Many visitors ask about our stuffed animals – where did they come from? Are they real? Some believe the Museum itself is responsible for the animal’s demise. While Manchester Museum it now a bastion of conservation, it’s true that many of the fascinating items in our natural history collection date from a time when hunting was part of the lives for much of the British aristocracy, and indeed many of our displays were trophies these gentlemen had in their stately homes. For them it was a token of their status, proof of their manliness in a highly masculine society. For some it was also part of their interest in the natural world and their feelings of responsibility in enlightening those of a lower social status. This may seem patronising to us in 2014, but it’s important to bear in mind that a lot of our knowledge about such creatures has come from specimens that were shot, essentially for sport, no matter how anti-hunting we are now.
One such aristocratic gentleman was Maurice de Trafford, the 4th Lord Egerton. The Egerton family owned and lived at Tatton Park in Knutsford. Maurice inherited the title in 1920 after the death of his father as the sole remaining member of the family; his two older brothers having died. Though described as a shy, solitary man, Maurice was also a pioneer photographer and filmmaker, friend of Orville and Wilbur Wright (he had the 11th pilot’s licence in the world!) and owned the first car in Cheshire. He also founded a boys club in the village where according to The Spectator in 1909 the programmes were a combination of ‘military and moral discipline and sheer fun’. Maurice himself, developed and instructed classes in shooting and was nicknamed ‘Lordie’ by the boys.
Maurice was a keen hunter and spent a lot of time in Kenya, where he built a lavish estate for a prospective wife who spurned his proposal (for more see here). Far from being in opposition of hunting, museums at this time condoned and even commissioned the aristocracy to bring back items for their collections. Maurice developed a working relationship with William Tattersall, Curator of Manchester Museum, who suggested ‘it was vital that the spoils of Egerton’s effort in the field be shown on to the public’. Egerton also gave the museum financial support to develop a zoological collection ‘worthy of the city’. Maurice’s hunting also supplied Liverpool museums and the British Museum as well as collections in Zanzibar, Ngata and Bulawayo. Apart from the ‘big game’ pieces, Maurice also provided smaller specimens, from Canadian spring salmon to fruit bats. He had the only two large taxidermy tuna in England and insisted they should be displayed at Tatton and Manchester Museum.
However, despite this educational aspect to his hunting, Maurice could hardly be described as a naturalist. Like many of his compatriots, he opposed restrictions brought about by the 1900 Convention on Big-game Shooting and Lord Elgin’s move to limit hunting licences abroad to 500. His relationship with museums provided a convenient loophole that enabled Maurice to continue hunting in the name of science, asserting that ‘authorisation from the Museum was essential’. Whether scientific collecting was an excuse or a reason, he continued hunting into old age. On his last hunt, aged 81 or 82, he shot an Indian tiger on foot, still adhering to the ‘fair chase’ ideal popularised by American president Theodore Roosevelt.
There are over 200 trophies on display at Tatton, most of them shot by Maurice, and Manchester Museum still has many of his specimens on display including the Hyena and the Dama Gazelle in Living Worlds; a gallery dedicated to exploring our place within the natural world.
Maurice’s hunting relationship with the Museum is an example of how attitudes have changed since the early 20th century. However, hunting remains a controversial subject with many maintaining it is an essential part of rural life in this country and many around the world still using ‘the hunt’ as a leisure pursuit despite the moral and conservationist arguments against it. Whether we are ever successful in enforcing a worldwide ban on hunting for pleasure or not, it is important to acknowledge that hunters such as Maurice de Trafford have contributed to our knowledge of nature, the very ecosystem that we are now striving to maintain.
Militarism, Hunting, Imperialism: ‘Blooding’ The Martial Male – J.A. Mangan, Callum McKenzie (preview available here)
Cheshire’s first Lord of adventure – Peter Elson, Liverpool Daily Post, 16th March, 2005