Meet the Collection: the founding donations

by Helen Young

Dr Sidney Davies and the “Egyptian Antiquities”

The Royal Borough of Greenwich museum collections date back to as early as 1902. When the museum was first founded a number of notable local figures began to donate objects of interest to the collections. One of these donors was Dr Sidney Davies.

Our original accession registers record that on the 12th September 1913 Dr Sidney Davies donated a “Collection of Egyptian Antiquities” to the borough museum. Sadly, we have no record of precisely what those objects were, so it is very difficult to identify exactly which Egyptian objects in the Royal Borough collections are the ones that he donated. Finding out more about Dr Sidney Davies, however, has been an interesting and enlightening case.

A brief delve into online archives reveals that at the time when he donated the Egyptian objects to the museum, Davies was the Medical Officer of Health for Woolwich. This was an extremely important and trusted position in the borough! Davies was a talented doctor, writing for a number of medical journals, including the Lancet. His care for the health of residents in the borough is particularly evident when tracking down the source of a nasty “emetic fever” in 1895. Davies turned detective to find the source of sickness, eventually tracing it to tainted milk products being sold from a dairy in Princes Road.

(you can read the report here):

https://wellcomelibrary.org/moh/report/b18252448/102#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=102&z=-1.3669%2C0.0304%2C3.7144%2C1.5399

It is possible, if not likely, that the Egyptian objects donated by Davies were acquired during his time in Egypt. In a letter to the Lancet dated 15th October 1892, Davies appears to have recently returned from Egypt after acting as Principal Medical Officer of the Egyptian Police Force, during the British occupation. If any of Davies’ donated objects are identified during our inventory project, then this background is really important for us to know and record. We need to make sure we tell the whole story of the objects, including how ethically they may have been obtained.

We still have a lot more to learn about Dr Sidney Davies. The latest mention we can find of him (from our coronavirus lockdown research base, AKA the kitchen) is that he was “detained in Germany” in 1914, having been on holiday when war broke out (see Fuller, G. (ed.), The Telegraph Book of Readers’ Letters  from the Great War,  2014). If you know more about Dr Sidney Davies then please do get in touch with our Collections Manager, Dr Nadia Randle (nadia@rght.org.uk), who would be glad to hear from you.

Tags: hfllondon, local history, greenwich, local heritage, meet the collection