Before 3 May 1941, this bronze altar figure of a leopard was majestic. It featured as a key object in the museum’s 1931 catalogue of the African collection (see image below).
Before it arrived at the museum the leopard had already survived a great trauma. It had been taken from its altar in the city of Benin by Dr Felix Roth, a member of a British force sent there on a ‘punitive expedition’. The British invaded Benin City in 1897, looting and ransacking the city before the army left. Dr Roth sold looted objects including the leopard to the museum on his return to England in December 1897.
In 1941 the leopard was on display in the basement gallery dedicated to Africa. The basement was badly damaged in the fire. The fire was so intense that it melted some of the Benin bronzes still on display.