Sir Hans Sloane died on this day, 11 January 1753. Sloane, as I’ve noted before, is notoriously tricky to find since his letters are scattered and he wrote relatively little. His will is, oddly enough, one of the few documents that provides hints of the man behind the collection. Here, I’ll focus on the 1739 version of his will.
Sloane’s wishes were simple in the first instance: to be buried in Chelsea, to have his intimates invited to the funeral, and that his friends be given rings worth twenty shillings. His landed estates were divided into thirds for his eldest daughter Mrs Stanley, youngest daughter Lady Cadogan, and his niece Fowler (who was in the Elsmere family). He also left any of his “live rare animals” to the care of the Duke of Richmond.
Considering the size of his collections and properties, he left relatively modest bequests. Perhaps he was cash-strapped. Indeed, he made alternative provisions for his heirs in case the sale of the collections didn’t raise sufficient funds! He left fifty pounds each to his nephew William Sloane, sister Alice Elsmere and to her son Sloane Elsmere, but £200 to each of her two daughters. His grandson Hans Stanley and a John Roberts of Lincoln’s Inn received £100. Notably, the most vulnerable family members–unmarried nieces and young men–received the largest gifts.
His bequests to servants were comparatively generous. Two of his named servants, Henry Darlington and Martha Katling, were to receive an annuity of ten pounds for the rest of their lives, while all of his servants would receive one full year’s wages in addition to wages owed and five pounds to buy mourning clothes.
What he saw as his greatest legacy, however, were the intangibles. When it came to his daughters, relations, and friends, he “earnestly recommend[ed] to them the practice of moral and religious duties, as being of greater use to them than any thing I can leave them”. This would help them “through the difficulties of [life], with more inward quiet, satisfaction and better health than otherways, and with the esteem and respect of their friends and acquaintance”.
Sloane also valued his collection not for its worth or objects, but for the reasons why he had collected. He wrote at length about how and why he had built his collections.
From my youth I have been a great observer and admirer of the wonderful power, wisdom and contrivance of the Almighty God, appearing in the works of his Creation; and have gathered together many things in my own travels or voyages, or had them from others.
One of these “others” was William Courten, his “ever honoured, late friend”, who had left him an entire collection. To this collection, Sloane had added printed and manuscript books, “natural and artificial curiosities, precious stones, books of dryed samples of plants, miniatures, drawings, prints, medals”. Sloane’s collection was now valued at over £50000.
Sloane hoped that his executors (son-in-law Charles Lord Cadogan, nephew William Sloane and Chelsea rector Sloane Elsmere) would keep the collection together as something that would not just outlast him, but because it had wider uses: “the manifestation of the glory of God, the confutation of atheism and its consequences, the use and improvement of physic, and other arts and sciences, and benefit of mankind”. For Sloane, it seems that he real importance of his collections was knowledge of the natural world and a deeper understanding of God.
More specifically, though, his will and desire was that the government of Great Britain would understand the collection’s true value and purchase it at the bargain price of £20000. To this end, Sloane requested that his friends who had access to the King, George II–the Duke of Richmond, Lord Cadogan, Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Paul Methuen and Mr. Edgcombe–would intercede on his behalf. If Britain refused, the collection should be offered to (in this order) the Royal Society, Oxford University, Edinburgh College of Physicians, Paris Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Berlin Academy of Sciences or Madrid Academy of Sciences.
Later codicils to the will are intriguing, hinting at Sloane’s changing self-perception and public interest in his collections over time. Servants received more money. He rethought the list of potential buyers for the collection. And, above all, he emphasised the ways in which his collections would benefit the British nation. But that is subject enough for another post!