Ashton Lever was born in 1729 at Alkrington Hall. In 1735, Sir James Darcy Lever, his father, had served as High Sheriff of Lancashire.
Perspective interior view of Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum in Leicester Square, London 30 March 1785
Lever began by collecting seashells in about 1760, and gradually accumulated one of the richest private collections of natural objects, including live animals. He opened it to the public in April 1766, in Manchester, moving the museum to his family home at Alkrington Hall, near Rochdale, Lancashire, in 1771. In the same year he founded Archers’ Hall, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London for the Archers’ Company of the Honourable Artillery Company. In 1774, Lever moved to London, and next year his Holophusicon opened to the public in Leicester Square. Captain James Cook was so impressed by Lever’s collection that he donated objects from his own voyages to the museum.
Lever continued to buy items until he became bankrupt, at which point the collection contained 28,000 specimens. Both the British Museum and the Empress of Russia declined to buy it, so it was disposed of by lottery, 8,000 tickets were sold at a guinea each. The winner James Parkinson, put the collection up for auction in 1806, the largest purchasers were the British naturalist Edward Donovan and Leopold von Fichtel, bidding on behalf of the Imperial Museum of Vienna. Purchasers included the Earl of Derby and William Bullock, who had a large private collection.
Lever’s collection was catalogued by George Shaw.