Commemorative Altar Tusk



This badly burned tusk from Benin City's palace complex was part of a British military trophy consisting of the tusk, two silver mounts (1987.225.1b-c), and a silver end cap (1987.225.1d). It was bought from Mr T. Sainsbury of Bournemouth, who purchased it from Nesbit's Sale Rooms in Portsmouth in July 1986. The tusk has a silver plaque screwed on to it with an inscription that reads: 'Presented to H.M.S. "Vernon" by Capt. George Le C. Egerton C.B.R.N.' Captain Le Clerc Egerton was Chief of Staff with the British military force that attacked and looted Benin in February 1897. He was appointed Captain of H.M.S. Vernon (a naval land establishment at Portsmouth) on 10 February 1902, so he would have donated the tusk to H.M.S. Vernon around this time or soon after. The American historian of Edo art Dr Barbara Blackmun was consulted before this trophy was acquired and gave her opinion that the tusk was probably one that was commissioned by Oba Ovonramwen for the altar dedicated to his father Oba Adolo in about 1888-1889. The tusk was probably damaged by the fire that swept through Benin City soon after its occupation by the British in 1897, probably alongside 1944.7 (also in the World Museum collection), because both tusks are assumed by Blackmun to be from Adolo's altar. Acquisition notes suggest that this tusk may have been further damaged by fire at Portsmouth between 1939 and 1941, because H.M.S. Vernon was hit several times during Second World War air raids.