Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Ulsterman who designed the National Museum of Scotland

Captain Francis Fowke (1823-1865)
The National Museum of Scotland dates back to 1866 and this year it is celebrating its 150th anniversary.  

The National Museum was formed in 2006 with the merger of the new Museum of Scotland with the adjacent and much older Royal Museum.  The two connected buildings stand beside each other on Chambers central Edinburgh.

There is an Ulster connection with the museum and in particular with the original building of 1866 because it was designed by an Ulster-born officer in the Royal Engineers, Captain Francis Fowke (1823-1865).

He was born on 7 July 1823 in the townland of Ballysillan, which was then in the countryside, north of Belfast, and he was the son of an English army officer named John Fowke and a young Ulster-Scots woman named Jane Ferguson.  She was the daughter of John Stevenson Ferguson, a Belfast linen merchant.
National Museum of Scotland - Royal Museum

Francis Fowke was educated at the Royal School, Dungannon, and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and then joined the Royal Engineers.

The Royal Scottish Museum was originally established in 1854 as the Industrial Museum of Scotland  and Captain Francis Fowke worked on the plans for the building from 1859 to 1860.  Construction work started in 1861 and the foundation stone was laid by Prince Albert, who had been a driving force in the movement to open museums and galleries.

Royal Museum - Main Hall
The east wing and part of the main hall were opened to the public in 1866 as the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art and thereafter work proceeded in phases.  In 1904 the institution became known as the Royal Scottish Museum and it was Scotland's first national public building.

Captain Francis Fowke also designed public buildings in London and Dublin including the Royal Albert Hall, parts of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery in Dublin.

He was primarily an engineer and architect but he was also an inventor and his inventions including an early folding camera.

Captain Francis Fowke died suddenly in London on 4 December 1865 and he was buried in Brompton Cemetery.

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