Letter from Robert Hanley Hall to Edward Burnett Tylor, 15 February 1902

Letter from Robert Hanley Hall to Edward Burnett Tylor, 15 February 1902
Accession number: 
Tylor Papers, Box 12, Item 26 (H5)
Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Letter sent from Prince Albert by Robert Hanley Hall of the Hudson’s Bay Company to Professor Edward Burnett Tylor in Oxford, dated 15 February 1902.

Transcript of letter (1 page): ‘Dear Sir:-/ I have been absent some six weeks inspecting our posts to the north, and only received your letter of the 20th, December [1901] on my return yesterday./ My headquarters are now at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and I have not seen much of the Pacific Coast or Victoria during the last year except the few weeks I spent there last October, and I very much enjoyed the familiar smell of the sea./ I am much pleased to receive the two handsome photographs of the Totem Pole as it now stands in the Museum, and I will prize them very much./ I have a photo of the same totem which I took myself, and I am now mailing it to Masset along with a letter asking our clerk there to obtain from the Indians and forward to me a correct interpretation of the story recorded by the carvings on the totem. It may take some time to get it but as soon as I receive it I will send it to you. I have obtained similar interpretations for smaller totem carvings and they were often quite interesting./ All the large totems and the one you got, are carved from the trunk of the “Thuja Gigantea” as you suppose. The Bear, Frog, Wolf, Seal, Etc, represent the Heraldic Crests of the different tribes or of branches of the same tribe, and their combination in the carvings often indicates the history of a chief’s family for many generations./ I would much have liked to have seen the account in the “Times” in regard to the totem, and I would be glad to get another pair of those photos to present to our head office in Winnipeg. I will gladly pay for them./ I am not generous enough to part with the two you have so kindly sent me and they are now hung in my own house where they are much admired./ I am,/ Yours very sincerely/ [signed:] R. H. Hall.’ (Transcription by Philip Grover.)


Exhibition label: ‘The earliest throughts of bringing a totem pole to Oxford came in 1897, when Edward Burnett Tylor, Keeper of the University Museum, saw the celebrated example which had been erected in the grounds of Foxwarren, in Surrey, brought to England from Canada some years earlier. The evidence shows that from this time Tylor made considerable efforts to acquire a similar item for the University, noting that ‘there is a place in this Museum exactly suited to a fine pole of 40 ft or even more, and I am much set on getting one.’ The three letters displayed here on the left are drawn from the Museum’s original documentation relating to the purchase of the totem pole, which was negotiated and arranged by Robert Hanley Hall of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Prof. E. B. Tylor himself paid a price of $36 for the pole, and a further $118 for sundries including repairs and cleaning; afterwards it was transported by boat from Masset to Victoria, and thereafter by rail and sea to England.’ Source: ‘Star House Pole: Early Images of the Haida Totem Pole in the Pitt Rivers Museum’, exhibition curated by Philip Grover, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 9 June to 28 September 2014.