An album of 19th-century photographs with some of the earliest pictures of B.C. First Nations people and other colonial-era images was unveiled Tuesday at the Royal B.C. Museum.
It was discovered in 1973 at a flea market in Dorset, England, by a collector who later decided to sell it. A museum staff member, reading a catalogue in November, noticed the album was about to be auctioned at Bonhams, an auction house in England.
The auction was to be held Dec. 4, so museum staff had little time to investigate the album, determine its worthiness and seek partners to help buy it.
The album was purchased in December for about $26,000.
It features 100 photos, identified as mementoes of the work and travels of Col. Richard Moody, a soldier, civil servant and chief commissioner of lands and works from 1858 to 1863 in what was then the Colony of British Columbia.
Don Bourdon, curator of images at the RBCM, said the album augments colonial-era Moody family letters donated to the museum in the 1970s. “It’s just wonderful to find something that has essentially resurfaced over so many years,” he said.
The album contains a pencil sketch of the Moody family home in New Westminster, drawn by Sarah Crease, wife of Henry Crease, B.C.’s first attorney general.
Bourdon said once the museum determined a realistic price, all it could do was put in its reserve bid and hope.
“There were some dealers and collectors and probably another couple of organizations interested in this as well,” Bourdon said.
“All you can do is watch the bidding and hope you are successful.”
He said it will be up to historians and other interested people to fill in information about the images. “We acquired these so scholars and members of the public can conduct their own research,” Bourdon said.
“We might even turn some assumptions on their heads and this is the beauty of acquisitions like this.”
Museum CEO Jack Lohman praised museum curators and archivists for noticing the album and arranging its purchase with help from the community, including Friends of the B.C. Archives and the Royal B.C. Museum Foundation. “It would have been gross negligence on our part if we didn’t make our very best efforts to acquire that album.”
It’s important for the museum to keep on eye out for future finds, he said. “Things like this are still out there.”
Coralee Oakes, minister of community, sport and culture, said Moody’s photographs are important to the province for the historical story they tell. “It also speaks to where I believe we need to be looking in the future, making sure we are being innovative and creative and looking at new acquisitions,” Oakes said. “That’s what keeps the museum new and fresh.”
The album will be displayed at the museum until Monday, after which it will be sent to the B.C. Archives. Once it is properly described and preserved, it will be made available by appointment.