At the heart of the Holburne Museum is the collection of Sir William Holburne (1793-1874), fifth baronet of Menstrie. William seemed destined for a naval career but, following the death of his elder brother Francis, he inherited the family title and a modest fortune. He left the navy and embarked on an eighteen-month Grand Tour of Europe, visiting Italy, the Alps and the Netherlands. This sparked a life-long interest in art and his enthusiasm for collecting. He particularly loved bronze sculptures, silver, porcelain and Dutch landscapes.
Sir William never married. He lived with his growing collection and his three unmarried sisters on the North side of Bath. It was his wish that his collection be left to the City of Bath for everyone to enjoy. Since his death, more than 2,000 items have been added to his collection including portrait miniatures, porcelain, embroideries and portraits by some of the greatest artists of the eighteenth century.