The treasures of conquest

When visiting museums we’re often so impressed by the exhibits that we don’t stop to think how they came to be there. Sometimes they were “acquired” as “spoils of war” or, to put it more bluntly, by looting – although the guardians of the treasure haven’t always been keen to advertise the fact. Artifacts “came into the possession of…” or (my favourite) “fell into the hands of…”, as if from a tree or upper balcony.

treasure 1These cigarette cards issued by Churchmans in 1937 are a good example. All the loot was in the care of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, at the time. If you aren’t familiar with the period or its Imperialist wars, just follow the links.

The Golden Throne of Ranjit Singh.
The ambitious nature of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh [1780-1839], combined with his forceful character and military genius, earned him the title of “The Lion of the Punjab.” The throne illustrated was made for him after his accession to the throne of Zaman Shah, King of Afghanistan, whom he defeated in 1799. It is made of wood covered with richly-chased gold plates, analysis showing the metal to contain 97-75% of pure gold. The throne later came into the possession of the East India Company, becoming the property of the British Government after the Indian Mutiny [1857].

Gold treasures from the Burmese Regalia.
treasure 2After the third Burmese War of 1885-6, in which King Thibaw was decisively defeated, the Burmese Regalia were taken from the Royal Palace at Mandalay, passing into the possession of the Secretary of State for India and thence, in 1890, to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We illustrate two of the many magnificent objects from the Regalia on view there : left, a gold food-vessel in the shape of a duck, elaborately chased and set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds; right, a gold salver, 23¼ inches in diameter, bearing a 9-stone ornament in the centre.

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Gold Crown and Chalice from Abyssinia [Ethiopia].
When the British military expedition to Abyssinia, under Sir Robert Napier, entered Magdala on April 13th, 1868, several of the Emperor Theodore’s treasures fell into Sir Robert’s hands. We show two interesting items of this treasure. The gold crown (on right) belonged originally to the Abuna or Head of the Abyssinian Christian Church, being subsequently appropriated by the Emperor Theodore [Tewodros II]. The chalice, of hammered gold, bears incised inscriptions recording that it was given by King Joshua (1682-1706) to the Sanctuary of Quesquam.

A few of the looted treasures have been returned to Ethiopia over the years. An association was founded in 1999 to lobby for the rest.

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Cultural vandals

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Kilpeck Church

Leominster, Pembridge, Weobly, Eardisland; all have exquisite churches dating from the twelfth, thirteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Kilpeck, on the other side of the river [Wye], has another, which, although one of the smallest in England, is one of our richest examples of Anglo-Norman Romanesque architecture.

Unfortunately, Victorian prudes defaced many of the quaint corbels that encircle the outside of the building*, but that is nothing to what happened at Shobdon when, in 1753, the second Lord Bateman pulled down a church which was at least the equal of Kilpeck, and probably grander. He did this not only in order that he might indulge his taste in ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic,’ but also that he might have some ruins as features in his park, a form of absurdity then very fashionable.

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Kilpeck Church

We read in one of Horace Walpole’s letters of the same year to Richard Bentley: ‘A little way from the town are the ruins of Llantony Priory: there remains a pretty old gateway, which G. Selwyn has begged, to erect on the top of his mountain, and it will have a charming effect.’ Walpole himself was, of course, the arch-priest of this kind of vandalism, but the high-water mark of stupidity and insincerity was probably reached by ‘one of the most notorious debauchees of the age,’ who added a church spire to a country cottage in order that there should be a point of focus in the vista from his windows.

The noble Bateman has left us the present Shobdon church, which, though dedicated nominally to the Almighty, was more certainly intended for the greater glory of his lordship. It certainly helps to perpetuate his memory.

I am surprised that his lordship allowed the fine old Norman font to remain in the church, but perhaps he thought of it as ‘a feature,’ as he certainly regarded the carved doors and tympana of the old church when he re-erected them on the summit of a windswept hill. There, exposed to frost and rain, these carvings, in soft stone designed for the interior of a building, have slowly mouldered so that they are now but ghosts of their former glory.
‘Coming Down the Wye,’ Robert Gibbings. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1942.

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Llanthony Priory

*Gibbings’ assertion of an attack by Victorian prudes may be a mistaken impression. In fact, the carvings at Kilpeck are known for their remarkable state of preservation.

Mulberry ‘B’

Continuing from my last post, D Minus One ….

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Harold Hickling was involved with the enormous Mulberry artificial harbours, so vital to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, from the planning stages until his appointment as Naval Officer In Charge, Mulberry ‘B’, in June 1944. A fascinating insider’s account of the whole operation was included in his book ‘Sailor at Sea’ (1965). Here are some excerpts, beginning with his specifications written in 1943. Images from the Imperial War Museum.

“Each harbour is to be approximately two miles long and a mile wide and must be capable of berthing the largest Liberty ships and discharging stores at the rate of 11,000 tons a day. The breakwaters must give protection in winds up to Force 6 (half a gale). Inside the harbour floating pier-heads connected to the shore must enable ships to discharge at all states of the tide…… Each harbour is to be completed by D+14 and is to last for ninety days.”

The various units comprising the harbours….. were to be prefabricated in the United Kingdom, assembled on the South Coast of England, towed seventy miles across the Channel and put down on an enemy coast, possibly under fire, in a couple of weeks. …nothing of the sort on so gigantic a scale had ever been done before….. new and untried devices would have to go straight from the drawing board into mass production. There would be no time for tests and trials.

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Concrete caissons to be used as breakwaters, under construction at George V graving dock, Southampton. © IWM (A 25793)

There were to be five craft shelters known as Gooseberries, consisting of sunken blockships (code name Corncob), to be finished by D-day +4 and were a British Naval commitment. Out of two of them was to grow a Mulberry, the American Mulberry ‘A’ at St. Laurent, the British Mulberry ‘B’ at Arromanches. Each harbour was to consist of:
(1) A floating outer breakwater – code name Bombardon.
(2) A concrete breakwater – code name Phoenix.
(3) An assortment of piers – code name Whale.

It was a strange procession that moved southwards from Selsey and the Solent…. The Phoenix looked like blocks of flats being towed by a taxi, while the Pier heads with their ninety foot high spuds might have been Battersea Power Station taking a sea trip from Ryde; then came sinister shapes, low in the water, making the most awful grinding noises in the choppy sea; these were the 500-foot-lengths of pier roadway though they might have been the Loch Ness Monster.

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Phoenix caissons for Mulberry Harbour off Selsey Bill. © IWM (A 24115)

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A Spud pierhead unit parked awaiting D Day. These were fitted with legs to enable adjustments to be made according to the state of the tide. © IWM (H 39297)

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A section of the roadway being towed into position. © IWM (A 24160)

As each unit arrived off its Mulberry it was pounced upon by small harbour tugs and manoeuvred into its pre-arranged position…. [Lieutenant Commander] Lampen [a.k.a.] the ‘Planter’ took over the blockships and one by one sank them, the bows of one just overlapping the next.

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Block ships for a ‘Gooseberry’. © IWM (A 24683)

By D + 4 the Gooseberry at Arromanches was planted….. Lampen then started extending the Corncob breakwater with the Phoenix. It was no easy matter to hold these 6,000-ton rectangular concrete ships in a tideway with a cross-wind on their high sides, during the twenty-two minutes which, with all flooding valves open, they took to sink….. Yet with skilful handling of tugs and cool judgment our ‘Planter’ placed them not to an accuracy of feet but of inches, while experienced civil engineers looked on at this young sailor, an amateur, with mingled feelings of admiration and professional jealousy…… you couldn’t see daylight between one caisson and the next.

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A line of concrete caissons [Phoenix] forming the inner breakwater. © IWM (A 24168)

On 1st August 1944, we were working twenty-nine ships, nine of which were large Liberty ships; 11,000 tons were discharged on that day….. In addition 5,000 personnel and 600 vehicles were landed. We had reached our target.

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Ships unloading onto a Spud pierhead at the British prefabricated harbour, Mulberry B at Arromanches. © IWM (B 7236)

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 Group of Officers responsible for planning and execution of Mulberry; left to right: Lieut Cdr A M D Lampen, RN [the ‘Planter’]; Capt Hickling, DSO, RN, NOIC Arromanches; Rear Admiral W G [‘Bill’] Tennant, CB, MVO; Capt J H Jellett, RNVR; and Commander R K Silcock, RN. © IWM (A 24857)

General Eisenhower in his official report wrote…..
Through the summer of 1944 the Mulberry and beach installations represented an essential factor in the success of our operation. Without them our armies could not have been adequately supplied in the field. The men who worked them with so much gallantry and devotion deserve the gratitude of liberated Europe for their share in the Victory.

D Minus One

It was June 5th 1944. In twenty-four hours the biggest invasion in history was due to start, an invasion that had taken two years to prepare and which, if successful, would mark the beginning of the end of the war; if it failed hostilities might drag on for years.

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© IWM (A 24096)

Early next morning, the 6th June, I said to Bill*: ‘They’ll just be touching down, let’s go up on to Portsdown Hill and see if we can hear the gunfire.’

We stood near Fort Southwick on that lovely summer’s morning, looking down on Portsmouth, on the harbour and the ebbing tide with Whale Island in the foreground and the Isle of Wight sleeping in the ground mist across the Solent.
‘Do you hear anything?’ I asked.

Bill strained his ears. ‘Yes, I can hear a woodlark singing.’
Bill was a great bird watcher. And there in the blue sky was a tiny speck happily indifferent to the sound and the fury of two powerful forces coming to grips less than a hundred miles away.

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© IWM (EA 26941)

That evening of D-day, as the armies fought their way into the bridgehead, the first units of the two prefabricated artificial harbours started on their slow and hazardous journey across the English Channel.
‘Sailor at Sea’, Vice-Admiral Harold Hickling C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O.
A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965.

*Bill – Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant.
Hickling was put in charge of the Mulberry B artificial harbour.
More about that later…

A rough passage

The rules and regulations of the Passengers’ Act, posted in my last, were all very well in theory, as long as the ship went along smoothly. But when sailing ships met storms, as they invariably did, the daily routine of scrubbing and cleaning went by the board. During one voyage of the Hydaspes to New Zealand in 1869 even the surgeon, Dr. Alexander Fox, was felled by seasickness for several days and the steerage class emigrants, battened down below deck, had to fend for themselves.

Mrs Fox recorded in her journal that, when the clipper was running before a gale –
“The seas were breaking over the ship and about 7.30 p.m. in came a great splash of water which rolled all round the saloon …. The water was so high in our cabin that it came over my goloshes.” Another wave lifted the skylight and more water poured in from above.

“…we had not been long in bed when there was a bang and a burst and a great wave of water came rushing down the saloon and into our cabins and everywhere. The frame of one of the stern windows gave way and the iron shutter bent right in….. Sails and huge beams of wood were quickly brought in and the great leak was patched up…. The same squall that brought in the water carried away the main lower topsail. The three men at the wheel were swept away along the deck. Amid the roar of the wind and the seas and the flapping of the torn sail as loud as cannon shots, we could hear the captain shouting: ‘Cut away! Go on! Make haste!’, which was not at all consoling.”

In the morning, Mrs. Fox was told “how the Irish girls had been praying all night, while others cried. Some of the poor emigrants suffer much from the cold.”

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‘Hove to’ by Arthur Briscoe. Te Papa collection (1967-0002-8)

Emigrants were still being transported by sailing ship as late as 1885. Maggie Campbell, writing as ‘Hopeful’ in her book ‘Taken In’, left this memory of the barque Merope when, after seven weeks at sea, the ocean ran “mountains high and the saloon rocked about.” The table rose bodily and the bench seat where the second officer and a passenger were sitting “was quite uprooted, and they were both carried against the wall with a bang, but not hurt.”

“I was terribly frightened, and expected the same fate to happen to our side every moment; the waves came booming down the deck stairs, and it was impossible to keep dinner things on the table such was the lurching of the ship; at times it was horrible, and we felt as if we should be hurled we did not know where. It was impossible to read, or write, or work, and we could only cling to the benches.

In the cabins it was fearful; it was a business to get into bed or undress, or do anything. We were banged here, banged there, and I passed a terrible night, not sleeping a wink, being oppressed with various ills besides the dreadful lurching and swinging of the ship. I had a violent toothache, and – and – a flea! Little terror! to take advantage of one’s painful position in that way – when to light a candle was impossible, so that there was no relief to be found either for tooth or flea. In my despair I vowed no more sea voyages for me except to return to Old England.”
‘Taken In’, by “Hopeful”. W.H. Allen & Co, 1887. Republished by Capper Press, Christchurch, 1974.

Excerpts from Mrs. Fox’s dairy taken from ‘Shaw Savill Line, One hundred years of trading’, Sydney D Waters. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd. 1961.

Bon Voyage

The Passengers’ Act [1849]

The following regulations to be observed on board of passenger ships have been issued by the Queen in Council :-

1. All passengers who shall not be prevented by sickness, or other sufficient cause, to be determined by the surgeon, or in ships carrying no surgeon by the master, shall rise not later than 7 o’clock a.m., at which hour the fires shall be lighted.

2. It shall be the duty of the cook, appointed under the twenty-sixth section of the said “Passenger Act, one thousand eight hundred and forty-nine,” to light the fires and to take care that they be kept alight during the day, and also to take care that each passenger, or family of passengers, shall have the use of the fire-place, at the proper hours, in an order to be fixed by the master.

3. When the passengers are dressed their beds shall be rolled up.

4. The decks, including the space under the bottom of the berths, shall be swept before breakfast, and all dirt thrown overboard.

5. The breakfast hour shall be from eight to nine o’clock a.m. ; provided that, before the commencement of breakfast, all the emigrants, except as herinbefore excepted, be out of bed and dressed, and that the beds have been rolled up, and the deck on which the emigrants live properly swept.

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Dinner on board the first emigrant ship for New Zealand. [Auckland, Star Lithographic Works, 1890] Reference Number: A-109-9584  http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=9584.

6. The deck shall further be swept after every meal, and, after breakfast is concluded, shall be also dry holy-stoned or scraped. This duty, as well as that of cleaning the ladders, hospitals, and round-houses, shall be performed by a party taken in rotation from the adult males above fourteen, in the proportion of five to every one hundred emigrants, and who shall be considered as sweepers for the day. But the single women shall perform this duty in their own compartment, where a separate compartment is allotted to them, and the occupant of each berth shall see that his [sic] own berth is well brushed out.

7. Dinner shall commence at one o’clock p.m. and supper at six p.m.

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The galley of the Duke of Portland, showing passengers being served food from a hatch, with several others waiting their turn and one couple walking away with a full bucket or billy. Pearse, John 1808-1882 : Doings on the Duke of Portland [1851] Gally. Reference Number: E-455-f-010-11 http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=11541

8. The fires shall be extinguished at seven p.m., unless otherwise directed by the master, or required for the use of the sick, and the emigrants shall be in their berths at ten o’clock p.m. except under the permission or authority of the surgeon; or if there be no surgeon, of the master.

9. Three safety-lamps shall be lit at dusk, and kept burning till ten o’clock p.m. ; after which hour two of the lamps may be extinguished, one being nevertheless kept burning at the main hatchway all night.

10. No naked light shall be allowed at any time or on any account.

The regulations continued in the same vein, mostly concerned with hygiene and the prevention of fire on board – washing clothes and airing bedding twice a week, the amount of deck space required for a hospital, no smoking between decks.

There was moral instruction too. Passengers had to muster for inspection at 10 a.m. every Sunday and were “expected to appear in clean and decent apparel.” The Lord’s Day would be observed “as religiously as circumstances will admit.”

21. All gambling, fighting, riotous or quarrelsome behaviour, swearing and violent language, shall be at once put a stop to. Swords and other offensive weapons shall, as soon as the passengers embark, be placed in the cutody of the master.

22. No sailors shall be allowed to remain on the passenger deck, among the passengers, except on duty.

23. No passenger shall go to the ship’s cookhouse without special permission from the master, nor remain in the forecastle among the sailors on any account.

Those last two clauses are probably still in force, they certainly were forty years ago, and I’ll bet passengers and sailors are still trying to find a way around them.

Regulations retrieved from ‘The Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List’, 16th March 1850.

 

 

Ratskin gloves

From the ‘New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian’. 25 May 1850.
The late Rat Hunt in Paris. —The scavengers of Paris dined together on Sunday evening at Bercy, to celebrate their late rat chase in the capital. Some guests were present, and the cover was laid for 165 persons. Mr. John Warton, of London, who had purchased 600,000 rat skins at 10c. a-piece, sent twenty-five bottles of champagne, and the two persons of Grenoble, who had at first been in treaty for the skins, sent fifty bottles of fine Macon. At the second service two enormous patés de Chartres were placed on the table, weighing 25lb. each, on the crust of which was represented a scavenger transfixing a rat with a lance.

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La Bièvre River, a tributary of the Seine, where tanneries dumped waste. Photograph by Charles Marville

At the dessert, M. Desiree Fargeau proposed as a toast, La Republique honnéte et modérée, and Mr. George Romain, “The complete destruction of the gray rats of Norway, and the black ones of England!” The dinner continued to 12 o’clock at night, when the guests separated in great good humour. Mr. J. Warton has paid 60,000f. in bons du tresor for the skins of the rats killed during the fifteen days’ hunt. This sum was divided amongst the 144 scavengers of Paris and their brigadiers, all of whom have taken out a book at the savings bank, with an inscription of 500f., making up the difference themselves. They all refused to accept the gratuity offered by the Municipality of Paris for the destruction of the rats.
Mr. J. Warton proposes to make ladies’ gloves of the skins.