William Curtis, founder of the Curtis Museum, had a keen interest in the natural sciences, including geology. He was a founder member of both the Palaeontological Society (1847) and the Geologists Association (1858).
His main collecting area was in the neighbourhood of Alton, where he visited pits and quarries. By searching these exposures, Curtis put together a systematic collection of local fossils, while his many contacts in the scientific world contributed specimens from further afield. Following a soirée at their home in December 1850, his daughter described the dining room as being ‘filled from end to end with geological specimens’.
In March 1865 a museum was opened in Alton with about 4000 objects, many of which had been collected by Curtis. Also on display were birds collected by William and his brother Frederick. In their student days they had taught their father’s stable lad, John Cooper, the art of taxidermy and he had prepared many of the specimens.
Throughout his life Curtis contributed to various publications, including ‘Notes on the Fossils of the Gault from the Alice Holt Forest’ (1861), and a chapter on geology in ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne’, edited by Thomas Bell (1877). There are also many references to the Curtis taxidermy collection in ‘The Birds of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight’ (1905).
In March 1880 a new Mechanics Institute opened in Alton, and the upper floor of the building housed the museum. Sadly, William Curtis died less than a year after the opening of the new museum which, following a meeting of the Institute was to be ‘known for the future as The Curtis Museum.’