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Subject: Embalmed Heads Of Two Zulus Sat Oct 24, 2009 10:04 pm
Embalmed Zulu heads – £5,000 at today’s prices, £67 in 1899 Published at 19:24, Thursday, 21 May 2009
“SWEET lass of Richmond Hill. Sweet lass of Richmond Hill.” All together for the next line. You must know it, you must have murdered it often enough. I know I did. Then I’m of an age to have endured horrendously boring weekly school music lessons that consisted mostly of singing, or rather croaking, our way through the pages of the Community Songbook to a piano accompaniment provided by a music teacher, unconvincingly feigning enthusiasm while, no doubt, wondering what misdeeds in a previous existence had condemned him to trying to coax some semblance of musicality out of a bunch of actively uninterested adolescents. I digress. “Sweet lass of . . .” Never mind. Who cares?
In January 1898, Workington auctioneer Henry Bowman cared. And had you turned up at his Edkin Street saleroom you would have heard the worthy gavel thumper cheerfully bellowing out this song from his podium and I bet he knew all the verses. Not a usual happening in a Victorian saleroom, you might think, but then he didn’t get to auction a house called “Richmond Hill” too often. To be precise, he was offering, not only the house, but the grounds and premises thereof, containing an area of 1,200 yards, near Stonyheugh Farm. Old time reporters had the luxury of space to report and comment on events, some serious and some downright silly. Contrary to popular imagination, Victorians weren’t all gloom and gaiters.
I enjoy trawling through the small ads and other minutiae of the day. You know the sort of thing: three legged chickens, monster cabbages, freak weather reports and the like. Even the sillier pieces are both revealing and informative, as in the case of this report. After Henry Bowman had finished serenading his potential punters, he gave them information about the lot on offer. All of which is of interest to Local History enthusiasts. The house was once occupied by a Miss Litt. It was leasehold, the lease expiring in 2877. Ground Rent was £7 10s per annum. It had been built by Beattie Towers, at a cost of £1,000. The report doesn’t tell us when, but even in 1898 £1,000 was a lot of money. Today’s equivalent is £80,000 – using RPI.
It wasn’t the best time to sell property. They were hard times. Works had closed, people had been laid off, and factories were failing. It was a period of severe economic depression. Negative equity certainly isn’t a new concept. If the wealthy had fallen on relatively hard times, for the labouring poor poverty and deprivation was the order of the day and soup kitchens were regular sights in the town. Things were so bad that Cammell’s workers were going hungry. Not because they couldn’t afford to feed themselves, they were among the fortunate few to have jobs. The problem was that someone was regularly stealing their suppers from their work huts. The culprit, a “vagrant with flaxen moustache and imperial”, was spotted coming out of a hut with a bait tin stuffed into his coat. He legged it down Harbour Road. He was fast, but Isaac Fleming and his fellow workers were faster.
The thief ended up in court. He must have been desperate to steal food from men who, although earning, could still ill afford their losses. The £1,000 house was up for auction with an initial reserve of £600, later reduced to £580. A Mr Jessop broke the ice with a £350 bid. John Ireland and Matthew Bell pitched in, raising the bid to £570. It was eventually knocked down to Matthew Bell for £585, a mere £5 over the reserve. Not world shattering information, but that’s local history for you, often a slow amassing of minutiae. Minutiae fascinate me. Back to auctioneer Henry Bowman. In August 1899, the WCT carried the following snippet: “Mr Henry Bowman, auctioneer of Workington, on Tuesday, paid £67 for the embalmed heads of two Zulus which have resided for some time in Distington Museum.” So what happened to these heads? Was Bowman a collector? Are they lurking in some attic? Or did he buy them to make a quick profit? £67 was a major investment – £5,000 in today’s money.
Wherever they are, there’s only one place they should be, back where they came from, the land of their ancestors. Finally, the missing line of the song. “I’d crowns resign to make you mine.” I just had to look it up.
My wife tells me I ought to get a life
Source: Times & Star
Posts : 30 Join date : 2009-09-29
Subject: Re: Embalmed Heads Of Two Zulus Mon Oct 26, 2009 11:33 am
I presume that the heads have probably been 'lost' - I asked the Times And Star whether they knew any more about this story six months ago, but a search of their archives proved fruitless.
On a separate note, I asked the Natural History museum whether they had any embalmed Zulu heads in their possession; they were naturally very reluctant to comment, but Rob Kruszynski, the curator of the anthropology collections, did say the following:
"I can only say in very general terms what I know and that is that we hold the remains of twenty-six Zulu individuals of which twenty-three are represented only by cranial parts and three by only a few postcranial elements. This collection representing some of human variation for southern Africa was formed in this way: remains of seven of the individuals are direct donations to us, five were donated to us by the Royal College of Surgeons, and fourteen by the University of Oxford."
There were also a few incidents when the odd officer went back to the Isandlwana battlefield and removed the skulls of those who he remembered to have fought valiantly, but the names escape me at the moment!
Posts : 4210 Join date : 2008-11-01 Age : 62 Location : KENT
Subject: Re: Embalmed Heads Of Two Zulus Mon Oct 26, 2009 2:18 pm
prm502 This officer went back to Ulundi.
Field-Marshall Lord Grenfell recalls in his memoirs that a few months after the battle of Ulundi, he visited the 'old fighting ground'. 'I stood at the place … where the Zulus had made their last attack.… I had seen a Zulu Induna hot in the head by Owen's machine-guns, of which there were two at this corner. He was leading his men on and got as close as eighteen yards from the square, for I had measured it after the action. I again paced the eighteen yards and came to my old friend, a splendid skeleton, his bones perfectly white, his flesh eaten off by the white ants. I felt I could not part with him, so I put his skull into my forage bag, and brought it home with me. It now adorns a case in my collection of curiosities.'
Posts : 1095 Join date : 2009-01-14 Location : East London
Subject: Re: Embalmed Heads Of Two Zulus Mon Oct 26, 2009 2:28 pm
A relic or memento could also be an object of material culture, such as a weapon. Sir H.M. Bengough visited the kraal near where the Prince Imperial was killed in the Anglo Zulu war and recalled that he 'brought away as a memento of the sad event a knobkerry stick, which I found in the kraal, and which now hangs in the hall of my house.' In the instance of a famous battle, especially one that was the culmination of a war such as Ulundi on 4 July 1879, every European involved appeared to have wished to own a weapon or object that could serve as a relic embedded with memories of the event. A writer in the history of the 13th regiment in South Africa, published in 1880, just after the Anglo-Zulu war, remarked, 'our mounted forces … cleared and burned all the kraals … and at length it was decided we should return, and every one [should be] … sure of getting some memento of Ulundi: shields, assegais, or anything to commemorate the event.' And as Colonel Henry Harford recalled: 'In my spare time I went over the battlefield of Ulundi and picked up one or two relics in the shape of shields, assegais, etc.' The collecting of relics at Ulundi was obviously very thorough because when Bertram Mitford visited the battlefield a few years later he 'was keenly on the lookout for relics, but could find none; a few bits of broken glass, remnants of ancient gin bottles, lay about and fragments of native property…. On the site of the King's huts I picked up some pieces of a clay bowl, a fragment of an iron three-legged pot, and a smooth round stone such as would be used for polishing floors…. Other relics more curious and valuable there were none.'
A few examples of the usage of the words 'curiosity' and 'curios' will illustrate how loosely it was used. C.W. Robinson remarked in a letter after the battle at Ulundi that there were 'no curiosities or loot whatever - nothing but assegais and Zulu shields as mementoes to take away.' In contrast, other soldiers repeatedly referred to assegais and shields as curiosities and, on occasions, even loot. In the Sudan in the mid 1880s, staff and cavalry were advised '[that if they] wanted any arms as curios they had better pick up what we were collecting in heaps, and that I would make one pile of the best for the officers. On their way back they found a good collection.' Cornelius Vijn, the author of Cetshwayo's Dutchman: being the private journal of a white trader in Zululand during the British invasion wrote that he saw a soldier, who had been sent out to 'capture King's cattle, burn kraals, and plunder all the huts of curiosities,' walk away with four milking bowls over his shoulders, two in front and two behind, four or five girls' bead-fringes round his waist, three men's tail-pieces slung over one shoulder and below the other, like a shawl, a number of bangles on his wrists, on his hat a Zulu's ball of feathers, four or five assegais in one hand and six or seven knobkirries (sic) in the other. The war artist Melton Prior recalled that amid the burning of Ulundi, 'we came across a jolly nice hut', and Sir William Gordon-Cummings said, '"There ought to be something in the place," and he crawled in while I held his horse, and he came out with some nice spears and curiosities.'
There are surprisingly many anecdotes of African soldiers also seeking such souvenirs and artefacts from the battles. After the Anglo-Zulu war Bertram Mitford travelling in the region of 'Inhlazatye' noted that several Zulu men 'had snuffboxes stuck in their ears, consisting of revolver cartridge cases with stoppers, which they said they had picked up at Isandhlwana.' Thomas B. Jenkinson of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and late Canon of Maritzbug who was in Natal in the 1870s recalled after the war that 'The natives bring us a great number of things found on the battle-field; they must have an immense quantity hidden away. They tell us that if it had not been for the plunder on the field, the whole army would have come on after the fight; but their leaders could not get them on. They say it is clever strategy on our part to take so many things about with the army to engage the enemy's attention. A man brought a pair of opera-glasses yesterday; a variety of things is brought. The commonest of these are pickaxes; they have brought so many of these, that we laugh and say we shall take a contract for a road through Zululand.'
Ludlow saw in one of the huts in John Dunn's village 'a collection of guns, rifles, swords, helmets, bottles, flasks, and property of all kinds captured by the Zulus at Isandula and the Intombe river where one of our convoys was surprised.' He also recalled that after dinner one evening at John Dunn's village 'an Induna came in with Lieutenant Douglas's sword, saddle bags, and watch; also the helmet of the trooper who was killed with him. It made one feel very melancholy to look at the half rusty sword, with the marks of blood on the blade, showing how gallantly its owner had defended himself.' And in the Sudan, after the battle at El Teb when the cavalry was advancing on Tokar, one eye witness recalled they 'entered a straggling village called Dubbah, where, in some large huts, were stacked rifles, the Gatlings lost by Baker Pasha, and a mountain gun. In every hut around were lying more rifles, heaps of bayonets, cartridges, portmanteaus, saddlery, clothes, stationery, material and remnants of all kinds - all taken from the equipment of Baker Pasha's army.' Unfortunately for the Zulu and the Sudanese, European material culture in the form of guns, opera-glasses and pickaxes have not enjoyed the same aesthetic reevaluation as their weapons and other material culture. The manner in which soldiers and travellers, amongst others, acquired curiosities, souvenirs, trophies, specimens, etc, is also very revealing of their motives and values. The principal means of securing such pieces were looting, purchasing and bartering; the dynamics of which are not always in retrospect easily understood or unravelled.
Tomasson also recalled that a few days later some representatives of the Zulu king brought two huge tusks of ivory and about 160 head of cattle captured at Isandlwana to the British camp. The ivory was returned, and the cattle kept for some days while the negotiations for peace proceeded. But as Tomasson writes, 'The sight of the ivory aroused the natural desire inherent in every soldier…. Vague stories of the wealth of the King went about. Splendid visions of loot, in the shape of gold dust, ivory, ostrich feathers and diamonds, filled the soldiers' eyes. Incredible stories of the amounts of treasure taken at Isandula were circulated. We believe the real amount was £300. It is needless to say these golden visions were broken, not a man of the Regulars being a sovereign the better for any loot taken. Some of the Irregulars got small sums from deserted kraals. The men took pains to conceal anything they did take, as they were afraid of being made to disgorge.' The many surviving narratives of the battle of Ulundi confirm that no valuable booty was secured. Major-General W.C.F. Molyneux recalled 'I … reached Ulundi before it was quite destroyed, and got some of the white shields out of the shield house … but the heat was so intense that little looting could be done before it was all destroyed.' Bertram Mitford quoting an eyewitness account of the battle of Ulundi wrote that in Cetywayo's house 'there was nothing … but some old rat traps and three pieces of ivory, which fell to the lot respectively of Commandant Baker, Lord Beresford (who was first in the kraal), and Capt. Cochrane, who fired the house'. Guy C. Dawnay, the big-game hunter, who also fought at Ulundi recalled that they ransacked the king's house 'pretty thoroughly, but there was no loot at all, nothing but here and there a spoon, a shield, a string of medlars dried, fat-jars, &c., &c., it was jumpy work staying long there, as the way out was rather intricate and amidst a mass of blazing huts and fences and clouds of smoke.'
Bertram Mitford recalls the frustration of not securing a spear in Zululand because of its symbolic significance and its associations for the owner with the battles he fought during Anglo-Zulu war: 'I saw that one of them carried an assegai with a blade like a small claymore, and seeing, coveted and resolved to have it if possible… I climbed to where they stood; and the warriors greeted me with the usual "Unkos!" and … we speedily became friends…. Then taking up the assegai I began to examine it, suggesting that we should make an exchange, and throwing out all sorts of inducements. Not a bit of it; the jovial warrior would about as soon think of passing with his head-ring - or his head. He had fought with that very weapon "kwa Jim" (Rorke's Drift) &c. &c.; no, he couldn't give it away on any account. It was a splendid specimen of a spear, but on no terms could I obtain it.
The pioneering dealer was W.D. Webster who in the late 1890s issued the first illustrated sale catalogues of ethnographic articles. The other leading dealer was W.O. Oldman who dealt 'in weapons and curiosities', and who also published regular illustrated catalogues. These latter catalogues offer a fascinating insight into the taste of the time for weapons, although occasionally curiosities such as snuff containers and trinkets from south and east Africa were included. Interestingly, those pieces which are highly valued today, such as headrests, very seldom appear in the catalogues. In Oldman's first catalogue, dated 1903, he offered an old 'Zulu shield of buffalo hide' at 7s, an 'old Zulu spear' for 3s, and a 'Zulu knobkerrie' at 3s and also a 'Basuto gun of European make but used and ornamented by natives, perfect, 6.6s'. A few more examples listed in his subsequent catalogues will illustrate the type of southern Africa material in which he dealt: in February 1903, a 'Zulu stabbing spear, large heavy blade, old and rare, 9.6s'; in March 1903, a 'Caffre Knobkerrie, dark polished wood, [which] would make a good walking stick 4s', 'Zulu shield, hide, 28" 1g: said to have belonged to one of the band that killed Pr Imperial' 10.6s'; in July 1903 a 'Mashona Battle-Axe, shaft partly covered brass wire work 5.6', Mashona spear, shaft covered in brass wire work 8.0'; and in October 1903, a 'Mashona knife hilt and sheath of finely carved black wood 12.6s'. In terms of east Africa: in December 1903 he offered a 'Nubian shield of elephant hide 3ft 8 in high, leather sling, fine tone 12.6s', a 'Masai shield of hide painted with heraldic device, old 35s', a 'Masai club of polished rhinoceros horn, curious shape, 20 ½ in long 45s'etc and in list 19, a 'Somali shield, circular, of worked Oryx hide, 25½ in dia (ESA tribe) 32s'.
2002 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved
Posts : 2558 Join date : 2009-04-06 Age : 58 Location : UK
Subject: Re: Embalmed Heads Of Two Zulus Mon Oct 26, 2009 6:02 pm
Just to say thanks to all concerned. This made a very interesting read. Certainly an eye opener,
Still can't imagine Two Zulus embalmed Heads on e-bay.
Posts : 10312 Join date : 2009-04-07 Age : 65 Location : Melbourne, Australia
Subject: embalmed heads Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:41 am
hi john. I for one hope the heads dont end up on ebay !, as I"m likely to BLOODY buy them :lol!: cheers 90th :)
Subject: Re: Embalmed Heads Of Two Zulus Tue Oct 27, 2009 9:00 am
I can see the little lady in your household being absolutely delighted at the idea of dusting those down!! If it were me I'd start packing well before making my final bid!
Posts : 2558 Join date : 2009-04-06 Age : 58 Location : UK
Subject: Re: Embalmed Heads Of Two Zulus Wed Oct 28, 2009 10:36 pm
Well you want what they say. “Two heads are better than one.”