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Museum to return ownership of looted items as ‘moral’ thing to do

One of the items at the museum (Horniman Museum/PA)
One of the items at the museum (Horniman Museum/PA)

Museum chiefs have agreed to return ownership of a looted collection of treasured artefacts to Nigeria, including its Benin Bronzes, because it is the “moral and appropriate” thing to do.

The Horniman Museum said ownership of the 72 objects, which were looted in 1897 and include 12 brass plaques known as Benin Bronzes, are to be transferred to the Nigerian government.

Eve Salomon, chairwoman of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, south-east London, said: “The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria.”

Horniman Museum
The Horniman Museum and Gardens (Emli Bendixen/Arts Fund/PA)

A brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells, everyday items such as fans and baskets and a key “to the king’s palace” are among the items.

The items were taken from Benin City by British troops in February 1897.

In January, Nigeria’s national commission for museums and monuments (NCMM) requested the items be returned.

The Horniman then carried out detailed research and contacted community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals and artists based in Nigeria and the UK.

The Horniman trustees decided to return ownership of the collection and this was given the green light by the Charity Commission, which regulates the charitable sector,  on August 5.

Talks are being held with NCMM about the formal transfer of ownership, and the possibility of retaining some objects on loan for display, research and education.

NCMM director general Professor Abba Tijani said: “We very much welcome this decision by the trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

“Following the endorsement by the Charity Commission, we look forward to a productive discussion on loan agreements and collaborations between the national commission for museums and monuments and the Horniman.”

The Horniman Museum and Gardens was last month named the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year.