Fortnum, Charles Drury Edward (DNB01)

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FORTNUM, CHARLES DRURY EDWARD (1820–1899), art collector and benefactor of the university of Oxford, born on 2 March 1820, was the only surviving son of Charles Fortnum (1770–1860), by his wife Laetitia (née Stevens), widow of R. Basden, captain in the royal navy. He was privately educated on account of his delicate health.

In 1840 he went to South Australia, where he acquired a cattle ranch. He had a good knowledge of chemistry and mineralogy, and put it to use in the discovery of the Montacute copper mine in the Mount Lofty range, ten miles from Adelaide, though he reaped no pecuniary profit from the discovery (Hodder, Hist. of South Australia, 1893, i. 190). He also formed a considerable collection of insects, birds, and reptiles, a number of which he presented to the British Museum, while others are in the Hope collection at Oxford. Leaving Australia in 1845 he travelled in Europe, chiefly engaged in making his collections of works of art. He was one of the first Englishmen to appreciate the products of the minor arts of the Italian renaissance. At a time before Ruskin had changed artistic fashions and directed attention to other objects in Italy than 'pictures of the grand style and classical antiques,' Fortnum was engaged in studying the history of European art and in forming his illustrative collections of majolica, Della Robbia ware, bronzes, Hispano-Moresque dishes, and the like. On settling in England he soon became known as an authority. In 1858 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. At the request of the lords of the council on education he compiled the 'Descriptive Catalogue of the Maiolica, Hispano-Moresco, Persian, Damascus, and Rhodian Wares in the South Kensington Museum,' which was published in 1873, and the 'Descriptive Catalogue of Bronzes of European Origin' in that museum, published in 1876.

Fortnum's strongest claim to regard is based on his splendid benefaction to Oxford University. He was the second founder of the Ashmolean Museum. Formerly the collections of Elias Ashmole [q. v.] and John Tradescant (1608–1662) [q. v.] were stored in an inadequate building in Broad Street. Fortnum admired the efforts of the present director, Mr. Arthur John Evans, to arrange the collections and to make them useful educationally. He offered not only his own series of renaissance objects, but also a large amount of property for the endowment of the museum and the augmentation of the keeper's stipend on condition that buildings were erected sufficient to accommodate the collections. After some opposition his offer was accepted, the arrangements being finally settled in 1892. An extensive series of rooms was added by the university to the university galleries in Beaumont Street, whither the Ashmolean collections were removed in 1897. His own collections were presented in 1888, and in the following year he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university. In 1889 also he was elected a trustee of the British Museum.

Fortnum was an alderman of the Middlesex county council, and a deputy-lieutenant of the county. He was vice-president of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Archæological Institute. He died without issue at his residence, the Hill House, Stanmore, Middlesex, on 6 March 1899, and was buried in Highgate cemetery on 11 March. He was twice married: first, on 7 March 1848, to Fanny Matilda (d. 1890), daughter of Thomas Keats; and secondly, on 27 Oct. 1891, to his cousin Mary, only child and heiress of Charles Fortnum (d. 1845), captain in the 1st royals. His widow, Mary, survived him about a month, dying on 9 April 1899. He bequeathed a considerable sum to the university of Oxford for the benefit of the Ashmolean Museum, and a less amount to the British Museum.

Besides the works already mentioned Fortnum was the author of:

  1. 'Maiolica. A historical Treatise on the glazed and enamelled Earthenwares of Italy, with Marks and Monograms; also some notice of the Persian, Damascus, Rhodian, and Hispano-Moresque Wares,' Oxford, 1896, 8vo.
  2. 'A Descriptive Catalogue of the Maiolica and Enamelled Earthenware of Italy, the Persian, Damascus, Rhodian, Hispano-Moresque, and some French and other Wares in the Ashmolean Museum, Fortnum Collection,' Oxford, 1897, 8vo.

He also contributed several papers to 'Archæologia' on early Christian gems and rings, and on the royal collection of gems, including the diamond signet of Henrietta Maria, which he presented to the queen in 1887.

[Times, 10, 11 March, 7 Aug. 1899; Burke's Landed Gentry of Great Britain, 1898; Men and Women of the Time, 1895.]

E. I. C.