Some objects were left unrecognisable by the fire that spread through the museum on 3 May 1941. This piece of tangled metal was once a powerful and imposing portrait bust of a Queen Mother from Benin. All that is left is the beaded headdress.
The head came to the museum in 1899 in an exchange between the Chicago Field Museum and Liverpool (now World) Museum. At that time Liverpool was building an impressive collection from West Africa. During the British punitive expedition to Benin in 1897 many hundreds of objects were looted from the city. When the objects were brought back to Europe private collectors and museums scrambled to buy the Benin objects for their collections and Liverpool also bought and exchanged Benin objects to build its collection.
In 1941 the Queen Mother Head was one of many objects on display in the Africa gallery in the basement of the museum. It is fortunate that the piece of metal was spotted by the museum’s staff as they began to assess the damage done by the fire.