Speaking up

12 May

In the last week I have given two talks at MMU and am now coming back down after all the preparation and anticipation!

Last Wednesday I did a 45 minute seminar paper for the History department seminar series. I didn’t have a huge audience but everyone was really kind and supportive. It gave me a big boost in my confidence as I’m not a natural public speaker. I talked about 4 of my favourite objects from the collection: the matabele axe, the rhino head, the tunny fish and the meteorite, and i tried to demonstrate the point of my PhD, which is to tell the story of Maurice through telling the story of the object, or should that be the other way round?

On Friday I gave a smaller 20 minute paper for the 2nd annual IHSSR (Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences Research) student symposium. It was last year that I did a poster for that event (I can’t believe a whole year has gone by, and how much has changed for me in that time!) so it was time to try a paper this year. This time I recycled my paper from my conference in Norwich last November about the acquisition of the collection, but I updated it to include my most recent research. It was an interesting day listening to the research of my fellow students, and I hope they enjoyed my paper.

From both talks it seems that the collection really divides opinion between those who can and can’t tolerate hearing the stories behind killing and collecting trophies. One question that really struck me on Friday was along the lines of “why do I promote these tales of acquisition? Or perhaps how can we can tell them in a more politically correct context?” I tried to argue “why shouldn’t we talk about acquisition?” Even if the stories are difficult to hear today, we can’t rub out the fact that acquisition occurred, so why ignore it? I think Tatton is actually in a better place than most other museums to include these stories as we use the collection to talk about Maurice- it’s is an important part of who he was. Museums can all too easily ignore or forget the names of the men that donated their objects to get around the problem of talking honestly about how their collections were born.

On Friday the symposium opened with a talk by the head of the Institute on impact. He said that it’s not enough for us to talk about our research anymore, we have to be able to “prove” that it’s reaching people and changing the way they think or practice. This made us all think through frantically who our audiences are and what impact do we think our research has? For me, knowing that a few of the people I’m working with are interested in reading this blog and talking about my research to others makes me really happy, but most importantly it shows I’m already making some impact. I’ve also realised I need to make the most of any opportunity to talk about my research to as many people as possible outside university, so if I’m able to I might try to do a little public talk at Tatton at some point in the future.

Writing those two papers has given me a lot of focus in the last month, and now it’s all over I’m feeling a little adrift again. I need a new purpose. I’ve got a year now to write up my research, but it seems like such a huge and impossible task to launch into. I think I will try to break it up into some more manageable chunks and smaller deadlines.

Thank you to everyone who came to hear me talk last week, and to those that are still following my blog. To finish, I’ll share a few more original stories about Maurice. So far, I’ve really neglected early stories from British Columbia in favour of his later travels in Africa when he became more of a dedicated collector. To compensate, here are a few interesting snippets:

– In 1902 Maurice was at White River travelling by sled with two companions and 4 dogs. One night, two of the dogs Billy and Wolf went off and didn’t return. Maurice wrote:

“At 3.30am woke up hearing a dog scrambling outside and found Billy returned and in a fit from taking the poisoned baits. We dosed him with melted lard and he continued to have a succession of fits and died in about half an hour. Could not find Wolf”

This is a bit of a sad story, but shows the dangers of living and travelling in such harsh environments.

– In 1905 Maurice was on Pier Island, Taku Arm. He had an Indian guide called Patsy, who was a man despite the name. Maurice was desperate to get a bear. On September 16th he blazed off 13 shots at one but failed to collect it. On September 20th, he sees a female cinnamon bear and two cubs and says he is lucky enough to kill the mother bear with one shot. On October 3rd he sees a small bear and shoots it in the foreleg. Patsy runs up and clubs it to finish it off, and they deduce that it was one of the cubs of the mother bear they shot the other day.


– In 1907 Maurice was in MacMillan and has more luck with bears. On September 11th he spied a black bear. He wrote:

“I fired a rather hurried shot but apparently only slighly wounded her in the forearm. A moment later got in a shot at a cub and made it lie down hollering, then another one, which had climbed a tree when I cracked at the mother, re-appeared again and I plugged it in the top of the middle of the back, just too high to break the spine: he started hollering like fury and I killed him with a shot in the front f the body”

Because I’ve read so many stories like this I think I’ve perhaps become de-sensitised, so I forget that an audience to this research might feel uncomfortable. But for Maurice, a bear was a great achievement, and his account is as usual very matter-of-fact and devoid of emotion or sense of responsibility.

– We only have one moose at Tatton, (thank God as it was THE challenge in taking all the heads down a few years ago) although Maurice did kill many more. On September 20th 1907 he says he had “a great day” and underlined this twice as he killed five big bulls out of a big band that he encountered. We do have duplicates of animals in the collection, but mainly from different localities. Maybe we don’t have all five moose on the wall in the Tenants Hall because only the biggest one was needed from that locality, or perhaps because they did not survive the preservation and taxidermy process. A large number of specimens didn’t make it to Rowland Wards in a satisfactory condition for preparation. Some skins were kept at Wards for years awaiting Maurice’s decision as to whether or not to set them up, and later on a large quantity were actually destroyed in a warehouse fire.

– One benefit of travelling in British Columbia is that Maurice often mentions seeing the Northern Lights. 

– Maurice wrote a few pages of notes on customs in Canada in British Columbia. He once wrote that:

“Smoking is practiced very young, a boy of 13 will have been smoking for 5 years”

– Finally, I was asked recently if I knew the origin of the story we tell that Maurice was once lost and found living with a tribe of nomads in the Gobi desert. I don’t have anything to say on that score yet, other than I think that story originated from Kenneth Selwood, who was a great friend of Maurice. But I do know that Maurice was once presumed lost in late 1902/early 1903 when he had been in the Yukon and not made contact with his family for several months. We have a letter of introduction to the captain of the Steamer that Maurice was taking down the Yukon to return to England, and the author, whose name I couldn’t make out, wrote: 

“My dear Captain. This will introduce you to Mr M Egerton who is going down on your steamer. I am sure you will be glad to meet him and show him any kindness you possibly can- He is on his way to England and you will perhaps remember his name in the papers as his people have been very anxious about him. He is a great hunter”




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