Archive | November, 2013

Unusual ways of collecting

21 Nov

For my paper at the Norwich conference I did some research into Maurice’s methods of collecting. I concluded in general that his collecting was very organised, usually pre-planned to collect certain specimens in certain ways. As you might expect from his background and personality he liked to be in control of the collecting situation, and even though he was excited to encounter certain animals or objects, he reigned in his emotions and recorded factual and scientific observations accounts in his diaries.

So when I find a spontaneous account of collecting according to chance, luck or whim it always stands out. For example, on my travels with Maurice today in the Sudan in 1927 (far away from my drear location at the MMU library) Maurice had just been asked by local people to shoot a hippo that was a threat to their village. Maurice happily obliges and shoots the hippo, but it unfortunately sinks into the water and he can’t recover it. He tells the local policeman that if he can get it out he must send the head onto him at the next stopping point for the safari.

Here are a few more examples that make me suppress my giggles in the library:

– In British Columbia in November 1901 Maurice writes: ‘a porcupine came along to within a few yards of us, when we hit over the head with a stick and took the hindquarters home for supper. Had boiled porcupine for dinner- excellent’.

– In January 1927 a steinbuck antelope becomes road kill under the wheels of Maurice’s car and he happily patches it up to become part of his collection.

– In January 1926 a mongoose approaches close to Maurice and stands on its hindlegs to get a better look at him. Maurice didn’t know what animal it was and describes it as a ‘ferrety little thing’. Through curiosity, he shoots it.

– When animals approach Maurice I always root on their side and hope they escape. A lot of the time Maurice is content to wonder and let the animal pass, before plotting to return to find it again another day. So in October 1921 Maurice writes: ‘as we were going along the trail this morning, and just going to step past an ant-bear hole, suddenly there was the most terrific rumbling and 3 pig dashed out. Most alarming!’ There was a similar incident in January 1927 when he heard ‘a queer rumbling grunting noise, and suddenly a huge forest-hog galloped, or to be exact trotted, across the ride within 20 yards of us. Had a splendid view of it’. Those lucky pigs lived to trot another day.

– However, some animals encountered spontaneously are too big a prize to pass up. In January 1925 Maurice comes across some Elgon bats and shoots some for the British Museum, suspecting that they will not already have a specimen.

In other news, today I attended a Natural Science Collections training day at Manchester Museum. We were given talks and practical demonstrations from the curator of birds, entomology, geology and botany. I was already a bit familiar with the staff, stores, and collections at Manchester Museum from studying for my Museum Studies MA and from volunteering there in the past, and it was great to hear the curators talk so passionately and knowledgeably about their collections. I learned how to stuff a bird (not sure if I want to have a go or not!) and better ways of labeling and storing natural history collections that I can hopefully put into practice at Tatton.

As Manchester is a university museum, I was struck with the extent to which their collections are used for research, and how the different departments still actively collect and contribute to research. In contrast, the uniqueness of Maurice’s collection makes it very difficult for the collection to be opened up for scientific analysis or public engagement as the objects can’t be replaced if damaged. Their historical significance really outweighs their potential scientific uses. But in the future I would also love to see the collection being used more for research, and hopefully my PhD will help raise awareness of it to other would-be researchers and raise it’s profile as an amazing resource.


Just where did Maurice have land?

13 Nov

I’ve just spent two days at the Museum Association Conference in Liverpool and was proud to be there representing Tatton Park. There were 800 attendees from various museums in the UK and it was nice to meet some new people, as well as catch up with some old friends from my Masters course. The highlight for me was the keynote speech by Lucy Worsley, the curator of the Historic Royal Palaces. I admit I can’t watch her TV shows (a bit cringe-worthy- I prefer substance to style when learning about history!) but in person she was so charming and charismatic that I came out of her talk feeling like her No1 fan! I want to BE this lady! I went to training sessions on managing volunteers, museum theft, the therapeutic museum and natural history collections. I’m very grateful to Museum Development North West for funding my place!

Lucy Worsley at the MA conference

I think I’ve had enough conferences in the past two months to last me for the year! So back to my research.

One thing I have been looking out for is reference to Maurice’s land and businesses abroad so I can understand the extent of his property ownership, the state of his finances and figure out just where he is in the world! So alongside my glossary of foreign language terms, animal types and a who’s who of people he met I’m also keeping a list of land purchases. This has turned out to be really interesting and has shown me just how consumed he was with extending his land holdings to rival the key players in the Empire.

We all know that Maurice’s main land holding in Kenya was at Njoro. Although he also had plots of land elsewhere, he made Njoro his main focus, perhaps because he saw the potential of the land, or perhaps because of it’s close proximity to Delamere’s land holdings and he wanted to benefit from his knowledge, and ultimately rival him as a landowner. He consistently lobbied other neighbours to sell him their land so he could extend his plot as one large area. In 1925 he spent two months convincing Hubert Buxton to swap 1000 acres of his land so that he could expand. in 1926 he bought Billy Sewell’s large estate nearby called Natai Emuin (Black Rhino) and added it to his Njoro land. This made it one formidable block of land! Disliking the name Natai Emuin, Maurice renamed the estate N’gata, meaning ‘plain’ in Swahili. He boasted that he paid his manager £2000 a year, the same as Delamere paid his agent, the infamous ‘Boy’ Long. This suggests to me that his estate was probably equal in size and importance to Delamere’s to justify such a high wage for a manager.

Maurice also had a plot of land at Nanyuki, near Kalalu, noted as farm 889. I believe that this must have been allocated to him in the 1919 soldier settlement scheme. After WW1, ex servicemen could apply for 2 million acres of land in Kenya divided into plots under a lottery system. They listed their preferences in order, and if their name was selected then they were allocated the highest plot still available on their list. One job I must get round to is tracking down a copy of who was allocated plots, which I think will have to come from the records office at Kew.

In 1923 Maurice bought Butterfield’s coffee shamba at Jamji for £10,000. As usual he had his greedy eye on his neighbour’s plots so he could extend. In 1925 he added another 140 acres from a syndicate-owned plot next door, paying £500. He also added 1000 acres from Commander Coke’s shamba which made Jamji “a very fine and compact shamba” where he grew and processed tea.

But of course this still wasn’t enough land for Maurice. In 1925 he commissioned men to buy him 3000 acres for tobacco and 9000 acres for coffee in Tanganyika. He called his new farm Ndembera. In 1926 he acquired more land in Tanzania, purchasing Billinge’s Ifunda farm at Iringa.

My glossary currently ends with the 1926 purchase of Trevor Sheen’s land at Ngongogeri for £20,000, which must have been another sizeable chunk of land. Although I don’t expect this to be the end of my glossary by a mile, it’s obvious that Maurice worked very hard to establish himself as a large and powerful land owner in Kenya in the early 1920s. It’s almost with the glee of a child that he jumps into acquiring more and more land, but it is also slightly sinister that he was able to use his wealth and position to almost bully others into doing business with him. Like with his collecting, Maurice seems to be easily led and persuaded that land is worthy of acquisition and a good price, and is a bit naive about trusting the advice of others in such important matters. I haven’t even mentioned the elephant in the room in this story- the fact that British men were able to carve up Africa for purchase has always sat uneasily with me.

I wonder if Maurice’s land buying momentum will continue into the 1930s or if his bank manager ‘got wise’ and decided to close his purse. I will have to keep reading the diaries to find out!

Infiltrating a gathering of archaeologists

2 Nov

Yesterday I gave my second paper at the African Archaeology Research day held at the Sainsbury Institute for the Arts at the University of East Anglia. I was much more composed this time and feeling confident. Unfortunately, as I was the penultimate speaker, I spent the whole day growing more and more unsure because I realised that my paper was totally different to the others and I was worried that I would stand out like a sore thumb! It seemed to go OK and I had lots of friendly comments afterwards, but I couldn’t help feeling like I had infiltrated a gathering of archaeologists! I think it did me good to explain my research to a new audience; after all, my supervisor is an archaeologist and she has always really ‘got’ my way of interpreting objects and collections. I listened to some interesting papers on various projects in Africa, and it was great to chat to other research students about their experiences.

My paper talked about Maurice’s collecting methods in Africa. I wanted to cover a bit of his background to show that the collecting traditions of his family made it quite likely that he would become a collector, but also that his collection was so unique and reflective of his individual interests. 

I then talked about different forms of collecting and their implications- such as appropriation or taking by force, the prestige of trophy collections, and cross-cultural trading where Maurice exploited his position of authority to bring ‘sacred’ or ‘culturally unavailable’ objects into the commodity market to enable him to collect them. One example of this that I quite enjoyed was when he collected a series of bows and arrows from a head herdsman in February 1933: 

“I was fortunate to buy for 20/- all the bow, quiver etc. from the old head Herdman. That was his own price. He hated to sell the blood-arrow. He also had a pair of firesticks and I insisted that these should be included in the sale, as well as all the ordinary arrows. After he had agreed, and handed over everything to me, I said “Santa”, or “thank you” in Swahili: and he got very agitated and said to Collinson “good heavens, does he want Santu also?” Santu being his very pretty daughter of just-marriageable age. However, I felt that I had made a very good bargain, even without “Santu”!”

This story shows Maurice’s cheeky humour, but it’s also an example of him taking charge of a situation to make sure he got what he wanted.

I also talked about how the way he collected was influenced by his upbringing and background. His diary accounts are very matter-of-fact and usually quite descriptive, almost scientific, and sedate- even when I can tell that he would have been very excited at the time. This is very much in style with others collecting at the time, and influenced by the Shikar Club that presented hunters as skilled and educated men who followed the rules of fair play. I gave the example of Maurice killing his first lions in 1924:

“after much kelele (noise), a 9 month old cub broke near us, and I shot him with a shot through both shoulders and as he lay finished him off at about 100 yards with a shot through the back. Then after much beating a fine lioness broke out opposite to us about 40 yards off. She started to come for us but immediately changed her mind and galloped off left handed. I missed her clean when near, but got her through the shoulders at about 150 yards. She got into a thorn patch 500 yards away, so we followed in the car, and eventually were able to see her lying down about 10 yards inside the thorn patch. So I sat up on the top of the car and plugged her with the .410, killing her apparently, but gave her another to make sure. Then left her and went back to the original thorn patch to find the male lion. Couldn’t drive him out- if he ever was in there, but eventually drove out more cubs and Sid Monk and Pat Connor eventually each got one of them. Then back to the lioness, which the boys pulled out of the thorns and got our photos taken with her and the 3 cubs. Then skinned them all, put the skins in the car”.

I finished my paper by explaining how important it was for Maurice to fit in and be accepted by other influential settlers and collectors in Africa. Even though collecting was very competitive and every man wanted the best specimens for himself, Maurice needed to assimilate with others to get access to the best places to hunt and permits to shoot more animals. One of the most striking things I’ve noticed in my research so far is just how well connected Maurice was. I always imagined his safaris to be solitary affairs because we think of him as a shy man, but he was usually hunting with others, and was always dropping in on his friends. 

Now that my conference prep has finished I can get back down to some serious research and enjoy the rest of my year doing what I do best!

I’ve also managed to get out and about a bit more recently to visit some exhibitions. Even though people said that being a museum studies student would kill off my love of visiting museums in my spare time, it’s still my favourite thing to do on a day off! I finally managed to find Ordsall Hall sitting rather uncomfortably in the middle of the built-up metropolis of Salford. A beautiful place, with a great refurbishment that allows you to see into some interesting spaces like the attics. I wish we could open our amazing attics at Tatton- they are such unusual atmospheric spaces! I knew that Ordsall was Egerton owned, but was interested to see that it remained theirs right up until Maurice’s death, as I thought he may have sold it off earlier.

I was also surprised to see an interesting taxidermy exhibition by Polly Morgan in my local Warrington Museum. I’m really interested in new ways of using taxidermy to make people think about the blurred lines in concepts of life/death and nature/culture. My favourite piece was a massive ball of pigeon wings. It was great to see a local museum showcasing such thought-provoking pieces. I’m always amazed by Warrington museum; it has so much to offer and such a great core collection and history of interesting (Or controversial!) ways of displaying it. Every time I go I seem to be the only visitor, and whilst I love having it to myself, I can’t help thinking if the museum was transported somewhere like London it would be swamped and would get the attention it deserves. Support your local museum, readers!

Finally I had a good poke around the Sainsbury Centre during the lunch break of my conference. The collection was acquired by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury and was formed and displayed as an ‘art’ collection. It was interesting for me to look at objects collected from Africa, North America, Canada and India at similar times to Maurice’s collection, but they are intended to be viewed in completely different ways. The modern, minimalist display cases and brief labels are certainly a contrast with Maurice’s crowded cases and descriptive notes.