The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane

Hans Sloane

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The story of the great physician, natural historian and man of letters

Physician, natural historian and man of letters, Hans Sloane (1660-1753) is one of the seminal figures of 18th-century England, whose collections form the core of the British Museum, Natural History Museum and the British Library. 

At this event, historian James Delbourgo, author of the new biography of Sloane, explores this remarkable figure, and curators from the British Museum and the British Library shed light on the treasures they steward.

Hans Sloane made his fortune as a society doctor and as physician to the royal family, married well, and built up substantial property investments in Chelsea, many of whose streets still carry his name. Taking advantage of England’s expanding imperial and trading influence, Sloane amassed a fortune, established his reputation as a leading naturalist began to gather together one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 'natural and artificial rarities' ever formed.

On his death, Sloane bequeathed his collections to the nation, to be made available to the public for free. The collection was bought by an act of Parliament in 1753 for £20,000 to become the core collection of the British Museum, founding the world’s first free national public museum.

Sloane was Physician to Queen Anne, George I and II, President of both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society (succeeding Sir Isaac Newton) and a founding governor of the Foundling Hospital, the nation’s first institution to care for abandoned children. His manor in Chelsea included the Apothecaries’ Garden (now the Chelsea Physic Garden).

James Delbourgo is the author of the first modern biography of Hans Sloane, Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane (Allen Lane, 2017). He is a British historian educated at East Anglia, Cambridge and Columbia Universities, who specialises in the Enlightenment. In 2008, he became Associate Professor in the History of Science and the Atlantic World, Rutgers University.

James will be joined by Kim Sloan, the British Museum’s Curator of British Drawings and Watercolours before 1880 and the Francis Finlay, Curator of the Enlightenment Gallery and Sandra Tuppen, Lead Curator Mod Archive & MSS 1601-1850 at the British Library.

The event will be followed by a book stall.

Enjoy food and drink purchased from the Knowledge Centre Bar from 18.00 and after the event until the Bar closes at 22.00.


Name: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546