Aquila Dodgson and the Cypriot flask

The origins of the Leeds City Museum’s ancient Cypriot collection go back to 1870, but the most recent addition was accessioned in 2004, from a rather unexpected source.

Aquila Dodgson (1829-1919) was a Methodist minister who worked in connection with the Lancashire cotton spinning trade. He had a wide range of interests; he was President of the Leeds Astronomical Society in 1907-08, which published a portrait of him with its 1907 Journal ‘in appreciation of his great services’.

Aquila Dodgson

Aquila Dodgson

He was an antiquarian and numismatist, and a long-term supporter of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. He was elected honorary librarian to the Society in 1902, a position he retained until his death, and spent many of his later years compiling a catalogue of the Museum’s numismatics collection. The 101st Report of the LP&LS (1919-20) states:

For five years, day after day, members on entering the Curator’s Room would enjoy a short conversation with their courteous old friend and colleague whom they always found absorbed over his scholarly task.

However, Aquila Dodgson is best known as a keen amateur Egyptologist. He amassed a considerable collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts, though his interests also extended into more general ethnographic material. As his obituary in the Yorkshire Evening Post notes, ‘Mr. Dodgson was a great collector’. He corresponded with Sir Flinders Petrie and Amelia Edwards, founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, of which he was an early member, and obtained objects from them, some of which are now in the Leeds City Museum. He also visited Australia, and Petrie’s excavations at El-Amarna in Egypt. He donated Egyptian artefacts to the Museum in his lifetime, and more of his collection came by bequest in 1927, including ethnographic objects from the Loyalty Islands and Solomon Islands, as well as shabtis from Egypt and Assyrian cuneiform tablets.

Part of his collection was given to E. Raymond Hepper, a chartered surveyor from Leeds, by the Dodgson family in 1951. According to his son, F. Nigel Hepper, Raymond Hepper had been fascinated by the Egyptian artefacts as a small child. Nigel Hepper states that the benefactress was Sarah Dodgson, Aquila’s wife, but census records indicate that Aquila was married to Jane Dodgson who predeceased him in 1907, and the 1911 census records him as a widower at the age of 81; it seems unlikely that he married again. However the gift came about, in 2003-04 Nigel Hepper sold two items from this collection to the British Museum, and over a hundred objects to the Leeds City Museum, which had financial support from the LP&LS and the Heritage Lottery Fund (for more information on this acquisition, see Bryan Sitch’s recent post on the ‘Ancient Worlds at Manchester Museum’ blog). As well as this significant collection of Egyptian objects, including ceramics, shabtis, amulets, necklaces, and figurines, the acquisition includes just one ancient Cypriot flask.

Aquila Dodgson's Cypriot flask © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Aquila Dodgson’s Cypriot flask
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

The flask is of ‘Black-on-Red’ ware, probably from the Cypro-Geometric or Cypro-Archaic period (900-600 BC). It is of a Phoenician shape, standing 120mm high with a flat base, globular body, and two small handles from the shoulder to the characteristic ridge halfway up the neck, which flares sharply at the rim. It has polished orange-red slip decorated with bands of black around the neck and down the handles, and small sets of concentric circles on the shoulder between the handles on each side.

Unfortunately we don’t know exactly where this flask is from, or how it came into Aquila Dodgson’s possession. His brother James travelled extensively in the Middle East in 1882, including a visit to Cyprus, and visited his family in Yorkshire on his return, so it is possible that James obtained the flask and gave it to his brother. James assembled his own Egyptian collection, now at the University of Melbourne, and Christine Elias has written a fascinating thesis on its background, including Aquila Dodgson’s activities.

It’s fair to say that this Cypriot flask is a minor item in Dodgson’s collection, and probably didn’t attract a great deal of his attention; ancient Egypt and its material culture was his true passion. However, it’s good that it has found its way back to Leeds, to the museum whose collections benefited from his hard work and expertise in the later stages of his life.

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