This can be long term and achieved in a number of ways. RAMM’s first Discovering Worlds project opened up the Pacific collections. A large effort was made to better understand donors we had no or little information about.

In 2015, Dr. Kristin Leith, University of Exeter, conducted an investigation into two donors; Major Arnold Riley and Lieutenant HJR Gould. These men had presented over-modelled skulls from Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu (respectively). At the time RAMM knew very little about them. However, Kristin was able to unravel the mystery of these men. We wondered how they had acquired such curiously decorated heads.

Rev. Edward Baxter Riley

Kristin started at the beginning and searched through the census records and existing entries from the archive of the local newspaper (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette). Because Riley was known to have resided in Dawlish she contacted Dawlish Museum to see if they had any relevant information. Kristin also uncovered a lot more about Riley as an educator as he was a respected educator (Elocution and Dramatic Art) at the University College of the South West of England. This was the foundation to the current University of Exeter. However, no information could show his connection to Melanesia as he’d never travelled there.

Of course, Kristin’s investigation revealed that the skull itself had been collected not by Arnold Riley but by his uncle the missionary Rev. Edward Baxter Riley, London Missionary Society. It was his uncle who served along the Fly River in Papua New Guinea (1902-1929); he had even published a book entitled “Among Papuan Head-Hunters” in 1925.

Arnold Riley

Concerning Arnold Riley, Riley travelled around Europe and the former USSR. He was also known dramatist, a musical director and a liberal politician. He had served in both WWI  as 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In WWII he was a member of the Auxiliary Units. Riley was listed as a Major in command of ‘B’ Company (Dawlish) 9th platoon (Newton Abbot) Battalion Home Guard. Riley was an experienced soldier who assisted with Britain’s last line of defence in the British Home Guard or Dad’s Army (Dawlish Gazette, Oct 1977).

Today, an email  arrived from Dawlish Museum with more information about Riley. This time a photograph of Riley with members of his Dawlish regiment. RAMM would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Dawlish Museum and to share this photograph with the public.

Despite the initial enquiry being made in 2015, sometimes answers to questions are not found until later. It is important to remember that such projects should have legacy beyond the funding period. There are plenty of avenues where information can continue being uncovered and shared.

We can see how our donor Arnold Riley made an important contribution to British and local history. But it was his uncle, Rev. Edward Baxter Riley, who demonstrated a Devon connection to the wider world. I’m sure if we looked into our own family histories we could uncover similar interesting stories.