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Archaeologist, Collector and Antiquities Agent: The Activities of Captain Robert Mignan of the Bombay European Regiment during the Early Nineteenth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2019

MALCOLM MERCER*
Affiliation:
Curator of the Tower of London Armouries (Royal Armouries)Malcolm.Mercer@armouries.org.uk

Abstract

The ancient site of Babylon has long attracted the interest of European visitors. With the expansion of British geopolitical interests into the Middle East and India during the eighteenth century those in the service of the East India Company were afforded new opportunities to examine and explore regional antiquities. The historiography of archaeological exploration has traditionally focused on the contributions of key Orientalists such as Claudius James Rich and Paul Émile Botta. This has been at the expense of other equally significant individuals who also undertook a range of supporting scholarly, archaeological and museological activities. This article will redress that balance by considering the work of one of these unsung heroes of the East India Company, Captain Robert Mignan.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2019 

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Footnotes

I am particularly grateful to Dr Jonathan Taylor of the Middle East Department at the British Museum for advising me upon a number of aspects of Babylonian and Mesopotamian archaeology that are discussed within this article.

References

1 Royal Asiatic Society, Donations Register 1831–43, p.133.

2 The Lady's Magazine, or the Mirror of the Belle Lettres, 10 (London, 1829), p. 630.

3 Budge, E. A. Wallis, The Rise and Progress of Assyriology (London, 1925), pp. 2529Google Scholar, 30–32; Pallis, S. A., The Antiquity of Iraq (Copenhagen, 1956), p. 51Google Scholar; Lloyd, S., Foundations in the Dust: The Story of Mesopotamian Exploration (Revised edition, London, 1980), pp. 1021Google Scholar, 27–72, 91, 94–129; Reade, J. E., ‘Early British Excavations at Babylon’, in Renger, J., (ed.), Babylon: Focus Mesopotamischer Geschichte, Wiege Fruher Gelehrsamkeit, Mythos in der Moderne: Internationales Colloquium der Deutschen Prient-Gesellschaft 24–26 Marz 1998 in Berlin (Saarbrucken, 1999), p. 48Google Scholar; Fagan, B. M., Return to Babylon: Travellers, Archaeologists and Monuments in Mesopotamia (Boulder, CO, 2007), pp. 4568Google Scholar, 109–155; Fagan, B. M., The Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists and Archaeologists in Egypt (Boulder, CO, 2004), pp. 5961Google Scholar, 96–96, 109–120, 129–130, 150, 146–147, 156–157; Mignan also refers to natives collecting for French and German Consuls: Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, p. 74.

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8 Ouseley, W., Travels in Various Countries of the East, more particularly Persia (3 vols, London, 1819–23)Google Scholar, I, pp. 98, 417, 425; II, p. 204; III, p. 28; Landseer, E., ‘The Engraved Gems brought from Babylon to England by Abraham Lockett, Esq, Secretary to the Council of the College of Fort William in Bengal..’, Archaeologia, 18 (1817), pp. 371384CrossRefGoogle Scholar; A cylinder seal acquired by Lockett and also later in the collection of Sir William Ouseley is now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/323781?sortBy=Relevance&ft=Abraham+Lockett&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1 [Accessed 02.02.2018]

9 In Robert Ker Porter's descriptive sketch, ‘The Storming of Seringapatam’ Colonel Mignan appears on the extreme left of the picture: Narrative Sketches of the Conquest of the Mysore effected by the British Troops and their Allies in the Capture of Seringapatam, and the Death of Tippoo Sultaun, May 4, 1799 (Hull, 1804), p. 3. A portrait of him survives at the National Army Museum: NAM. 1964-05-74-1.

10 British Library [hereafter BL], Additional Ms 80876, p. 21; Mignan, R, Notes Extracted from a Private Journey written during a tour through a Part of Malabar, and among the Neilgherries…(Bombay, 1834), p. 51Google Scholar. Mignan dedicated some of his publications to the Duke of Roxburghe in 1839: Mignan, R., A Winter Journey through Russia (2 vols, London, 1839)Google Scholar.

11 BL, IOR/L/MIL/9/135/563-67.

12 Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, 11 (1821), p. 80; Dibdin, T. F., Reminiscences of a Literary Life (2 vols, 1836), II, p.67Google Scholar.

13 Mitchell, T. C., ‘Two British East India Company Residents in Baghdad in the Nineteenth Century’, Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäolögie, Band 1, 2008 (Berlin and New York), 378382Google Scholar; BL, Additional Ms 80876, p.9; The East India Register and Directory for 1819 (2nd edition, London, 1819) p. 292.

14 Mignan, A Mignan, Winter Journey, II, pp. 124, 126.

15 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, p. viii; Mignan, A Mignan, Winter Journey, II, pp. 127–128.

16 Mignan, Winter Journey II, p.120.

17 Mignan went on to observe about Malcolm that “the reputation of being a firm supporter of the humblest efforts of enterprise is a reputation which I must now humbly think he does not deserve”. Presumably his gift of a Babylonian brick did not have the desired results: BL, Additional Ms 80876, p.19; Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, p. 192.

18 Mignan, Winter Journey, II, p.147; BL, Additional Ms 80876 p. 22.

19 Mignan, Winter Journey, I, pp. 140, 155. There were naturally other officers, too, who made a favourable impression on Mignan during the course of his travels and professional duties. On one occasion Captain Wyndham of the Indian Navy was noted for his kindness. The Mignan family stayed with Captain Minchin, commander of the Wynaud Rangers, at Manontoddy Station whilst travelling in southern India in 1833. Mignan described him as “particularly attentive and hospitable”. Mignan had a particular interest in seeing this station; his father had commanded there thirty-five years earlier: Mignan, Notes Extracted from a Journey, pp. 39–40.

20 Mignan, Winter Journey, II, p. 244; Mignan, Notes Extracted from a Journey, p. 71.

21 Mignan, Winter Journey, I, p. 142; Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 17 (1860), pp. v-vii (Annual Report); Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2 (1835), p. xxxix; Royal Asiatic Society, Donations Register 1831–1843, p. 192; Madras Journal of Literature and Science, IV (1836), p. 183.

23 He also claimed the antiquarian John Robert Steuart as a friend. Steuart had a substantial collection of Near Eastern antiquities: Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 193; ‘Cabinet of John Robert Steuart’ in The New Scots Magazine, No. IX, Vol. II (July 31, 1829), pp. 357–360.

24 ‘Some Account of the Ruins of Ahwuz. By Lieutenant Robert Mignan, of the First Bombay European Regiment; with Notes by Captain Robert Taylor, Resident at Bussorah’, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society (1830), 203–204, 208. Mignan managed to misidentify the sandstone ridge behind the town as part of the ancient city's walls: Curzon, G. N., Persia and the Persian Question (2 Vols, London, 1892), II, p. 351Google Scholar.

25 Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, pp. 3, 24, 31, 302; Frederick, E., ‘Account of the Present, Compared with the Ancient, State of Babylon’, Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay, I (1819), pp. 120139Google Scholar.

26 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, p. vi.

27 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, p. ix.

28 Pallis, Assyriology, p. 53.

29 Hilprecht, H. V., The Excavations in Assyria and Babylonia (Cambridge, 2010)Google Scholar originally published 1904, pp. 51–54.

30 Rich, Claudius James, Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon (London, 1818), pp. 25, 31Google Scholar.

31 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, pp. 170–171.

32 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, pp. 190–191.

33 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, p. 199.

34 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, p. vii.

35 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, pp. 162, 170–171, 186, 196. Mignan was clearly happy to verify Rich's evidence but also to point out quite categorically when he thought Rich was wrong. For instances where he states categorically that Rich is wrong see pp. 104, 203 (also Ker Porter), 224.

36 The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, XXVII (1829), p. 725.

37 Mignan, Winter Journey, pp. 26–29. He also gathered more bricks from Ctesiphon: ibid, p. 90.

38 BL, Additional Ms 80876, p. 26.

39 ‘Idols of Bamean’, Morning Post, Wednesday September 11, 1833.

40 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, pp. 223–225, 229; Wallis Budge, Assyriology, pp. 31–32; Larsen, M. T., The Conquest of Assyria: Excavations in an Antique Land (Copenhagen, 1994), pp. 7987Google Scholar, 177–227; Adkins, L., Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon (London, 2003), pp. 7485Google Scholar, 89–103, 216–225.

41 I would like to thank Dr Jonathan Taylor for confirming that Wasit was generally identified with Cascara by 19th century scholars.

42 Wellsted, J., Travels to the City of the Caliphs along the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean, 2 vols, (London, 1840), I, pp. 171172Google Scholar; Lowe, C. Rathbone, History of the Indian Navy, 2 vols, (London, 1877), II, pp. 3233Google Scholar; Ainsworth, W. Francis, ‘Ascent of the Tigris’, New Monthly Magazine and Humorist, (ed.), Ainsworth, W. Harrison (London, 1847), pp. 508509Google Scholar. In 1842 the traveller and explorer, John Baillie Fraser, referred to the ‘recent’ investigation by Mignan and Ormsby– presumably meaning the 1830 mission: Fraser, J. B., Mesopotamia and Assyria from the Earliest Ages to the Present Times (1842), p. 135Google Scholar; Mignan, Winter Journey, pp. 94–99. Rawlinson subsequently proposed that the true location of Cascara was more likely to be Kashkar (which he spelt as Kartsikar, or Kabsikar, located on the opposite bank to Wasit): Rawlinson, H., ‘On the Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 12 (1850), p. 491Google Scholar.

43 Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register 31 (1840), p. 90.

44 The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, XXXVIII (1842), pp. 62, 245; Allen's Indian Mail (1849), p. 379.

45 Henry Willock's brother, Captain Frank Gore Willock of the Royal Navy, probably visited the region's antiquities where he had acquired some pieces for his own collection. In 1834 eight casts of sculptures from Persepolis, a brick from Babylon, a Cylinder and, rather curiously, a whistle that had belonged to the recently deceased Willock were donated to the Royal Asiatic Society on his behalf by his brother, Sir Henry Willock. Henry Willock, for example, created a modest coin collection which he later donated to the India House Museum: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2 (1835), p. xxxix; Royal Asiatic Society, Donations Register 1831–1843, p. 192; Madras Journal of Literature and Science, IV (1836), p. 183.

46 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, pp. 192, 229–230.

47 ‘Some Account of the Ruins of Ahwuz. By Lieutenant Robert Mignan, of the First Bombay European Regiment; with Notes by Captain Robert Taylor, Resident at Bussorah’, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society (1830), p. 208.

48 Reade, J. E., ‘Tablets at Babylon and the British Museum’, in Babylon: Myth and Reality, (ed.), Finkel, I. L. and Seymour, M. J. (London, 2008), p. 75Google Scholar. I am also grateful to Dr Jonathan Taylor of the Middle East Department at the British Museum for determining that there is no surviving correspondence between Mignan and the Museum about the sale or gift of his personal collection of antiquities.

49 The National Archives, PROB 11/2162/122. Mignan had married Mary, daughter of the London merchant and ship owner, Joshua Jepson Oddy, an active member of the Russia and Levant Companies as well as a writer on political economy. Between them Mignan and his wife went on to have at least six children: The General Weekly Register of News, Literature, Law, Politics and Commerce (1822), p. 251.

50 Mignan, R., ‘Some Account of the Ruins of Ahwaz…with Notes by Captain Robert Taylor, Resident at Bussorah’, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1 (1829), p. 204Google Scholar.

51 Mignan, ‘Some Account of the Ruins of Ahwaz, p. 205.

52 Mignan, ‘Some Account of the Ruins of Ahwaz, p. 206.

53 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 192.

54 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, pp. 192–193.

55 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 198.

56 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 198.

57 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, pp. 46, 51–52, 68–69.

58 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 171.

59 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 103.

60 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 196.

61 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, pp. 228–229.

62 Mignan, Travels in Chaldaea, p. 293.

63 Mignan, Winter Journey, II, p. 27.

64 Mignan, Winter Journey, II, p. 27.

65 Mignan, Winter Journey, II, p. 90.

66 Mignan, Winter Journey, II, p. 99.

67 In 1847 Newbold was approached by Frederick Madden at the British Museum who asked him to purchase ancient manuscripts, particularly Greek whilst in Syria and Egypt. Newbold was also corresponding with Austen Layard: BL, Egerton Ms 2844 f. 241, Additional Ms 38979, f. 106r.

68 Mignan was hopeful of election to the Linnaean Society: BL, Additional Ms 80876, pp. 17–23.

69 A. N. L. Munby, The formation of the Phillips Library up to the year 1840, Phillips Studies Series 3 (Cambridge, 1954), p. 56.

70 BL, Additional Ms 80876, pp. 1–3, 5–7, 9–11, 25–27.

71 BL, Additional Ms 80876, pp. 33–34, 37–38.

72 Mignan, Notes extracted…’, p. v.

73 BL, Additional Ms 80876, pp. 41–42. For a detailed account of the probable fate of the Phillips inscribed clay cylinder, see https://tobyburrows.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/the-phillipps-babylonian-cylinder-ms-3902-tales-of-the-phillipps-manuscripts-4/ [Accessed on 01.02.2018]

74 Mignan, Mignan, Travels in Chaldea, pp. 186–187.

75 Layard, A. H., Discoveries among the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon (London, 1853), pp. 201205Google Scholar; Layard, A. H., A Second Series of Monuments of Nineveh (London, 1853)Google Scholar, plate 2.

76 ‘Review – Captain Mignan's Travels’, Gentleman's Magazine (1829), XCIX part 2, p. 533.

77 ‘Review of New Books’, The London and Paris Observer (1829), V no. 236, p. 782.

78 ‘Captain Mignan's Travels in Chaldea’, United Service Magazine (1829), II, p. 624.

79 ‘Critical Notices’, The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal (1830), III, p.7.

80 ‘Literacy Criticism’, Edinburgh Literary Journal (1829), II no. 53, p. 335.

81 ‘Art VI’, The Monthly Review (1829), XII, p. 538.

82 ‘Notices of Recent British Publications’, The Biblical Repository and Quarterly Observer (1829), VIII, pp. 246–247, 249.

83 http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ouseley-sir-william {Accessed on 01.02.2018]; ‘Ouseley, Sir William, 1767–1842’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online Edition, 23 September 2004 [Accessed 01.02.2018]

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