By Colin Maximin
HE was the flamboyant aristocrat whose outrageous parties attracted royalty and rock stars to his Caribbean estate on St Lucia.
But when Lord Glenconner died in 2010, an auction more than 4,000 miles away in London disposed of the colourful peer’s belongings, including priceless archaeological treasures unearthed on the island.
Now, five years on, a row has erupted over ownership of the items, with heritage organisations on St Lucia demanding that key pieces be returned and placed in a new national museum.
They have warned auctioneers Bonhams that those responsible for the sale in 2011, which raised around £1 million, ‘had no right’ to dispose of the heritage items.
They have also written to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) to seek help.
Yet the exclusive London auction house denies any wrongdoing, saying many of the items were not from St Lucia and that ‘St Lucian customs officials were involved at all stages of the export of the items and cleared all the consignments to be sent to the UK. The reception for the sale itself was attended by the High Commisioner for St Lucia. The sale was well publicised and attended.’
Items which went under the hammer include a root wood tray dating back to the 1600s, which sold for £3,750, a rare mahogany desk chair which fetched £6,000 and a collec-tion of 12 hand-coloured engravings of Caribbean scenes from 1837, which went for £15,000.
Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, was a close friend and confidant of Princess Margaret and lived out his final years on the tropical island where he amassed a collection of valuable antiques, art and historic artefacts.
But officials on the island now insist some of the items are of national cultural significance, ‘plundered from a Unesco world heritage site’ around the Pitons volcanic peaks, and have demanded they be repatriated.
St Lucia land owner Peter Alternor, of the Pitons Historical Artefacts Society, told The Scottish Mail on Sunday: ‘Most of the items were taken out of the soil here in the Pitons when a hotel was being built and handed over to the estate owner. They are relics of our past and belong to us here in St Lucia.
‘We need this auction house to return the treasures and artefacts of the Pitons in St Lucia back to the people. We are about to build a new museum to put these items on
display. People should not be trying to profit from national treasures. They belong to the state. Quite a lot of ancient relics were unearthed and given over to Lord Glenconner and his estate while he was developing a hotel on the island. We are aware of this and have been trying to get these items back.’
In a letter to Bonhams, the society has demanded that the auctioneers retrieve specific items, stating: ‘These items should not have been taken out of the country as they are owned by the people of St Lucia. The Estate of Lord Glenconner, which is responsible for passing on the relics to your auction house for sale, had no right to do so.’
The letter adds: ‘We look after any object of an archaeological interest. During the years, many relics of the past have been taken out of the soil surrounding the Pitons never to be seen again. We are in the process of tracking down these. The Pitons
Historical Artefacts Society would implore you to kindly return the items to the people of Saint Lucia.’
The island’s heritage body, the St Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society, has also contacted the auctioneers, as well as calling for Interpol to track down the artefacts.
Eric Branford, a Unesco conservation adviser, claimed the artefacts should never have been auctioned in London: ‘These items tell the story of St Lucian history and they shouldnot have been taken out of the country and sold.’
A spokesman for the Glenconner estate said: ‘The sale enabled the estate Colin spent so much time developing to be maintained, and ensured it continues to provide a livelihood for many local people.’
The aristocrat caused a scandal when it emerged he had left his entire estate, not to Lady Anne, his wife of 54 years, but to Kent Adonai, his St Lucian manservant.
(Article featured in the Mail On Sunday last weekend.)