Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sir Hans Sloane's greatest contribution

The Great Court at the British Museum. The quotation you can't see here: "and let thy feet, millenniums hence, be set in midst of knowledge" from the poem The Two Voices by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
I promised to relate a bit of interesting trivia passed on by our tour guide Sean. Since it pertains to the British Museum, I saved it for the day we were scheduled to visit the museum. Ryan and I had previously posted about what we enjoyed about the exhibits, so this will look more at how the museum came into being.

Sir Hans Sloane was a physician in the late 1600s and early 1700s. He was a proponent of smallpox vaccination and counted among his patients Queen Anne and Kings George I and II .

He also was a collector of rare objects, accumulating more than 70,000 objects by the time he died at age 92 in 1743. That included 23,000 coins and medals, 50,000 books, prints and manuscripts, and 1,125 'things relating to the customs of ancient times' according to the British Museum. His house was popular among visitors because of all of these curiosities.

In his will, Sloane "sold" his entire collection to the nation for £20,000, to be paid to his heirs. Parliament accepted his offer and that collection became the British Museum.

However, that might not have been Sloane's greatest contribution. He also introduced Britain to milk chocolate. While working as a physician in Jamaica, Sloane tasted a local "chocolately" drink that he found a little too strong for his tastes. He sweetened it by adding milk and brought the recipe back with him, selling it as medicine. Later that recipe was used by the Cadbury brothers for their chocolate milk mix.

Statue of Queen Anne in front of St. Paul's Cathedral. It is apparently a very flattering rendition. She was extremely short (about 4-foot-8) and extremely rotund, and she had many health problems. One of her favorite medicines was a sweetened chocolate drink recommended by her physician, Hans Sloane.

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