Decolonising British Heritage

Published: Posted on

by Ryan Masters

On my first day of the scholarship I met up with Dr Sadiah Qureshi and Dr Kate Smith, along with Corinne Fowler, developer of the colonial countryside project (a project to demonstrate the links many country houses have to colonial affairs, something which has often been ignored, and a major part of the MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) for which my work on the scholarship would further assist. We set out from UoB and travelled together to Derbyshire, to visit the National Trust site of Kedleston Hall.

Kedleston Hall, is the ancestral home of the Curzon family, with the country house having been commissioned in 1759 by Sir Nathaniel Curzon, and was designed by Architect Robert Adams. But the purpose of my visit to Kedleston Hall, was in relation to one of the later heads of the Curzon family; George Nathaniel Curzon (b.1859 – d.1925) former Viceroy of India. George Curzon during his tenure as Viceroy, collected a number of different artefacts from asia, which he collected into what he called his “Eastern Museum”. It was this “museum” that I had travelled to see. When we first arrived at Kedleston, we drove along the path through the estate crossing over the canal flowing through the middle of the estate, and upon our continued drive up to the Hall, we were greeted by numerous sheep, who seemed to think a road with cars travelling was a great place to rest. (I was nominated by my travelling companions to shoo the sheep out of the way). After beating the sheep and parking up, we were given a free tour of the site as guests of Kedleston (Dr Smith and Dr Qureshi were giving a talk to the staff later). Now this was my first visit to any national trust site, and it lived up to my expectations; with the house being incredibly Grand, filled with beautiful paintings and gorgeous architecture; one could not help but be taken in by these extravagant displays of wealth, Kedleston was without doubt beautiful to behold, but perhaps slightly to ostentatious for my liking.

After the tour we travelled to Kedleston’s Eastern “museum”. The first thing that captured my attention as I walked through the doors of the museum was the Tiger skin rug as it dominated the room, it’s face composed into a snarl, it was clearly meant to demonstrate aggression, and thus further imply the superiority of man in turning this dangerous beast into a mere piece of decoration, but instead, I felt disappointed that such a majestic creature was hunted for such a purpose. Due in part of the fact that Tigers are my favourite animal, as well as the fact that the rug, was placed in such a way to draw the eye, I immediately knew that the tiger would be one of the artefacts I would research. However there were many other interesting artefacts throughout the museum, such as various pieces of armour and weaponry; red Chinese Lacquer boxes, and even a religious Tibetan ‘necklace’ carved out of human thigh bone.

Following my day at Kedleston, I spent my time researching the artefacts, in particular the Tiger-skin rug which I had chosen as the focus of my research. For my research, based upon guidelines given to me by Dr Qureshi and Dr Smith, I focused on the history of Tiger hunting in india, the links between hunting and masculinity in colonial India, and how the British used hunting to consolidate their imperial power in the region. Through my research, I learnt a lot more about imperial india and hunting than I ever expected to, and discovered it had great significance, and many lasting consequences, most notably that the tiger hunting encouraged by Britain, has directly affected current Tiger population levels.

After working on the scholarship for a few weeks, I was invited to join the ‘MOOC-athon’, this was an event in which I worked directly with other members working on the project. “The aim of the day was to choose around 10 National Trust objects which we could explore in the MOOC, which would be used to train heritage professionals to rethink their approach to objects and to consider the colonial (and human) dimensions of objects which have a relationship to empire”. Thus during the course of the day, I presented my research of the Kedleston tiger rug and demonstrated its value to the project, furthermore throughout the day I would discuss with the others, other viable objects, which could be used to demonstrate colonial links. Some of the objects that were chosen included: Cotton christening gown, Pineapple adorned architecture, Tiger-skin rug, a portrait showing black presence, along with other objects found in various colonial artefacts. I chose to do further research on the Black presence portrait object, and for the research I chose to research this portrait: “Mary Helden (1726 – 1766) with a Dog and her Black Page, ‘Sambo”

Overall I found my whole experience as part of this project to be very enriching, I found it really enjoyable to engage with people who had such great knowledge upon this subject, and have my own ideas and opinions treated as a peer. I felt like I learnt a lot from this project and I am overjoyed to have my name attached to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *