Queen’s University Belfast has an extensive and varied Silver Collection, showcasing world class craftsmanship through an array of exquisite items of historical significance. Including the Sir Robert Hart Silver Collection from China, ceremonial graduation maces, and a selection of ornate tableware used for formal dinners, the Silver Collection is one of the University’s most fascinating assets.
THE SIR ROBERT HART
The Sir Robert Hart Silver Collection (Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Co., London, 1888) is an ornate set of table silver which was given to Sir Robert Hart in 1908 by the Chinese Empress Dowager. The gift marked his retirement from a long, influential career in China at a pivotal time in the country’s history, and indicated the high level of esteem in which he was held.
THE JAMES McDONNELL ESQUIRE
The James McDonnell Esquire collection includes a ten-piece silver service gifted to the physician and ‘Founder of Belfast Medicine’. The engravings include signatures of ‘the Nobility, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Belfast vicinity’ who subscribed to produce the service. McDonnell was instrumental in setting up the Belfast Fever Hospital and Dispensary, now the Royal Victoria Hospital, as this generous gift commemorates.
The inscription tells us McDonnell was a man ‘Who devoted his time and eminent talents to the work of humanity. Whose gratuitous advice has always been at the service of the poor and to whose exertions this town has been principally indebted for that invaluable institution the Fever Hospital and Dispensary.’
DINING AND ENTERTAINMENT
Silver is regularly used in ceremonial dinners in the Great Hall at Queen’s, with a selection of ornate sugar bowls, milk jugs, gravy boats and candlesticks. Cara Murphy’s Seed Heads is a functional piece of silver tableware which was commissioned for the Queen’s Collection in 2007. It is inspired by the ceremony and grandeur of the Great Hall, and by the surrounding natural environment. The silver pieces, incorporating pepper mills, salt dishes and candelabras, are interchangeable in their wooden base, enabling the piece to constantly evolve through use.
AWARDS AND CEREMONIES
Many objects in the Collection play a role in the various ceremonies of academia. The beautiful Presentation Seal and Trowel (Gibson and Co. Belfast, 1896), with ivory twist detailing, inset with rubies and emeralds, were presented to George Henry, Earl Cadogan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, when he laid the Foundation Stone of the Union at Queen’s College, Belfast, in 1896.
The Mulholland Cup for Rowing and Athletics (London, 1866) is an historic trophy, densely engraved with the names of winners dating back to the 1860s.
AN ECLECTIC COLLECTION
Some of the more idiosyncratic items in the collection have been donated by Alumni and friends of Queen’s over the years, including the Pair of Silver Cockerels which were presented by the Queen’s University Association in 1960. The Cockerelsare purely decorative, but their charm and the excellence of the silverwork has led to them becoming two of the most popular items in the Collection.
Also of note is the 1844 Victorian Inkstand, which commemorates the settlement of the Ulster Boundary in 1925, presented by Sir James Craig, first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, to Charles Blackmore, who was his Cabinet Secretary at the time.