Magazine article History Today
Without Reservations: Peter Furtado Visits the British Museum to See a Newly-Acquired Collection of Native American Objects
A COLLECTION OF SEVENTY-SIX Native American objects dating from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and including a map of the draining basin of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers inscribed on hide, made by members of the Sioux, Algonquins and other tribes, has been acquired by the British Museum.
Most such collections date from the later nineteenth century, when the military defeat of the Native Americans was well under way, and collectors sought to preserve relies of a culture that was evidently in decline as they became confined to reservations. These objects, though, were freely given and traded, and date from an earlier period than most.
The origins of the collection come from John Mullanphy, an Irishman from Enniskillen who in the 1800s was a trader based in New Orleans and later St Louis, building up a fortune selling Southern cotton to Lancashire mills. He began collecting Native American artefacts, and in 1821 he sent his son Bryan to the expensive Jesuit college of Stonyhurst in Lancashire. Despite several unhappy years at the College, in 1825 the sixteen-year-old Bryan took around twenty-five Native American objects back with him and donated them to the College library.
Throughout his life Bryan remained interested in Native American culture. In the late 1840s he served as mayor of St Louis, perhaps the most westward-looking city of the time (William Clark who, with Meriwether Lewis, had made the first journey across the continent, had been superintendent of Indian Affairs there from 1807 to 1838). Mullanphy was regularly engaged in negotiating peace treaties, land rights and trading agreements with the tribes to the west of the Mississippi, and is remembered as a philanthropist.
The Stonyhurst collection continued to grow through the century, and the objects it included changed. By 1900 there were tourist items such as braided moccasins or decorated birch-bark items combining Native and Victorian motifs, which were clearly made for a European market. …