Looking into the life of Riley
16 December 2015
RAMM is investigating the lives of people who donated objects to the museum’s World Cultures collection, including Arnold Riley who donated a re-modelled Melanesian skull in 1935. He was a colourful character who lived in Dawlish between 1924 and 1947 and RAMM is keen to contact any of Mr Riley’s living relatives, particularly those who may live locally and may have information and photographs that would shed more light on his life.
Arnold Riley taught elocution and dramatic arts at University College of the South West of England, Exeter. He was involved in local politics and social campaigns, frequently gave dramatic readings, and directed numerous theatrical and musical events. He travelled widely and was described as ‘an officer, a true gentleman and an excellent communicator’ during his time with the Dawlish Home Guard during the Second World War. One contributor to the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette is quoted as saying, ‘I have never met anybody more remarkable than Mr. Riley.’
He travelled to Australia but not Melanesia and how a Lecturer in Elocution and Dramatic Art acquired a head-hunted skull from a remote and, at that time, only very recently accessed region on the other side of the world has not been conclusively answered. He most likely obtained the skull from his missionary uncle Edward B. Riley, who served a total of 30 years in Papua New Guinea and, in light of Arnold Riley’s commitment to education, it seems probable that the energetic, well-travelled lecturer donated his uncle’s re-modeled Melanesian skull to RAMM, contributing to Exeter’s growing museum whilst also safeguarding part of E.B. Riley’s legacy for posterity and future study.
Results of researcher Kristin Leith’s investigations into the life of Arnold Riley are published in an article on the Express & Echo website: Exeter asked to help solve museum’s skull mystery.
The research is part of RAMM’s Discovering Worlds project, an ambitious programme of new research, conservation, documentation and reinterpretation of RAMM’s Pacific collections funded by the Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund. RAMM’s World Cultures collection is recognised by Arts Council England’s Designation Scheme as a pre-eminent collection of national and international importance.
Other donors being researched
Francis William Locke Ross
30 July 1793 – 25 December 1860 (Born in Hampshire, died in Topsham)
Midshipman on the HMS Tagus 1813 and went to Marquesas Islands.
Donated large collection of birds, geology, shells, archaeology and 115 items of ethnography. His widow and executor of his estate gifted his collection to the Albert Memorial Museum in 1865.
Examples of donated Pacific items in Finders Keepers gallery include a pair of carved stilt steps (Marquesas Islands) and in World Cultures a Maori patu. An amazing discovery relates to a votive offering for the first fruits ceremony.
Francis Godolphin Bond
15 February 1765 – 26 October 1839 (Born in Cornwall, died in Exeter)
Nephew of Captain Bligh. Had a successful naval career and retired as Rear Admiral.
On board HMS Providence 1791 for breadfruit voyage from Tahiti to the Caribbean.
Bond donated Tahitian items to Devon & Exeter Institution as he was one of the founders.
Examples from his collection include the Tahitian mourner’s costume and a bark tiputa.
13 May 1850 – 1926(Born in Cornwall, died in Chudleigh)
Experienced mariner who commanded the cruiser HMS Mildura 1897 in the Pacific on patrolling duties but which been grounded at Vanuatu. His collection was donated to the museum in 1914.
Examples from his Vanuatu collection include weapons, a yam pounder, a waist ornament and a rare piece of barkcloth.
Charles Vandeleur Molony
19 July 1870 – 3 September 1926 (born in London, died in Winkleigh)
Accompanied Bishop Wood on board the Melanesian Mission ship SS Southern Cross in 1912. Acquired numerous items from the Solomon Islands which came to RAMM through his brother in 1926.
Examples of his collection include a canoe prow ornament, a rayskin rasp, a headman nose ornament and a high status chest pendant.
Henry John Rendall Gould
20 July 1876 – 1959 (Born in Hampshire, died in Exeter)
A Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy. He donated an over-modeled and decorated skull from Vanuatu.