The Canterbury building that houses the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge has a distinctively gothic air, contrasting sharply with the more modern structures that surround it. Walk up the winding staircase to the floor above the library and the atmosphere gets even more eccentric. A large sign near the entrance reads, “This collection has been filled by global travelers and is formed from the finds of mercenaries and missionaries, soldiers and diplomats, artists and writers.”
The Beaney museum has a sizeable collection of Victorian taxidermy with some intriguing specimens of strange and rare creatures. In a wonderful curiosity cabinet you’ll see specimens of the Chinese pangolin, Brazilian three-banded armadillo, and egg-laying Australian marsupials such as the Duckbilled platypus and Echidna, as well as local fauna like red foxes, badgers, weasels, owls and a rook (a species related to a crow) wearing a red vest with a bizarre and sad backstory.
Artifacts from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Rome, and Greece are displayed alongside local archeological finds like Anglo-Saxon brooches and medieval pilgrim badges. The Egyptian collection is particularly interesting and contains mummified cats swaddled in bandages that were entombed in pyramids thousands of years ago; stone carvings of Wadjet the cobra god; and striking Ushabati dolls that were placed in tombs to serve the deceased in the afterlife.
Exotic ethnographic objects obtained during the time of the British empire are displayed in huge glass cabinets. Here are wickedly bladed martial art swords from India and the Middle East, carved wooden African and Papua New Guinean fetishes, Inuit snow shows, Maori and Dayak war clubs, and Chinese ceramics. Nearby, you can see English relics of centuries past, such as a set of dueling pistols, a 17th-century rapier sword, a Cromwellian civil war helmet, Georgian-era cuckoo clocks, and Victorian portraits of local aristocrats.