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Benin Bronze

A Benin Bronze at the Great North Museum: Hancock

Published on: 12 January 2022

The Great North Museum: Hancock is seeking to return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria.

Proactive repatriation

The museum recently established that a Benin Bronze held in its ethnography collection was taken from Benin City by the British military as part of the Punitive Expedition of 1897. The item is a brass stave with bird finial, likely to be a type of musical instrument that was struck with a metal rod during ceremonies.

Given its forceful removal from Benin, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) advised Museum stakeholders - Newcastle University and the Natural History Society of Northumbria - to consider a proactive repatriation of the object to Nigeria. It has been unanimously agreed that the Museum should seek a proactive repatriation of the Bronze to Nigeria.

Keith Merrin, Director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, said: “We have been researching the unclear history of the brass stave in the Great North Museum: Hancock and now know for certain that it was taken violently during the Punitive Expedition of 1897.

“It is right to return the stave to Nigeria. Repatriation can be a powerful cultural, spiritual and symbolic act which recognises the wrongs of the past and restores some sense of justice.”

Professor Vee Pollock, Dean of Culture and the Creative Arts at Newcastle University said: “We have no hesitation in returning the ceremonial stave, one of the so-called Benin bronzes.

“As well as an important cultural artefact for the people of Benin, this brass stave is also a symbol of historic injustice and extreme violence.

“A museum, through what it displays, how it relates to its audiences and what it does, should be a place of learning, and we hope that through this process we can work with partners in Nigeria and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments to facilitate better understanding and enhanced cooperation.”

She added: “We are also grateful to colleagues at Aberdeen University for their invaluable advice which has informed our proactive approach."

The Benin Bronze - a brass stave with bird finial


The stave was acquired in 1951 (with other items) in the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum's dispersal of non-medical items and incorporated into the collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria . Newcastle University has overall responsibility for stewardship of these collections, which are managed on their behalf by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

The Great North Museum: Hancock has contacted Nigerian authorities about repatriating the stave.

Notes to editors

The history of the collections at the Great North Museum: Hancock spans over 250 years. This means that a number of objects are inextricably linked with Britain’s colonial past and systemic racism. The Museum acknowledges this and is working towards using these collections in an equitable and just way.

As part of this commitment, the Museum has a Repatriation Policy and will ensure that any proposals for repatriation are acknowledged publicly.


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