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Shades of colonial India in UK plan to tighten ivory ban

world Updated: Sep 21, 2016 21:22 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The ivory throne and footstool presented to Queen Victoria by the Maharaja of Travancore on display in the Industrial Arts of the 19th Century gallery of the 1851 Great Exhibition. An engraving by F Bedford. (Getty Images)

Britain is taking forward plans to tighten its ban on trade in ivory after campaigns by Prince Charles and Prince William brought the issue into the spotlight in recent years - and some priceless ivory items from colonial India have been at the centre of the discourse.

Prince William and environment secretary Andrea Leadsom are due to speak at an international conference to be held simultaneously in London, Tokyo and Johannesburg on Thursday, when the issue will again be highlighted.

It is already illegal to sell post-1947 ivory in Britain but antique dealers are known to exploit the difficulty of determining the age of an item. Under new rules that are to be announced, dealers will be told to prove the age of items using carbon dating or face having them confiscated and destroyed.

A spokesman for the department for environment, food and rural affairs said: “We have some of the strictest rules governing ivory anywhere...We know there is more to be done and we want to work with traders to strengthen documentary proof on the age of items and ensure greater confidence that antique items are genuine.”

Prince William, who has been passionately campaigning to ban ivory trade, was in the spotlight in February 2014, when he reportedly remarked he would "like to see all the ivory owned by Buckingham Palace destroyed".

After the remark, one of the ivory items from colonial India in royal possession mentioned in the media was the exquisite throne gifted by the Maharaja of Travancore to Queen Victoria in 1851, which has rarely been seen in public since it was first displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

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

Queen Victoria wrote to the Maharaja after the exhibition: “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 there received due admiration from the vast multitude of spectators.”

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

The new government plans were included in the Conservative manifesto during the 2010 elections.