Six objects looted from Benin City are set to return to Nigeria from the Horniman Museum and Gardens in south London.
The objects – including two ‘Benin Bronze’ plaques from the royal palace – were handed to Nigerian officials this week at a ceremony marking the transfer of ownership of 72 items taken by force from Benin City in 1897.
The Horniman’s Trustees agreed in July to transfer ownership, as the ‘moral and appropriate’ response to a request from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
The six objects are a brass plaque depicting Oba Orhogbua (circa 1550-1578) holding a staff; a brass plaque depicting Agban, the Ezomo (Deputy Commander in Chief of the Benin army); a brass hip ornament; an ivory staff of office; an ivory arm cuff, and a carved wooden box frame, likely for holding a mirror.
The objects were bought by Horniman founder Frederick Horniman and Richard Quick, the Museum’s first curator.
Hornman bought the ivory objects and the wooden frame in 1897. Quick purchased the plaques and hip ornament in 1899 as part of a collection of high status Benin City objects including a key from the ‘Kings House’.
The seller, James Tingley, was a resident of Forest Hill, close to the Horniman. The Museum said how TIngley acquired the objects is unclear.
The six objects – selected in consultation with the NCMM as being representative of the collection of 72 items – form the first wave of physical repatriation of Benin objects from the Horniman.
The Museum said a new agreement between the NCMM and the Horniman will allow the remainder to stay in the UK “on loan for now”, with a second phase of physical repatriations to follow “in due course”.
Four of the six items returning in November were previously on display in the Horniman’s World Gallery. Their former places in the display case are now marked by their empty mounts alongside labels explaining they are to return to Nigeria.
Michael Salter-Church, Chair of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens said the repatriation process “does not represent the end of the process. We hope that actually it marks the beginning of a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship between the Horniman and colleagues in Nigeria.’
Prof. Abba Tijani, Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), added: ‘The National Commission for Museums and Monuments is delighted with this signing of the transfer agreement to Nigeria and looks forward to mutual collaborations with the Horniman Museum and Gardens, including loans of objects, circulation, touring exhibitions, research, etc.
“I call on other museums to emulate from the Horniman’s example.’