This little box contains a tiny stub of a wax candle, and two spent matches – hardly the stuff a museum curator’s dreams are made of, you’d think.
But the card alongside, written, we assume, shortly after the events it refers to hints at the reason why they’re part of the collection at Scarborough Museums and Galleries:
“Some of the matches and portion of the wax light which the thieves left in the museum on the night of the 23 or early on the 24 July 1859 when they stole all the gold and silver coins [and] Indian weapons,” it says.
Let’s leave it to the newspapers of the day, with their customary purple prose, to tell us what happened that night. The Morning Post of 30 July reported:
“On the night of Saturday, the 23d inst., a very daring robbery was effected at the Museum of Scarborough, Yorkshire, by which the institution lost one of its most attractive collections. The burglars having entered the premises, carried off, amongst other things, the whole of the coins and medals, the accumulation of which has for many years past occupied the attention of the directors of the museum. Thus deprived of the most interesting feature of the museum, it is not surprising that, in a popular watering-place, a very strong feeling of indignation exists amongst the inhabitants in consequence of this daring robbery; and as the loss can only be replaced in course of time and by the donations of benevolent antiquaries, it is to be feared that for a long time to come the Scarborough Museum will not be of much service to the numismatologist.”
The Hampshire Telegraph of the same date tell us:
“The Scarborough Museum Robbed of Coins, &c. — During Sunday night, or early on Monday morning, the Scarborough Museum was entered by thieves, who took away all the valuable gold and silver coins, Indian weapons set in gold and precious stones and other articles. One the weapons was shaped like a coutau de chasse. The missing coins include British coins of the time of Canute, Harold II, Henry II and III, a penny of Edward the Black Prince, a gold angel of the time of Richard III, a fine 5l. gold piece, a 1l. gold piece, a 10s. piece, and a silver 5s., 2s. 6d., and 1s. pieces; silver reals from Valparaiso; crowns and half-crowns of the time of William and Mary, Queen Anne, and several of the period of Charles, James, and the Commonwealth. The gold was torn away from one of the scabbards of the swords, the centre only being left.”
The Rotunda Museum had only been open for 30 years when the robbery took place; it was privately run at the time by the Scarborough Philosophical Society, which must have been heartbroken to lose such important pieces.
The missing pieces have never been recovered and we find it intriguing that the Victorian staff’s prescience in keeping the mundane remnants of the raid. It is interesting to think that the Museum’s staff at the time had the foresight to keep and preserve such ephemeral objects at such a distressing moment. We’ve even wondered if there might be the possibility of DNA testing to solve the mystery and ‘catch’ the culprits. Imagine if we traced the robbers’ descendants!