Käthe Bosse (fig. 1) was born in Wittenberg, Germany in 1910. She gained a PhD in Classics and Egyptology at the University of Munich in 1935, and then took up a post at the Berlin State Museum. However, she was dismissed soon after when it emerged that her mother was of Jewish origin (her mother would later perish at the notorious Ravensbrück camp). Käthe fled to Britain, and undertook research work at the Petrie Museum (University College London) and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. There she met fellow Egyptologist Gwyn Griffiths and they married in 1939. They settled in Wales and became involved in the Welsh literature movement. Käthe Bosse Griffiths learnt Welsh during this period, later publishing literary works in Welsh. When Gwyn Griffiths took up a lectureship position at University College Swansea (UCS: now Swansea University), Kate (as she was now known) became honorary Keeper of Archaeology at what is now Swansea Museum, the oldest museum in Wales, founded in 1841 as the Royal Institution of South Wales (RISW). She remained involved with the RISW for many years.
|Fig. 1: Kate Bosse-Griffiths (Y LOLFA/FAMILY COLLECTION)|
Through their friendship with fellow Welsh Egyptologist David Dixon at University College London, Gwyn and Kate Griffiths were instrumental in bringing part of Henry Wellcome’s Egyptological collection out of storage in the Petrie Museum to UCS. This was part of the main distribution of Wellcome’s Egyptological legacy. The other main beneficiaries were Birmingham Museum, Durham Oriental Museum, and Liverpool World Museum. At the time, Swansea had Egyptology teaching staff, and a small collection of classical Greek and Roman objects. In 1971, 92 cases arrived in Swansea from London, containing around 4500 items, which make up just over 80% of the items in the collection (fig. 2). With that loan, a small teaching collection in the classics department was transformed into the Swansea Wellcome Museum (also known as the Swansea Wellcome Collection of Egyptian Antiquities), which first opened to the public in 1976. It was finally moved to a purpose-built museum in 1998, and was re-named The Egypt Centre. Kate was honorary curator of the collection from 1971 until the early 1990s; the post was passed onto David Gill (in 1993). Kate Bosse-Griffiths died in Swansea in 1998, aged 87.
|Fig. 2: Kate unpacking the collection|
During her time at the museum, she unpacked, restored, and cleaned objects; lobbied for better facilities, equipment, and repairs; she identified, researched, catalogued, and published objects from the collection, welcomed students and scholars to the collection, corresponded with Egyptologists from around the world, and set up the display cases, labels, and boards ready for the official opening in June 1976.
We know quite a lot about her activities from the daybooks she kept. So far, fifteen books have been found, covering the period from 1972 to 1987. Each book contains around 150–200 pages of Kate’s rather challenging handwriting! Mostly in English (with some Germanisms), Kate also writes in German, Welsh, and French (fig. 3). She includes sketches of objects and copies of hieroglyphic inscriptions. Through Ken Griffin’s initiative, these daybooks have been scanned, and a group of volunteers have been involved in transcribing them since 2018. It is hoped they will prove a useful resource for researchers.
|Fig. 3: An example of a page from Kate's daybooks|
Most recently, I have been transcribing the 75–76 daybook (13/11/75–7/5/76) and the 1976 daybook. These books are of particular interest as they relate in part to the period of preparation for the opening of the museum to the public, originally planned for March, but delayed until June 1976. We also see her thoughts on a possible future for the collection at RISW (Swansea Museum) and for her in Oxford, her notes on receiving a donation of ring bezels, and her wicked sense of humour when she receives a letter not intended for her… These gems appear between notes from textbooks (often in German or French), ‘to do’ lists, lists of objects to be photographed, lists of objects to go into certain cases, rough drafts of correspondence, talks and articles, decisions on colours of hessian, possible Egyptian symbols to represent the museum, etc. The entries also reflect the period: no computers or mobile phones, communication by landline telephone or by letter; drafts of documents handwritten before being typed up, copies of photos by Xerox or prepared slides; the wonder of basic audio and video tape recorders and closed circuit television. I have also started on the 1978 daybook (16/1/78–4/9/78). Here are some entries, which give a flavour of the books:
Setting up a museum for public opening
The first extracts here deal with the planned March opening of the museum. Although 17 March is mentioned here first, later the date is given as 15 March. The list of jobs ‘to do’ gives a great insight into a typical workload for Kate and her helpers at this time, foremost amongst whom was Roger Davies, the Arts Faculty photographer. Roger was far more than a photographer of artefacts: he was actively involved in various aspects of the work to be done, and truly appreciated by Kate. The translation of labels is important: David Dixon insisted on bilingual labels for the collection, which would have been welcomed by Kate. Indeed, it is now the law in Wales that public documents and displays be in both English and Welsh. We also have an insight into her feelings about the work to be done: the game of chess is an interesting analogy, suggesting the need to plan ahead and protect one’s own ideas. Indeed, she may have felt some threat to the collection (as the section below dated February 1976 illustrates):
21.X1.75 (fig. 4)
In meeting of principal, Collard, Georgia Bonns (registry) Glanmor it was decided to have official opening on 17-III-76 at 6 o’clock with slides, address of Dr Dixon & handing over, visit of museum. Sherry party in Staff Common Room.
Looking at the Collection the things which have to be done next are:
filling in of hole of ventilator
getting responsible person from works department to decide how to store monuments
O.K. lintel and stela of Guardian can be put up
copying out of case descriptions
photo of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
also arranging of Amarna case
new perspex case for crocodile
choosing of pictures for window wall
putting up Amarna corner
Horus the saviour corner
Translation of labels
Telefon (German: telephone) from Works Department that there is no money to do the work ordered to finish Museum (pediment for statue – fixing stone slab – painting, filling hole? – shelving)
…(Strangely enough I should be glad if Opening were postponed as I have finished all major work & don't like to be pressed with finishing of minor details – students could come to see all the same.)
The moment of reckoning has come as predicted – like playing chess.
Roger Davies has asked Dean for three weeks exclusive work for Collection before opening, that will answer “my prayers”.
Opening to be on Wednesday March 15 1976 at 6pm.
In the 1976 daybook, we learn that the opening is now scheduled for the start of June, but actually takes place on the 16 June. We do not know the reason for these various delays, although Kate was away in Egypt from mid-March to early May, and she says above that she would be happy if the opening were delayed:
Opening to be on June 1st one day after ‘Spring Holiday’,
Guests: possible list.
P & R (Welsh speakers & religious interest)
RISW President, GD, MI
National Museum NS
Glyn Vivian (?) B
School of Art (helping with Tape) Cover?
Coleg of Education?
And on 16-VI-76 the official Opening took place in Museum of an invited audience including
the mayor & mayoress of Swansea & representatives of RISW & Glyn Vivian Art Gallery.
Where a close circuit film was shown of Collection in which members of the Classics Department took active part.…This film made in Welsh & English is played to school classes before they actually see the Museum Room.
|Fig. 5: Photo of the official opening of the museum|
Receiving a donation
Throughout the museum’s history, the main donation from the Wellcome Trust has been supplemented by many other donations and loans from institutions and individuals. The section below refers to a loan by Anthony Donahue (1944–2016), an Oxford-based Egyptologist who was a great friend of the Swansea Wellcome Museum/Egypt Centre. Apart from recording the circumstances of the loan and the provenance of the items as shown below, Kate also described each ring bezel in great detail (for cataloguing), and researched various references on Amarna excavations to find either the actual pieces (a few have excavation labels) or parallels (fig. 6):
Receive from V. ANTHONY DONAHUE …OXFORD
on loan 31 Amarna faience ring bezels which he bought from Eg.Expl. Society some years ago in toto.
after examining them at Alan B. Lloyd’s Home…
Three of these carry excavation numbers…
|Fig. 6: Ring bezel with the name of Akhenaten|
Financial strains: A suggestion to move the collection and that Kate might move!
Just over a month before the museum was due to open to the public, and while Kate and Roger were busy organising for that, Kate felt the need to write down why she would not want the collection to be moved to RISW. As we know, Kate was involved with both institutions and knew their set-up well. However, she was ‘in charge’ at the university, and clearly appreciated the academic setting of the collection: as well as Roger! The mention of the lack of an expert curator is a little strange as Kate herself was the expert in both museums, although of course not in overall control of the whole collection at RISW. It is unclear where the suggestion came from, and the timing is strange. However, UCS was in 'partnership' with RISW from the early 1970s until 1991 when Swansea Council took it over and it was renamed Swansea Museum. The taking on of RISW by UCS did cause quite a lot of resentment as it was seen as diverting scarce financial resources away from the college. Thankfully, for the integrity of the collection, this move never happened.
To be thought about. Why do I not want to take the Egyptian Collection to R.I.S.W. Museum.
Certainly according to my ideas a museum give(-s) zest to University but few professors seem to agree.
For my own purpose:
There is no workshop in R.I.S.W.
and if these were, there is no money to spend
no machine to cut Perspex
no experts to help with objects
no expert curator
Financial issues threatening the future of the Wellcome collection at UCS also incensed Kate later on in the year. We get a real sense of her fighting spirit in this entry:
11-V-76 (fig. 7)
Chris comes to tell me that Wellcome money has come from Classic funds and that Classics are in the Red & possibly money will have to be repaid over years from W Funds!
At last the confrontation and that at psychologically right moment as I have laid the fundaments and can withdraw ad libidum (i.e. Latin ad libitum: at one’s pleasure) in fact will withdraw to Oxford any hour.
Tell Chris that I have waited for this moment. That I consciously did not count the cost and that on the moral ground then I put more into it than I demand for collection.
It could be a beautiful confrontation & I have to consider whether one should do that during or before Opening –
N.B. Principal asked department to help to increase student population through special effort
How much are they willing to do to support this effort?
[Chemists show interest not only because they have helped the Collection in the beginning but because they are tired of working on material without meaning
Egyptology has material & meaning]
Or could it be a sign of stirring in the minds that dirt rises to surface?
Promiss (sic) freedom of spending for growing Collection (apart from Classics)
growing like baby, in spite of everybody giving from own money for things like labelling tape, plastic bags, bostic (i.e. Bostik glue), books
A Hands-on approach to conservation
Museum conservation principles and practices have evolved since Kate was trained in Berlin in the late 1930s; and since she practised those skills in Swansea in the 1970s and 80s. It would horrify any modern curator to think of someone taking artefacts home to clean, or for experimentation, in particular by someone who was not the curator!
Take home for cleaning 32508 Egypt XVIIIth dyn. – 323
(sketch of vase) returned washed & silicon-polished.
*Thanks to the numbers listed here, it was possible to identify on Saturday the object in question as W5386 [KG] (figs. 8 & 9).
(sketch of jug) Take home for cleaning N.K. jug with handle
small eye mould 1891
sitting goddess mould 1813
loan for experiment. LT - Montpelier Terrace
|Fig. 8: Daybook entry|
Writing to fellow Egyptologists
The daybooks are filled with drafts of letters from Kate, including to other Egyptologists and museum curators. There is a particularly friendly exchange in 1978 with a fellow German Egyptologist, Emma Brunner-Traut (1911–2008) who published various books, including one on Egyptian tales in 1963. This volume clearly included a tale about mice (I am defeated by the ‘crimpers’!):
(Translation from German original) (fig. 10)
Heartfelt thanks for your letter, which arrived today (23-1-78). I almost think that our letters have crossed. I had enclosed for you a modern
version of the old
mouse crimpers, which amused me, and shows how correct your findings
‘Tales’ are. My bead story is now in press, and I am very pleased that my
reading is so similar to yours…
|Fig. 10: Letter to Emma Brunner-Traut|
A wicked sense of humour
This must be my favourite page: Kate received a letter in an envelope wrongly addressed to her and not only read it, but transcribed it in English: despite an attempt to hide the issue by using a German phrase at the top of the page! And as for the content: the person who wrote this has misunderstood exactly how the Wellcome items came to Swansea, and seems to regret a time when anyone could literally pick up antiquities in Egypt and bring them home for their own collections… (fig. 11)
Friday : 12-III-76
Der Lauschen an der Wand (German: listening at the wall/eavesdropping)
Receive wrong letter in envelope written by Gibbs & read:
“I was invited to a newly formed Egyptological Museum at Swansea University by Dr. Kate-Bosse-Griffiths. She and her husband are Egyptologists at the University – known her for years – she’s helped me with my collection – they are off to Egypt on 20th March – guests of the Egyptian Govt. The collection was part (90 cases) of the Wellcome Archaeological Expedition – Egypt. Tell el-Amarna. There were fabulous exhibits found at Amarna – huge complete vases - complete necklaces – jewellery – sculptures collected 1900–1908 when pickings were agogo
nowadays we can hardly find a small sherd of Amarna pottery...
|Fig. 11: Entry in daybook|
These extracts give a flavour of the treasures hiding in the pages of Kate’s daybooks, and are a wonderful record of her legacy to the Egypt Centre. She was a truly indomitable woman; a refugee who became a leading figure in Egyptology and Welsh literature. She will not be forgotten in Swansea.
With thanks to Ken Griffin for getting me involved in the daybooks, and giving me extra information on KBG and her daybooks; and to Syd Howells for filling me in on the relationship between RISW and UCS.
Engel, Dulcie M. 2017. ‘Henry Wellcome’s Egyptian Legacy’ http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/henry-wellcomes-egyptian-legacy-by-dulcie-engel/
Griffin, Kenneth 2020 ‘A brief history of the Egypt Centre’ https://egyptcentrecollectionblog.blogspot.com/2020/04/a-brief-history-of-egypt-centre.html
Griffiths, J. Gwyn 2000. Museum Efforts before Wellcome’ Inscriptions 5, December 2000: 6 http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/inscriptions5.pdf
Gruffudd, Heini 2014. A Haven from Hitler: A young woman’s escape from Nazi Germany to Wales: The Story of Kate Bosse-Griffiths and her Family. Y Lolfa.
‘Kate Bosse-Griffiths’ https://www.100welshwomen.wales/100-women/kate_bosse-griffiths/
‘Käthe Bosse-Griffiths’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Käthe_Bosse-Griffiths
Lloyd, Alan B. 1998. ‘Kate Bosse-Griffiths’, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 84: 191–193.
Stephens, Meic 1998. ‘Obituary: Kate Bosse-Griffiths’ The Independent 10.04.1998 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-kate-bosse-griffiths-1155460.html