Moor mankind’. Keate suggested that discovery of ‘new

Topic: HobbiesCollecting
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Last updated: May 2, 2019

Moor subsequentlybrought the sculptures, along with other artefacts, ‘back to England, anddeposited it, in the museum at India house’ where they lay for over a decadebefore surmounting the pyramid at his ‘humble abode in Suffolk’. His writingsin the Hindu Pantheon would thus convey a sense that Moor rescued theseartefacts that had almost been destroyed by the Portuguese and by bringing themback to England he had preserved them instead of letting them be buried in acave that had been afflicted by gunpowder.  Collecting in animperial context was not always justified as ‘preservation’ though and in factin order to properly understand the justification for such collecting otherjustifications must be discussed. For example, Moor appears to be also drivenby sheer curiosity.

He was genuinely interested to learn more about the Hindufaith from the artefacts he acquired and he was motivated in the case of theElephanta cave in ‘discovering to whom this temple was dedicated’. This is notisolated and in fact ‘artefacts of non-Western peoples were known over a longperiod as “curiosities”‘. An interesting parallel can be drawn here with thePacific voyages of exploration that took place in the eighteenth century andbrought back a great deal of artefacts to Britain. The introduction to GeorgeKeate’s Account of the Pelew Islands details how the voyages ‘excited a greatspirit of enquiry and awakened an eager curiosity to everything that canelucidate the history of mankind’. Keate suggested that discovery of ‘newpeople’ from previously unknown societies who were ‘an ornament to humannature’ merely further illuminated the diversity of our species. It was forthis reason that collections of foreign peoples were displayed in London in themid-nineteenth century, such as the Colonial and Indian Exhibition which ranfor six months in South Kensington in 1886. This display of foreign peopleincluded eighty-nine living ‘natives’ of which there were forty-six Indians.

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According to Sadiah Qureshi, they were displayed in ‘what was designed to betheir natural environment’ and they were ‘sometimes presented as historicalartefacts’, for example, ‘Indian artisans as timeless and authentic examples of’native’ craftsmanship’. People were, according to Triloyka Nath Mukharaji, anofficial delegate from India, “astonished to see the Indians produce works ofart with the aid of rude apparatus they themselves had discarded long ago as aHindu would be to see a chimpanzee officiating as a priest in a funeralceremony”. Collecting in an imperial context was thus not always justified interms of ‘preservation’ but in fact, could be justified in terms of purecuriosity.  

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