Lane, Lieutenant Colonel W. B. [Archive] An archive of material

Lane, Lieutenant Colonel W. B. [Archive] An archive of material

...relating to Lt. Col. W. B. Lane, comprising Archaeology and pseudo-archaeology, Biblical History, and British-Israelism; incorporating a large body of manuscript materials, lecture notes, glass lantern slides, demonstration materials and correspondence..

London and Baghdad, 1840’ to 1970’s.



A sizeable collection of material covering a gamut of mediums ranging from letters, through pamphlets, diagrams, maps and sketches, a quantity of photographs, a collection of clippings and extracts from appropriate journals and publications, over 400 labelled, boxed glass lantern slides on numerous archaeological subjects ranging from vernacular subjects taken by Lane in 1930’s Baghdad (bridge building, street life etc.) to images of archaeological excavations, museum exhibits and lecture materials (”The Plagues of Egypt!”), some are colourised. Also present are over 40 manuscript lecture booklets most of up to 20 pages, many delightful to observe; interleaved with folding maps and sketches, photographs, and on several occasions botanical specimens. There are upwards of 120 pamphlets dating from 1840 (a rather obscure item issued for the Freemasons and bound in glazed pink wraps) through to probably the late 1930’s including a wealth of pyramidology material, some religio-political subject matter (mostly to do with the important question of what it is that makes British people so superior to everyone else), and a quantity of items related to the belief that Anglo-Saxons are the Lost Tribe of Israel (in later life Lt. Col. Lane was apparently rather enamoured of the Loch Ness monster, which in the context of some of the things he believed makes a lot of sense). Also present in the archive are brick and mortar samples from Nimrud, where Lane journeyed at the end of the First World War, various other mineral, glass and pot sherd samples from places like Kish, near Baghdad, where Lane assisted in excavations in the early 1920’s and a number of 19th century reproductions of items of antiquity including a Babylonian clay cylinder (with translation and labelled “from Ur of The Chaldees”) and a rather fetching human headed scarab beetle (there’s a painfully polite clutch of correspondence from the British Museum related to this item), also present are examples of “Biblical” pitch, petrified wood, clay from various fabled river banks and sundry other bits of treasure (including evidence of a veritable obsession with biblical “Manna”), mostly housed in early 20th century tobacco tins and cigarette boxes, all of which just adds the the eclectic, fascinating and borderline mad nature of the collection as a whole. The correspondence, 158 items in all contains letters from the British Library and the British Museum, lecture notes attached to letters, correspondences from the viewers of several of Lane’s lectures, letters from R.G. Simpson the beneficiary of Lane’s Will, to whom all these materials descended and a host of other notes, cards and bits and ephemera including a run of letters from Theophilus G. Pinches, Professor of Assyrian studies at the BM.

At various points in his obviously colourful and well travelled career Lane was part of the Indian Medical Service, Acting health Secretary in Baghdad, author of “Babylonian Problems.” published by John Murray in 1923, avid amateur archaeologist and academic, advocate of a regime for men’s health in hot climates (a typescript of his lecture on this subject is part of the collection) and Inspector General of Civil Jails in Mesopotamia for the early part of the 1920’s (having been Inspector General for the Central Provinces of India since 1917).

Lane’s report for 1920 on the state of jails under his eye is an absolutely textbook piece of imperialist, moustache twirling bloody mindedness where he mentions “an eventful year” which apparently consisted of two major escape attempts from Baghdad central prison, the need to build a barbed wire camp at Bab al Wastani to handle the overflow of the 1,934 inmates housed that year, the prison guards having to use rifles against the convicts as shotgun ammunition merely aroused “contempt” and he mentions a later escape attempt in which prisoners rushed two of his British warders who fought them off with revolvers, killing and wounding several “and no trouble occurred.” Lane was present and active at a point in Iraq’s entry into the 20th century that had repercussions right up to yesterday, and a part of the regime which partly re-ignited the ancient differences between Sunni and Shia.

It also seems that Lane was instrumental in supplying Indian convicts from the “Jail Labour and Porter Corps.” for labour in Iraq under his oversight, as coolies and porters with the British forces during the First World War. Lane’s role in the Indian medical Service and as Inspector General seems to build a picture of one of those men whom, at the time might have been described as worthy servants of the British Empire, but that we would now regard as a significant part of the problem, when he wasn’t bemoaning the ineffectuality of flogging prisoners, he was indignant at any complaints regarding rough treatment or overwork from men that, not to put too fine a point on it, he had dragged out of Indian jails and effectively used as slave labour halfway across the world with no regard for health, mental wellbeing, safety or dignity; to say he was a martinet is to trivialise what could clearly be classed as brutality, and to dismiss him as ignorant is to obscure his obvious contempt for the native peoples under his command and control. The fact that this behaviour towards the Indian workers and Iraqi prisoners he “governed” is coupled with an obsessive interest in all things biblical, including a desire to “prove” that Anglo-Saxon peoples were of the line of Israel is either ironic, or painfully predictable; I have never been able to decide which. Regardless of the nature of the man, or perhaps because of it, the archive is fascinating, diverse and wonderful. A more detailed description/images available upon request.

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