By Time and Tide Museum
With thanks to the Esmée Fairburn Collections Fund – delivered by the Museums Association.
This exhibition of objects from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia in Canada has been brought together as part of a project called Migration, Heritage and Belonging, which involves researching artefacts in the collection of Time and Tide Museum, acquired by British missionaries in the 1860s. We are now working in partnership with organisations in the UK and in Canada to improve our knowledge and records of these artefacts and build links with their communities of origin.
Human facemask (1800/1865) by Artist unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Carved and painted human face mask pierced at nose for sight, wooden, 19th Century, British Columbia, First Nations, possibly Southern, Time and Tide Museum.
Historically museums have often displayed and interpreted First Nations objects without involving the people that made and used them. This has led to objects being exhibited with misleading information and in a culturally insensitive way. At Time and Tide we are working to uncover the history of how First Nations artefacts came into the collection and to develop relationships with Northwest Coast source communities, to provide access to heritage items and to better understand the objects in our care. We aim to learn from one another, build relationships and address historic mistakes.
Pair of smoked skin child's moccasins. (1800/1865) by Unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Pair of smoked skin child's moccasins.
Embroidered with floral designs, edge bound with green horsehair. 19th Century, Northwest Coast British Columbia, possibly Athapaskan.
Small carved wooden bowl, in the form of a beaver. (1750/1865) by Artist unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Small carved wooden bowl, in the form of a beaver. 19th Century, Northwest Coast of British Columbia, First Nations, Haida, Tsimshian or Tlingit. The patination on this bowl comes from eulachon fish oil which has infused the wood over many years of use.
The fur trade on the Northwest Coast was followed by gold rushes in the 1850s, which brought more white settlers to British Columbia. The white settlers exploited the indigenous population and spread diseases such as smallpox, measles, tuberculosis and influenza that killed at least 60% of First Nations people. British missionaries who arrived to urge more moral behaviour amongst the white settlers and encourage indigenous people to accept colonisation, also caused huge suffering, by pressurizing First Nations people to renounce traditional cultural and spiritual practices, stop speaking their own languages and adopt Western styles of housing and clothing.
Sailing Ships in Yarmouth Harbour (1880/1900) by Unknown authorTime and Tide Museum
In the 1850s Great Yarmouth was an embarkation point for British Columbia and it was from here that missionaries Rev Robert J. Dundas and sisters Anne and Catherine Penrice set sail to Canada.
Both images courtesy of Royal BC Museum and Archives.
In Victoria, Reverend Dundas took up a post as rector at St. John’s Church, while Ann and Catherine Penrice taught at the female collegiate school, Angela College. The sisters collected various indigenous objects during their 5 years working as teachers, including a pair of moccasins and this embroidered Octopus bag, with abstract beadwork in black, white, mustard and green seed beads. Such bags are found among indigenous groups all across the northern half of North America, and so-called because of the eight tabs, in four pairs, hanging from each bag.
Transformation Mask (1750/1865) by Artist unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Outer section of Transformation Mask, 18th/19th Century, First Nations, Northwest Coast British Columbia, likely Heiltsuk or possibly Haisla, Time and Tide Museum.
Wooden bowl (1800/1865) by Artist unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Wooden Bird Dish
Wooden bird dish, 19th Century, First Nations, Northwest Coast British Columbia, Tlingit, Time and Tide Museum. Caption: Wooden dish or bowl carved in the shape of a bird sitting next to a nest. The bowl is probably carved from red cedar
Reverend Dundas spent most of his time in British Columbia in Victoria, but in 1863 he accompanied naval officer Lieutenant Commander E.H. Verney on a trip to the “model” Christian settlement established at the former Tsimshian village of Metlakatla in 1862 by William Duncan, the dissident Anglican lay missionary. Duncan’s vision was one in which the values, industry and thrift of Victorian England were offered to indigenous people as an alternative both to their traditional way of life and to the “degrading influence of white people”.
Carved Mask (1750/1865) by Artist unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Sea Lion Mask
Sea Lion Mask, 19th Century, Northwest Coast British Columbia, First Nations, Tsimshian or perhaps Haida, Time and Tide Museum. This carved and painted mask has hide eyebrows and moveable eyes, although one is missing.
William Duncan was successful in attracting indigenous people to leave the trader post of Fort Simpson and move with him to start a Christian community in Metlakatla partly because of the smallpox epidemic of 1862. In Northwest Coast culture, people consulted the spirit doctor, or ixt’, when illnesses became severe. However spirit doctors were unable to prevent the deaths of 500 Tsimshian people living near Fort Simpson who died in the 1862 smallpox outbreak, whereas only 5 of the Christian converts in Metlakatla succumbed, which Duncan claimed was because “God’s protecting hand was over the community”.
Large Carved Horn Spoon (1750/1865) by Artist unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Carved mountain goat horn spoon, inlaid with abalone shell, 18th/19th Century, Northwest Coast British Columbia, First Nations, Haida, Time and Tide Museum. Such spoons were made and used exclusively for potlatches and feasts and were almost never for sale.
Indigenous peoples who converted to Christianity were encouraged to renounce their old beliefs by giving their sacred possessions to missionaries. At the time of Verney and Dundas’ visit, William Dundas had amassed a significant collection of Northwest Coast artefacts, much of which is believed to have come from Paul Legaic, whom, he wrote in his diary, “had been the Chief Sorcerer or Medicine man and was the wealthiest of the Tsimshian but gave up everything by his conversion to Christianity. . . a true forsaking of all things to follow Christ”.
Rattle (1750/1865) by Artist unknown by usTime and Tide Museum
Painted and carved hardwood rattle in the shape of an oystercatcher, 19th Century, Northwest Coast British Columbia, First Nations, Tlingit, Time and Tide Museum.
Great Yarmouth Town Hall (1909) by Artist unkown by usTime and Tide Museum
Reverend Dundas and Lieutenant Commander Verney sailed away from Metlakatla with artefacts including carved masks, rattles, amulets, feasting spoons and bowls. Reverend Dundas and the Penrice sisters returned to Great Yarmouth in 1865.
An exhibition including their collections was held at the Town Hall in 1866. Later, they donated around 50 of their Northwest Coast objects to the Shipwrecked Sailors’ Home (est.1859), which re-opened as the Maritime Museum of East Anglia in 1967.
This collection came into the care of Time and Tide Museum in 2004 and forms the focus of our ongoing research project at the museum today.
Time and Tide Museum
Norfolk Museums Service
Norfolk County Council
The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund – delivered by the Museums Association.
Royal Museums Greenwich
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Curated by, Sarah Lowndes, Project Assistant
Migration, Heritage and Belonging project,
Time and Tide Museum.
Text and image research by Sarah Lowndes.
Initial research into Northwest Coast collections at Time and Tide by Fiona Savage.
Many thanks to Anita Herle, Senior Curator (Anthropology), Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, for her insightful guidance on wording in this exhibition.
Many thanks to Karen Duffek, Curator and Susan Rowley, Curator, Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, for their generous guidance in updating our NWC Object Records.
Object photography by Stephen Cornell
We welcome enquiries at Yarmouth.firstname.lastname@example.org