Letter from Robert Hanley Hall to Edward Burnett Tylor, 18 May 1899

Letter from Robert Hanley Hall to Edward Burnett Tylor, 18 May 1899
Accession number: 
Tylor Papers, Box 12, Item 21 (H3)
Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Letter sent from Victoria by Robert Hanley Hall of the Hudson’s Bay Company to Professor Edward Burnett Tylor in Oxford, dated 18 May 1899.

Transcript of letter (1 page): ‘Dear Sir,/ With reference to your letter of the 22nd September last [1898], I quote for your information a letter I have just received from our Agent at Port Simpson:/ “I could purchase from the Hydah Indians of Massett a good Totem Pole for $35.00 or $40.00. (This is very cheap, as they cost something like $500 to $800 to construct and erect, and it was only a short time ago that you could not get a good Pole for less than $100.) The Totem would have to be cut in three, and the freight to this place (Port Simpson) would be $12.50, and about the same for Wharfage and Freight to Victoria. I return Mr. Tylor’s letter to you, and would be pleased if you could write and give him this information as soon as possible, as I have as good as given my promise that the Totem will be bought./ There is no chance to get a photograph of the Pole, but I am told that it is a really good specimen.”/ I shall be glad to have a reply from you in connection with the Totem as soon as possible./ Yours faithfully,/ R. H. HALL,/ per [initials unclear].’ A subsequent note has been added in pencil by Henry Balfour, Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum, after the letter’s arrival in Oxford: ‘Great pity no photo or even sketch or dimensions[.] It seems rather buying a pig in a poke, and over £20 will be wanted to cover expenses, probably, though this would I suppose be paid not all at one time & might extend over 2 years. Of course a good one is most desirable./ H.B. [Henry Balfour]’. (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.