Reassessing military collecting in North America and Tibet

The British Academy/Leverhulme Trust project surveyed and assessed the interpretive potential of military collections by conducting a pilot study of two British military campaigns that bookend the period of high imperialism: the Seven Years' War in North America (1754-63) and the Younghusband Mission to Tibet (1903-04).  

From March to August 2014 Research Assistant Rosanna Nicolson (née Blakely) contacted 28 regimental and corps museums and visited nine across the UK. Rosanna reviewed objects on display and in store, including mess silver collections, photographic collections, diaries and correspondence, regimental magazines and journals, and archival information about objects no longer in the collection.

Despite the relative rarity of objects from the Seven Years’ War, surveyed objects further demonstrated that material brought back to this country reflected co-operative and supply relationships with indigenous people, thereby challenging the more obvious assumptions about military collecting in relation to looting and souvenir-hunting. Similar complexities emerged from our assessment of objects brought back from Tibet, a campaign associated with the inordinate appropriation of objects.

All findings were collated in a catalogue, consisting of a ‘Collections Level Description’ description and more detailed individual records for each participating museums, enhanced by photographs. This has been distributed to all participating museums. You can download PDFs of the catalogues here:

With thanks to all the museums who participated including The Fusilier Museum, Tower of London Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum, Winchester; Gurkha Museum, Winchester; Black Watch Castle and Museum, Perth; Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive, Gillingham, Kent; Royal Norfolk Regiment Collection, Norwich Castle; Royal Norfolk Regiment Collection, Norwich Castle; Royal Ulster Rifles Museum, Belfast; FIREPOWER! Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich; Redoubt Fortress Military Museum, Eastbourne and Royal Sussex Regimental Archives, West Sussex County Records Office, Chichester.

  • Powder horn inscribed with names James Cameron of 42nd Highland Regiment (Black Watch) and Jonathan Webb, dated 1758. The strap, adapted from a burden strap (or tumpline) of vegetal fibre and moosehair false embroidery is of the type known to be supplied to the regiment for tying blanket roles. Burden straps are Iroquois and Huron in manufacture. (M.1931.581)

    Powder horn inscribed with names James Cameron of 42nd Highland Regiment (Black Watch) and Jonathan Webb, dated 1758. The strap, adapted from a burden strap (or tumpline) of vegetal fibre and moosehair false embroidery is of the type known to be supplied to the regiment for tying blanket roles. Burden straps are Iroquois and Huron in manufacture. (M.1931.581)
  • Algonquian bag decorated with porcupine quillwork of double thunderbird design, late 18th-mid 19th century. The number 355 may relate to numbers used in the model room, which comprised of the earliest collections in what is now the Royal Engineers Museum. This bag was mistakenly associated with South African collections until the 1990s. © Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive.

    Algonquian bag decorated with porcupine quillwork of double thunderbird design, late 18th-mid 19th century. The number 355 may relate to numbers used in the model room, which comprised of the earliest collections in what is now the Royal Engineers Museum. This bag was mistakenly associated with South African collections until the 1990s. © Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive.
  • Tailored moose skin coat with multi-coloured geometric and floral quillwork presented by Captain Hampden Clement Blamire Moody who served in Canada from 1840-1848, mainly at Fort Garry (Winnipeg), the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. © Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive.

    Tailored moose skin coat with multi-coloured geometric and floral quillwork presented by Captain Hampden Clement Blamire Moody who served in Canada from 1840-1848, mainly at Fort Garry (Winnipeg), the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. © Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive.
  • Photograph taken at Gyantse, Tibet, by Lieutenant J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, 1904. © Royal Ulster Rifles Museum.

    Photograph taken at Gyantse, Tibet, by Lieutenant J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, 1904. © Royal Ulster Rifles Museum.
  • Original caption of central image: ‘Thibetan curios from Lhassa’ from 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles regimental album ‘Views from Thibet’. 1904 © Royal Ulster Rifles Museum.

    Original caption of central image: ‘Thibetan curios from Lhassa’ from 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles regimental album ‘Views from Thibet’. 1904 © Royal Ulster Rifles Museum.


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