Archive | July, 2014

Reviews and Rhodes

23 Jul

I had my annual review yesterday at MMU. We are assigned an academic we don’t usually know or have dealings with so we can speak honestly about our progress and relationships with our supervisors. I was allocated a new reviewer this year as my previous chap has apparently broken his hip, so I was a bit unsure about how much of a “grilling” I would get as my last chap went very easy on me. Luckily I had a really nice meeting, and got some good tips and contructive feedback to use in my last year. It’s still hard to believe I’m entering my last year- where has all the time gone!

I’m still struggling to feel like I’m making any progress in the writing up process. Most days I only end up writing a few paragraphs or just constantly reviewing what I already have, so I don’t feel like I’m increasing my word count very much! I’m panicking too much about being behind on my schedule and not being able to string sentences together that sound even vaguely intelligent, so I’m not taking the time to enjoy going back over my notes and using all the stories I got so excited about during my research period. I need to adjust my outlook rather majorly if I want this year to be enjoyable rather than a chore!

Today I’ve been re-reading a book we have in the library at Tatton by Alexander Weston Jarvis called “Jottings from an active life”. I was so grateful last year to hear from an academic who was transcribing Weston Jarvis’s diary from his time in Matabeleland and kindly gave me a copy to use in comparison with Maurice’s diary from the same time. I later found this book in our library at Tatton which gives his more formalised and polished account of what happened, so I’ve been lucky to get lots of context of the Matabele War and Maurice’s hunting trip.

I just wanted to share one funny story from the book. You might remember how Maurice looked forward for many weeks to meeting Cecil Rhodes, who was undoubtedly one of his heroes. He was disappointed when he finally met him, and said that Rhodes was “older than I had imagined, and his rallying speech was inaudible to almost everyone”. It seems that Maurice wasn’t the only one to think that Rhodes would have cut a more imposing figure.

One day during the conflict Weston Jarvis went out to loot some supplies and left Rhodes sitting by the wagon reading a book. When he got back, Rhodes told him a funny story of an encounter with a man from their laarger:

“Good Day”, said the man, “have you got any fish?”
“No” said I, “I am sorry to say that I’ve got no fish”.
“Got no fish” said he, “have you got any jam?”
“No” said I, “I am sorry to say that I’m out of jam”.
“You’ve got no fish, and got no jam, what the devil then have you got?” said the man.
“You may well ask me that” said I, “I’ve got precious little left, and what I have got they’re all trying to take away from me as fast as they can”.
“I’m sorry for that” said the man, “But (looking at some six or eight books lying on the ground) you’ve got some books I see, and (picking one up on Buddhism) some pretty deep subjects too!”
“Well” said I, “I certainly do read a bit, that’s my recreation. You see, it’s pretty hard selling fish and jam all day”.
“I think it must be” said the man. “Well I’m sorry for you, for you’re a civil spoken kind of chap, and I’m still more sorry that you’ve got no fish or jam, but it can’t be helped. Good day”.
“Good day” I said, and he went back to the laager.
We naturally laughed very heartily over the incident, and wondered what the man’s feeling would be when he saw Rhodes riding the next morning at the head of the column, and discovered the man he had taken for a purveyor of tinned stores to the troops was the greatest Englishman of modern days!”

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Major Percy Horace Gordon Powell Cotton, 1866- 1940

1 Jul

An interesting name for an interesting man, and almost as long as another of my comparisons Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers! Maurice Egerton just doesn’t quite have the same glamour…

Last week I finally made it to Kent to do the last bit of research needed for my PhD. I visited Quex Park, the one time home of Major Powell Cotton and site of his museum. Powell Cotton knew Maurice, and they were collecting similar objects at the same time, and both used Rowland Ward to prepare their taxidermy. Maurice had his book “a sporting trip to Abyssinia” in his collection, so I knew I would have to see his museum for myself. Unfortunately I had a bit of trouble trying to arrange a research appointment to see the archives, but I was happy to play the tourist and just enjoy visiting the museum, which is something I haven’t had much opportunity to do lately.

From his childhood it is easy to compare Powell Cotton with Maurice, and they were from similarly privileged backgrounds. When he was born in Kent in 1866 his grandfather was the current owner of Quex but he would have been a regular visitor. He also didn’t receive a formal education, and was taught at small schools, but had an early interest in natural history. He was a meticulous record keeper from childhood, whereas I think Maurice only became organised to fit in with other hunter/collectors later on.

I was wondering what sort of building Powell Cotton would have constructed for his collection and how it would compare with the tenants hall at Tatton. It seems at first that Powell Cotton displayed his taxidermy in the billiard room of Quex, and that his collection began to develop along similar lines to Maurice: as trophies displayed in an ancestral home to speak of the power of the collector. But when both men began to run out of space in their homes, their collections and exhibitions diverged down different paths.

Powell Cotton was inspired by the full mounts created in natural habitats by Rowland Ward, and so began construction of a museum that would allow him to present his animals in this manner. The dioramas that resulted at Quex are jaw-dropping and impressive. I didn’t anticipate being quite so blown away by my visit. Like our Rowland Ward trophies at Tatton, his specimens look to be in great condition, but the real wow factor comes from the¬†quantity and variety of animals on offer, particularly large specimens like giraffe and elephant, which moves far beyond Maurice’s collection.

Now I’ve got to get to grips with the important points of comparison between Maurice and Powell Cotton:

  • Maurice’s choice of “trophy heads” for his own collection, vs full mounts donated to museums, and the connotations of trophy displays vs dioramas.
  • The choice of display space, why did Maurice remodel the tenants hall and Powell Cotton construct a purpose built museum? What does each space convey?

Here are some photos, please enjoy, and visit Quex if you can- it truly is an amazing place!

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