Museum opens special exhibition - into Norfolk’s first museum

He was a sharp businessman and avid collector whose accumulation of oddments brought the world to Great Yarmouth and created Norfolk's first museum.

Gentleman jeweller Daniel Boulter recognised society's growing obsession with curios and all things exotic and gathered a somewhat morbid hoard at his Market Place residence, opening to the public in 1778.

Assembling a catalogue of hundreds of thousands of objects for profit rather than education he charged a shilling to enter and ten shillings for the full directory – a copy of which still exists today.

What experts believe to be Norfolk's first museum – The Boulterianum – is now the subject of a new, permanent exhibition at Great Yarmouth's Time and Tide Museum.

The display is partly an excuse to dust off some rarely seen items, particularly those in the natural history collection – and a favourite giant fish called a tarpon – said curator Johanna O'Donoghue who has a special interest in curiosities.

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Although all that remains from the original museum is an entry ticket showing a finely-dressed couple wandering among a freakish collection of stuffed armadillos and Greek statues, all the exhibits date from the period and match items listed in the catalogue.

In keeping with the drive for all things bizarre, two crocodiles hang from the ceiling and an albatross, familiar to young visitors at the old maritime museum, has been brought out of storage.

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Miss O'Donoghue said: 'It is a tribute to possibly Norfolk's oldest museum. It was probably the only one of its type at the time. The appetite for the bizarre and exotic started with the grand tour and it is likely that Daniel did some sort of tour. He went to great lengths to get exotic items from travellers abroad returning to Britain and is said to have acquired some from South Sea voyages lead by James Cook.

'It was for all things weird and wonderful and Yarmouth collections have a lot of that with the town being a port.'

In Boulter's time all the exhibits were for sale themselves. Now they are pressed behind mahogany cabinets which chime with the period and are valued for their cultural worth above anything else.

Items on display include colourful birds of paradise suspended in grim animation, one of them dangling from its perch awaiting rescue in its sealed cabinet.

Also creating a window on an exotic world is the scarlet ibis, and a huge loggerhead turtle – reputedly 200 years old when it was preserved 200 years ago. They mingle with disparate and unrelated items including Canadian tribal masks, Tibetan Buddhas and Egyptian burial figures amid a pelican skeleton and roll of shark skin.

Items listed in the original catalogue but not on display include the hand of a female criminal and a two-headed kitten.

James Steward, Eastern area manager for Great Yarmouth Museums, said: 'This display successfully brings together the strange, beautiful and exotic elements of our local collection that we hope will inspire visitors of all ages.

'We've aimed to put a little bit of mystery back into the museum, something that wells deep at Time and Tide.'

Boulter died in 1802 aged 62 and the collection was dispersed two years later – possibly to the old sailors home on Great Yarmouth seafront, later the town's maritime museum where a banana and a pineapple were considered off-beat and peculiar.

The oldest purpose-built museum in the county was the Glandford Shell Museum, near Holt, dating from 1915, but there is nothing in the records older than the Boulterian Museum – the closest being in Spalding, Lincolnshire which is slightly older. The castle in Norwich was opened as a museum in 1894.

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