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Throne and footstool

This spectacular throne, the centrepiece of the Indian section in the Great Exhibition of 1851, was presented to Queen Victoria by the Maharajah of Travancore, in part to advertise the carving skills of craftsmen working in Travancore in southern India. The densely-carved elephant-ivory plaques incorporate Indian and European motifs, and the conch-shell emblem of Travancore forms the cresting.

Captain Cook's Tiki

James Cook, FRS (1728-79), known to history simply as Captain Cook, was granted a one-hour audience by George III in August 1771 after his return from his second expedition to the Pacific. It was probably at this meeting that Cook presented the King with this precious ornament, which the explorer had received from the natives of Queen Charlotte Sound in South Island, New Zealand, in October 1769. In Maori culture, tiki was the name given to the first created man, and hei means suspended. Carved from the precious nephrite or greenstone known as Pounamu, the heitiki was worn round the neck close to the throat. Embodying the spirits of ancestors, it was a powerful mark of the status of the wearer. W.B. Monkhouse, a member of Cook’s expedition, described one of the natives encountered by the crew of Endeavour as having ‘a piece of green talk [sic] about two & half inches long, and an inch & half broad, flat, and carved into the figure of a most uncooth animal of fancy’. 

Sunder Singh

Sunder Singh was the son of a silversmith of the Sikh Kuku caste. He was at the Mayo School of Art in Lahore and is depicted here at the age of ten.

A Peep at the Train

This remarkable and extensive series of portraits was painted by Swoboda for Queen Victoria while he was in India. The Queen had commissioned the artist to record the ‘different nationalities’ among her Indian subjects in a series of small-scale sketches and studies. They were placed in the Durbar corridor, leading to the newly constructed Durbar Hall at Osborne House, where they remain.

Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) in Ceremonial Headdress

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh’s most distant travels to Commonwealth countries have included visits to the Pacific islands of Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. The Queen is Sovereign in three of these island nations – Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Her Majesty has undertaken numerous tours encompassing all of these countries.

In 1996, the people of Papua New Guinea presented The Queen with this painting, which, according to the artist, represents The Queen as Head of the Commonwealth.

The Bald Eagle

During the eighteenth century there was a growing interest in the flora and fauna of the British colonies. The English naturalist Mark Catesby (1682–1749) made two extensive explorations of the east coast of North America between 1712-19 and 1722-26, and on his return to England published the Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1729-47), the first illustrated survey of the wildlife of North America.

The volumes consist of full page etched and coloured illustrations with accompanying textual descriptions, and include studies of plants, mammals, reptiles, insects, corals, fish and birds. Catesby dedicated the first volume to Queen Caroline, consort of George II, and the second to Princess Augusta, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales and mother of George III. Both were keen amateur botanists. In 1768 George III acquired a set of the Natural History with Catesby’s original watercolour studies in the place of the printed plates.

The Bald Eagle is one of the most striking plates in the Natural History and Catesby placed it at the start of the first volume. The bird was then common throughout North America (it was adopted as a symbol of the United States as early as 1782, shortly after independence). It was rare for Catesby to introduce drama into his compositions as he does here, where the eagle swoops to catch a fish dropped by an osprey above. The majority of Catesby’s watercolours were conceived as technical drawings, serving as clear, accurate records of his observations rather than works of art in their own right. Today, the watercolours have been removed from the volume for conservation reasons (and replaced in the volumes by facsimiles), and have been individually mounted.

Articles of union [between England and Scotland, 1707].

In 1603, on the accession of James VI, King of Scotland, to the throne of England as James I, the Crowns of England and Scotland were joined, but the administration of the two countries remained separate, each having its own Parliament. A century later, this situation was proving problematical, with a serious economic crisis in Scotland, and tensions in discussions about which branch of the Stuart Royal Family should succeed Queen Anne, since it was by then known that she would have no surviving children. In 1706 Commissioners for the English and Scottish Parliaments, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chancellor of Scotland, the Earl of Seafield, met to work out a treaty to deal with these issues. At the conclusion of their deliberations, in late July 1706, four copies of the terms were written, signed and sealed by the Commissioners. This is one of the Scottish copies, since the Scottish signatures are on the left of the page. A major part of the agreement entailed both existing Parliaments passing an Act of Union, effectively dissolving themselves and forming the Union Parliament of Great Britain, which came into being in May 1707.

Gold tiger's head

Known as the tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan was a ferocious opponent of the British in India. His defeat and death in 1799 ended years of conflict and prevented an alliance with Napoleon. The life-size tiger’s head was taken from Tipu’s throne at his magnificent palace at Seringapatam. It is made of gold with rock crystal teeth, and was presented to William IV by the East India Company.