Sir Hans Sloane and ethnography

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), physician and founder of the British Museum, created a huge collection of books, manuscripts and natural history specimens. His primary interest lay in botany, however, and these and related collections are today in the Natural History Museum. Sloane's books and manuscripts are held by the British Library.

Sloane'e ethnographic collection is listed in a manuscript catalogue, entitled Miscellanies. Here he grouped together around 2000 artefacts from all over the world that did not fall into any of his other collecting categories, such as medals and antiquities. This early collection of ethnography is unique as much of the correspondence relating to Sloane's collecting activities survives. This provides us with valuable insight into the objects. For example, Sloane's friendship with John Winthrop of New England resulted in the earliest object made by a named Native American being sent to England. This is a spoon made of the breast plate of a great auk by an Algonquian man called Papenau in 1702. In 1738 Alexander Light, working for the Hudson's Bay Company, travelled to Moose Factory Ontario, and acquired the first collection of Inuit ivory carvings and tools, in Hudson Strait. Sloane acquired an Asante-style drum from Virginia; its origins are uncertain, but it would have been brought by a slave or sailor from West Africa. Also in the Sloane collection are objects brought to London by Native Americans from New York in 1710 who visisted Queen Anne (reigned 1702-14), including a tumpline, or carrying strap.

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