University refuses to return looted manuscripts

A campaign for the return of treasure looted by British soldiers in Ethiopia more than 130 years ago suffered a blow when organisers were told that four valuable manuscripts were unlikely to be returned.

A campaign for the return of treasure looted by British soldiers in Ethiopia more than 130 years ago suffered a blow when organisers were told that four valuable manuscripts were unlikely to be returned.

Edinburgh University's director of collections rejected a plea for the return of the documents, taken as spoils of war by victorious troops after the bloody siege of Magdala in 1868. Edinburgh University is among several bodies, including the Queen's collection, the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, which feature on a "hit list" compiled by the Association for the Return of the Magdala Ethiopian Treasures (Afromet).

A spokesman for Afromet said: "This is a definite setback for us, but it has made us even more determined to step up our campaign. The university's reasons for holding on to these artefacts is little more than a sophisticated form of 'finders keepers'. They seem to be suggesting that as they are now in the collection they should stay in the collection. Does that mean that after something is stolen it should remain stolen?"

In December, 1867, a force of more than 13,000 troops was dispatched from Bombay to Ethiopia to rescue British hostages held by King Theodore II of Abyssinia, a Coptic Christian. He had been trying to force Britain to side with him against his Muslim enemies.

Within four months the British expeditionary force overran the country and defeated Theodore, who killed himself rather than surrender, after taking the mountain fortress of Magdala in April, 1868.

In keeping with the tradition that "to the victor belongs the spoils", the troops ransacked the city and took 15 elephants loaded with gold crowns, crosses, sacred altar slabs, manuscripts and other plunder back to Britain. Among the looted treasure were four holy manuscripts, now described as "treasure troves for historians and those involved in cultural studies in Ethiopia", which were given to Edinburgh University in the 19th century.

Afromet's vice-chairman, Professor Richard Pankhurst, son of the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, wrote to the university last December seeking return of the manuscripts as a sign of the "strengthening of links" between the Scottish and Ethiopian capitals.

But John Scally, the university's director of collections, wrote back saying he believed the manuscripts should not be repatriated as no human remains were involved.

A spokesman for Afromet said it was ironic that the university was refusing to co-operate when other Edinburgh institutions had led the way in handing things back. In 2002 the Reverend John McLuckie, of St John's Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, returned a 400-year-old carved tabot (a consecrated wooden altar slab) found in his church cupboards. When it arrived in Addis Ababa, jubilant crowds took to the streets to welcome it.

So far Afromet has identified 468 missing items out of an estimated 5,000. Of those items only nine have been returned and many remain in the hands of institutions including the British Library, British Museum, Dundee University, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Windsor Castle. Hundreds more items are thought to be in private family collections and in the military trophy rooms of those regiments and their successors involved in the invasion.

"We are determined to get them all back eventually," said Andrew Heavens, a spokesman for Afromet.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Software Engineer - C#, VB.Net, ASP.Net - Kingston, Sur

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior Software Engineer - C#, VB.N...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:SECONDARY teachers need...

Behaviour Support Work

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support WorkerThe JobTo...

English Teacher, Aylesford School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is working in...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker