Sunday, 17 August 2008

Isaac Brock's War Club

The Toronto Globe and Mail on August 11, 2008 had an article “Brock’s war club, papers to be offered to U.S. buyers”

The last Brock descendant to own the war club and knighthood papers was Nicholas Mellish, Brock’s great-nephew six generations removed, had approached the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in January, 2007 where the red coat Brock was wearing at the Battle of Queenston Heights is on display. The museum declined because the documentation was insufficient to prove the war club was a gift from the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Then Mellish offered the club to the Weir Foundation, a privately run art collection in Queenston, which also declined.

Later, Mellish sold them to an acquaintance of the family, Toronto tribal art dealer, William Jamieson.

“The treasures in question are a 57-centimetre carved wooden war club believed by some experts to have been given to Brock by famous Shawnee leader Tecumseh after the duo led the capture of Detroit in the War of 1812, as well as stunningly painted knighthood papers awarded to Brock just before his death.

The strongest claims to the Tecumseh link are rooted in circumstantial evidence attested to by experts such as Dr. Ted Brasser, a respected consultant and former curator of tribal art at the Natural Museum of Man (since renamed the Canadian Museum of Civilization). Brasser told the Globe there is little doubt the club belonged to Brock and that ‘all historical reference fit together and make [Tecumseh’s role] a believable story.’

In a report he wrote for Jamieson, Brasser states that the curved end of the club is characteristic of those from Michigan and Wisconsin between 1770 and 1800; the scalloped edges suggest Great Lakes Region woodwork and the patterns carved into it are reminiscent of those found on woven goods from the Great Lakes and Shawnee. Brasser said he is not surprised that no Canadian institution has stepped forward, but is nonetheless disappointed to see the war club departing so soon after returning to Canada.”

Jamieson offered them to the War Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and to Brock University. All declined mainly due to questions of origin of the war club, although they had no concerns that Brock had owned it.

On Monday, August 11th, 2008 Jamieson boarded a plane to Sante Fe, New Mexico for an American Indian art fair with the club and knighthood papers. His comments to the reporter, James Bradshaw, were that he wished the items could stay in Canada, he would have liked to have donated them to a museum but he had paid good money for them.

My comment on Jamieson’s latter statement is why he did not offer the items as a gift to any one of the institutions he approached. The Canadian tax system allows taxpayers special considerations with respect to gifts and works of art. It’s unfortunate Jamieson was more interested in making money.


laughingwolf said...

could not agree with you more, barbara... another bit of canadiana down the tubes grrrrrrrr :(

gary rith said...

You said it. Wouldn't a patriotic Canadian donate it?

Barbara Martin said...

Tony, Gary, William Jamieson is an art dealer with an aim to make money. Google him.

Barbara Martin said...

Another consideration with respect to donating the war club and knighthood papers to Canada also fell with Nicholas Mellish. He, too, could have donated the items as England has a tax treaty with Canada.

Ruth L.~ said...

Ahhh . . . the almighty dollar speaks. And why not? :>)

Steve Malley said...

You're like a blogging machine these days! Great stuff too, many thanks!

Linda McLaughlin said...

Maybe I misunderstood, but I thought Mellish offered the items to several local museums but was turned down because the provenance couldn't be proven. Jamieson may have assumed they would still refuse the items for the same reason. I do agree it's a shame to have them leave Canada though.


Barbara Martin said...

Ruth, money may be the carrot for many, but not I.

Steve, posting regularly will soon trickle as I have tweaks to make on my mannuscript. Can't put that off any longer.

Linda, Mellish did try, and when Jamieson bought them he tried more than once, even lowering the price, but proof won out. I hope they get a good home.