John Vandeleur Phelps

Big game hunter in the Himalayas

John Vandeleur Phelps collected objects in Central Asia which were later donated by his son, Douglas Phelps, in 1950.

In December 1976, Margaret Warhurst wrote to John Vandeleur Phelps' son, Douglas Phelps, requesting more information about the life and collection of his father loaned to Liverpool in 1950. The response of the 6th January 1977 can be found in the History File for the Phelps Loan, 50.121.1-8, and is also reproduced here.

'Dear Miss Warhurst,
Many thanks for your letter of the 16th December. Christmas has somewhat intervened and you will understand why a reply has been delayed. Though I have remembered from time to time that we had certain things deposited with you, I am bound to admit that I had quite forgotten what you have got of ours, and I would be grateful if you could let me have a list, which at least gives me some idea of the scope of what we left you (at your convenience).
I think I can safely say that it was not a collection in the ordinary sense of the word. My father, John Vandeleur Phelps, was the heir to many generations of his forebears who has originally gone over to Ireland with Cromwell, been paid off like so many others with a piece of land in lieu of pay, and, unlike the bulk of the others, they had remained, by and large, on their piece of land and he only came over to England after his marriage to my mother, who was a member of the Pilkington family, (a name which will be familiar to you in your part of the world) and he never really went back to Ireland, certainly not to live there.
Being, for those days, a relatively well endowed young man, he started a habit of going fairly often to Kashmir and beyond up into Tibet and into Russia, more as a big game hunter than anything else, though on one or two occassions he and a friend, Percy W. Church, did go very much further out; they came back with, among other things, the first specimens of the Thian Shan Wapiti which was the first time is had been brought down into India, though I imagine plenty of specimens had gone out into China or through China.
In the course of these sporting excursions he picked up a lot of stuff, mostly as far as I remember copper and silver etc, a number of various big teapot shaped articles (you will have the right name for them), a certain number of prayer wheels and the like. There was a little embroidery, a little porcelain (not I think of any great value), a sword or two (I think one or more of these we gave to the British Museum though I believe there is a certain amount of transferring around the various museums going on and they could conceivably have come to you.)
Against the background of what I have said perhaps you would like to ask me a few specific questions.
Unfortunately I do not come to Liverpool any more; I am no longer a director of Pilkington Brothers and the final link was really broken when my brother-in-law, the late Lord Cozens-Hardy, died a year or two ago and we have nothing to bring us Liverpool way any more; indeed we are more than fully occupied in Norfolk.
Please have at me to any extent you like and I will see what I can do to help.
Reading your note again I don't think I have anything in the way of photographs which would be of the slightest value. I should have said that my father died in 1950, my mother moved to a flat in London and that was no doubt what made is bring the 'collection' round to Mosely Hill. I was also helped in fact by Colonel and Mrs Bailey because I know they came up to you about that time. Mrs Bailey is a first cousin of my wife's; she as you know lives in this part of the world and we see a certain amount of her. She is getting elderly and somewhat crippled but still has very clear memories of the time she spend in India and beyond.
Yours sincerely, Douglas Phelps.'
Written by Emma Martin
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  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: Ireland: County Clare
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