The ‘Other’ Elgin Disputes

There’s not much ClassCon in this one, other than the connection to the guy who did that thing with those marbles — but there’s some CanCon, and so we’ll jump at the opportunity to mix Canadian history with Classical, no matter how tenuous the link. In any event, the guy at the centre of this one (more or less) is the eighth Earl of Elgin (son of Parthenon guy), who was one of the governors of Canada prior to Confederation and — interestingly, in this time when folks are struggling for democracy — was instrumental in bringing responsible government to Canada in the wake of our own little period of rebellion. Over the past couple of years, he too has been involved in a couple of ‘return’ disputes, most recently one which he isn’t really directly involved in.  Here’s the story from the Herald:

IT sometimes seems that anything linked to the Elgin dynasty and made of marble is bound to become shrouded in controversy.

The long-running row between London and Athens is rumbling on over the sculptures known as the Parthenon Marbles, which were taken from the Acropolis.

Now a fresh dispute has emerged over a pair of marble busts of the 8th Earl of Elgin and his wife, created in Scotland in 1941 and donated to Canada.

The 11th Earl, whose family seat is Broomhall House, near Dunfermline, has been dragged into the row between a Canadian hotel and the country’s national gallery over where the busts should be displayed.

At stake are two busts, one of Sir James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, a Scot who became Canada’s first governor-general in 1847 and was a pivotal player in establishing a responsible government in the country. The other is of his wife Lady Mary Lambton, a daughter of the 1st Earl of Durham.

The sculptures, commissioned by directors of Standard Life, were shipped to the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa as a gift to Canada by the 10th Earl of Elgin when he heard in 1939 that a hotel was to be built and named in honour of his grandfather.

In July 1941, the busts went on display in the lobby of the hotel after an unveiling by the then prime minister, Mackenzie King.

However, in 2003 the hotel allowed the sculptures to be sent to Rideau Hall, the official residence in Ottawa of both the Canadian monarch and the governor general of Canada, for a historical celebration of Sir James Bruce organised by Library and Archives Canada.

The busts were never returned and for eight years managers of the hotel have had requests for their return rebuffed.

A Rideau Hall spokeswoman said the Elgin busts were only ever “on loan” to the hotel. She said the sculptures had been donated to the Government of Canada and were only to remain on display at the hotel for an “indefinite amount of time”.

The present Lord Elgin, Andrew Bruce, 86, says he understands there was an agreement that the busts would be returned to the hotel after the exhibition.

He said: “The argument seems to lie with the director of the National Gallery [of Canada] at the time.

“There has been a family relationship ever since the hotel was built and that seems to me to be vital.”

A letter at the time of the loan, from Pierre Théberge, former director of the National Gallery of Canada, to Don Blakslee, the then hotel manager talked of the arrangement.

It said: “Once the exhibition is closed the loans officer will co-ordinate the return of the sculptures to the Lord Elgin Hotel.”

However, reports from 1941 about the donation of the busts quoted Mackenzie King as saying: “Acting upon Lord Elgin’s suggestion, the Government has had great pleasure in loaning to the management of the hotel for an indefinite time these works of art.”

As with the London-Athens dispute, it seems this latest Elgin marble row still has some way to go.

Ironic, I guess that busts of an Elgin are in dispute … but even before this one, there was another ‘return’ situation between Canada and the Elgins over what are colloquially known as ‘Elgin’s Rocks’. Some excerpts from the Ottawa Citizen from a couple of years ago:

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.

Lord Elgin rock show coming to capital region | Citizen

There’s a nice little YouTube short about the whole incident as well (with photos of the ‘rocks’):

… and in case you’re in the Ottawa area:

Canada’s main history museum has unveiled a new exhibit casting the country’s Confederation story in a fresh light emphasizing the tensions that threatened to pull British North America apart in the years leading up to 1867′s unification project.

It’s a rewriting of the narrative of the country’s birth, says Canadian Museum of Civilization president Victor Rabinovitch, that doesn’t follow “the usual line about how peaceful everything was up here.”

Among the highlighted events are the 1837 rebellions in the present-day Quebec and Ontario. A scene is recreated from Montgomery Tavern in the future Toronto, where rebels under the leadership of William Lyon Mackenzie — grandfather of 20th-century Liberal prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King — plotted their uprising against the British government-appointed oligarchs who ran Upper Canada at the time.

Visitors to the tavern scene “find themselves amidst the conspiring rebels,” the museum states, just moments before they embark on their ill-fated attack — “armed with muskets, pitchforks and staves” — aimed at overthrowing the colony’s ruling elite.

The new display is a linchpin component of the museum’s Canada Hall, a circuitous tour through the country’s past that Rabinovitch describes as “the most visited history installation in all of Canada.”

More than 500,000 people visit the museum’s Canada Hall every year.

The new exhibit also recounts the post-rebellion unrest that led to the burning of the colonial legislature in Quebec in 1849.

Among the artifacts on display are two chunks of stone — sometimes jokingly referred to as “Lord Elgin’s rocks” — that were hurled at the then-governor general during the rioting that accompanied the burning of Parliament.

The attack followed a controversial decision by lawmakers to compensate Quebec rebels who suffered hardships following the 1837 uprising.

… we now resume our regular programming …

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