As curator of the African collections at World Museum I often take groups of visitors round our World Cultures Gallery. I also take individuals and smaller groups, with special interests, behind the scenes to show them our stored collections. Many are students or scholars involved in special research projects, and although they often get excited about what they find in our collections, their interests are mostly intellectual and aesthetic. But recently I had a visit that was rather different because it was from cousins Patrice Wellesley Cole and Iva Johnson.
Their excitement at being able to see 21 items from Western Africa in our collection was because these were things that had been given to the museum by their late grandfather Claudius Dionysius Hotobah During and by their great grandfather, George Punshon During. Part of the cousins’ joy at seeing their ancestors’ donations preserved in the museum was because it showed them a side to their late grandfather which they had known nothing about. Both cousins expressed their pride in what her ancestors had given to the museum.
In an email Patrice sent me after her visit, she wrote:
“Reconnecting with the past through the artistic donations of our forbears was truly remarkable. We were struck by the durability and antiquity [of the works] … Our grandfather and great -grandfather had great foresight when they donated such an artistic legacy to Liverpool.”
And she added her thanks to the museum “for preserving them for future generations.”
Some of the donated items are on display in the museum’s World Cultures Gallery and they include household objects, as well as beautifully carved wooden figures and a helmet mask used in rituals of the Mende women’s Sande initiation society. A twenty-one year old Claudius Hotobah During brought eleven of the works to Liverpool in 1908, when he arrived in Britain from Sierra Leone to study law at Middle Temple in London. He donated others from Sierra Leone between 1906 and 1915 through a steamship engineer called Arnold Ridyard who visited West Africa with Elder, Dempster & Co.’s steamer service every three to four months until he retired in 1916. Ridyard may have put Claudius up at his home in Rock Ferry in 1908 and he also assisted his Sierra Leonean friend in other ways. In return Claudius contributed to Ridyard’s collecting operation for the museum in Liverpool.
I was delighted when Patrice contacted me to arrange her visit to see her grandfather’s donations. Her grandfather and great grandfather are among almost eighty West Africans known to have donated more than 500 objects to the World Museum through Arnold Ridyard, helping to make it one of the most important historical collections of African cultural artefacts in Britain. As I am in the process of writing up research on the West African donors to the World Museum African collection, I was thrilled to be able to meet Patrice and Iva, and to make another living, human connection to the history of the museum collection.
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