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Oriental art and the popular fancy: Otto Samson, ethnographer, collector and museum director *

  • D. A. Swallow


I would like to thank the Royal Asiatic Society warmly for allowing me the privilege of giving today's lecture on Dr Otto Samson. It is both an honour and a responsibility to speak of a person whom one has never known and whom others knew so much better, and I should perhaps explain why I of all people should be standing here today.



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1 I am most grateful to Dr Gernot Prunner for his generous assistance with information on the Museum. See Thilenius, G.Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg: Festschrift zum Funfzigjahrigen, Bestehn des Hamburgisches Museums für Völkerkunde, Hamburg, 1928.

2 Zwernemann, J.Hundert Jahre Hamburgisches Museum für Völkerkunde, Im Selbstverlag Hamburgisches Museum für Völkerkunde, Hamburg, 1980.

3 See Volkerkunde, Hamburgisches Museum für, Führer durch die Sonderaustellung Chinesische volkskunde, Hamburg, 1933 and Zwernemann, op. cit., p. 76.

4 Zwernemann, op. cit., p. 65. Danzel was “retired” two months later, because his grandmother was Jewish, but was reinstated the following month.

5 Haddon, A.C. (ed.) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological expedition to the Torres Straits (6 vols), University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, 1901–35.

6 Fortes, M.Charles Gabriel Seligman, 1873–1940”, Man, XLI, no 1, 1941, pp. 16.

7 For a general account of the excavations see Addison, Moya, F. Jebel: The Wellcome Excavations in the Sudan, (2 vols), London etc, 1949.

8 Mukherjee, R., Radhakrishna Rao, C. and Trevor, J. C.The Ancient Inhabitants of Jebel Moya (Sudan), Cambridge, 1955.

9 See Thilenius, op. cit.

10 Mukherjee et al., op. cit., pp. 2–4.

11 I am indebted to Miss P. A. Rodgers of the Faculty of Arts, Edinburgh University and C. J. Burnett Esq., Dingwall Pursuivant, of the Scottish United Services Museum for their help in providing information about Samson's application and the fund. The endowment, made in 1913 is thought to be from Major General William Tweedie, CSI, Indian Army, born 31.10.1836; commissioned 20.1.1857, and retired with honorary rank of Major General 19.6.1893. Tweedie saw action during the Indian Mutiny, took part in the 1868 Abyssinian expedition, and in 1879 was the Senior Political Officer with the force that advanced from Peshawar through the Khyber Pass during the 2nd Afghan War. He was awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal (2 clasps), the Abyssinian War Medal and was made a Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India in 1881.

12 From the paper of directions by General Tweedie with reference to his trust disposition and supplement, dated 28.2.1913.

13 Assistant Keeper in the Department of Oriental Antiquities and Ethnography, Keeper from 1939–1946.

14 The Indian Section of the Victoria and Albert Museum, housed during this period in buildings in Imperial Institute Road.

15 By a committee consisting of Professors Childe, Calder, Kennedy and Brash, from a field of thirteen candidates. The fellowships were worth approximately £200 per annum for each of the two years.

16 See Leach, E. R.Notes on the mythology of Cambridge anthropology”, Cambridge Anthropology, IX, 1, 1985, and Morrison, C.Three styles of imperial ethography: British officials as anthropologists in India”, Knowledge and Society, Studies in the Sociology of Culture, Past and Present, Vol. 5, 1984.

17 Ebin, V. & Swallow, D. A. “The proper study of mankind.…” – great anthropological collections in Cambridge, University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, 1984, pp. 25–8.

18 Or possibly Chota Udaipur.

19 Beames, J.Memoirs of a Bengal Civilian, London, 1961, p. 214.

20 Senapati, N. and Sahu, N. K.Mayurbhanj District Gazetteer, Cuttack, 1967.

21 By comparison Santals represented 20%, Kohlas (including Hos) 12%, and Bhumij 8.8%.

22 Senapati, op. cit.

23 Letter from Otto Samson to Louis Clarke, 28.10.1936. Archives of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (CMAA).

25 Letter from Clarke to Samson, 14.11.1936. Archives of the CMAA.

26 Parlakhemundi in Ganjam District, South Orissa.

27 The letter contains a line drawing.

28 The Savara, Sawara or Saora, a tribal community found mainly in Ganjam and Koraput districts, South Orissa.

29 Letter from Clarke to Samson, 14.11.1936.

32 Letter from Samson to Clarke 15.2.1937, Archives of the CMAA.

33 See Kulke, H.Kings without a kingdom: The Rajas of Khurda and the Jagannatha cult”, in South- Asia, IV, 1974, pp. 6077.

34 Archer, M.Indian Popular Painting in the India Office Library, New Delhi, 1977, pp. 16, and Archer, W. G.Kalighat Paintings, London, 1971.

35 It is possible that Samson met G. H. Luce, then based at the University of Rangoon.

36 Leach, E. R.Political Systems of Highland Burma, London, 1954.

37 Letter from Samson to Clarke, 1.5.1937, Archives of the CMAA.

38 See particularly Metford, B.Where China meets Burma, London and Glasgow, 1935; Milne, L.Shans at Home, London, 1910; Milne, L.The Home of an Eastern Clan: a Study of the Palaungs of the Shan States, Oxford, 1924.

39 Leach, op. cit, pp. 20–21.

40 Letter from Samson to Clarke, 1.5.1937. Archives of the CMAA.

41 Leach, op. cit.

42 Scott, J. G. & Hardiman, J. P., Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, Rangoon, 1901, Part II, Vol II, pp. 602–3.

43 See Collis, M.Lords of the Sunset: a Tour in the Shan States, London, 1938, pp. 238–47, which gives some description of the town.

44 Milne, op. cit.

45 Leach, op. cit, p. 20.

46 Samson's work with Morant must have been directly affected by the intellectual and political dispute about the validity of existing methods of analysis of skeletal remains. In 1933, on the retirement of Professor Karl Pearson, an additional chair was created in University College. R. A. Fisher became the Galton Professor of Eugenics; Pearson's son took the chair in statistics. Morant, who specialized in craniology and craniometry and followed the elder Pearson's approach represented a major financial commitment for the department. The dispute culminated in Fisher's publication of a critical article Coefficient of racial likeness and the future of craniometry” in JRAI, Vol. 66, pp. 5763. In 1937 Morant transferred to the Anthropology Department carrying his salary with him. See Fisher-Box, J.R.A. Fisher: The Life of a Scientist, London, 1978.

47 I am indebted to David Boston, Director of the Horniman Museum, and his colleagues for all their assistance.

48 See Duncan, M. G. A Historical Study of the Ethnographical Collections in the Horniman Museum, London, Museums Association Diploma Thesis, 11, 1972

49 From the quarterly report to the Museum's Trustees, 1st quarter, 1958.

51 Museum, Horniman, Exhibition of Rumanian Folk Art, London County Council, London, 1957.

52 The regions from which the collection is drawn, once part of the Hungarian empire, are of great historical, cultural and political interest because of their mixed population of Rumanians, Saxons, Magyars and Szeklers. See for example, Schöpflin, G.The Hungarians of Rumania, Minority Rights Group Report No.37, London, 1978.

53 Attendances in the Museum were running at 7 to 10,000 a month, the library had 400 to 450 readers a month and educational activities, a growing part of the Museum's activities, were flourishing. Some 1,566 schoolchildren attended lectures and demonstrations in the period and 1,866 the children's room, and Saturday afternoon lectures, still a flourishing institution, were drawing on average 175 people.

54 Archer, W. G. ‘Obituary of Dr William Otto Samson”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1976, Part 1, pp. 93–4.

55 Museum, Horniman (in association with the Village and Folk Art Museum, Bucharest) Folk Art of Romania, Greater London Council Public Relations Branch, London 1984.

* The 1988 Anniversary Memorial Lecture, delivered at the Royal Asiatic Society, 12 May 1988.


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