April 18, 2008

Elgin family to return some stones of no value to their country of origin

Posted at 12:48 pm in Similar cases

The descendants of Lord Elgin are donating some artefacts belonging to one of their ancestors. Unfortunately, the ancestor in question is the Eighth Earl of Elgin, not the Seventh & the country in question is Canada. The two issues are not really conected, except through the involvement of the same family, but parallels can (& will) still easily be drawn.

Ottawa Citizen

Friday » April 18 » 2008
Lord Elgin rock show coming to capital region
Stones thrown at former governor general part of collection being handed over by descendants
Paul Gessell
The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, April 18, 2008

London has the Elgin Marbles. Ottawa is about to get the Elgin Rocks.

The marble sculptures were removed in the early 19th century from the Acropolis in Athens by the 7th Earl of Elgin. The rocks were thrown at the 8th Earl of Elgin, governor general to Canada, in 1849 by an English-speaking mob in Montreal angry over a bill compensating Quebecers involved in the rebellions of 1837-38.

In Montreal, Lady Elgin kept some of the rocks heaved at her husband. These rather bizarre souvenirs have remained with the family at its ancestral castle in Broomhall, Scotland, for the past century. Come next Friday, the 11th Earl of Elgin, the great-grandson of the former governor general, will be in Ottawa for a ceremony at Library and Archives Canada to officially turn over the rocks — and considerable other loot from his vice-regal ancestor — to the people of Canada.

The artifacts number in the hundreds. Full details about the Elgin artifacts are to be released next week, but some information has already leaked out. Stacks of documents include one from 1852 titled “Royal Seal and Warrant Granting Full Powers to Lord Elgin to Negotiate with the United States.”

There are watercolours painted by Lady Elgin, a pair of moccasins decorated with velvet, ribbon and pearls, and the Cree wooden snowshoes Lord Elgin personally used to tramp five kilometres to work from his home in the Monklands area of Montreal.

Some of the objects are being donated by the current Lord and Lady Elgin and others are being purchased from them. Funds were raised largely through an organization called Alberta Friends of Elgin, one of many efforts launched by Jennifer Considine, a Calgary-based energy analyst, to foster Scottish-Canadian relations.

The Elgin treasures will be housed at Library and Archives and at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Their arrival comes just two months after the National Gallery of Canada opened a major exhibition of newly acquired artworks and artifacts from the descendants of another 19th century governor general, Lord Dalhousie.

The pomp associated with the visit of Lord and Lady Elgin next week is in sharp contrast to 1849, when the then Lord Elgin planned to visit Ottawa — it was called Bytown in those days — to scout out the rowdy lumbering town as a potential capital for Canada.

The mayor of Bytown, Robert Hervey, was among the many Tories in Canada those days who hated the Rebellion Losses Bill signed by Lord Elgin because the legislation compensated some Quebec rebels. The rival Reformists supported the bill. The two sides ended up in a street fight in the Byward Market. Thirty people were injured and one man was shot dead in what later came to be called the Stony Monday Riot of Sept. 17, 1849.

Two days later, the two sides planned to face off again on Sapper’s Bridge, across the Rideau Canal, near what is now Parliament Hill. Cannons, muskets and pistols were hauled out. But before much harm was done, the army arrived and tensions eased.

As for Lord Elgin, he delayed his visit until July 1853 and received a warm reception. Lord Elgin’s dream of moving the capital to the city rechristened Ottawa was realized in 1857.

Lord Elgin was perhaps best known as a champion of “responsible government” for Canada, which then included just Ontario and Quebec. Because of his efforts, Canada started taking the baby steps that allowed it to become more independent from Britain.

This fact was noted by the current Lord Elgin when he participated in a debate in the House of Lords concerning the patriation of the Canadian constitution two decades ago. With the enthusiastic support of the current Lord Elgin, Canada was granted the power in 1982 by the British Parliament to amend its own constitution.

The warm reception expected for the Elgins next week is also in sharp contrast to the treatment most recently accorded the memory of Lord Durham, father of the landscape-painting Lady Elgin. Lord Durham, a British emissary to Canada, wrote a report in 1839 suggesting that French-Canadians be assimilated.

Lord Durham remains so controversial that last November, the National Capital Commission felt compelled to remove an illustration of his lordship from an exhibit on Sparks Street marking the 150th anniversary of Ottawa becoming the capital.

Some of the Elgin artifacts, including the infamous rocks, being unveiled Friday were part of a small exhibition mounted in 2003 at Rideau Hall. Adrienne Clarkson, governor general at the time, noted then how much the current Lord Elgin resembles his famous ancestor.

“Obviously, the genes are very strong in the Elgin family,” Ms. Clarkson said while opening the exhibition.

The surname of the Elgin family is Bruce, as in Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland.

“The Bruce family is a family truly writ in history,” Ms. Clarkson said in 2003. “And a family that is, happily, part of our history. It is very valuable for us to know this and to hold on to it. We must know every bit of our history — everything that has happened to us as a country, everbody who has contributed to it.”

That even includes, apparently, rocks thrown at members of the Bruce family.

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