Nathan Bodington, the British Museum and Cyprus

The links between the Leeds City Museum and the University of Leeds go back a long way; both organisations grew out of the social and cultural development of Leeds in the nineteenth century. The first Vice-Chancellor of the University, Sir Nathan Bodington, was also an active member of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and contributed to the intellectual life of Leeds in many ways. He had a direct connection with the current Museum’s Cypriot collections, having been instrumental in gaining donations of ancient Cypriot artefacts from the British Museum for the benefit of the students of the Yorkshire College, a forerunner of the University. He also visited Cyprus and made a small collection of his own, which is now in the Museum.

Portrait of Nathan Bodington, from the memoir by W.H. Draper

Portrait of Nathan Bodington, from the memoir by W.H. Draper

Nathan Bodington was born in Birmingham in 1848, and studied Classics at Oxford, teaching at a number of institutions before being appointed Professor of Greek and Principal of the Yorkshire College in 1882. Here his talents as a leader and administrator came into their own, as he steered the College through membership of the Victoria University federation of colleges, and its development into the free-standing University of Leeds in 1904, when he became its first Vice-Chancellor. He was knighted in 1908 in recognition of his services to education. Bodington’s wide-ranging responsibilities at the College and University left him little free time, yet he still managed to participate in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society (serving as President from 1898-1900), write literary reviews for the Manchester Guardian, take up photography, and travel extensively overseas, including to Cyprus.

His first recorded involvement with the Leeds Cypriot collections came in 1895, when he wrote on behalf of the Yorkshire College to A.S. Murray, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, thanking him for the offer of ‘a selection of antiquities from recent excavations in Cyprus’.What happened to these artefacts is something of a mystery, to which I will return another time. However, this contact seems to have been the beginning of a friendship between Bodington and Murray; the British Museum archives record several letters from Bodington in subsequent years, mainly dealing with the traces of Roman roads in the Leeds area, a long-standing interest of his. In 1902 a further donation of Cypriot artefacts was made by the British Museum to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, arranged by Murray following a request from Bodington.

26 items were dispatched to Leeds, mainly from Enkomi and Klaudia, including this Mycenaean stirrup jar, and some beautifully decorated spindle whorls.

Mycenaean stirrup jar Leeds Museums and Galleries

Mycenaean stirrup jar
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Spindle whorl Leeds Museums and Galleries

Spindle whorl
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Spindle whorl Leeds Museums and Galleries

Spindle whorl
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Most of the artefacts, helpfully documented by Murray, are still in the collection today; some tantalisingly appear in Henry Crowther’s slides, but have since vanished, including this bowl and juglet.

Extract from Murray's list of items sent to Leeds

Extract from Murray’s list of items sent to Leeds

Bowl and juglet, photographed by H. Crowther.   Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bowl and juglet, photographed by H. Crowther.
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Tracing these artefacts back to the British Museum’s excavations, and understanding the links between them and those remaining in the British Museum, are some of the most fascinating aspects of my work with the Leeds Museum collection.

In 1907 Bodington married Eliza Barran, daughter of Sir John Barran, sometime Leeds M.P., J.P. and Mayor, who was also active in the establishment of the University. Bodington was 59 at the time, and their marriage was to be short-lived, as he died just four years later. Six years after his death, Eliza Bodington donated several objects collected by him in Cyprus to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. It is a small but varied collection, including this well-preserved Archaic amphora, a bronze mirror, and a knucklebone, presumed to have been used as a gaming-piece. Bodington’s interest in ancient Cypriot artefacts is not surprising, given his life-long passion for classics and the ancient world.

Archaic amphora  Leeds Museums and Galleries

Archaic amphora
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bronze mirror  Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bronze mirror
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Knucklebone  Leeds Museums and Galleries

Knucklebone
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Nathan Bodington was a wise and generous man, phenomenally hard-working, who did a huge amount to establish the University to which I am proud to belong today. It’s therefore particularly pleasing that he has a personal connection to items in the Museum’s ancient Cypriot collection, which gain interest through their association with him.

Dedication of W.H. Draper's memoir of Nathan Bodington

Dedication of W.H. Draper’s memoir of Nathan Bodington

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