III. Sir Richard Holmes
One of those present at this act of plunder was Richard, later Sir Richard Holmes, Assistant in the British Museum’s Department of Manuscripts, who had been appointed the Expedition’s “archaeologist”. He claimed in an official British Museum report that the British flag had “not been waved . . . much more than 10 minutes” before he himself had entered the fort. Shortly afterwards, at dusk, he met a British soldier, who was carrying the crown of the Abun, ie the Head of the Ethiopian Church, and a “solid gold chalice weighing at least 6lbs”. Holmes succeeded in purchasing both for £4 sterling. He was, on the same occasion, also offered several large manuscripts, but declined them because they were, he says, too heavy to carry!
The British military authorities, which, in accordance with the custom of the day, saw no objection to the principle of plunder, sought, however, to regularise it: to render the distribution of booty “fairer”, and in effect to ensure that officers, and others with ample funds, could acquire the lion’s share—at the expense of the ordinary soldiers.
The loot from Maqdala was accordingly collected, on Napier’s orders, for subsequent auction.