Sloane's Treasures

Project team


British Library     Natural History Museum

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

An Arts and Humanities Research Council 'Science in Culture Exploratory Award

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From the time of his voyage to Jamaica in the 1680s, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), physician, natural historian and man of letters, began to gather together one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 'natural and artificial rarities' ever formed.

Sloane was later Physician to Queen Anne, George I and II, President of both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society, and his manor in Chelsea included the Apothecaries’ Garden (now the Chelsea Physic Garden). At the centre of a worldwide network, he created an encyclopaedic collection of mineral, botanical, and zoological specimens, ethnographic objects, antiquities, prints, drawings, books and manuscripts, often inheriting or purchasing entire collections formed by others.

On his death in 1753 Sloane’s collection was acquired for the nation by an Act of Parliament which created the British Museum. But as the Museum re-organized its collections and acquired further objects, Sloane’s collection was dispersed among different departments and eventually also to the Natural History Museum in 1881 and to the British Library in 1973. This dispersal has hindered the study and understanding of ‘Sloane’s Treasures’, their sources, and their historical relationships with each other. This project will begin to address these problems.

Terracotta bust of Sir Hans Sloane

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) by Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), terracotta bust, about 1737. (P&E 1756,0619.1)


Announcement of New Leverhulme Trust Funded Research Project: Enlightenment Architectures: Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogues of his collections.

See details here 

About the Project

Sloane’s Treasures aims to develop future cross-disciplinary research projects on Sloane’s collection.

These projects will bring together academics, librarians, curators, and other experts from the arts, humanities and sciences, in a dialogue on crucial science and culture questions relating to the collections.

More about the Sloane's Treasures project 

Research questions

  • What are the methodological challenges associated with researching museum collections from the perspective of a dialogue between culture and science?
  • Art and/or Science: what was the nature of image making and what role did it play in understanding and classifying nature for Sloane and his contemporaries? How do we value, organize and understand these images today?
  • Can the scientific study of Sloane’s collections reveal changes in ecology and the environment?
  • How can objects best be studied in order to reveal information about wider social, cultural and scientific issues such as slavery, 17th and 18th century commerce and markets at home and abroad, medical practices, and first encounters?
  • Is it possible to establish how Sloane’s collection was organized, displayed and employed for natural history research in his home and how it changed when a private collection became a public one?

Project outputs

Between February and September 2012, an Advisory group was formed, and workshops were held at the Natural History Museum in April, British Museum in May and British Library in July.

Reports were created, including recommendations for a larger project.

 Sloane’s Treasures: summary report 

If you would like to read the full report, please contact a member of the project team.

If you are working on a Hans Sloane-related project or have an associated research or public engagement idea, contact a member of the project team.

More about project developments and progress 

Further reading and resources

Arthur MacGregor (ed), Sir Hans Sloane: Collector, scientist, antiquary (London, 1994)

E St John Brooks, Sir Hans Sloane: The Great Collector and his Circle (London, 1954)

Gavin R de Beer, Sir Hans Sloane and the British Museum (London, 1953)

James Delbourgo, ‘Slavery in the Cabinet of Curiosities; Hans Sloane’s Atlantic World’ (2007: downloadable essay as pdf) 

From Books to Bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and his Collections, Michael Hunter, Alison Walker, and Arthur MacGregor (eds), (British Library, 2012)

British Library: The Sloane Printed Books project 

University of Saskatoon: Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Online 

Natural History Museum: The
Sloane Herbarium