‘A great object’: famine relief through excavations in Cyprus?

As mentioned earlier, the Visitors’ Guide to the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition states that, while Vice-Consul in Cyprus, T.B. Sandwith relieved the hardship of local inhabitants by paying for the products of their excavations.

“A famine had taken place in the island at that time, and Mr Sandwith, knowing that there were ancient graves in various parts of the island, set the people to excavate them… The sale of many of these articles relieved the starving people” (p.10).

On the face of it, this seems rather unlikely. However, I’ve come across further sources that add weight to the idea that Sandwith’s excavations were motivated, at least in part, by a desire to help local Cypriots. As noted in a previous post, the Cypriot oenochoe bought by Mr Joseph Hall came with the following provenance:

“The digging has been under the charge of Mr Sandwith our Vice Consul, brother to the late Dr Sandwith of Kars celebrity, and the pottery sent to England to be sold for the relief of the inhabitants, who were suffering from famine.”
(Letter to Mr Joseph Hall, © Leeds Museums and Galleries)

Perhaps this is no more than a repetition of the story circulating at the Yorkshire Exhibition. More weight can be given to information provided by Mr John Holmes (1815-1894), a notable Leeds collector who was acquainted with the Sandwith family. He provided a brief biographical note of Dr Humphrey Sandwith, T.B. Sandwith’s brother, for the 1889 volume of Old Yorkshire, a multi-volume compendiary of notable Yorkshire places, events and people. In this he says:

“I made his [i.e. Humphrey Sandwith’s] personal acquaintance in 1873-4. It begun [sic] in the old pots, sent from Cyprus by his brother, T.B. Sandwith (then Consul), for sale, to relieve the Cyprians, who were dying of famine from a three years’ drought and locusts. I purchased from a shop window in Sheffield certain of the very curious pottery, of at least over 2,000 years old, became acquainted with and was visited by the Rev. Henry Sandwith, of Todwick, and was induced to visit Humphrey at the Old Manor House at Wimbledon, 1874 – presumably because I had, in 1871, sold so many vases, etc., at such prices as, among others, to enable the Consul to do much good, as I realized myself in Larnaca, 1873.” (Old Yorkshire series II volume 1 (1889), ed. W. Smith)

This account gives a tantalizing glimpse of the dispersal of the Sandwith collection in Yorkshire in the 1870s. What was the shop in Sheffield, and who else bought the Cypriot artefacts? Eight Cypriot pieces in the Leeds City Museum are from John Holmes’ collection, and it is at least possible that some of these were originally shipped to England by Sandwith.

There is further testimony from even closer to home. The Leeds City Museum archive includes a couple of hand-written letters from the Reverend Henry Sandwith, the third of the Sandwith brothers, who seems to have been involved in the sale of his brother’s collection. Dated only ‘Sep 10’, one letter to an unknown recipient begins as follows:

“Will you kindly let me know how many pieces of pottery remain unsold and the prices of each. I will then consult with Mr Holmes whether any reduction in the prices of them should be made. Personally I should feel strongly disposed to favour a considerable reduction if the purpose be as you suspect; but I have a great object in view; the relief of famine which must also guide my decision.”

Again, this raises intriguing questions about the ‘purpose’ alluded to; but it also confirms a relationship between Henry Sandwith and John Holmes, and explicitly links the sale of the Sandwith ceramics with famine relief.

The hardship caused by locusts and resultant famine in Cyprus in the later 19th century is not in doubt. The evidence above strongly suggests that T.B. Sandwith took steps to ensure that local Cypriots benefited from the appetite for antiquities in the West, and that at least some of the profits from sales of pottery went to those who excavated them.

Progress with donors: Mr Joseph Hall

I’ve had a breakthrough with the mystery benefactor. It turns out that there are two donors of Cypriot ceramics with the surname Stott: Miss F.L. Stott, who made a bequest to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society around 1920, and Mrs Ethel Stott of Kirkstall, who gave several items, including this Cypriot jug, to the Leeds City Museum in 1957. The records had become confused, no doubt because of the coincidence of name.

Cypriot vessel donated by Mrs E. Stott
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Mrs Stott was the daughter of Mr Joseph Hall (1841-1905), who lived in Burley and later Kirkstall, Leeds.

Mr Joseph Hall

Mr Hall was a successful engineer specialising in machinery for the leather trade. The 1901 census records that his son was employed as an engineer and two of his daughters worked in the Engineer’s Office, indicating that it was a thriving family business. One daughter, Jane, is listed as ‘Art student’ and later became a sculptor, exhibiting at the Leeds Art Gallery. It’s not clear whether Mr Hall was a keen collector, or whether this jug just happened to take his fancy, but unusually we do have some more background information, as the bequest came with a copy of a letter from the vendor.

This was a ‘M.H. Verity’ of Whitby, whom I haven’t yet traced. His (or her) letter is worth quoting at length:

“According to promise I am writing to give you some information respecting the pitcher you bought at my sale as given by Mr Newton of the British Museum.

The pottery was dug from ancient graves at Dali in the island of Cyprus. It appears to be Phoenician or very early Greek. The Phoenicians were very early settlers in Cyprus and were succeeded by the Greeks, as they were by the Romans, and the period of the graves and contents are given by Mr Newton at from 300 to 700 BC. The digging has been under the charge of Mr Sandwith our Vice Consul, brother to the late Dr Sandwith of Kars celebrity, and the pottery sent to England to be sold for the relief of the inhabitants, who were suffering from famine.

The pottery is most interesting in an antiquarian sense, being as it was a link between the Prehistoric and an early Greek art.” © Leeds Museums and Galleries

‘Mr Newton of the British Museum’ must be Sir Charles Thomas Newton (1816-1894), Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum from 1862-1885, and also a key mover in the foundation of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. It’s not clear how he came to give his opinion on the vessel; was he acquainted with M.H. Verity?

Also intriguing is the reference to Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, which makes it probable that this vessel came to Yorkshire with the rest of his collection displayed at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition (although there is no trace of an exhibition label). We know from his Archaeologia article that he excavated tombs at Dali (ancient Idalion), so this ties in. It’s interesting that there is a further mention of famine relief as the motivation behind Sandwith’s excavations and sales, which also came up in the ‘Visitor’s Guide’ to the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition.

It’s true that ‘dug from ancient graves at Dali’ doesn’t amount to much in terms of archaeological provenance, since we don’t know when, where and in what context this vessel was found. But the details in the letter help to paint a picture of the dispersal of Cypriot antiquities in Yorkshire, and the interests and priorities of those who collected them.

So what of Miss F.L. Stott, the original benefactor from 1920? Hopefully there’ll be more to tell another time…

The Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, 1875

The early collections of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society are very much a reflection of their times, representative of Victorian interests which ranged widely over subjects which today would be considered separate, specialised academic disciplines. This eclectic approach can be seen in the Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, held in 1875, to which some of the pieces still in the Leeds City Museum’s collection can be traced.

The Yorkshire Exhibition was a huge event running from May to September 1875, involving the whole city. It was undertaken in support of the Leeds Mechanics’ Institution, which taught every branch of science and art, as well as maintaining an extensive library. This Institution found itself burdened by debt as a result of building new premises in 1865:

Leeds Mechanics’ Institution, 1875

“one of the ornaments of Leeds… certainly the handsomest and best-appointed Mechanics’ Institution in the kingdom” (Yorkshire Exhibition Official Catalogue, p.25)

Since 2008 this building has been the home of the Leeds City Museum, so we are still benefiting from its purchase today.

Leeds City Museum, © Leeds Daily Photo

The Yorkshire Exhibition covered almost every conceivable aspect of art, science and manufacture. This picture from the Illustrated London News gives some idea of the scale:

The Duke of Edinburgh opening Yorkshire Exhibition, Illustrated London News

Of the Fine Art department, the Official Catalogue says:

“Where we find so much that is good, it would be invidious to single out examples. Suffice it that Her Majesty and the nobility and gentry of the land, and last, but not least, the wealthy manufacturers of Yorkshire, are all contributors.’

This department included quite extensive exhibits of antiquities, including a case of Cypriot material, mainly from Thomas Backhouse Sandwith and John Holmes, a major Leeds collector and antiquarian. Among Sandwith’s exhibits were this beautiful jug of Red Polished ware, and this vessel described in the Catalogue as a ‘Child’s Feeding-Bottle’. Interestingly, no description seems to match the triple juglet.

Jug of Red Polished ware, © Leeds Museums and Galleries

‘Child’s Feeding-Bottle’, © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Members of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society took the opportunity to secure some of Sandwith’s collection for their museum, ‘by a grant from the President’s Special Fund’ (Report of Council of LP&LS, 1876). It’s great to think that these Victorian benefactors had the breadth of vision to ensure that the Society’s collections were comprehensive and thoroughly representative of the arts as well as the sciences, which were in fact the primary focus of interest for many of the key members.

We are also lucky to have, via the Leeds University Library Special Collections, a selection of original Guide Books which really make the Exhibition come to life. The Official Catalogue is serious in tone, giving full weight to the dignity of the occasion and its Royal patronage. It gives a detailed account of every part of the Exhibition and every item on display, and it would certainly have taken more than a single visit to do it justice and give full attention to the densely printed information.

Yorkshire Exhibition Official Catalogue

The Yorkshire Exhibition Guide and Visitors’ Descriptive Handbook, published by the Daily Express, is an altogether jollier affair.

Yorkshire Exhibition Guide

Priced competitively at twopence and crammed with advertisements, it sets itself in opposition to the Official Catalogue by cheekily beginning its Preface as follows:

“In this busy age few people have either the time or the inclination to crawl inch by inch through an Exhibition with no aid but the lifeless pages of a Catalogue. With what avidity would the dazed sightseer, bewildered by the multifarious objects around him, place himself under the guidance of a well-informed friend who would conduct him through the several departments by the easiest route, and discourse agreeably upon the most interesting objects along the way. To supply the place of such a friend is the object of the present little work.”

The author has an interesting take on Sandwith’s motivation for assembling his Cypriot collection:

“They were exhumed from the old Phoenecian graves in 1871-2. A famine had taken place in the island at that time, and Mr Sandwith, knowing that there were ancient graves in various parts of the island, set the people to excavate them… The sale of many of these articles relieved the starving people, while Mr Sandwith was enabled to preserve the admirable collection we see here.” (p.10).

I’ll return to this subject another time; it seems sensible, however, to take information in the Handbook with a pinch of salt. The author appears to have prioritised a lively tone over conscientious fact-checking, as evidenced by this dry comment in Nature on his description of one of the scientific exhibits:

Nature, May 27th 1875

This called forth a pained response from the Exhibition’s organisers:

Nature, June 3rd 1875

Interesting to see these concerns over competence, authority and control of information, long before the internet age!