This Day in History: 1759-02-15

The British Museum opens to the public for the first time on this day. Largely based around the library and cabinet of curiosities of Irish-born British physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane, it boasted an extensive natural history collection as a result of Sloane’s past acquisition of a number of notable collections from naturalists and collectors. Over time the Museum’s focus shifted away from natural history to the arts, as pressure on space became an issue the natural history collection was transferred to a new dedicated building becoming the British Museum (Natural History), opening in 1881, later becoming the Natural History Museum, the world’s most prestigious museum of natural history.

In terms of the aquatic sciences, along with the ichthyology collection, the museum is notable for Günther’s eight volume Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum, (1859–70).