The Dennison Collection

The Dennison Collection

Viking swordWalter Traill Dennison (1825-1894) was from a family which was related by marriage to some of the most influential people in Orkney, and Walter's collection benefitted from his family connections. Many friends, relatives and fellow Orcadians gave him objects for his collection and granted access to mounds and archaeological sites on their land. His large library and antiquarian collection is fairly typical of a 19th century collector. The Rev Alexander Goodfellow wrote of his home at West Brough in Sanday:

"In his drawing-room were many valuable curios, such as an old pendulum watch 200 years old, belonging to Mr Dennison's great-grandfather, a mortar with an inscription, models of old Orkney ploughs, a china cup and saucer said to be the first that ever came to Westray, a Queen Anne's teapot, a tea-urn, shells, etc. At the door of the lobby there was exhibited a Chinese waterproof, while the head of a bottle-nosed seal was affixed to the wall. Outside in the garden there stood a sun-dial with the phrase "Horas non numero nisi serenas" - I number none but happy hours. There were also some stones from the old Chapel of Stove, and a stone cist". (Goodfellow 1912)

Some of the collection was sold before he died and the rest was sold at a farm sale after his death. Many objects were bought by James Walls Cursiter, the well-known antiquarian, and uncle of Stanley Cursiter the artist. Cursiter's collection is now in The Hunterian, and some of Traill Dennison's artefacts are here, including the Viking sword from the grave at the Styes of Brough in Sanday, featured in Channel 4's "Time Team" programme in 1998. The potential of this material for research collaboration, reinterpretation and display with Orkney Museum is currently being investigated.