Moor thus admits
that he did not consider whether he had any right to take these artefacts back
to England but merely grabbed the ‘beautiful model’ in a moment of ‘Eureka’.
The justification for collecting thus could be cloaked in a veil of
‘preservation’ when in fact the terms ‘plunder’ or loot might be better
descriptives. There are many of British country homes and museums that contain
art objects that were transplanted from India by British colonial officers. The
Amravati marbles in the British Museum are a famous example, originally part of
the Amravati stupa, an important place of worship that dates back to 3rd
Century BC that was excavated by British army officer Colin Mackenzie. They
were brought to London in 1859 by Sir Walter Elliot under the ‘pretext that
artefacts would get spoiled in India’. Anisha Saxena, historian of ancient and
medieval Indian art at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, argues that most of
these art objects were ‘loot. The pretext was to ‘save objects”. In fact, the
etymology of the term ‘loot’ can be traced back to the original Hindi term
(l?t) for thievery or pillage; and, according to Mrinalini Rajagopalan, while
the term first appeared in English dictionaries as early as 1788, it was the
Indian Mutiny (1857-58) along with the First Opium War and Crimean War that
catalysed the common usage and acceptance of the term in England. During the
Mutiny, British forces looted the Red Fort in Delhi which notably contained a
number of beautiful mosaic works including a Pietra Dura depicting Orpheus
that were taken and sold by Colonel John Jones for five hundred sterling to the
British Government. They were later deposited in the South Kensington museum.
Other items such as two talwars taken by Major Hodson, later found themselves
as part of metropolitan collections that memorialized the Mutiny. The greatest
example of looting and plunder in the period though came in the aftermath of
the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799. It was ‘vast and unprecedented’. According
to Moienuddin: “The manner in which Tipu’s palace was pillaged for his
priceless possessions, handkerchiefs and footwear included, has no parallel in
Indian history.” While several objects including the so-called Tipu’s Tiger
were donated to the East India Company and formed a collection that was
displayed in its galleries in Leadenhall Street. The vast majority of the
objects looted, however, were not presented to the Company but remained in
private hands. Anne Buddle writes, ‘Any Seringapatam souvenir was carefully
preserved.’ These ‘souvenirs’ represented familial connections to India.
Dramatic objects included the tent of Tipu Sultan which was installed in Powis
Castle, the home of Lord and Lady Clive. It inspired Lady Clive to travel to
Seringapatam in 1800 where she ‘collected obsessively’ proving collecting in
the period was not necessarily gendered. The careful preservation of objects
from Seringapatam by many families, as documented by Moienuddin, indicates how
there was an attachment to Tipu that even remains significant to this day.
People want to remember their relative’s involvement in such an iconic battle.
This would, therefore, suggest another justification for collecting that again
challenges the assumption in the question (that preservation was the primary
justification) and that is memory.