Dorset County Museum awarded National Portfolio Organisation Status by the Arts Council

Dorset County Museum have been awarded National Portfolio Organisation status by Arts Council England. In doing so are set to share in a £1.2 million investment into the Museum of Dorset and Wiltshire.

Wessex Museums Partnership

The Wessex Museum Partnership, a consortium of four museums, led by the Poole Museum Service together with Dorset County Museum, Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum have been entrusted by the Arts Council to deliver their 2018-22 strategic plan entitled ‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’.

The Arts Council has recognised 831 National Portfolio Organisations that meet and exceed its stringent standards of best practice, with 103 based in the South West region.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: “We are delighted to be able to renew our funding to organisations in Dorset and are proud to be welcoming three new and diverse organisations who will significantly widen the reach across Dorset and beyond”.

Dorset County Museum Director, Jon Murden, exclaimed: “We are delighted by this vote of confidence in the Wessex Museums Partnership and the Dorset County Museum. We will be enhancing our outreach and community offer across the county, developing our special exhibition programme and improving the conservation and care of our collections with this investment.

“The Museum’s ambitious redevelopment plan is to create ‘Tomorrows Museum – Making Dorset Proud’ and today’s announcement is a recognition that this statement. Everyone involved with the Museum should be congratulated as they are part of this success”. Jon added.

This award comes soon after the National History Museum confirmed that Dorset County Museum will be the first stop on Dippy’s National Tour, an event that is already looking to be a sell-out success.

Dippy arrives at the Museum in Dorchester on 10 February 2018. Tickets will be limited and launched in August but you can register your interest by visiting

Teapot from the Roof of the World by Duncan Walker

Tibetan Teapot © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum 2017

Tibetan Teapot © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum 2017

On Friday 28 April, starting at 7.30pm, come and join us for an interesting talk by the curator of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum on this amazing artefact.  This talk will cover the history of this amazing teapot and how it came to Bournemouth.  There will also be a brief exploration of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum – including some collection highlights that are on display.

Duncan has been at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum since 2007 and worked with an internationally significant collection which ranges from fine art to ethnographic material from across the globe. His current role involves everything from collections management and research to income generation and exhibitions. Duncan has been ‘in’ museums since 1993 and his previous museums include Portsmouth, Wakefield, Corinium, Nottingham, Devizes, Chippenham and Malmesbury.

Over the course of a year, five leading museums of the Wessex Museums Partnership Dorset County Museum, Poole Museum, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum will be sharing the story of Wessex in the wider world by showcasing an artefact from their own outstanding collections to the other partner museums.

Wessex has a rich history connecting the region to countries around the world. Our links to Europe and Asia date back to prehistory. An eventful maritime history connects our ports to North America and beyond. Local collectors brought back to Wessex exotic treasures from their journeys of discovery around the world. The story of Wessex is a truly global one.

Until 4 June 2017, the Tibetan Tea Pot will be on display at Dorset County Museum.  Come and listen to Duncan Walker’s talk and find out more about this beautiful and unusual artefact.

The forthcoming lecture will take place on Friday 28 April 2017 in the Dorset County Museum’s Victorian Hall and is FREE to the public; however a donation of £3 encouraged to cover costs. Doors open at 7.00pm and talks start at 7.30pm.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

About the Wessex Spotlight Loan: Tibetan Teapot

This Tibetan teapot was given to our co-Founder Sir Merton Russell-Cotes (1835-1921) by the explorer Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Younghusband (1863-1942). In 1903-4 Younghusband led a controversial military expedition into Tibet. He became interested in Spiritualism, wrote extensively and became involved in the attempts to climb Mount Everest. World travellers themselves, Sir Merton and his wife Annie (1835-1920), collected items related to famous or infamous people, using them to attract visitors to their luxurious hotel, the Royal Bath and what is now the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.

A Smuggling Affray

Poole Museum Society Blog


In the 18th century, smuggling was big business. Fleets of fast cutters and larger ships up to 200 tons were purpose-built for running illicit cargoes. Entrepôts in France and the Channel Islands had warehouses stuffed with goods to sell to the smugglers. Violent conflict, even murder, was frequent. The revenue men had the support of the navy and could sometimes call upon army detachments on land. The smugglers could summon gangs of 30 or 40 men, armed with sticks, loaded whips and sometimes firearms from the largely sympathetic population. Even when seizures were made, the smugglers were often able to wrest back their cargoes by attacking revenue officers or breaking into the custom warehouses. One such violent confrontation in 1787 was to cost at least two men their lives and another, his career.

A smuggling cutter
A smuggling cutter

 On the evening of 5th November, the smuggling cutter Phoenix with a…

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The Swash Channel Wreck by Dave Parham

Carving raised from the Swash Channel Wreck

Carving raised from the Swash Channel Wreck Photo: Michael Spender Poole Museum ©2013

Lying just off the Dorset Coast is a famous 17th century shipwreck known as the Swash Channel wreck.  A Bournemouth University marine archaeology team has been studying the wreck since 2006 but are now so concerned at the rate of deterioration that they have decided to raise and preserve part of the hull.

The 40 metre long 400 year old vessel lies in approximately 7 metres of water next to the Swash Channel in the approaches to Poole Harbour. The wreck includes ornately carved timbers, the earliest still in existence in Britain, but as the sands shift and expose the timbers to the air, they are literally being eaten away by bacteria and tunnelling shipworms. Dave Parham, a Senior Lecturer in Marine Archaeology at Bournemouth University, is leading a team to save as much of the wreck as possible.

The plan is to remove some of the timbers and preserve them, whilst reburying the rest.  It is not possible to cover up the entire wreck as it would create a shipping hazard in a busy channel.  Once preserved, the remains will go on display in Poole Museum.

Dave Parham’s talk will discuss the history of the Swash Channel Wreck project and bring the audience up to date with news on the most recent excavations and research.

This archaeological lecture is on Friday 6th December 2013. The talk is FREE of charge but a donation of £3 is encouraged to cover costs.  Doors open at 7.00pm and the talk will commence at 7.30pm.

For further information please see or telephone 01305 262735.

Related Links:

A Century Ago

Poole High Street Project

It was November 1913, a year before the outbreak of a devastating war. The East Dorset Herald was reporting the ‘Death of Dr. Russel Wallace – The Grand Old Man of Science’ at his residence, Old Orchard, Broadstone. From an unpromising childhood with poor schooling and no scientific training to speak of, he rose to become ‘a stimulating and original thinker, a finely trained observer, a naturalist of world-wide reputation, a vigorous conversationalist, a notable explorer and great traveller’. ‘His supreme achievement was his discovery of the process of Natural Selection simultaneously with Darwin’. During his adventurous career he travelled in the Amazon (being shipwrecked on the return voyage) and later journeyed around the Malay Archipelago, observing and collecting specimens of the flora and fauna. It was here, while suffering from a bout of fever, that he conceived the theory of natural selection. Back in England, he wrote a…

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Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County

Thomas Beach (1738-1806),  Rebecca Steward (1766-1859), 1783, © DCM

Thomas Beach (1738-1806),
Rebecca Steward (1766-1859), 1783, © DCM

Dorset County Museum is proud to announce an important exhibition, Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County, which opened on 15th January 2011.  It includes over sixty, mostly previously unseen, portraits of the people who shaped Dorset during the eighteenth century.

The catalyst for the exhibition was provided by the Museum’s recent acquisition of George Romney’s portrait of the Reverend Thomas Rackett as a young boy; a purchase made possible by the generosity of the Art Fund, HLF South West and local support.

For the past year, curator Gwen Yarker (formerly of the National Maritime Museum) has been selecting portraits for the exhibition from all over Dorset and further afield.  Some paintings are coming on loan from national institutions, but the majority come from private collections.

  • The exhibition shows portraits by many of the important portrait artists of the eighteenth century, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Romney, Thomas Gainsborough and Allan Ramsay. The exhibition also throws a spotlight on Thomas Beach, who was born at Milton Abbas, Dorset, trained with Reynolds and worked as a portrait painted in London, Bath and the West Country.
  • The exhibition provides the first opportunity for William Hogarth’s portrait of Thomas Coombes, a Dorset boatman aged 108, to be exhibited for over 100 years. Hogarth’s father-in-law, the famous decorative painter Sir James Thornhill, was a native of the county who retired to Dorset in the 1720s.
  • George III visited Weymouth for his health following his first attack of porphyria. From 1789 to 1805 he regularly stayed in the town essentially requiring the court to relocate to the Dorset coast every year. From the 1790s the threat of invasion meant a local volunteer force was created. Portraits of several of its officers painted by Dorset-born Thomas Beach feature in the exhibition.
  •  Portraits of Poole’s merchant princes reveal the riches gained from cod fishing and fur trading with Newfoundland.  A highlight is Thomas Frye’s unpublished portrait of rich Poole merchant Sir Peter Thompson, now in Poole Museum. Thompson’s portrait came to light when Gwen Yarker was cataloguing in Dorset for the Public Catalogue Foundation.
  • The exhibition shows that Dorset was not an isolated rural county, but that many of its residents, especially the Reverend Thomas Rackett and his circle, brought the latest thinking, ideas and intellectual developments in London to rural centres such as Blandford. They in turn returned to the capital with their local discourses in natural philosophy, antiquarianism and archaeology.
  • Georgian Faces also includes a series of cut-out silhouettes produced by George III’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, during her friendship with local diarist and botanist Mary Frampton.

Exhibition curator Gwen Yarker comments :

“ This is a wonderfully collaborative project incorporating so many people including local and national museums, private lenders, sponsors, local businesses and a huge army of enthusiastic volunteers.”

“The little known portrait of Dorset boatman, Thomas Coombes, aged 108 painted by William Hogarth in 1742 powerfully contrasts with those of the aristocrats, landowners and merchants in the exhibition.”

“With a budget of only £1000 we are enormously indebted to our sponsors Axa Art Insurance Limited, Duke’s of Dorchester, Fine Art Auctioneers, Farrow & Ball, R. K. Harrison Group Limited, Humphries Kirk, as well as trusts. Without their support this remarkable exhibition would not have been possible.”“With an emphasis on the importance of the sitters the exhibition offers a wonderful variety of portrait loans from local museums, national institutions with over 40, many previously unseen, from private collections, all telling the story of Dorset in the eighteenth century.”

The exhibition is being generously supported by local businesses including R.K.Harrison in partnership with AXA Art, HY Duke & Sons of Dorchester, Humphries Kirk and Farrow & Ball, several trusts and private donors. NADFAS is also generously supporting the exhibition, through both the Wessex region and the local Dorset County association based in Dorchester. Its team of volunteers who look after the museum’s art collection are all very much involved in researching, designing and many other aspects of the exhibition.

A fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition written by exhibition curator, Gwen Yarker, is available with a foreword by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and funded by the Centre for British Studies in Art.

Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County A new exhibition at Dorset County Museum runs from 15th January to 30th April 2011

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on