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Leeds Museums and Galleries Collection

Case Study: Oryx Trophy Mount

This trophy mount of an Oryx head, on open storage at Leeds Discovery Centre, is a good example of a specimen collected during the British Empire.

 

Trophy Head of an Oryx

Unfortunately, there isn’t much specific information about it. Our database tells us it was collected in 1910 from ‘British East Africa’.  Although this information isn’t much to go on, if we use it thoughtfully, it can tell us a lot. We know, for instance, that the Oryx was taken from a part of Africa under British colonial rule. This enabled white people from Britain to undertake hunting trips in Africa, and to hire dozens, sometimes hundreds of black people as ‘porters’ and other staff to assist them.

Colonised African people were routinely paid very low wages, or were paid only in meagre daily food rations, to carry huge weights and work long hours, often in dangerous conditions.

While white British people would have had the luxuries of mosquito nets and tents, African workers were often left to sleep in the open, exposed to diseases, cold, damp and even predation. For this Oryx head to reach Leeds, it was not only killed, but also transported, skinned, and preserved before leaving Africa. These jobs aren’t pleasant at the best of times, but in the heat, with no PPE, or access to sanitation, they would have been grim. You can bet this work wouldn’t have been done by whoever ‘collected’ the Oryx.