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via the Museum Ethnographers’ Blog, 27 October 2019: Perhaps some readers can help shed light on this puzzle from Sarawak?

Rosanna Nicolson, NMS is looking for some information, she writes:

Over the last nine months I have done some provenance research on National Museums Scotland (NMS) collection of around 500 objects from Borneo. I recently presented a paper at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies conference in Berlin titled ‘Advantageous Opportunities: Securing Objects from Borneo for Scotland’s National Museum’ to share some of my findings.

One of these collections purchased by NMS in 1909 was the purchase of eighty ethnographic items from John Hewitt (1880-1961), the Curator of the Sarawak Museum in Kuching, East Malaysia, from 1905 to 1908.

Hewitt was originally from Dronfield, near Sheffield, and NMS must have purchased this collection whilst he was briefly back in the UK before leaving for a new museum post in South Africa. He was appointed the Director of the Albany Museum in Grahamstown in 1910 where he worked until his retirement in 1958.

Sadly, as no correspondence survives, we don’t know whether the curator in Edinburgh asked Hewitt to assemble an ethnographic collection representative of the indigenous peoples and cultures in Sarawak for the museum, or if Hewitt was just trying to sell this material before moving to South Africa. The answer to this may become clearer if I can establish whether any other UK collections purchased, or were given, ethnographic artefacts from Hewitt.

I would also very interested to find out more generally about other UK holdings of material from what was formally British North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak.

Please contact me on or 0131 247 4184.

Source: Making Connections Through World Collections: Appeal for Information on John Hewitt and Ethnographic Collections from Sarawak in the UK

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