The Clive Museum collection at Powis Castle
The collection of South and East Asian artefacts displayed in the Clive Museum at Powis Castle is the largest private collection of this type in the UK.
History of the collection
Amassed during the British colonisation of India, these objects arrived in Wales and came to Powis Castle during the early 19th century. The museum houses more than 1000 items from South and East Asia, dating from about 1600 to the 1830s. It includes ivories, textiles, statues of Hindu gods, ornamental silver and gold, weapons and ceremonial armour.
It was assembled by two generations of the Clive family: Robert (who became known as Clive of India) and his son Edward, who married Henrietta Herbert, daughter of the 1st Earl of Powis (2nd creation).
Robert Clive was an important figure in the East India Company, the powerful corporation that dominated trade between Europe, Asia and the Middle East between 1600 and 1857. The story behind the objects in the collection is not always clear and although some items were purchased or received as gifts, others were acquired as spoils of war following the defeat and death of Tīpū Sultān at the Siege of Seringapatam in 1799.
Robert amassed a vast fortune in gold, silver and jewels and this family wealth was passed down through generations. Ultimately it was invested in renovating Powis Castle and Gardens.
The Museum shows how legacies of British colonialism continue to be visible today. Furthermore, the often-violent stories The importance of understanding how such precious objects came to be at Powis reinforces the need for new research into our colonial histories.
Robert Clive and the East India Company
Robert Clive (1725–74) was employed by the East India Company between 1744 and 1767. Through Clive, the Company deployed its armies to forcibly invade and conquer the Indian subcontinent exploiting and financially profiting from the wealth and rich natural resources of India’s southern regions. This began the British Empire in India, meanwhile ensuring a fortune for Clive.
There was considerable local resistance to Clive’s activities in India, which he quashed using violence. At the pivotal battle of Plassey, Clive overthrew Siraj ud-Daulah (1727–1757), Nawab (sovereign ruler) of Bengal and replaced him with his own ally, Mir Jafar (c.1691–1765).
Battle of Plassey
The presence of an opulent palanquin, or travelling couch, in the Clive Collection is closely connected to the British seizure of power at the battle of Plassey. This rare, open palanquin was built for Siraj-ud-Daulah and was an ideal platform from which the Bengal ruler could see – and be seen by – his subjects while traveling.
When, in 1757 Siraj ud-Daulah was overthrown at the Battle of Plassey, the palanquin, said to have been abandoned on the battlefield, was seized by the British and subsequently brought to Britain by Clive. With a vast fortune taken from the treasury of the defeated Siraj ud-Daulah, Clive returned to Britain one of its richest men.
After the battle
Following the battle, Clive enlarged his authority and on his third visit to India became the Governor of Bengal and Commander-in-Chief of the East India Company’s Army. Under his direction the company used military force to invade and rule India.
Henrietta Herbert and Edward Clive
In 1784, Robert’s eldest son Edward Clive (1754–1839) married Henrietta Herbert, the daughter of the Earl of Powis. The marriage provided financial security for Powis, with the wealth and colonial power the Clive family had amassed in India, while bringing aristocratic prestige to the Clive name. Edward continued his father’s colonial activities in India, adding to the family’s collection of Indian treasures.
Edward was appointed Governor of Madras in 1798. Unusually for that time, Henrietta and their two daughters joined him in India, staying for three years.
Tīpū Sultān and Indian artefacts
As Governor of Madras, Edward Clive bears responsibility for the defeat and death of Tīpū Sultān (1750–99), the ruler of the Indian state of Mysore. Tīpū Sultān succeeded his father to the throne in 1782 and was a devout Muslim who ruled over a predominantly Hindu population.
The East India Company fought three wars against Mysore to control the land and its rich resources, before definitively seizing power at the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799. The British forces were led by Lord Mornington.
Tīpū Sultān’s treasury of precious objects
After Tīpū Sultān was killed at Seringapatam, the British army swept into the city. Tīpū Sultān’s treasury of precious objects and artefacts were taken to be distributed among the victors, and some of them are now in the Clive Museum at Powis.
Tīpū Sultān's tent
Tīpū Sultān’s magnificent state tent, made of painted chintz, was one of the treasures seized by Edward Clive. The tent was a symbol of Tīpū Sultān’s power and leadership, which he used when travelling around his territories. At Powis it was used as a marquee for garden parties, highlighting the uncomfortable ways objects were used to signal colonial dominance and subjugation through appropriation.
At the beginning of the 19th century, on their return to England from India, Edward and Henrietta brought with them the vast colonial collection and wealth they had amassed.
Henrietta’s brother, the Earl of Powis, had died in 1801 and so her eldest son, also named Edward, inherited the Castle. The collection appears to have been split between Powis Castle and Henrietta’s house, Walcot Hall, until this property was sold by the family in 1933, when the whole collection was then displayed at Powis.
Britain’s colonial past
The present Clive Museum occupies the old Billiard Room and was opened in 1987. It remains a symbol of Britain’s colonial past and represents the ongoing impacts of colonial and imperial legacies in the twenty-first century.
Our research is ongoing and we are accelerating plans to reinterpret the stories of the painful and challenging histories attached to Powis Castle. This will take time as we want to ensure that changes we make are sustained and underpinned by high quality research.
Powis is a Welsh castle built by a Welsh prince, Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn (c1252). It survived wars and division to become one of the most prominent castles in Wales.
Visit the castle and discover more about the global collections at Powis, including statues, furniture and textiles from Europe, India and East Asia.
Discover a paradise garden in Wales, with 300 hundred years of garden transformation providing many layers of history to explore.
After exploring the castle or traversing the terraces, refuel with a tasty treat from our Courtyard Café or take home a gift from the shop to help you remember a great day out.
Read our report on colonialism and historic slavery in the places and collections we care for and discover how we’re changing the way we approach these issues.