BRLSI Collections

Museum & collections

The BRLSI Collections contain more than 150,000 artefacts, specimens, books, and documents from around the world (and across 4.2 billion years).

A small selection can be seen in our Online Museum or discover someting new from the collections every week by following us on Instragram. We also mount an annual thematic exhibition in the BRLSI's Jenyns Room, a few of which have been converted to Online Exhibitions.

For news about the BRLSI collections click on one of the most recent stories below or see our Curator's News archive.

Curator's News

23 April 2020
It may not be the real thing... but it's the next best thing - a plaster cast of an original dodo head kept at the Oxford Museum of Natural History (OMNH). The original is a very rare specimen, so famous that the OMNH named its instagram account @...
20 April 2020
Earlier this month, were it not for the adverse circumstances, the BRLSI Collections team had planned to open their annual thematic exhibition. For 2020 we had developed at reprise of Jurassic Ark, first shown in 2014. Jurassic Ark was a display and...
13 April 2020
Drawn by our Collections Manager when he was still a student studying Palaeobiology, Professor Ichthyosaurus is a character adapted* from an 1830 drawing by the great geologist Sir Henry Thomas De la Beche. (* aka pinched, stolen, plagiarised) As well as...

JESBI Project

The Jurassic Ecosystem of Strawberry Bank Ilminster (JESBI) project is a three year collaboration between Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution and the Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research Group (University of Bristol).

Beneath the houses of the Somerset town of Ilminster lies a beautifully preserved Jurassic ecosystem.

A basement in central Bath is home to hundreds of fossils, excavated from this hidden treasure trove over 150 years ago. Visit the project pages to find out more.



Online Museum


 Catalogues of the Fossils, Minerals and Library collection are available.

Online catalogues of other collections are in preparation. Explore the galleries of fossils, minerals and weapons. A more comprehensive gallery of artefacts is in preparation.





Mineral Collection


The Mineral collection contains over 2,300 items. A selection can be viewed in our Online Museum. You can also search the catalogue for details of individual specimens.




The Fossil collection contains over 5,700 items. A selection can be viewed in our Online Museum. You can also search the catalogue for details of individual specimens.




Weaponary collection

Artefacts include a wide range of hunting and military weapons from around the world. A selection can be viewed in our Online Museum.






The Library contains over 10,000 volumes on a wide range of subjects.
You can search the catalogue by keyword to see details of individual volumes.



Museum Collections

Natural History


The Jenyns herbarium of British plants, ca. 3000 specimens, is in 42 folio volumes in quarter-bound leather, as also is a volume entitled 'Plantae Bathonienses', which probably constituted the herbarium of Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club.

The Broome herbarium contains ca. 6600 British and European specimens, including European exsiccatae of cryptogamic plants useful for reference purposes and probably includes a number of 'syntype', or 'paratype' specimens, especially those in Rabenhorst's Bryotheca Europaea.


Based purely on the number of specimens, Dr. T.C.G. Rich of the Botany section at the National Museum of Wales would classify the collection as 'Regionally Important'.

Specimens were collected relatively early in the history of botanical study and many specimens were collected or identified by distinguished men of the time, e.g. J.S. Henslow and C.C. Babington, Professors of Botany at Cambridge; W.H. Harvey, Professor of Botany at Dublin; J.H. Balfour, Professor of Botany at Edinburgh, and H.C. Watson.

The library also contains many of the books referred to by these collectors. This makes the herbaria very useful for historical research and the exsiccatae add to their usefulness for taxonomic research.. Other herbaria include: H.H. Rich, ca. 1320 Mediterranean and Alpine plants; Miss Magdalena Turner, ca. 1500 British and Channel Isles algae; W.C. Young, ca. 800 Wiltshire plants. Specimens are well mounted and most in very good condition. There are also a large number of unmounted and unidentified exotic ferns.

The geographical coverage is as follows: Vascular plants, ca. 10000 (Britain, Europe, Azores, some N.American; ferns also from India and China); Non-vascular, ca. 4000 (British and European mosses, liverworts, stoneworts, algae, lichens and diatoms, some exotic algae, lichens and clubmosses).


Shell Collection

There are over 3,700 specimens in our collection of land, freshwater and marine shells. The latter include many exotic specimens, some quite rare.


They have been worked on and labelled by Charles Copp and cleaned and supplied with better storage. The Jenyns collection of British shells is still housed in his cabinet and has been cleaned and catalogued by Rear Admiral Tracy. Jenyns described several new species, and his collection includes some specimens that are scientifically important.


Other Invertebrates

The collection has come from a number of sources and has yet to be fully assessed. Some material has deteriorated through past insect damage but much of the collection remains in good condition. The beetles are well represented, and Roger Vaughan (1993) considered that they would make a reasonable reference collection. He assessed the total number at 12000, including 8529 Coleoptera, 3060 Lepidoptera, with the remainder being mostly Hymenoptera. Other material includes several shelves of corals and a small collection of British Bryozoa.




Only a small remnant of a once extensive collection remains. There are 33 cases of mounted birds and mammals, and 19 unmounted birds. Specimens include about 140 birds, including 2 specimens of the extinct Passenger Pigeon, and 12 mammals. There are a number of bird and animal skulls and a quantity of horn and ivory. A collection of some 700 birds' eggs has been cleaned and supplied with better storage, but many remain unidentified. There are also 3 swiftlet nests (of bird's nest soup fame).




British Archaeology
A large collection of British material, mostly Roman period from the vicinity of Bath, but ranging from Neolithic to Mediaeval in age. Most of this has been described in the proceedings of Bath Field Club and of the Bath District of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. The majority is currently on loan to the Roman Baths Museum, Bath. A small amount is held at the Institution.


Transfer to these museums in the 1960s and 1970s was not very well documented but much work has been undertaken to clarify the situation and in 2008 a new loan agreement was made with the Roman Baths Museum.


Foreign Archaeology
Antiquities from other continents include artefacts from the excavation of a Swiss lake village, encaustic tiles from Iran, a collec6tion of Egyptology on loan to Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and pottery from Central America donated by Adela Breton.


Social History
An important collection, representing the art and culture of many lands. Many items were collected well before the era of tourism and others reflect early 'tourist art'. Many coins and tokens are on loan to the Roman Baths Museum, Bath. Those ethnological items held at the Institution number: 359 African, 303 American (North and South), 269 Asian, 128 Oriental, 204 Oceania and Australasia, 84 weapons additional to those counted amongst the regions listed above (mostly European, including 49 Firearms) and 22 Models (buildings, boats, carts, etc.).

There are 3761 items of European origin including a good collection of coins, tokens, medallions, seals and intaglios. Over 440 coins and tokens, 70 medallions, and 408 casts (in wax, sulphur, plaster or electrotypes) are held at the Institution. These include some rare and important ecclesiastical seals. There are 912 wax or plaster intaglios and a boxed set of wax casts of mounted cameos and intaglios totalling 2080 pieces that may date from the end of the 18th century. In addition there are 130 Miscellaneous (place of origin unknown), 207 with no data (many coins, medals, tokens, seals etc. are identifiable) though meticulous work involving correlation of the old catalogues and more general research is gradually reducing this number.


Fine Art


The Casali Paintings, four ceiling paintings by Andrea Casali, originally at Alderman Beckford's 'Fonthill Splendens', were purchased by Hastings Elwin for the Institution in 1823.


The Casali paintings were conserved in 2002 and can be seen on the ceiling of the Institution's grand Elwin Room. Over 80 paintings, drawings, prints, etc. are on loan to the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath. A small number of prints, busts and statues are housed at the Institution. The busts include famous Bath residents: Hastings Elwin (carved by prominent georgian sculptor Francis Legatt Chantrey), Caleb Hillier Parry, Isaac Pitman, Jerom Murch, and Roderick Impey Murchison.









Moore Collection

Charles Moore (1814-1881) was a prominent geologist and collector who deposited his collection at the BRLSI from the 1854 onwards. Moore’s collection was purchased from his widow by the Institution in 1882 for £1,200 (as valued by the British Museum), it includes 32 complete and partial Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs mounted in wooden frames, on loan to the National Museum of Wales, where they were transferred for research and conservation purposes during the 1960’s.

Over 5000 macro-fossils are housed in the Institution, approximately two-thirds of which were collected by Moore. Of international importance are an exquisitely preserved collection fish, crocodilomorphs, ichthyosaurs and cephalopods from the Upper Lias of Ilminster, Somerset.

General Collection

Includes the fossil and rock collection assembled by William Lonsdale (1794-1871), the Institution's first curator and later a highly respected secretary to the Geological Society of London. Among these are specimens originally arranged in a cabinet by William Smith. A plaster cast of a fully articulated specimen of a Plesiosaur, Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni, is mounted on the wall of the Lonsdale room of the Institution. Other items include cave deposits from Banwell Cave and Wookey Hole on the Mendips, and from Kent's Cavern near Torquay.

Mineral Collection

Includes reference specimens of all the commoner minerals and many rarer ones. They were collected at worldwide locations but the collection is particularly strong in material from south west England. Most of these collecting sites, as with many of Charles Moore’s fossil sites, are no longer accessible.

Over 2300 specimens have been checked or redetermined by Mrs. S. Cowdry of the Russell Society, who has also compiled a computer catalogue of the collection. Contributors include William Lonsdale, P.E. Martineau and many others in the 19th century and a Somerset mineral and ore-bearing rock sequence from Merehead Quarry donated by Christopher Alabaster in the early 1980s.