A photograph of Godman sitting sideways in a chair next to a table of flowers.

Frederick Du Cane Godman

Early years

Frederick Du Cane Godman (1834–1919) was an ornithologist and collector of ceramics who lived in Horsham, Surrey, and travelled extensively.

Godman donated some examples of Islamic pottery to the British Museum during his lifetime but the bulk of the collection remained at his home, South Lodge, displayed in specially made cabinets; his collection of Spanish lustre wares lining the walls of the dining room. he collection remained in this way until the death of Godman's daughter Edith in 1982.

The collection, one of the most extensive private collections of ceramics from the Middle East and Spain was then bequeathed to the British Museum, in accordance with Godman's wishes.

Early Years

Godman's first love was natural history. A fortune inherited from his father enabled him to travel the world in pursuit of plant, insect and bird specimens. His particular passion was birds, and Godman's work in this area gained recognition for his work from leading scientific and cultural societies, as well as being marked by an honorary degree from the University of Oxford.

Godman was president of the Geological Society, president of the Zoological Society, and vice-president of the Royal Geographic Society.

Early Years

Together with Osbert Salvin, a fellow founder of the British Ornithological Union, Godman published the Biologia Centrali-Americana (1879–1915), a 63-volume encyclopedia on the natural history of Central America.

Godman not only studied specimens themselves but also commissioned and collected high-quality watercolours illustrating highly sensitive and easily perishable specimens of flora and fauna. Godman's collection of specimens was donated to the Natural History Museum.

Early Years

While travelling in Spain and Turkey Godman developed an interest in the pottery of these regions. However, Godman acted upon this fascination only once back in London. His daughter Edith recalled that his first purchase was some time coming: "He used to pass a shop on the way to the British Museum and he passed it many times before he made up his mind."

Later, Godman's expeditions to South America would inspire the acquisitions of examples of pre-Columbian pottery, as well as indigenous entomology and ornithology.

Early Years

Godman was a friend of Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826–1897) who was Keeper of the Departments of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography. Franks made significant acquisitions of objects from the Islamic world for the British Museum collection, dramatically increasing the museum's holdings in this area.

He also collected for himself and donated many of these objects to the museum. In addition, he encouraged like-minded collectors to acquire objects or to make bequests. A number of these collectors also became trustees of the Museum and Godman himself became a trustee in 1896.

In 1901, Godman described his motivation for collecting Islamic ceramics specifically. He stated that he wanted "to make an artistic and historical series illustrating that branch of ceramic art which comprises the work of the Moslem potter". In essence, Godman was adopting a similar approach to the taxonomic studies core to ornithology and botany for which he was himself so well known.

Early Years

Godman had always intended that his collection of ceramics would eventually come to the British Museum. Even before his death, Godman had donated some examples, principally an important series of sherds from medieval Iran, which he deemed 'more suitable for a museum than for a private house'.

The main part of his collection, however, bequeathed by Edith Godman in 1982 and registered in 1983, is unparalleled in terms of quality and documentary importance. It includes some 600 pieces of Ottoman pottery from Iznik, Persian lustre ceramics, and Hispano-Moresque from Spain. This and many examples from this important collection are displayed in the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World.

Further reading

  • O Hoare, The Godman Collection, Christie's Review of the Year, pp 390-394, (1983)
  • JM Rogers, The Godman bequest of Islamic Pottery, Apollo, (July 1984) 
  • H Wallis, The Godman Collection: Persian Ceramic Art in the Collection of Mr F DuCane Godman, FRS: The Thirteenth Century Lustred Vases (London: printed for private circulation), (1891)