I spent quite a bit of 2020 researching the history of archaeology in the Caribbean. Last month I launched a website that included digital interactive on archaeological collections histories linking Britain and Barbados. Among the locations highlighted on the map of Britain in "Mapping Collections Histories" is South Kensington, where in 1886 the Colonial and Indian Exhibition took place.
I've been interested in temporary exhibitions of archaeology for years now; my initial efforts to trace the small annual temporary displays of material excavated by British archaeologists in Egypt, Sudan, Palestine and Iraq in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was published in 2015. There were displays of archaeological material in World's Fairs, too - I've blogged about the displays of ancient Egyptian artefacts at the 1904 World's Fair in "I'll Meet You in St Louis".
The Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886 included displays of 'archaeological' material (by which I mean artefacts that were at the time considered to be material culture from the ancient Indigenous peoples of the islands, usually called "Carib relics") from across the Caribbean, including Barbados, St Kitts, British Guiana (Guyana), Dominica, St Vincent, Jamaica, and Trinidad. But as I've recently found out, it wasn't the first time collections of artefacts from the Caribbean were brought together.
In 1879, a series of local exhibitions were instigated in British Guiana, in part to strengthen ties and encourage friendly competition between colonies in the Caribbean. A description of the 1882 exhibition was published in Timehri, the journal of the colony's Agricultural and Commercial Society. The displays were grouped into two broad categories – sugar, and everything else. The second (miscellaneous) group included manufactured products, and antiquities. The exhibition featured two collections, one of artefacts from St Vincent belonging to Edward Leycester Atkinson, and the other from St Lucia, belonging to a Mr Rousselet.
The following exhibition did not take place until November 1885, on a slightly grander scale. The British Guiana and West Indian Exhibition featured displays from Guiana and beyond. It was hoped that other islands would contribute, but the Timehri report on the exhibition noted that calls for displays for the Colonial and Indian exhibition had diverted much desired material to London. Among the islands that did respond were St Vincent, Tobago, Trinidad and Dominica.
Again among the Miscellaneous group of the exhibition were collections of artefacts for display. Dr Henry A. Alford Nicholls, an English physician resident in Dominica who had an interest in zoology and horticulture, sent a collection of antiquities from that island (for which he won a prize). These had been previously displayed at an exhibition in the Courthouse, in Roseau, Dominica's capital, held to fundraise to cover the expense of shipping items to British Guiana for exhibition.
Another collection on display in 1885 was uncovered in the grounds of a sugar plantation, Enmore, in British Guiana. This plantation had been in the hands of the Porter family for over a century. It was Rashleigh Porter, great-grandson of the first Porter (Thomas) who had established the plantation, who reported the discovery of artefacts, including stone tools and "some grotesque clay figures, of a highly artistic kind", as the Editor of Timerhi Everard im Thurn reported. Another rich seam of artefacts was uncovered when agricultural digging on the estate revealed deposits of pottery sherds and human and animal remains.
Some of the details about these 'local' (to the Caribbean) exhibitions come from digitised newspapers that have recently been added to the British Library's British Newspaper Archive. In the announcement promoting these newly added resources, the British Library has signalled a commitment to incorporate more colonial papers (and thereby colonial histories). Among the lot available now are searchable papers from Dominica, Jamaica, Barbados and Belize (formerly British Honduras). These now join other digitised searchable resources (see my post "Building Collections Histories") revealing various aspects of the history of the Caribbean in the 19th and 20th centuries. I'm looking forward to exploring these further, and to seeing the collection of available searchable material grow in the coming months!
[Exhibition] Committee, 1885. British Guiana and West Indian Exhibition, 1885. Timehri 4: 268-293
Dominica Dial [Advertisement for Exhibition at Courthouse] [British Newspaper Archive] 24 Oct.
Dominica Dial, 1885 British Guiana and West Indian Exhibition. [British Newspaper Archive] 21 Nov.
im Thurn, E. 1882. The British Guiana Exhibition of 1882. Timehri 1: 100-117.
im Thurn, E. 1884. West Indian Stone Implements; and other Indian Relics (Illustrated). Timehri 3: 103-137.