Liverpool’s Tibet collection goes live!

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Meditation painting or thangka Meditation painting or thangka sold to the museum in 1905 by Sergeant J Heaney on his return to Liverpool after participating in the Mission to Lhasa

It’s a little known fact that Liverpool has one of the world’s great Tibet collections. Liverpool doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for a Tibet collection; you might think of Liverpool’s maritime connections rather than it’s Himalayan ones. But 19th century missionaries, soldiers and explorers did sell or donate Tibetan objects to Liverpool having arrived in its port after a long journey from India.

This trickle of Tibetan things flowed much faster after the May Blitz of 1941 when Liverpool (now World) Museum was bombed and lost large parts of its collections. It began with a sympathetic letter from Newberry Museum sent to Liverpool Museum's Director, J. H. Iliffe in 1949 offering the museum, "a large collection of very fine Tibetan curios once belonging to the late Sir Charles Bell".

When the collection arrived, Elaine Tankard, then Curator of Antiquities began the process of transforming the Tibet collection from just a few hundred pieces into a collection of more than 2,000 objects. In 1953, she curated the exhibition, ‘Tibet’, which showcased Liverpool’s growing collection and while she was a Greek Archaeologist by training, she once wrote that she was now, “living, eating, sleeping Tibet”.

Cases from Elaine Tankard's Tibet exhibition, which opened at the Walker Art Gallery in March 1953. Cases from Elaine Tankard's Tibet exhibition, which opened at the Walker Art Gallery in March 1953.

As curator of the Tibet collection, I like to think that I am following in Elaine Tankard’s footsteps. Behind the scenes I’ve been digitising this impressive collection and its historical significance. It’s a huge task, but we have now put 700 of the 2,000 objects online and many more will follow in the coming months.

See the Tibet collection online now.