This function of
memory was also known to outlast the original owners of the collections. Mary
Benyon, the wife of Richard Benyon of Englefield House, used her late husband’s
collection to ‘affirm familial ties and express affection across time and
space’ by bequeathing particular objects to her children ‘creating a material
legacy that connected different generations of the Benyon family’. For example,
through bequeathing the markedly Indian ‘bureau’ (that her husband had brought
back from India) to her son, she was investing in that object ‘familial
significance’ and it underlined the importance of the family’s relationship
with India. In a similar vein, Edward Harrison (d.1732), Governor of Madras
between 1711 and 1717, also brought back a bureau to his home Balls Park in
Hertfordshire, and this was also passed down through the generations. These
bureau cabinets linked the men and subsequently their families to Madras and
the Coromandel Coast. Tillman Nechtman has argued that objects such as these
bureaus were ‘understood as deeply imperial: ‘a means of narrating an imperial
identity, of spanning the distance between empire and nation”. Kate Smith, in
a case study on Anglo-Ivorian furniture in Britain, has examined wills to find
that family members often when bequeathing objects, singled out ones with East
India Company connections as significant and therefore marking out the link to
India as important across generations. Appraisers of the Balls Park estate
after Edward Harrison’s death in 1732 compiled an inventory of moveable goods
which showed that he was a passionate collector of Indian or Indian-inspired
objects which included ivory furniture. It showed that rooms in their house
specifically linked to Edward Harrison and his wife, contained valuable Indian
textiles such as chintz. Similarly, the house’s most socially important and
public rooms contained ivory objects. ‘The Governors Bed Chamber’, for example,
contained ‘a very curious India Book case inlaid with Ivory’, while ‘The Long Galery
sic’ included twelve ebony ‘China’ chairs inlaid with ivory, as well as two
similar elbow chairs and two couches. It is thought that Harrison bequeathed
some of his collection to his only child Etheldreda (c.1708-1788), as a 1737
inventory of her house in London records that her personal room contained ‘A
Desk and bookcase inlay’d with Ivory’. By owning such a distinctly Indian
material possession Etheldreda’s earlier connections to the East India Company
and his links to Madras were made palpable. 
It is thus clear that bequeathed Indian objects, particularly ivory
ones, acted over generations as ‘significant material reminders of their
connection to the subcontinent’ and thus a key reason for collecting in this
imperial context.

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