In June 1859 James Carnegie, the 9th Earl of Southesk, headed out from Fort Garry, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters in the Red River Settlement, on a hunting expedition. Over the next seven months, the Scottish aristocrat and his Métis guides traveled more than 4,000 kilometers across the northern plains to the Rocky Mountains and back. Southesk collected objects made by First Nations and Métis people whom he met in the course of his travels. Traveling with Southesk when he returned home, they remained at Kinnaird Castle, the family estate, for the next 146 years — until the spring of 2006, when the earl’s descendants put them up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York.
The Royal Alberta Museum sought to purchase as many items from the collection as possible. Although relatively small, the Southesk collection is significant. The objects are early (objects from the northern Plains dating to the 1850s are rare), and many are of exceptional quality. The collection also speaks to the cultural diversity of western fur trade society. Although modest in size, it includes work from at least five distinct cultures — Plains Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakoda and Anishnaabe. The current Earl of Southesk subsequently donated five additional items linked with the collection. The Friends of Royal Alberta Museum Society was delighted to be among those who helped purchase these artifacts for the museum’s collections