Appendix 7 - The third and final report

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

BRITISH MUSEUM

PARTHENON SCULPTURES

THIRD AND FINAL REPORT

BY THE BOARD OF INQUIRY

APPOINTED BY THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF THE TRUSTEES

OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM AT A MEETING ON 8TH OCTOBER, 1938

In their Second Report, dated 8th December, 1938, the Board in paragraph 7 made a recommendation regarding the disciplinary action to be taken in the cases of Mr. Pryce and Mr. Hinks. So far as regards Mr. Pryce the Board when considering his case were not in possession of the information regarding his state of health which subsequently became available and which was communicated to the meetings of the Standing Committee and the Trustees on 10th December. The Board desire to place on record that if, in preparing their Second Report, they had had before them the medical certificates of Dr. Gilbert Chubb and Dr. A. J. Reid Taylor their recommendation as regards Mr. Pryce would have taken a different form. They are satisfied that, so far as he is concerned, the unfortunate state of matters which the Board have had to investigate ought in large measure to be attributed to his breakdown in health. They accordingly find themselves entirely in agreement with the course adopted at the meeting on 10th December, whereby Mr. Pryce has been granted sick leave for a month on the understanding that he will resign his appointment when the month expires. While no similar considerations apply to the case of Mr. Hinks, the Board recognise the expediency in the circumstances of imposing the penalty of a severe reprimand and the loss of ten years seniority rather than terminating his appointment.

British Museum

December, 1938.


 

EXTRACTS FROM THE INTERIM REPORT OF THE BOARD OF ENQUIRY INTO DAMAGE DONE TO SCULPTURE OF THE PARTHENON

Mr. R. P. Hinks

The portions of the Parthenon sculptures in question are three in number, namely, the Selene horse's head, the Helios group and the figure of Iris, all belonging to the East Pediment. On the 16th of September Mr. Pryce left the Museum on short holiday leave. The three pieces of sculpture were then in their proper places in the Elgin Room. Before he went away Mr. Pryce gave no instructions either to Mr. Hinks, who took charge in his absence, or to anyone else with regard to either moving the sculptures or cleaning them beyond a direction to Holcombe to prepare a mounting for the Iris figure which involved its removal from the pedestal. While Mr. Pryce was absent it came to the notice of the Director on the evening of Thursday, 22nd September, that tools had been used in the cleaning of the Parthenon sculptures. He instructed Mr. Hinks on the morning of 23rd September to see that improper methods were not being used. On Sunday, 25th September the Director happened to have occasion to pass through the basement of the Department. He was surprised to find there the Helios group in process of cleaning. On the bench he observed a number of copper tools and a piece of coarse carborundum, and from the appearance of the sculptures he at once saw that tools had been used on the sculptures. On Monday morning, 26th September, the Iris was found by Mr. Hinks to be undergoing similar treatment in an annex of the new Duveen Gallery, and the Selene horse's head in the Foreman Mason's workshop.

Although Holcombe denied that he had used any copper tool in cleaning the horse's head, which he dealt with himself personally, the Board are satisfied that copper tools were used by Holcombe and the labourers under him in cleaning all the three pieces of sculpture in question. Holcombe admitted that apart from the instruction to prepare a mounting for the Iris figure he had received no specific instructions from the Keeper or the Assistant Keeper either to remove or to clean the sculptures. He appears to have assumed that he was at liberty to proceed at his own hand with the process of removing and cleaning. He apparently had obtained some strips or rods of copper from the store and had fashioned those into tools of various shapes by flattening and sharpening the ends. He said that he had used similar tools on other occasions for cleaning marble and he apparently regarded himself as entitled to use them on the Parthenon sculptures. No effort was made to conceal them and they were lying exposed to full view on the bench when the Director first observed them.

While the damage to the sculptures was directly occasioned by the unauthorised actions of Holcombe, it is impossible to acquit the Keeper and the Assistant Keeper of serous dereliction of duty. Their main responsibility is the preservation and protection of the valuable works of art committed to their care. Nevertheless, owing to absence of direction and to inefficiency of supervision in the Department, Holcombe was able to remove the Helios group and the Selene horse's head, and to undertake the cleaning of all the three sculptures in question at his own hand without the knowledge of either the Keeper or the Assistant Keeper who was in charge of the Department at the time. This can only be taken as indicating a most unfortunate slackness and want of system in the administration of the Department.

As regards Mr. Hinks, who entered the employment of the Museum on 18th January, 1926 and was promoted to his present rank on 22nd June, 1936, the Board find that in his case there was serous dereliction of duty. He was in charge of the Department when Holcombe removed the sculptures in question and set about cleaning them and yet he was quite unaware either of their removal or of the starting of the cleaning process. If he had been maintaining proper supervision he could not have failed to be aware of what was happening. Yet it was not till after the Director had discovered the mischief that Mr. Hinks, for the first time during Mr. Pryce's absence, visited the masons' workshop. He failed to carry out at once the orders given to him by the Director and he did not indicate any realisation of the seriousness of the matter. Being interested in other sections of the Department he appears to have shown little concern as to the Parthenon sculptures which were under his charge while Mr. Pryce was on leave.


STATEMENT IN ANSWER TO THE CHARGE OF NEGLECT OF DUTY

Mr. R. P. Hinks 11 November 1938

The Director has communicated to me the sections of the Report of the Trustees' Board of Enquiry into the damage done to the Parthenon sculpture, which refer to my own part in the matter; and has instructed me to make a statement regarding what is in effect a charge of neglect of duty against me.

In accordance with these instructions I beg leave to submit to the Standing Committee the following answer to the charge of serious dereliction of duty, in failing to maintain proper supervision of the workshops during the period when I was in charge of the Department, in failing to carry out at once the orders given to me by the Director to enquire into the conduct of the workshops, and in failing to indicate any realization of the seriousness of the situation discovered by the Director.

It appears to me that these charges may best be answered by a detailed account of the sequence of events during the time when the Department was in my care.

On 29 August last I returned to the Museum after five weeks' leave of absence, partly on official duty, in Northern Europe. From then until the Keeper went away on 16 September I was occupied in arranging and labelling the Bronze room, and in revising the Catalogue of Bronzes, as well as in dealing with my share in the general work of the Department which had accumulated during my absence abroad.

When I took charge of the Department on 16 September the political crisis was rapidly developing. I conceived it to be my first duty to make arrangements for the safeguarding of the immediately movable and especially fragile and precious objects in the Gold Ornament Room, the Terracotta Room, the Bronze Room, and the Vase Rooms. I instructed Mr. Robertson to take charge of the vases, and devoted myself to the gems and gold ornaments, the bronzes, and the terracottas. On looking into the departmental records, I found that the salvage-lists were insufficiently detailed and explicit; and I accordingly drew up new lists, with instructions where to find the appropriate keys and other equipment. I made out detailed directions for the salvage, in case of emergency, of the Gold Ornament Room; and I drew a plan of the Bronze Room, in order to show the sequence in which its contents were to be removed. I measured the cases in the Gold Ornament Room and the Bronze Room, in order to ascertain how many boxes would be needed for the storage of their contents. I made arrangements with the Keeper of the Department of Coins and Medals to borrow surplus medal cabinets for the immediate disposal of the gold ornaments and gems; and I assembled in the Fourth Vase Room Annexe such packing cases as were forthwith available for the reception of the select bronzes. I also attended to the Keeper's correspondence, as well as my own, and other departmental affairs during the Keeper's absence.

Downstairs, in accordance with the Keeper's instructions, I superintended the work of Fisher and Brennan, who were engaged in mounting various pieces of sculpture. I also visited the Annexe of the new Elgin Room, to inspect the Iris from the East Pediment, whose base was to be measured for the cutting of a template, but no work was yet in progress. I noticed that some washing of the lower part of the figure had recently taken place; but as I had just been away for several weeks, and as I assumed that the cleaning of this figure, like that of the rest of the Parthenon sculpture, was contemplated before removal to the new room, I was not surprised to find that the work had been started. I did not observe any signs that unauthorized methods of cleaning had been used, nor were there then any tools or other materials laid out on the trestle on which the figure stood. I did not then pass through Holcombe's shop or the other basements, because I had received no instructions from the Keeper that any work was to be in progress there. In short, I did not spend as much time in the basement as I should have spent there in normal circumstances, because I judged that my first duty during these critical days was to superintend the safeguarding of the collections in the upper rooms, for which the Director had already issued general instructions.

On the afternoon of 23 September (not the morning of that day, as stated in the Report), I asked to see the Director on various matters of departmental business. He received me about 3.30 p.m. We discussed first the estimates for the printing of the Guide to the Department; then the redecoration of the Third Graeco-Roman Room; then the provision of packing cases and packing materials for the storage of the contents of the upper rooms in case of emergency, the Director giving me various instructions in connexion therewith. The Director then mentioned the cleaning of the Elgin marbles, and expressed concern at the appearance of some of the slabs of the frieze. He repeated the conviction of the Trustees that nothing but the method of cleaning invented by Dr. Plenderleith should be employed on the marbles, even if this did not achieve the degree of whiteness desired by Lord Duveen. He then expressed his own fear that unauthorized methods might already have been employed on the frieze, especially the use of metal scrapers and abrasives. He then instructed me to look into this matter.

On the morning of Saturday, 24 September, in accordance with the usual practice of the Department no washing or moving of sculpture was due to take place. Following the Director's instructions of the previous afternoon, I saw Holcombe in the Third Graeco-Roman Room, and ordered him to move and cover two pieces of sculpture by the doorway, before the builders arrived to take down the pediment which the Director had ordered to be removed; and also to detach a number of reliefs from the wall, in accordance with the Keeper's instructions, confirmed by the Director. I then examined the slabs of the frieze indicated by the Director; but although I noticed the whiteness of which the Director complained, I could not discover any evidence that unauthorized methods of cleaning had been used, and could form no opinion whether or not this degree of whiteness was obtainable by Dr. Plenderleith's method, unassisted by abrasion. As the political situation was by then becoming increasingly serious, I returned to the Office of the Department to make arrangements for the provision of boxes and packing materials of various kinds, also in accordance with the Director's instructions of the previous afternoon.

Immediately on reaching the Museum on Monday morning, 26 September I went down to Holcombe's shop in order to investigate the methods of cleaning in use. I found Holcombe washing the head of Selene's horse. When I came into the room, he was using Dr. Plenderleith's method in the approved way; but he had on the bench various copper tools, a piece of abrasive stone, and various tins of powdery substance. When I questioned him about the tools, he denied having used them on the head. I told him on no account to use them, and ordered him to remove from the bench the tins of powder and the abrasive stone. When I asked what the powder was, he replied evasively that he did not know, and that it was something left over from Pinker's time. My suspicions were then aroused, and I went at once to the Elgin Room Annexe, where I found two labourers washing the figure of Iris and using copper tools on the drapery, although Holcombe had told me the moment before that they were on their honour to use nothing but Dr. Plenderleith's method. I told them to stop work, and set out to report the matter at once to the Director. I met him by chance in the galleries. He then told me that he had given orders for all washing to be stopped; and when I returned at once to Holcombe's shop and the Elgin Ante-Room, I found that the Director's message had just arrived. I then wrote a letter containing an interim report to the Director; and asked the Keeper on the telephone to return at once.

On Tuesday, 27 September, the Keeper returned from leave, and I reported to him at once what had been happening, and asked him to see the Director immediately.

Meanwhile, the crisis had become acute; and Mr. Robertson and I completed our precautionary measures during the ensuing days. On Saturday, 1 October, the crisis being then over, I went away for a week's leave, returning to the Museum on Monday, 10 October.

During the ten days while I was in charge of the Department the risk of an immediate outbreak of war led me to decide what the most urgent need of the moment was to make all possible arrangements for the instant evacuation of the upper rooms on the outbreak of hostilities. No plans had been communicated to me for the safeguarding of the sculpture galleries, whereas the necessity for the clearing of the upper rooms was the subject of several orders from the Director's office. My answer, therefore, to the charge of neglect of duty must be that I believed that in these exceptional circumstances the first duty of the responsible officer irrespective of his specialist qualifications, was to devote himself to the safeguarding of the collections in the upper rooms, in accordance with the explicit instructions of the Director. This was my reason for devoting myself first and foremost to the most vulnerable part of the collection, and for paying less attention than I should have paid in normal conditions to the work in progress downstairs.

R. P. Hinks


Letter from Hinks to the Director

Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities

British Museum

London W.C.1. 8 December 1938

My dear Director,

I have given further careful thought to the charge of serious dereliction of duty in the Board of Enquiry's Interim Report on Damage done to the Parthenon Sculpture; and I wish to make a further statement in answer to that charge.

You will remember that I was absent from the Museum on sick leave from the end of September 1936 until the middle of March 1937, except for a short interval in December. On returning to duty, my first care was to make up as far as possible for the time lost during my illness by devoting myself principally to the tasks which the Keeper had entrusted to me: namely, the redecoration and rearrangement of the Bronze Room and the revision of the Catalogue of Bronzes.

During the Keeper's absence on subsequent occasions I attended to his instructions about the cleaning, repairing, and mounting of various pieces of sculpture. On no occasion did the Keeper instruct me to supervise the washing of the Parthenon sculpture; and I inferred from this - mistakenly, as I now see - that the routine which you had introduced was being followed and that the safeguards which you had devised were being maintained.

Events have unhappily shown that I should have given more general and more constant supervision to the work in progress in the masons' shops; and I wish to take this opportunity of expressing my profound regret for the damage which, through this failure of mine, was done to the Parthenon sculpture during the time when I had charge of the Department.

In view of the strictures upon my conduct in the Board of Enquiry's Interim Report, and the lack of confidence which they imply, I believe that the Trustees will expect me to tender my resignation; and I therefore beg that you will place my position unreservedly in their hands.

Yours sincerely,

R. P. Hinks