Bruce Foote Collection of prehistoric stone implements, Roman and other artifacts from the famous site of Arikamedu (near Pondicherry), the exquisite crystal reliquaries from the Bhattiprolu Stupa and the enormous skeleton of the whale obtained on shore near Mangalore.