The Musæum Tradescantianum is the museum that most clearly reflects the popular link between Noah and natural history, for it was generally known as ‘The Ark’.
The elder Tradescant was a gardener whose travels in the service of his employers had allowed him to build his collection, and who became Keeper of ‘His Majesty’s Gardens’ in 1630. After his death in 1638, his collection passed to his son, who was also called John and was also a well-travelled gardener, who augmented it and prepared the catalogue. He explained in the preface to the catalogue that he had been persuaded:
That the enumeration of these Rarities, (being more for variety than any one place known in Europe could afford) would be an honour to our Nation, and a benefit to such ingenious persons as would become further enquirers into the various modes of Natures admirable workes, and the curious Imitators thereof.
Samuel Hartlib was one of those who hoped for a catalogue, noting in 1648 that ‘Tradusken should bee induced to make an exact Catalogue of all his Museum’ (Hartlib Papers, 31/22/32B [Ephemerides, 1648]). He was also concerned about attempts to secure its future, either in Oxford or Cambridge.
Tradescant’s Ark in Lambeth was open to callers on payment of a fee and became a place of resort for visitors to London. Its contents passed by deed of gift to Elias Ashmole, who made additions from his own collections and presented the whole to the University of Oxford, where it was housed in a building – now the Museum of the History of Science – designed specifically for the purpose and completed in 1683.