Archive | March, 2014

Big Game Fishing

18 Mar

I’ve already written a post about the two monster tunny fish at Tatton Park. They are perhaps one of my favourite pieces in the collection, and will definitely get a big feature in my PhD thesis.

Last Monday I spent an interesting day looking at the British Tunny Club archives at Scarborough Museum. Sadly Maurice doesn’t appear to have been a member of the club, so there were very few mentions of him, and his large fish are not recorded in their record books. However, it was interesting to see the names and catches of others fishing as friends or rivals of Maurice at that time. Their accounts are great comparisons alongside Maurice’s, and I got some great context for my research.

This is a story best told through pictures, so here are a few photos from the archive, taken with kind permission of Scarborough Museums Trust.

After a few reported sightings and speculations, the first tunny fish was caught in British waters in August 1930 by Lorenzo Mitchell Henry. Lorenzo Mitchell Henry, seen here with this largest fish that briefly held the record in the 1930s:


Maurice’s tunny diaries begin in 1931, and his first catch wasn’t until 1933 so I had always assumed that he jumped on the bandwaggon rather late. However, the archive revealed that the very next day after Mitchell Henry caught his fish in 1930, Maurice arrived in Scarborough to get in on the action. With the formation of the British Tunny Club in 1933, the “rules” of fishing were cemented, saying that fish must be caught unaided from small boats on rod and line. Many fishermen were angry to be inundated from wealthy fishermen using motorboats and the assistance of their crew in landing the fish. As he was a member of the Shikar Club and seemed to care deeply about the rules of sportsmanship, I was surprised that Maurice didn’t join the Tunny Club or adhere absolutely to it’s rules. I think the eagerness to acquire a fish at any cost seemed to win out in this case.

Tunny fishing was a social affair- the waterfront would bustle with people, especially children, waiting to see what would be landed This crowd gathered in September 1948:Image

When landed, the fish would be weighed according to British Tunny Club guidelines, and of course the proud fisherman would be photographed alongside his catch. Here is Jack Tansey posing alongside six fish caught:


Tunny fishing was considered a rich man’s sport due to the expense in hiring yachts, buying equipment and engaging experienced skippers to locate the fish at sea. Scarborough was also advertised as the only place in England that could provide a “big game” hunting experience as exciting as shooting lions in Africa. No wonder it attracted Maurice, as well as other wealthy thrill seekers like the Rothschilds. One lady attracted by this was Lady Broughton, who was an experienced game hunter in Africa. She preferred to set up a tent on deck as if on safari rather than sleeping below deck:


Scarborough harbour teemed with large yachts, such as Baron Rothschild’s ‘Eros’ and Colonel Peel’s ‘St George’ staffed by an entirely Sudanese crew pictured here:


The largest ever Tunny at 852lbs was caught by John Hedley Lewis on his first fishing trip, seen here with his skipper Tom Pashby:Image


The very same record breaking fish, now looking a bit forlorn in storage at Scarborough:



Tunny fishing declined sharply in the 1950s, and the last fishermen came back empty handed in 1953. Some claimed the fish were no longer coming near, but others blamed the local fishermen guides for charging greedy prices. As they lost business, they were forced to work elsewhere, and so few guides were available for those that did still look to fish there. Scarborough felt the loss of the money brought into the town. Today as I walked down to the harbour, it’s almost impossible to imagine how different it must have been in those few summer months every year when the tunny fish came biting.

 Photo: Greetings from sunny Scarborough

Many thanks to Scarborough Museum and Jennifer Dunne for hosting me.




Archive Adventures

1 Mar

I’ve visited a few different archives lately to branch out and find some context for my research, as well as looking further into Maurice himself.

What I’m loving right now is that different strands of my research are starting to link up, so I’m feeling that I’m on the right track and that I’m following the right paths. Last week I spent a few days in Oxford. I wanted to visit the Pitt Rivers to take photographs to start to think more into the second part of my thesis- how Maurice constructed his exhibition. Peering into the cases and poking through the drawers I found a series of objects given to the collection by Powell Cotton. He was another collector known to Maurice, and his display at his museum at Quex Park was very similar. These other exhibitions by contemporaries and acquaintances are very useful comparisons.

After filling in many forms and swearing an oath never to bring fire and flame into the library, I got my reader’s ticket for the Bodleian library and was able to look at their archive for Colonial Kenya. I chose three names of people that Maurice knew and followed their stories through their letters and papers. Cara Buxton has fascinated me ever since I read her name in Maurice’s diaries and found out she was a female adventurer, pioneer and huntress in an otherwise male dominated society. I see her almost as the female equivalent to Maurice- she was from a noble family in Norfolk, she never married, and she lived a life of her own making in Kenya. Her letters to her nephew at Eton give a great insight into her life. She built her own house in Kericho saying:

“I live with a spirit level in my pocket and dream about corrugated iron. I saw so badly, it’s most awful fun, really about the greatest fun I’ve ever had- Tho’ I am happy in a tent, I don’t much care if the house is never finished”.

Most fascinating was her account of trying to sail back to England during WW1. Her ship was chased by a German submarine in the Mediterranean and had to go zig-zagging around until an allied destroyer saved them. For safety, it then joined a convoy of ships, and she watched as one of them was sunk in front of her.

I also looked at another Buxton of the same family who led a noted life in Kenya- Clarence Victor Buxton. His archive related to government in Kenya, and many of his papers were marked classified and top secret. Most interesting was his call for action during the Mau Mau rebellions of the 1950s when several attacks were made on this property.

Remember I said about stories linking up? Another archive I looked at in Oxford was that of Edward Powys Cobb, another friend of Maurice in Kenya. He sailed back to England on the same ship as Cara Buxton in 1915 and his daughter Dorothy describes:

“I got bits of meat and bent nails from the kitchen and long pieces of string. These we let over the stern of the ship to make the sharks jump for the meat. Then a Miss Buxton came and saw what we were doing. She was a noted shot in Kenya. She said “I will get my gun and have a pot at these sharks”. This she did.”

Powys Cobb also had dealings with Clarence Buxton during the management of his estates. When these names all link up it helps me to imagine a sense of community amongst the British settlers in Kenya, and I see how they responded collectively to the problems they faced.

I’ve also spent a few days at Chester Records Office this week. As usual, I underestimated the amount of time I would need to go through the archive there, and I have probably spent too much time noting everything that interests me rather than focusing on just taking what I need. 

I’ve found some useful scribbles from Maurice showing that whilst he was “stuck” at Tatton during WW2 he spent quite a lot of time re-ordering and tinkering with the display of his collection. I’d also wondered about the specimens he donated to Liverpool Museum- were they numerous, varied, good quality?etc. From his lists it seems that he donated only poor quality heads or duplicates, or specimens that weren’t his to begin with. Furthermore, it seems he might only have donated these because Manchester Museum had reached a capacity and was unable to take more large specimens due to space restrictions. Maurice didn’t seem happy about this, and offered the museum £1000 if they would expand into the University dental building next door to make a bigger natural history gallery.

In the Tatton archive I had seen some balance sheets relating to Maurice’s finances in Kenya. These were interesting as I was under the impression that Maurice was in quite a lot of financial trouble towards the end of his life and I wanted to find some facts. There were more of the same at Chester, and they certainly painted a picture of Maurice being in distress. In 1953 the Westminster Bank wrote to him urging him to make a “substantial and permanent” reduction in his overdraft, which stood at £250,000. An inflation calculator tells me that this would be something like £5.9 million in today’s money. In response, Maurice is forced to sell his land at Iringa in Tanganyika, his textile factory Nakuru and many farms and cottages from Tatton. He had already sold his large tea estate at Jamji. He writes that he has resigned from most of his societies, that he is asking Lord Stamford at Dunham to buy up a lot of his local land, and that he is inquiring about the possibility of the National Trust taking over Tatton.

I didn’t know that Maurice had approached the National Trust so soon. In 1953 he writes to the Trust:

“I am beginning to feel that if my conditions do not soon iprove, I’ll have to consider doing something very drastic about it as the rates, taxes and upkeep of this home are very big. I believe Lord Derby is demolishing part of Knowsley”.

Letter back and forth show that meetings had been held to consider the National Trust taking the estate and allowing Maurice and his chosen heirs to live on there meanwhile. Maurice wrote to Lord Derby who seemed to be faced with similar financial pressures. Derby advised him that demolishing wouldn’t be the best option as it came with lots of costs, and that meanwhile he should sell all his farms and his books, which were currently fetching good prices. Many lots of Egerton books were sent to auction in the 1950s, and in 1954 45 lots of Knutsford properties were auctioned, raising £30,750. All of this didn’t keep the bank satisfied, and they wrote again to request more urgent action. I’m not surprised that Maurice spent the last years of his life in Kenya without coming home. But it is very sad to see the pressures of keeping Tatton, and how close he came to losing his grip on it during his lifetime. The newspaper headlines at his death wondering “who will inherit Maurice’s millions?” would have had very different headlines if they had known the truth.