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As collectors of Tibetan material culture, missionaries had a significant impact. They laid the foundations for Tibetan collections at the National Museum of Scotland, with collection materials peaking between 1890-1904.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, missionary societies had been setting up mission stations along Tibet’s Indian border. The Moravian Church established a mission in Leh (capital of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir), and in the Bengal Presidency the U.S. Christian Missionary Alliance, the English Roman Catholic Mill Hill Mission, the Scandinavian Missionary Alliance, the Church of Scotland Foreign Mission and the Scottish Universities Mission Institution established missions. However missionaries had been unable to insert themselves permanently into Tibetan territory since the Capuchin mission in Lhasa was disbanded in 1745. It was not until the 1890s that European missionaries would again be able to establish themselves in Tibet, and even then only in the border town of Yatung (presently known as Yadong). Despite their position on Tibet’s peripheries, as collectors of Tibetan material culture these missionaries had a significant impact. Missionaries not only laid the foundations for Tibetan collections at the National Museum of Scotland, but were also responsible for eighty percent of the Tibetan material at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum, most of which was collected before 1900 by just two individuals.

Most missionary collections of Tibetan material culture peaked between 1890-1904. The missionaries represented in the National Museum of Scotland worked in the Indian Bengal Presidency and in Xining, the capital of Gansu province in western China, which was part of an important Chinese-Tibetan trading route. Those missionaries working in Bengal were focused on the areas of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Ghoom; trading centres and pilgrimage sites for Tibetans. The British community in this area was tight-knit and the missionary community especially so. Although there is no specific evidence (letters, diaries etc.) that these missionaries whose collections are now in the National Museum of Scotland knew each other, circumstance make it likely.

Selling objects to museums was a particularly lucrative way for missionaries, who often were paid very little, to raise funds for their missions. Unlike other commercial activities, selling objects to museums was considered an appropriate way to raise funds, because museums had an educational purpose, which fitted into the missionary ethos. The National Museum of Scotland seemed to have been especially interested in paying for Tibetan material at this time, and many missionaries, not just those working with Tibetans, formed lasting connections to the museum through the sale of objects.

Annie Royle Taylor (1856-1922)

Image of Annie Royle Taylor

Above: Annie Royle Taylor

Annie Royle Taylor was born in 1856 in Cheshire. Her father ran a shipping line and Taylor had a wealthy and privileged upbringing. As her family disapproved of her preferred vocation, Taylor sold off her jewellery to pay for nursing training at Queen Charlotte Hospital, London, and graduated in 1884. In the same year she joined the China Inland Mission and travelled to China as an unmarried female missionary, something that was still quite a rarity at this time. The China Inland Mission was one of the first missionary organizations to actively recruit unmarried women to work abroad. If these women married once in post (usually to another missionary), they lost their position as a paid member of mission staff, although usually continued to work for the mission alongside their husband.

Taylor had suffered from ill health as a child, and work in China proved too great a physical strain. In 1887 she left the China Inland Mission, but her time in China had sparked an interest in Tibet and the idea that she might start a mission of her own, inside Tibet’s borders. In 1890 she moved to Gangtok, the capital of the Indian state of Sikkim, which bordered Tibet and offered an excellent location from which to learn Tibetan and plan an expedition to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

It was around this time that Taylor met Puntso, a Tibetan man who was to become a lifelong friend and helper. Puntso had been brought to Taylor’s house in Darjeeling in 1889, in need of medical treatment. He became her first convert and stayed with her, acting as friend and guide. In 1892, equipped with knowledge of the Tibetan language learnt from time spent with monks in the area, and a small team of Tibetan guides and assistants, Taylor began an expedition to Lhasa from the Chinese western border. The expedition’s equipment was basic, and Taylor recounted many nights of sleeping in the snow and eating very little. Travelling in Tibetan dress [see image below], Taylor would have used many items similar to those she later sold to the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art (as the National Museum of Scotland was known until 1904). For example, yak-hide saddle bags would have been used to transport blankets, clothes and food during the journey and a turned wooden bowl would have been used for daily meals of roasted barley flour and water, known as tsampa.

As noted earlier, missionaries had been restricted from accessing Tibet since the mid-eighteenth century. When Taylor and Puntso were only days from the capital they were captured, interrogated and turned back. Yet the experience spurred Taylor on in her goal of establishing a mission station within Tibet’s borders. In 1893 she approached the China Inland Mission, requesting permission to lead a missionary group into Tibetan territory, but was denied because the China Inland Mission did not approve of a woman leading a group of men. So Taylor set about creating her own independent missionary organisation. She called it the Tibet Pioneer Mission and in 1894 she returned to Gangtok with a dozen male (and one female) missionaries in the hope of crossing into Tibet and establishing a permanent mission station [see photograph below]. The group were unable to obtain permission to enter Tibet from the Tibetan authorities and this frustration, along with Taylor’s seemingly difficult personality, led to their disbandment after less than a year. Some of the group returned to work for the China Inland Mission, and others moved on to other missionary societies, such as the Church of Scotland Foreign Mission. Only Puntso remained with Taylor in Gangtok.

The Tibetan Pioneer Mission Darjeeling 1894

Above: The Tibetan Pioneer Mission, Darjeeling, 1894

In 1895 Taylor was finally able to move to Tibet. A trade treaty agreed in 1893 had established the small border town of Yatung as a trading post, where foreigners were allowed to settle. Taylor and Puntso opened a shop, selling basic goods for the home and some basic medicines, which they ran concurrently with a newly founded mission station aimed at converting Tibetans. Most of the objects Taylor sold to the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art come from this time in her life, and were acquired in Yatung. Puntso also settled down, and both he and his wife Sigu continued to live with Taylor. This photograph [see below] shows Taylor, Puntso and Sigu taking tea and reading from the bible. The tea churn, seen to the side of the photograph, was an important piece of equipment in any Tibetan home – butter tea, along with tsampa formed the basis of the Tibetan diet. Taylor can be seen dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing and was known locally as ‘ani’, the Tibetan word for a nun. The image reflects Taylor’s life in Yatung, which saw her uphold the China Inland Mission ethos of being ‘Chinese [or Tibetan] in everything but sin’. In other words, she embedded herself in Tibetan society without ever abandoning her Christian values.

Taylor Puntso And Sigu Taking Tea And Reading From The Bible

Above: Taylor, Puntso and Sigu taking tea and reading from the bible

The community in Yatung included a mixture of traders, nomadic herders and soldiers, who guarded Tibet’s frontier with the British Empire. Taylor’s collection shows how she interacted with all the different people living in Yatung. A chopstick case decorated with silver rupees was most likely a gift from a high standing figure in the community, whereas a simple gau, or amulet case was probably an exchange for goods at her shop.

In 1897 Taylor returned to Britain, accompanied by Puntso, in order to raise funds for her work. She toured extensively, especially in Scotland, where both she and Puntso dressed in Tibetan clothing and discussed their missionary work. Taylor would translate for Puntso, who would speak directly to the crowds. She also issued a plea for new recruits for the mission, focusing this time on single women missionaries, rather than men. Over the next ten years a series of female missionaries lived with her, Puntso and Sigu in Yatung.

During her tour of Britain, Taylor sold a collection of objects to the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art and a smaller collection to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum. On her immediate return to Yatung she sold another collection to the museum in Edinburgh, which she sent directly from Tibet. The second group of items include many objects not found in the first collection, showing that Taylor had thought carefully about what sorts of things the Museum might want, and what they would pay for. Although not mentioned in the Museum’s official records, many of the object labels acknowledge Puntso as the source of the material. Puntso is the only Tibetan to be given such recognition within the Museum’s collection, a fact that is testament to his relationship with Taylor. This collection entered the Museum at a time when many prejudices surrounding race and class were institutionalised within Victorian society. Not only was Puntso a Tibetan, but a relatively poor man, viewed as the servant of a well-to-do English lady. It therefore appears that Taylor appealed directly to the Museum for the inclusion of his name on these small object labels, clearly linking him to his own culture and objects within museum paperwork, yet keeping him hidden from public view. These were small labels attached to each object for the purposes of identification within the Museum’s stores, but were not labels for public display.

Interestingly, the label attached to a pair of boots states that they are not only Puntso’s, but that they are chief’s boots, suggesting that Puntso was either far more than a British woman’s servant, or keenly aware of the British public’s obsession with hierarchy, and canny enough to try and appear more prominent than his status may have afforded.

Taylor was not Scottish, but her work with the China Inland Mission, which was a type of mission known as a ‘Faith Mission’, had a strong resonance with Scottish missionary practices. In fact, so affiliated was she with Scotland and Scottish missionary work, that one British soldier who met her in Yatung in 1903 assumed she was Scottish herself! This connection is the likely reason for her collection’s final sale to a Scottish museum, rather than an English one.

In 1903 the commander of the Younghusband Expedition, Captain Francis Edward Younghusband (1863 – 1942), entered the town of Yatung and was met at the gates by Taylor. Many accounts of Taylor by British soldiers associated with the Expedition suggest she was somewhat eccentric, apparently believing that Younghusband was trying to have her assassinated. The Younghusband Expedition brought about a huge dilemma for Taylor, forcing her to choose between her country of birth and her adopted homeland. In the end, she accompanied the Younghusband Expedition to the Chumbi Valley, where a large military base was established. Here she put her nursing skills to use once more, working for the British army attending to both soldier’s medical and spiritual needs. However, the killing of Tibetans and the destruction that the British army caused within Tibet appears to have sent Taylor into shock, possibly a depressive state. Although she returned to Yatung after the Younghusband Expedition, her family were clearly worried about her, and her sister travelled to Tibet in 1907 to bring her back to Britain.

Deemed unable to care for herself, Taylor was institutionalised from 1907 until her death in 1922. It is unknown what became of Puntso and Sigu, but through the collection of objects attributed to Puntso, and his presence through their labels, his important role in Taylor’s biography has endured. Taylor’s life was certainly colourful and ultimately sad, but her remarkable story is captured in the objects she sold to the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art in 1897. The difficultly of working abroad as a single woman in Victorian society, the hardships of the Tibetan environment and the strong bonds she made with the Tibetan community at Yatung were all important messages that she deposited in the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art through her collection of Tibetan objects.

John William Innes-Wright (1856 – 1925?)

J.W. Innes-Wright was born the same year as Annie Taylor, but in quite different circumstances. Innes-Wright was raised in a middle-class family in inner city Glasgow, his father a merchant for the East India Company, a profession into which he would also enter. In tandem with these commercial enterprises, Innes-Wright was heavily involved in the Church of Scotland Young Men’s Guild, a group within the Church to promote Christianity and undertake ‘good work, and the Glasgow Faith Mission, a Glasgow based group affiliated with the worldwide ‘Faith Mission’ movement. These were very different types of missionary organisation. The former was a nation-wide initiative, where all activities were directed centrally, from Edinburgh. The latter was one of a series of independent missions, loosely linked by a shared ethos, who assisted many independent missionary workers.

In1892, he was selected by the Church of Scotland Foreign Mission as their second missionary to work in Kalimpong, in the Indian Presidency of Bengal. The role would be as an assistant to the missionary Dr. John Anderson Graham, already stationed there and running a small school for destitute children called St. Andrews Homes. Sailing to Calcutta in December 1892, he met fellow Glaswegian missionary Rebecca Johnston en route and they married on arrival in early 1893.

Innes-Wright only worked for the Church of Scotland Foreign Mission for six months. Letters in the Church of Scotland archive, at the National Library of Scotland, show that he became very ill but was also unhappy with the work expected of him. In 1894 he quit the mission and returned to Glasgow. With support from the Glasgow Faith Mission, he toured Scotland to raise funds for an independent mission, called the Nepaul [sic] Mission, also known as the ‘New Scotch Faith Mission’. Established in 1897, the mission was based in the small town of Sukhia Pokhri in Bengal, not far from the Nepalese border and aimed to bring Christianity to the many Nepalese (mostly Hindu) pilgrims who came through Sukhia Pokhri.

Unlike Annie Taylor, Innes-Wright remained detached from the community he lived amongst. Letters written to the Faith Mission magazine ‘Bright Words’ reveal a lack of interest in learning about the cultures and religions he encountered, and a level of hostility and prejudice towards all the communities – Nepalese, Bhutia, Lepcha and Tibetan – that lived in the area. Yet it was from within these communities that he formed his collections of objects. Interesting, the mission itself was very much focused on working with Nepalese, mainly Hindu, communities and not once in his many published letters is so much as an acknowledgement of the vibrant Tibetan community that was all around him.   

Innes-Wright was an extensive collector. His collections can today be found in the National Museum of Scotland, Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, The World Museum Liverpool and the British Museum. By looking at all these collections together it becomes apparent why he collected so much when he took so little interest in the cultures these objects came from. These four collections mirror each other in content and include all the items that, by the 1890s, were established by connoisseurs and museums as ‘typical’ examples of Tibetan culture. Almost identical small statues of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara can be found in the collections in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool. A printing block that makes images of a mandala is in both Edinburgh and Liverpool’s collections. Overall, a third of objects across the four museums are the same. The only piece of evidence explaining how Innes-Wright collected is a letter written to Liverpool Museum in 1897. In this letter, Innes-Wright lists all the things he has to offer, how much they cost him and how difficult or easy it is to obtain certain examples on the Museum’s behalf. What this tells us, along with his regimented collecting habits, is that he was collecting as a commercial activity, most likely to fund the mission.

However, his letters home do give some sense of the sorts of objects he was interested in. Although always discussed in negative tones, he was clearly interested in ‘superstitions’, such as the carrying of amulets to ward off certain ills. The braided necklet of prayer packets is a good example of the type of object collected as evidence that Hinduism and Buddhism were fraught with ‘superstitious’ practices – evidence as he saw it for the need for Christian intervention. A similar example in Liverpool World Museum has been opened, so that the mantras inside are visible. The taking apart of amuletic items to discover the meaning and value of their contents was common practice amongst western collectors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Many of the other items that Innes-Wright collected were typical of the material available in the market stalls of the northern Bengal towns, such as Darjeeling and Kalimpong, where Tibetan traders sold their wares to many foreigners interested in collecting Tibetan ‘curios’. These items were often associated with Tibetan Buddhist practices, such as this small damaru, or double-sided drum. Others such as these woman’s earrings were indicative of particular styles of Tibetan dress and decoration. In this case, the earrings are in a style associated with the Tibetan capital Lhasa. As foreigners were barred from that area, objects associated with Lhasa were often sought after.

There is very little information about Innes-Wright’s success as a missionary. In 1902 his wife, Rebecca, died and in 1903 he returned to Glasgow. Here he sold more Nepalese and Tibetan objects to Kelvingrove Museum and remarried in 1904, to Elizabeth Mary Colvill of Argyll, before returning to the mission with his new wife. The Innes-Wrights continued to run their mission, which expanded to include some medically trained staff, until 1922, when they returned to Scotland for good. J.W. Innes-Wright died that year and the mission they had left behind in Bengal was amalgamated with a Tibetan mission in Darjeeling, a few miles away.

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