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.

treasure 3

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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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.”

MA_I134417_TePapa_Hove-to

‘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.

mp.natlib.govt.nz

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.

Portland_mp.natlib.govt.nz

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.

Fear of The Other

In June 1853, a settler from Tasmania, Australia, called Edwin Meredith scouted the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand for suitable land to graze his sheep. June was the first month of winter and he was forced to take shelter from the rain wherever he could find it.

I had only about 20 miles to ride to reach Waipukurau but ….. my poor horse was completely knocked up as the result of his previous day’s experience [stuck in a bog and dragged out with difficulty]. There was nothing for it but to put my saddle and bridle in a flax bush and walk on in the hope of finding shelter before dark, for I was wet through.

It was raining steadily and the country around did not afford a tree or bush to break the wind and rain, or fuel for a fire. With my rug on my back I arrived at the Waipukurau Pah. Having satisfied myself that there was no European habitation in the neighbourhood, I had no alternative but to take refuge from the rain and cold of a winter’s night in one of the many whares* within.

Maori Pah

I made for a large one, about the low entrance to which I saw a number of men standing or going to and fro. It was my first experience of being in a large Maori Pah [fenced or fortified village] and I can hardly recall the circumstance without a shudder. Not that I feared any evil treatment but to be the only European in the midst of about 300 savages, the majority of whom were, or had been, cannibals and whose every feature was made hideous by tattooing – to witness the gesticulations which accompanied loud and rapid utterances in harsh gutteral tones emphasised by savage excitement might, or might not, be the prelude to something still more exciting. I was subsequently informed that there had been a pig-hunt that day on a large scale, and in all probability I had been listening to a somewhat theatrical recital of the adventures of the day’s sport.

I sat crouched upon my rug and, though occupying a conspicuous position near the doorway in a large room occupied by perhaps 50 men, none appeared to take the slightest notice of me – till my eye lighted on a man who had been especially voluble and, from the time he subsided and sat down, never took his eyes off me. Every atom of his face was tattooed and I could not help tracing in the expression of his disfigured features something malignant. I had remarked, while he was tossing his arms about in delivering his address, that he had only one hand.

Having scrutinized me long and intently, to my great relief he disappeared. I hoped that he would not return and, as no one seemed to notice me, I was about to roll myself in my rug, wet and cold as I was, when suddenly I was startled by a tap from behind upon my shoulder. On looking around, there stood the man whose gaze had been so repulsive to me, holding in his hand a clean new shirt and a pair of trousers. With the stump of the other arm he touched my wet clothes, motioning to me by signs to take them off and put on those he had brought. Never in my life had I been so rebuked for my misjudgment.
‘Reminiscences and experiences of an early Colonist’, Edwin Meredith, 1898.

*whare = house, building, residence.

There is a town at Waipukurau today but there was only the Pa in 1853.
Follow the link to learn more about Ta moko – Maori tattooing.

Australian invasion

This piece was written in 1850, at the height of the Californian gold rush, but the rhetoric seems oddly familiar.

Immigration from New South Wales – A paragraph in our last paper, in reference to a late arrival from Sydney, and an intimation of the disreputable character of a large portion of the passengers, seems to have produced no small excitement in certain quarters; and any quantity of indignant comment has been made thereupon by those who are supposed to have decided preferences and sympathies for the people of that celebrated locality.

Now, we hold it to be the duty of the press, as the conservator of the morals, and defender of the rights and interests of the people, to throw its vast power and influence into the scale in favour of whatever is beneficial ; and to expose, fearlessly, and without regard to threats designed to intimidate or restrain it from the fulfilment of that duty, whatever is detrimental to the public welfare.

sailing shipIn the case alluded to, we had reason to believe the statement made was correct ; — for the facts came to us from the most reliable and different sources. Subsequent investigation, however, showed that our paragraph was premature, — that we were entirely in error, in regard to the character of the passengers in the vessel in question, who are represented as of the most respectable people in Sydney. To the females, whom our statement was calculated to injure, it is due that the amende honorable should be made, and we cheerfully make it. We have much too high a regard for virtuous and respectable females, to wantonly cast an imputation upon their reputation ; and regret that in the present instance, we were led to do so unintentionally.

In regard to the foreign immigration now daily landing upon our shores, it is not to be denied that there are many persons of individual excellence ; and it would be strange indeed, if this were not so in relation even to individuals from Sydney. But while we welcome to our State “all good people,” to whatever nation they belong, we confess to the entertainment of fears that a sufficient watchfulness is not exercised to exclude the hordes of scoundrels who are tempted by the prospect of gold or plunder to crowd upon us from the world’s ends, making California the receptacle of the stews of every nation.

We said that our paragraph was “premature;” but that an importation of persons of the very character depreciated is daily expected to arrive from Sydney, we have good authority for believing. That British colony contains a population of about 150,000 persons, of whom over 10,000 are convicts, and nearly 60,000 are unable to read. It is not the place, therefore, from which we can hope to receive the most intelligent class of immigrants, notwithstanding the respectability of those who have arrived during the past week from that port, numbering over five hundred persons. It behoves all good citizens to see that we are not overwhelmed by the tide of corruption that thirst for lucre is hastening to our shores, and to frown upon those shipowners who are willing to become the agents of spreading moral disease and crime into the young State, whose welfare we have so much at heart. — Pacific News, February 21.
Reproduced in the ‘New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian’, 29 June 1850.

Hordes of scoundrels, tide of corruption, moral disease and crime. Maybe they should have built a wall along the Pacific coast.

Royal gossip

Edward VIIThe trustworthiness of the batch of scandalous items about the Prince of Wales and Royal family, which are retailed by the Press Association on the arrival of each San Francisco mail, may be gauged by that of the abominable story that Miss Mary Anderson, the American actress, had refused to be presented to the Prince of Wales for fear of being talked about. At the time we scouted this assertion as very improbable, and now it turns out to be one of those half-truths which is ever the blackest of lies.

The Prince and Princess sent for Miss Anderson to come round to their box between the acts during the performance of “Ingomar” [at the Lyceum Theatre]. The actress respectfully declined, on the ground that she never left her retiringroom between the acts. At the end of the piece the Prince and Princess went behind the scenes, and Miss Anderson was presented to them. Subsequently Miss Anderson and her nieces went to stay with the Princess. Out of such materials is the scandal which fills the American papers composed.
‘Otago Daily Times’ (Dunedin, New Zealand), 5 January 1884.

The photograph, from a postcard by Rotary Photographic, shows the Prince of Wales in later life as King Edward VII (1901-1910). It was loyal and patriotic of the writer to defend him against fake news but history tells us that the Prince and his many mistresses were capable of creating enough scandal already without the Press Association inventing more. When he died, his long-suffering wife is alleged to have said “Well at least now I’ll know where he is.” Although that might just be gossip.