So, the British Empire has taken a lot of stuff that’s not theirs. Pretty much through its entire existence, the crown has stolen countless amounts of artifacts, artwork, and sacred relics from the people they colonized. Today, these objects can be found in museums across the globe with a polite little plaque somewhat detailing it’s origins. Well, “Stuff The British Stole” is not going to be so polite, and this ABC Radio (the Australian ABC) podcast will tell us these artifacts’ impolite history.
Every once in a while, news comes out of incredible ancient artifacts being auctioned off to private buyers or museums, sold for an impossible amount of money. Sometimes, the news is a country demanding it’s sacred monuments back from museums and even the British Crown. Like, Queen Elizabeth II is owner of the largest diamond ever found literally called The Heart of Africa. Just, what?
In each “Stuff The British Stole” episode, award-winning journalist and author Marc Fennell picks one artifact trapped in a museum and takes us through history in a wild, funny, often tragic journey. Through the rainforests of New Zealand to the bloody, bloody struggles of India freeing itself from the Commonwealth, every episode dives into the rich history of stolen culture.
Fennell describes himself as a genetic potluck: his mother is Indian but grew up in Singapore, his father is Irish, and he grew up in Australia. So, basically, lots of places with extremely bad blood with the British Empire. But this isn’t a podcast about hating on the English, but a podcast explaining what the throne did to much of the world. Literally, one third of all countries in the world have a holiday celebrating independence from the British!
In the first episode, Fennell introduces us to this dark history. He meets up with Alice A. Procter, a historian who specializes “in the uncomfortable.” She gives guided, unaffiliated, secret tours of museums and galleries, tours that those institutions didn’t like once they found out about it. Because she liked to talk about the darkest parts of colonialism and imperialism. And with so many of the objects on display in museums like the British museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum having bloody history but no one talking about them, she decided to fill in that gap. She noticed museums using the term “contested histories” as a way of glossing over the things that are actually being contested: saying that 9 times out of 10, their artifacts were stolen under very violent circumstances or taken during looting after conflict.
You’ll hear about works of art like Tipu’s Tiger, an 18th century wooden mechanical toy of a tiger biting the throat of a life-sized wooden British soldier of the East India Company. It was created for Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore around the turn of the 19th century. Of all things, the tiger, the personal emblem of Tipu, expresses his hatred for the British. You’ll hear stories of the Pekinese, a Chinese dog breed that may hold the key to understanding the relationship between China and Britain. In the second season, you can hear the chaotic story of the Motunui Epa: five panels that were buried in a New Zealand swamp, only to end up in a Swiss-Bolivian’s auction after his daughter was kidnapped and held for two million dollar ransom.
“Stuff The British Stole” is telling the true stories of these artifacts and how they ended up in the hands of the British Empire. Fennell is decolonizing history for a popular audience with his immaculate storytelling capabilities in this top tier podcast.