The 1,360 or so surviving West African objects that make up the Ridyard Collection reflect Liverpool’s shipping and commercial geographies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Arnold Ridyard served as a Chief Engineer with Elder Dempster & Co. whose steamers plied the trade route along the western coast of Africa. Between the middle of 1894 and February 1916 Ridyard transported an astonishing total of 6,450 “specimens” to the museum in Liverpool from at least seventy-seven voyages down Africa’s western coastline. Out of this total 2,481 artefacts were classified as “ethnographic”. This remarkable collecting operation was facilitated by the shipping company’s director Sir Alfred Jones (and his successors), who permitted free passage for items addressed to the Liverpool Museums from African ports.
Ridyard’s operation involved a network of 220 collaborators based along the western coast of Africa. As well as European traders, missionaries and colonial officers, Ridyard’s collaborators included at least eighty West Africans who donated some 500 “ethnographic” artefacts to the World Museum Liverpool alone. In some cases the gifts of these West African donors can be seen as part of an attempt to subvert the meanings given to African artefacts in European imperialist contexts and they show that many Africans were able to control what objects ended up in the hands of European collectors.
Find out how the agendas of West African donors are reflected in the Ridyard collection.