James Bandinel (1783 – 1849)

Civil servant in the Foreign Office, who became Superintendent of the Slave Trade Department 1824 – 1845.

James Bandinel, by John Callcott Horsley, lithograph, 1850. NPG D21747 (Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)

James Bandinel, by John Callcott Horsley, lithograph, 1850. NPG D21747 (Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)

Bandinel was born in 1783, Oxfordshire to Rev. Dr. James Bandinel. He worked as a civil servant in the Foreign Office, eventually becoming the Superintendent of the Slave Trade Department from 1824-1845.  This was a lucrative position with a “special annual allowance” from the sale of seized goods.  While Bandinel seems to have been genuinely concerned by the slave trade, he was also clearly motivated by financial gain.  His older brother Rev. Bulkely Bandinel became the Librarian of Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Bandinel married his wife, Marian Eliza Hunter (1784-1861) in Dorset, 1813, but they separated after only two years. They had one son together, Rev. James Bandinel (1814-1892).  Bandinel was a critical advocate for the abolition of slavery, but it has been suggested that his ambition stood in the way of personal relationships.

In 1842, Bandinel published a book entitled: “Some account of the trade in slaves from Africa as connected with Europe and America, especially with reference made by the British government for its extinction.” He was widely regarded as an expert on both the slave trade and local trade agreements and had a large network of colleagues and dignitaries.

Bandinel was a financial supporter and friend of Marc Isambard Brunel and his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He supported Brunel in the construction of the Thames Tunnel, which was finally completed in 1843.  He also provided land and funds for the construction of a church at Melplash, Dorset, which had been an ambition of his father’s.

The American author and diplomat, Washington Irving wrote of Bandinel: “[he] is a peculiar character; a capital scholar, a man variously and curiously informed, of great worth, kindness and hospitality. His quarters in the old [Westminster] Abbey are a perfect ‘old curiosity shop,’ furnished with all kinds of antiques and curiosities.”

Bandinel retired in 1845, receiving personal thanks from the then Secretary of State, Sir George Hamilton-Gordon. He died in 1849 from Asian cholera, during an outbreak which claimed 14,000 lives in London.

The Collection

As is the case with many collections, the Bandinel collection has little contextual information about how individual items were acquired. Some of them were connected to the Tran Saharan slave trade or likely seized from the cargo of slave ships and given to Bandinel or bought by him at auction.  Others may have been diplomatic gifts given by African chiefs to resident British Governors and then sent to Bandinel in England.

Maninka (Mandingo) leather saddle bag, Sierra Leone. Accession 72/2008/76. Height 753mm x width 310mm. On display in the World Cultures gallery.

Maninka (Mandingo) leather saddle bag, Sierra Leone. Accession 72/2008/76. Height 753mm x width 310mm. On display in the World Cultures gallery.

Since Bandinel was considered an expert on negotiation in West Africa, he may have advised some of the explorers who travelled in the region, such as Captain Hugh Clapperton. The explorer, Alexander Gordon Laing (1793-1826) was a friend and correspondent of Bandinel’s and it seems likely he brought objects back from his travels, perhaps gifting some to his friend.

Most of the objects are from West Africa but, unusually, the collection doesn’t contain any sculptures, figures or carvings. It consists of functional, daily-use objects including a large number of textiles.  Textiles were often used as or alongside currency in West Africa, and may have made appropriate diplomatic gifts.

C19th century Tahitian tiputa made from hibiscus fibre. Accession number 72/2008/124. Height 1100mm. On display in the World Cultures

C19th century Tahitian tiputa made from hibiscus fibre. Accession number 72/2008/124. Height 1100mm x width 1200mm. On display in the World Cultures gallery.

Bandinel was also a collector of European ceramics. It is interesting to note that this collection is much more comprehensive and well-ordered.  The relative disorganisation of his African collection may reflect a lack of depth of understanding of the objects, or that they were gifts over which he had little control.

On his death, Bandinel’s collection was inherited by his son, Rev. James Bandinel who initially loaned it to RAMM in 1882. Bandinel’s Devonian family donated the collection to RAMM in 2008.