Objects from the former colonies of the British Empire at Royal Pavilion & Museums

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Brighton Museum & Art Gallery opened in 1873 during the reign of Queen Victoria. Like other institutions at the time, its development took place alongside the growth of the British Empire.

Many of the objects which joined our collections were brought to the UK by British people from countries that were then British colonies.

The Museum holds material brought back from specific imperial campaigns. These include raids by British forces on Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti kingdom (in present-day Ghana) in 1874 and on Benin City (in present-day Nigeria) in 1897.

Some of our objects were brought back by people who worked as colonial administrators, missionaries, explorers and military officials.

As the historic label documents, this pair of manacles was formerly in the collection of Melton Prior (1845-1910). Prior was an artist, war correspondent and illustrator for the Illustrated London News. His highly-patriotic illustrations of imperial conflicts, such as the series he created of the “Ashanti Campaign”, influenced the way the British public thought about these colonial encounters.

Our approach

We’ve been reflecting on what it means to hold colonial-era collections and, like museums elsewhere in the UK and across Europe, we realise we need to do more to be open about the way these objects were collected.

We are committed to sharing information as widely as possible about  these collections and are gradually going through them,  involving communities in the UK and in countries of origin where possible.

For example, Royal Pavilion & Museums are currently working with the National Museum of Botswana and the Khama III Memorial Museum on a collection of objects that came from the missionary William Charles Willoughby. A selection of these objects will be returned, on loan in the first instance, to the Khama III Memorial Museum in 2020.

Looking at objects from Botswana in the museum store. From left to right: Rachel Heminway Hurst (Royal Pavilion & Museums), Winani Thebele (The Botswana National Museum), Scobie Lekhutile (Khama III Memorial Museum, Serowe Botswana) and Tshepo Skwambane (Diverse Community Empowerment Services, West Sussex)

Returning objects to the country of origin

Royal Pavilion & Museums have national accreditation which means that how we look after our collections is guided by a Collections Development Policy [PDF].

This states that when considering whether to return objects to countries of origin, the museum will make decisions “on a case by case basis; within its legal position and taking into account all ethical implications and available guidance”.

We encourage any individual, group or organisation wishing to make a claim for the return of an object or objects to get in touch with us at Royal Pavilion & Museums through our online enquiry form.