So, not long ago we had an excellent discussion here centered around Edward Richardson’s 1864 painting of a Coast Salish grave house or mausoleum. I’ve recently come across another set of images of these places which are so important to First Nations. These images were painted by well-known early Victoria resident (and former mayor and Supreme Court of BC Justice) Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake. They’re pretty interesting paintings from the early colonial period on southern Vancouver Island which I don’t recall seeing before.
The painting above clearly shows a small mausoleum, weighted with rocks on top, in front of which are two carved figures. The one on the right includes fishers or river otters, both of which have important spiritual significance in this area. Each of these images has notes on the back, which are also reproduced at the British Museum site (click the image to go to the accession record). For this image, the notes aren’t transcribed, though maybe someone with better olde handwritinge fkills would care to have a go As near as I can make out, the back reads:
This is another eccentric specimen of Indian taste for sculpture, it is equal to the finest specimens of _________ — see the elegant attitude of that man scratching his ?cheek bone, but a _____ ________ _______ would have mastered __________ a flight of ___________ imagination. The other is holding two dogs [sic] of a breed which I am afraid is lost to the present generation. This ______ are carved in wood and _____ ________ near a large grave of the family vault above ground ___________ .
It”s true, both sculptures are lively and naturalistic. In both cases, and the one below, there is apparently a rendering of face paint. I’m sure those readers more knowledgeable than I will see a lot of interesting detail in these pictures. Note the open prairie environment – anthropogenic Garry Oak meadow, no doubt.
A view of a different grave-house is shown above. This is the one with the sketch of a dog on the back, where there is also the rather inappropriate inscription which reads:
The final image is described as a view from the graveyard, with “Victoria Island” in the background – suggesting this scene is on a small burial island of some kind. Locals might recognize the setting. The inscription on the back is interesting in several ways, not least that it claims it is a marker for a Chinook chief, presumably someone from the Columbia River area, and it also has a sketch of a ?tattooed individual wearing a labret. It reads:
A grave, the old gentleman is doubled up into a sitting position a bit of reed matting put over him & then he is built in with posts logs of wood & a few stones to keep all snug? & I can assure you though they don’t smell sweet during life after death they are something beyond a stink- This is an unfinished sketch but you must take it as it is. [refers to a pencil outline of a dog at the back of the drawing] [QM note: the British Museum mixes up the verso inscription between these one and the one above].
Victoria Island from a native grave yard. An Indian image erected over the mortal remains of some great chief of the far famed Chinook Tribe. Antiquarians insist that the image is intended to represent the image idea of a Sufercuie? being personified in a Hudson Bay man of differ? form? them & would suggest that the great chief died from eating too much cold white man & his lamenting relations erected this elegant statue to represent the individual who had disagreed with his lordship perhaps some of his relatives may still be existing & this portrait may be the means of informing them what has become of him.
The tree behind [QM: evidently an arbutus] is peculiar the bark is if any thing a brighter red & the leaf equally like the rhododendron.
Cause of death: “eating too much cold white man”, an incident memorialized by a statue of said dinner. This has the smell of the estimable yet no doubt intrusive and nosey Tyrwhitt-Drake being told a pile of bollocks to induce him to pack his paintbox and leave the graveyard.