Pharmaceuticals and Shamans

Earlier this month I gave a lecture to NHS staff the focus of which was the relationship between the Living Cultures collection and the history of medicine. It was part of a week-long series of events called Culture Shots which aimed at introducing NHS staff to the very many cultural assets in and around Manchester. You can find out further details about this project at http://www.healthandculture.org.uk/

Pestle. Oceania, Cook Islands, Mauke. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.

The lecture explored the life of one particularly important 19th century entrepeneur and collector whose objects form an integral component of the Living Cultures collection, namely Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome. Born in 1853 in Almond, Wisconsin, USA, Wellcome migrated to the UK in 1880. Whilst here his pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Company, became a market leader and with it came a vast personal fortune. Recreationally, he was a passionate ameatuer ethnographer and was fascinated with medicinal practice and around the world. He indulged this passion using his fortune and acquired an astonishing personal collection of 1,500,000 objects, 125,000 may well have had some medical use. Upon his death in 1936 the Wellcome Trust became responsible for administering his estate, it invested heavily in medical research, and continues to do so, and took the difficult decision to rationalise the huge collection. This rationalisation saw parts of the collection distributed to other museums throughout the UK and internationally. To find out more about the life of Sir Henry Wellcome and the work of the Wellcome Trust visit http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/

Sir Henry Wellcome. Copyright The Wellcome Trust.

The Living Cultures collection generously received over 1000 objects as donated in 1926, 1953, 1957, 1981 and finally in 1983. Not all of the objects in question are directly related to the history of medicine but a significant percentage are. Some of the wonderful objects from the Wellcome collection that we have here at the Manchester Museum can be seen below.

Mask. Asia, Sri Lanka. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.

 

Feather head-dress. Henry Wellcome. South America, Brazil. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.

Pestle. Oceania. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.

The fascination with non-Western medicinal practice is as strong as it ever was, with shows like Channel 4s recent Medicine Men Go Wild testifying to this.

Medicine Men Go Wild. Copyright Channel 4.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

From Manchester to Sheffield and Liverpool

On the 26th June 2011 our most recent and celebrated temporary exhibition China: Journey to the East closed to the public. The exhibition has been with us for 9 months and was supposed to be heading home to the British Museum but instead will open in Weston Park, Sheffield later in the year. This new addition to the tour schedule proves just how popular the topic of China is with museum visitors and users alike. The exhibition has allowed the Manchester Museum to affirm its relationship with Manchester’s Chinese community and it will hopefully develop as we explore future opportunities for collaboration.

This Chinese porcelain tea-pot is currently on display in the Manchester Gallery with other fascinating objects from China. It dates to the early 20th century and was donated by Robert Dukinfield Darbishire. Hopefully, we'll be able to exhibit much more of our Chinese collection in the Manchester Gallery in the not too distant future.

In other news we’ve finally completed the transfer of an object from the Living Cultures collection to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool. The object in question is a punishment collar from a 19th century plantation in the USA. It would have been placed around the necks of enslaved Africans who had attempted to escape. It had been on loan to the International Slavery Museum for several years so it made perfect sense to make the transfer. The process of transferring objects from one museum collection to another is often called rationalisation, and it has been occurring since museums began. The punishment collar is better placed in the International Slavery Museum as  it is an institution dedicated to exploring the very many experiences, histories and legacies of the transatlantic slave trade.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures