Spoils of war
Custom and practice
in Dividing the spoils
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This chapter reviews the evolution of British military practices in the acquisition of valuable artefacts, battlefield trophies, and other curios from the wars of empire in Africa. It sets the practices of appropriation and acquisition in Africa, which begin with the Anglo–Abyssinian campaign (1867-8), in a broader context, including past imperial practices in India and China, looting in the Peninsular War, and the formal codes that had developed to regulate the division and handling of prizes seized in war. It notes that the quasi-official practices, endorsed at various times by governments and parliament, coexisted with unofficial practices. It emphasises, too, that major acquisitions were brought back for the royal collections, and that the British military were joined in these practices by war correspondents, museum representatives, and colonial allies. The chapter reflects upon the various ways in which items were acquired and traded, and how they were transported from source back to the United Kingdom, noting how some have been preserved in private collections, often within stately homes, or in national and regimental museums.

Dividing the spoils

Perspectives on military collections and the British empire

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