Edward Hart was the son of a Christchurch taxidermist and fusée watchchain maker. He later inherited his father’s business, ‘William Hart & Son, Preservers of Birds and Beasts’.
In addition to preparing mammals and birds for local sportsmen, Hart started his own collection and opened a business at 23, High Street, Christchurch (The Bow House). By 1866 his collection was large enough to open a museum.
Over the years the museum grew in size to include ‘upwards of 420 cases, containing 1350 specimens of birds, 2000 birds’ eggs, 1000 fossils and flint implements, besides seaweeds, ferns, mosses, moths and butterflies and various specimens of horns, skulls, etc., and other interesting articles.’
Most of the items were collected by Hart himself, and he kept detailed notes of where and when he had found them. The stunning backgrounds to the cases were painted by his wife. Throughout his life he was in close contact with other naturalists, and many of the specimens were published in ‘The Birds of Hampshire’ (1903) and ‘The History of British Birds’ (1856).
In 1903, Hart offered his entire collection, to Bournemouth Corporation for £4000, provided it remained intact. Unfortunately, despite local interest, not enough money was raised to achieve this. Twenty-five years later, shortly before his death, the collection was offered for sale and most of the cases were purchased by John Hall of Stafford, who bequeathed them to Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. In the early 1980s, Stowe put the collection up for sale and twenty-two cases depicting Christchurch and surrounds in the 19th century were purchased and returned to their place of origin.