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Making connections through online collections

18 May 2017 by Emma Martin

A chod pan is worn by Tibetan Buddhist monks or lamas during religious ceremonies. The five panels feature the tathagatas or the Five Celestial Buddhas.

Sometimes, correcting mistakes found in the museum’s records leads to new and completely unexpected connections. This recently happened to me. I’ve spent more than ten years working my way through the Tibet collections here at World Museum. As I document the collections I try and fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge: do I know who made the object (often I don’t)? Do I know who once owned the objects (sometimes I do)? How did they collect the object? What do we know about the collector who sold or donated the objects to the museum?

In the case of the chod pan or Crown of the Five Buddhas that you can see here there had been a case of mistaken identity. A curator in the past had misread the object’s label, and had wrongly identified the collector “Mallory.” They were no doubt thinking about the famous mountaineer who had died trying to climb Chomolungma (commonly known by its colonial name Mount Everest). When I looked closely at the files in the archives I realised it was not “Mallory”, but “Malley” and that the chod pan had once belonged to Lewis Sydney Stewart O’Malley (1874-1941). He was a colonial officer in India who also wrote books on India, the Himalayas and India’s caste system. I updated the record, added in some information on O’Malley and thought nothing of it until an email arrived.

Photograph of Lewis Sydney Stewart O’Malley. He was a Indian civil servant who worked for the British government in India in the early twentieth century. Courtesy of Matt Gerrard.

The email was from Matt Gerrard. He is O’Malley’s great grandson and he had found my updated record on World Museum’s on-line collection pages. Matt had been to see the chod pan on display:

“My mother has always told me interesting things about my great grandfather Lewis, and so I had been researching information him on and off for a few years via internet searches.

A few months ago during some idle time I googled his name and found the page on the World Museum’s website listing the chod pan he had collected.

Serendipitously, my wife Clare is from Liverpool. In a few weeks, along with our daughter Ivy, we were also due to visit and stay in accommodation only a short walk away from the museum! So we made our first family museum trip to World Museum. We headed straight up to the world cultures section and managed to find the chod pan really quickly (spotted by my eagled eyed wife!).

This is Ivy Gerrard, O’Malley’s great-great granddaughter, enjoying her visit to see the chod pan on display at World Museum. Courtesy of Matt Gerrard.

I felt huge sense of pride in seeing the chod pan and thought back to my great grandfather collecting it in Nepal in what must have been the early 1900’s, and the journey it has been on. From Nepal, to Norwich, to Liverpool over the course of a century. How different the world must have been, and how it has changed.

Even at 5 months old, Ivy loved her visit to the Museum. She squealed with delight at the many things she could feast her little eyes on. She even managed to tire herself out enough to have a nap while her parents enjoyed a quiet lunch in the cafe (a rare occurrence!).

Had the name on the record not been updated, I’d never have found out about it, and I’m very grateful for it.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and look forward to returning soon.”

I am so pleased to be in touch with Matt. I hope we will continue to share more information on Lewis Sydney Stewart O’Malley and in the process build up a better understanding of how he collected Tibetan objects in the Himalayas.

View the rest of our Tibet collection online now.

  1. Tony Eccles says:

    Curators are really cool people, without them stories like this one would never have happened. Now the chod pan has greater relevance to modern audiences.

  2. Emma Martin says:

    Thanks so much Tony! I’m sure this brought back memories of the museum store and terrible handwriting on faded labels.

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