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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Parcel Post

Ellen Hawley’s post “A quick history of the Royal Mail” had me digging out this old cigarette card about a delivery experiment from the late 19th century.

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British Post Office Centre-Cycles

A number of Centre-Cycles (five-wheeler carrier machines) were used by the Post Office in the Horsham area in 1883, about the time of the introduction of the parcel post.

Above the small wheels of the Centre-Cycle were brackets supporting large baskets for carrying correspondence and parcels. Because of the arrangement of its four small wheels clustered round the centre big wheel, it was familiarly known as the “Hen and Chickens.”

These Centre-Cycles were not generally successful and their use was discontinued.
(Number 11 in a series of 50 cards issued by John Player & Sons in 1939.)

Can’t imagine why they didn’t catch on. They look so light and manoeuvrable!

Be Careful Out There

Down here in the Southern Hemisphere, the Christmas/New Year period coincides with summer holidays and road trips, so here are a few useful tips to keep you safe on the highway. Northeners can file them away for later.

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Drive carefully past animals. The highway is free to the wandering dog, restive horse and un-led cow, and the responsibility for avoiding accidents rests with the motorist. When passing animals it is best to do so slowly and be on the alert. Cows and dogs may be moved by sounding the horn, but making “shoo-ing” noises is more effective. A trick used on the continent is to disengage the clutch, and at the same time, press the accelerator. The sound of the racing engine is the best warning of all. When passing restive horses sound the horn when some distance away to attract the attention of the driver or rider, and then quietly proceed past the animals.

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Take the off side of the road when meeting led horses. It is the usual practice when leading horses to keep to the right so that the animals and man in charge of them face the oncoming traffic. When some distance from the animals the motorist should sound the horn to attract the attention of the man in charge. Pass the animals on the off side, giving them a wide berth, and proceed cautiously, with the minimum of noise so as not to frighten them.

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Carry an efficient fire extinguisher readily accessible. An efficient chemical fire extinguisher is an essential accessory. Light, compact, and easily operated, they are procurable from any up-to-date garage for a few shillings. The device used should be of the type recommended for automobiles and charged with a fluid compound to deal with petrol fires. To be effective the extinguisher must be fitted in such a position that it can be easily reached in the event of a fire, therefore it should not be fixed under the bonnet, near the petrol tank or under the seat. The running board, or near one of the doors, are the best locations for it.
‘Safety First’ cigarette card set by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1934.

Bomb disposal for beginners

The 2 lb. magnesium bomb does not explode, its only object being to start a fire. It will probably penetrate no further than the attic or an upper floor, setting light to anything within a few feet. Vast numbers of these light bombs can be carried by a single aeroplane, and many more fires started than could be dealt with by fire brigades. Householders, with a little training and equipment, can deal with the incendiary bombs and so protect their homes and defeat the enemy’s object.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.The intense heat and smoke from such a bomb and the fire which it will have started make close approach impossible until the atmosphere has been cooled down and the fire partly extinguished. This is done with a jet of water from a hose not less than 30 feet long. The stirrup hand pump (illustrated) is recommended for this purpose. The girl in the picture is kneeling, as smoke is not so thick close to the ground. Note Redhill container in foreground.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.In this picture the girl has taken sand from the container and is pouring it on to the bomb with a long-handled scoop. Sand does not extinguish the magnesium bomb, but it controls it and reduces the heat, thus allowing near approach. Note the Redhill container placed on its side in such a way that full scoopfuls of sand can easily be withdrawn. After the first scoopful of sand has been placed on the bomb, the glare and heat are greatly reduced.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.Removal of incendiary bomb with scoop and hoe. The long-handled scoop illustrated is necessary in dealing with incendiary bombs. It is made in two sections, the scoop on one end and the hoe on the other, and when joined together is 7 feet long. In the picture it is separated, the hoe being used to draw the bomb into the scoop, which is made strong enough to withstand the heat of a burning bomb.

Image from a 1938 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.The burning bomb is here being transferred from the scoop into the Redhill container, which can then be carried out of the house. The container is made strong enough to hold a burning magnesium bomb indefinitely, and is so designed that the heat of the bomb will not injure the hand of the person by whom it is carried.
‘Air Raid Precautions’ cigarette cards, 1938.

As easy as that. Like putting the rubbish out. I wonder if anyone actually did this? It looks like a pre-war theory developed by someone who had never been in an air raid and it’s more likely to endanger lives than save them. How do you fight a fire in an attic where the only ventilation is the hole punched in the roof by two pounds of flaming magnesium? And what if you get clobbered by one (or more) of the other bombs from the “vast” number carried by “a single aeroplane”?

When the real action started I believe civilians were advised to head for the nearest shelter when the siren sounded and not get in the way of the professionals.

Military Mascots and Crimean Kittens

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment [originally the 6th Regiment of Foot].
Warwickshire regiment. Image from a 1939 Godfrey Phillips cigarette card.A formation raised by a few adventurous Englishmen to help the Dutch in 1673-4 laid the foundation of the old 6th. In 1685 it was included in the army of James II, but returned again to the Netherlands, appearing next in England when William of Orange became king [1689]. The distinction of “Royal” dates from 1832.

The regiment won its badge* at the battle of Almanza (1707) by capturing a standard with the antelope emblem thereon – antelopes have since become regimental mascots. Allied regiments are the Weyburn Regiment and the Westminster Regiment, both of Canada, and the Hauraki Regiment of New Zealand.
*The origin of the antelope badge is debatable. This is one version.

Official mascots in the British army are not regimental “pets”. They have a number and rank – and can be demoted for bad behaviour, just like Billy Windsor of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Image from a 1939 cigarette card by Godfrey Phillips.Of comparitively recent origin, the Irish Guards were raised at the wish of Queen Victoria in 1900 as a tribute to the magnificent services rendered by Irish regiments during the South African campaign [Boer War].

An Irish wolfhound which proudly “follows the drum” on ceremonial parades is the treasured mascot of the Irish Guards. The Army chooses its mascots for a variety of reasons, some symbolise regimental badges, others record campaigns, whilst some pets even have utility, like the kittens which the soldiers carried inside their coats for warmth at the battle of Alma [Crimean War, 1854].

That last line, written in 1939 as if we should know the story, is intriguing. I haven’t been able to find any details so far, certainly no eye witness accounts. If you know more, please leave a comment. It might just be an urban myth that grew from the story of Bulgarian Belle, a cat that’s believed to have survived the same battle in a soldier’s back pack. Go to this link and scroll down to read more about her.

Image from a 1934 Valentine's art postcard.

A postcard by Valentine from 1934.

Text and cigarette cards from ‘Soldiers of the King’ by Godfrey Phillips Ltd. 1939.

The Road to Damascus

Given the evidence of the past eighty years, and especially this past week, it’s difficult to imagine the Middle East has ever known peace. Yet when these words were written in 1926, Beirut and Damascus were recommended to well-heeled tourists looking for an exotic travel experience.

M_BeirutBeirut …. [is a] busy port and a flourishing Syrian town. The visitor sees evidence of this in the fine harbour, the shipping, the commercial buildings and busy streets. But the East is ever present in the native portions of the population with the varied costumes and dwellings. Beirut has its good hotels, fine buildings and a stately Government House from the roof of which one gets a glorious view of the Mountains of Lebanon and the beautiful surroundings to the town.

M_desertThe Lebanon Mountains and plains between provide scenery of remarkable beauty. Contrasting indeed is that apparently trackless waste, the Syrian Desert. Hot, dry and desolate, at times there is practically no vegitation, while after rain, the desert becomes an almost impassable quagmire. On occasions bands of Bedouin horsemen spring seemingly from nowhere, friendly or otherwise, to disappear as quickly as they came. Camel caravans set out to cross this uninviting area, but for the 600-mile journey to Bagdad the motor transport is preferable to the traveller. The cars start from Beirut, additional passengers being picked up at Damascus.

M_olivesThe ancient capital of Syria is set in delightful surroundings, the minarets and domes rising above the white-terraced roofs completing a picture of impressive beauty. Entering Damascus, most of the streets are narrow and ill-kept, while the houses are in a state of dilapidation. But there are many places of interest; the magnificent Great Mosque, the Mosque of the Whirling Dervishes and numerous others. The bazaars also are particularly attractive. Damascus has of course much association with Biblical history. The traveller can pass along the famous ‘Street called Straight’ and can view the window said to be the one from which St. Paul was let down in a basket, also the houses reputed to have been those of Ananias and Naaman the Leper.

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‘Around the Mediterranean’ cigarette card series, Major Drapkin & Co., makers of the famous ‘Greys’ cigarettes. 1926.

Winter sports

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The Southern Alps are a favourite climbing ground for tourists who find in snow and ice a playground for their winter holidays, and the comfortable “Hermitage” hotel at the base of the main range is a popular rendezvous for patrons of the winter sports. The Hermitage is a modern hotel in the heart of the Alps, reached by a good motor road, and providing every convenience for climbers. The summit looks right down upon the hotel.

The Hermitage has expanded considerably since this was written in 1928.

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I think this is from Sealy Tarns, not Mount Sealy.

The ascent of Mount Cook and its neighbouring peaks is the aim of many mountain climbers and the record of conquests is extremely small. The lofty peak of Mt. Cook is 12,349 feet [3764m] above the level of the sea, and its ascent is a task to try out the steel in a climber’s nerves. The track lies over crumbling glaciers and brittle snowfields where the first false step will probably be the last.
‘Beautiful New Zealand’ series, Three Castles cigarettes (W.D. & H.O. Wills) 1928.
Original images from the New Zealand Government Publicity Office.

Writers who record the heights of mountains should add “at time of writing” because it seems nothing is permanent. Aoraki/Mount Cook lost about 30 metres from its summit in a single rockfall in 1991. Luckily there were no climbers standing in the way. Then, in 2014, modern instruments measured it at 12,218 feet (3,724 metres). Its reputation as a dangerous mountain, however, has not been reduced and the warning about false steps still holds true. Many experienced climbers have died on its slopes since it was first climbed in 1894. The last unclimbed route wasn’t conquered until 1970.

The Southern Alps were a training ground for New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary who first climbed Aoraki/Mount Cook in 1948 and went on to famously “knock off” Everest five years later.

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Aoraki/Mount Cook towers above Lake Pukaki on a hot December day in 2013. Perspective is compressed by a 270mm (equivalent) lens. The mountain is about 60 or 70km away (40 miles).

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The view from State Highway 8 at the bottom end of Lake Pukaki.

Follow this link for some spectacular images of the Southern Alps.