Ivory throne gifted to Queen Victoria by Travancore Maharaja triggers royal row

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • |
  • Updated: Feb 19, 2014 08:17 IST

1851: An ivory throne and footstool presented to Queen Victoria by the Rajah of Travancore, on display in the 'Industrial Arts of the 19th Century' gallery of the 1851 Great Exhibition. An engraving by F Bedford after P H Delamotte.(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


An exquisite ivory throne gifted by the Maharaja of Travancore to Queen Victoria in 1851 is at the centre of a row sparked by Prince William's remark that he would "like to see all the ivory held by Buckingham Palace to be destroyed" as a message to stop elephant poaching.

The throne, one of the priceless ivory possessions in the royal collection, has rarely been seen in public since it was first displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. It was last shown to the public at an exhibition titled Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, in August 2010.

Prince William reportedly made the remark to veteran primatologist Jane Goodall after last week's conference on wildlife, where 46 nations pledged to tackle illegal wildlife trade.

Goodall told The Independent on Sunday that she had spoken to Prince William and he had told her he would "like to see all the ivory owned by Buckingham Palace destroyed".

The remark was welcomed by wildlife campaigners, but also drew sharp criticism by art and antique experts as being "bonkers beyond belief".

Reflecting the craftsmanship of Travancore (now Kerala) artisans, the throne with a footstool was despatched to London in October 1850 and displayed in the exhibition in Crystal Palace the next year.

After the exhibition, Queen Victoria had written to Maharaja of Travancore: "Your Highness's chair has occupied a prominent position amongst the wonderful works of art which have been collected in our metropolis and your highness's liberality and the workmanship of the natives of Travancore have received due admiration from the vast multitude of spectators."

The throne and other items in the royal collection are technically not owned by any individual, but "held in trust by the Sovereign for her successors and the nation".

In recent years, Prince Charles has also reportedly asked for ivory items at Clarence House and Highgrove to be put out of sight.

In a video message last week, Prince Charles and Prince William said: "We have come together, as father and son, to lend our voices to the growing global effort to combat the illegal wildlife trade."

"A trade that has reached such unprecedented levels of killing and related violence that it now poses a grave threat not only to the survival of some of the world's most treasured species, but also to economic and political stability in many areas around the world."

 

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