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Preserving the faces and history of the Dublin University Boat Club Collection

Last year, the Preservation & Conservation department in conjunction with DRIS (Digital Resources & Imaging Service) of Trinity College Library was asked to survey a collection of the Dublin University Boat Club’s photographs and other documents that hung in the club’s boathouse in Islandbridge on the river Liffey.  The collection – which spans the period 1841 to the present – includes 255 framed photographs of winning crews and notable club members, a racing programme, and 70 winnings sheets.

The collection represents a unique record of rowing in College since the middle of the nineteenth century, providing inspiration to countless Trinity rowers over the years.  The Boat Club has been aware of the priceless nature of the collection and there has long been a desire to maintain and preserve it for future generations.

The winning history of the club goes back to about 150 years ago when Trinity competed for the first time at the Henley Royal Regatta, and won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup with Charles Burton Barrington (on the left in the fig. 1), who contributed to the distinguished reputation that the club has held since.

Fig. 1 Dublin University Boat Club crew, 1870.

Interestingly, for most of its history the Trinity Boat Club – like the rest of the university – was a purely male enterprise.  The collection is a testimony to that fact, and records only one female rower, K.E. Rooney (1998).

Moreover, this collection represents a fascinating history of photographic portraiture.  For instance, you will rarely find a protagonist looking at the lens of the camera in the earliest photographs (fig. 1).  This would change over time and eventually subjects even began to smile.  The age of selfies was still very far away however!

The background and the way people would pose in front of the camera also evolved.  In the earliest photographs, the influence of art is apparent, with subjects posing in front of a beautiful plant wall, or next to elegant furniture in a luxurious interior (fig. 2).  Nowadays, crews are photographed in a simple and more straight-forward way (fig. 3).

Fig. 2 Two Boat Club members, c. 1870


Fig. 3 Crew photographs, 2008

Just as the subject changes his pose through the ages, so too do the photographic techniques – from positives on paper to digital photography.  The crews were photographed almost every year since 1863, so these photographs offer a unique record of the evolution of photographic techniques.

Fig. 4 Hand-coloured photograph, 1872

Before Photoshop or any other retouching computer programs, people were using collage or adding colour by hand on the photographs themselves.  Going through the collection, we found that some heads were replaced by others, or that blue and black colours were added on the photograph itself to give further details to the rowers’ outfits (fig. 4).

These images and documents hung on the walls of the Boat House at Islandbridge for several decades.  Unfortunately, years of display and fluctuating environmental conditions have had a detrimental effect on the photographs, making the need for conservation more urgent with each passing year.

Fig. 5 The condition of the whole collection when it came at the Conservation Department

The documents were housed in frames that had become quite acidic and did not effectively protect the document from the dust (fig. 5).  The glass in some of the frames was broken, making consultation dangerous.  Documents suffered from tears, losses, scratches, mould stains and cockling. Silver mirroring (when a silver metallic haze appears over the dark areas of some gelatine silver photographs) and fading was also apparent in the photographic material.  Finally, most of the mountings were held together with a great deal of adhesive tape, which is notorious for causing damage.

The project started in July 2016 thanks to the financial support given by the TCD Association & Trust.  The priority was to house the photographs and winning lists in suitable storage units.  It was decided that the whole collection would stay in the College Archives and the Boat Club would receive surrogates framed in the original frames to be replaced on the walls of the Boat House at Islandbridge.

The original photographs and other documents were catalogued and each was assigned a unique archival reference.

Before digitisation, a long process of un-framing and mount removal, where necessary, began. Following that, dry-cleaning of the documents commenced.  Dry-cleaning is essential in conservation not only for aesthetic reasons but also because dust and dirt can be damaging to paper and photographs in different ways.  It can be abrasive, acidic, hygroscopic or degradative.  Soft Japanese brushes were used to remove dust, and Smoke Sponges were used to remove the more ingrained dirt on the verso.  A crepe rubber was used as well to remove synthetic glue from modern tapes.

Fig. 6 Photographs housed in mylar sleeves in acid-free box
Fig. 7 Original photographs boxes and ready to be moved to storage

Space and time were two main concerns. Because storage is an issue with regard to archives, we wanted the collection to take up as little space as possible.  We removed damaged and detached mountings that did not show any information.  Also, since there were more than 300 documents to house, we undertook repairs on the documents only when it was absolutely necessary for the preservation of the items.  Each item was housed in Mylar® sleeves and archival boxes (figs. 6 & 7).  The final stage of the process was the transfer of the original collection to the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library. There is takes its place among the many other student society and sports club records which may be consulted in the reading room there.

All the documents were digitally imaged and will be soon accessible on DRIS catalogue for all those wishing to dive in the history of the Boat Club, or indeed those interested in the history of photography.

We wish to gratefully acknowledge the financial support that has been given by the TCD Association and Trust.

Many thanks to Mark Pattison from the Boat Club for his knowledge and availability and to Lucilla Ronai, former conservation intern who had the courage and motivation to start the project.

Erica D’Alessandro

Heritage Council Intern, Glucksman Conservation Department, the Library of Trinity College Dublin

And then a Nero comes along …

NeroPosterThe Library of Trinity College Dublin has recently loaned a papyrus fragment (TCD PAP F.18) to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier for their exhibition Nero – Kaiser, Künstler und Tyrann (Nero – Emperor, Artist and Tyrant) on the life of the notorious Roman emperor Nero.  This exhibition will run from May to October 2016.

This small fragment, written in Greek and dated 54 AD, announces the death of the emperor Claudius, and the accession to the imperial throne of his grand-nephew Nero.  The new emperor is hailed as ‘the expectation and hope of the world … the good genius of the world and source of all good things’.  This description echoes the optimism that was engendered across the empire at the beginning of Nero’s reign.  The exhibition attempts to highlight some of the more positive aspects of his story – his popularity during the early years of his rule, and his love of the arts, as well as dealing with his darker and tyrannical side.


Trier is the oldest city in Germany, and the only one that was a seat of the Roman Empire. This major exhibition features over 700 exhibits, including statues, pottery, coins, jewellery and other artefacts relating to Nero and his world.  A substantial amount of these are from the museum’s own holdings, but there are also many items on loan from European repositories including the Vatican Museum, the Louvre, the British Museum, and of course, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

The collection of Greek papyri in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library dates from between the 13th century BC to the 7th century AD, and it is ranked second, after Oxford, among papyri collections in Britain and Ireland.  Documents include literary and sacred texts, as well as official and administrative documents: letters, tax receipts, accounts, contracts, leases and valuations.  Most of the several thousand fragments in the Library’s possession came from the excavations of Sir W. Flinders Petrie during the 1880s in the Fayyûm district of Egypt.  The fragment on loan to Trier is part of a find of papyrus documents discovered during the excavations of Hogarth, Grenfell and Hunt of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, which TCD part sponsored.  It was found in the ancient rubbish dumps of the town of Oxyrhynchus, which was roughly 300km south of Alexandria.

In September 2013, the Preservation and Conservation Department commenced work on a small selection of Greek papyri – including the Nero document – which had been housed between glass and Perspex pressure-mounts. The project involved the conservation of 300 papyri fragments and the implementation of an improved housing system as several of the glass mounts were smashed or cracked, so replacement was a priority. Many Perspex mounts also needed to be removed, because of its tendency to scratch and its electrostatic nature.

The papyrus itself was in a fragile condition; many of the fragments had never been surface cleaned and were heavily soiled. They were brittle and fragile, and several different types of tape had been attached in an attempt to hold fragments together; however, more often the tape obscured text or were causing more damage.

Treatment included removing the tapes and other material from direct contact with the papyrus, humidifying and flattening creases and folds. Realigning fibres and fragments and bridging and mending fractured areas. Once treatment was completed the papyri were returned in new glazed pressure-mounts permitting safe handling. The conservation of the papyri was key for their continued preservation and have ensured future accessibility through digitisation and exhibition.

Nero_Ausstellung_RLMT_Foto_Th_Zühmer (11)
© GDKE – Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, Th. Zühmer

Ellen O’Flaherty (Manuscripts & Archives Research Library)
Clodagh Neligan (Preservation and Conservation Department)

Egyptian Shabti Figurines

Note tripartite wigs, folded arms mummiform appearance and inscription glorifying Osiris
Some Egyptian figurines from the Library collection in their new housing. Note tripartite wigs, folded arms, mummiform appearance and inscription glorifying Osiris.

We are all becoming increasingly aware of the development of the ‘sharing economy’, a socio-economic phenomenon in which individuals provide services for others; whether it is through the sharing of private vehicles, sharing one’s home, supper clubs or providing personal laundry, cleaning and dog walking services. However, this concept of service has a long and ancient history. The ancient Egyptians believed that committed and loyal service continued into the afterlife. Although death played a very important role in Egyptian society, it was not considered a terminal state but rather just another stage in the cycle of life, leading to another type of existence in the afterlife. As in life, so in death, assistance was needed to undertake manual labour and thus developed the tradition of burying funerary figurines called shabti to support the deceased. The Manuscripts & Archives Research Library has a number of these which were recently re-housed.

Note basket on back TCD NS OBJ/ND/7 back)
Note basket on back. (TCD MS OBJ/ND/8 back).
TCD MS OBJ_ND_8_recto
Note hoes drawn in each hand. (TCD MS OBJ/ND/8 front).

The afterlife was considered to be an extension of earthly existence; a person’s body was preserved through mummification and acted as a vessel for the spiritual facets of an individual. It was believed in the afterlife that the same needs and comforts as those in life were required such as sustenance and nourishment. In early periods, foodstuffs were placed in the grave. This practice developed into using magic and ritual to replenish food and provide sustenance. During the 1st Dynasty, the King was accompanied in death by his attendants, so that he was not deprived of their service in the afterlife. This practice evolved into physical representations of servants, who could act as substitutes for real ones. These were manifested in graves as small statutes of servants engaged in tasks such as baking bread and brewing beer.

In the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BC) these servant figures were superseded by funerary figurines which we call shabti (also shawabti and ushebti). At the height of their popularity, kings, as well as their subjects, required shabti for their tombs. Their importance in funerary rituals is reflected in their continued use for over two thousand years.

The significance of shabti is complex and through time their roles changed. Initially, they represented a personal substitute for their master and a reserve body that could receive nourishment in the afterlife. However, this role developed so that shabti were considered to take their owner’s place in carrying out manual labour in the afterlife. Egyptian civilisation was based around agriculture and even in the afterlife one could not escape from the statutory labour that was employed to keep the agricultural system functioning. During the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC) and later, shabti were equipped for their work with hoes, picks, seed or grain baskets, carrying-yokes, water pots and brick moulds. These were carved or painted onto the figurines. Eventually, shabti came to be regarded as slaves of their owner, with a strict hierarchy imposed.

Most of the shabti in circulation today are from the Third Intermediate (1069-525 BC) and Late Periods (664-332 BC), when they were mass-produced in large numbers by craftsmen running workshops attached to the temples.

Wooden shabti. Note extensive version of Shabti spell (TCD NS OBJ/ND/7 front)
Wooden shabti. Note extensive version of Shabti spell (TCD MS OBJ/ND/7 front)
Note baskets on back (TCD NS OBJ/ND/7 back)
Note baskets on back (TCD MS OBJ/ND/7 back)

The shabti figurines in the Library display the traditional iconography. The figurines have tripartite wigs, their arms are folded across their chest and they are usually mummiform in shape, an idealised representation of the deceased. Agricultural implements are either modelled or painted onto their bodies. They range in size from a small 5 cm example, crudely manufactured in faience (a glazed ceramic), to a carefully carved wooden example which is over 25 cm tall. Shabtis were made from a variety of materials including; wood, stone, wax, metal, glass, faience, pottery and ivory.

The functioning of shabtis was dependant on a magical incantation, the ‘Shabti spell’, from chapter six of the Book of the Dead: ‘O Shabti, allotted to me, if I be summoned or if I be detailed to do any work which has be be done in the realm of the dead … “here I am” you shall say’. This is inscribed onto the figurine with a pointed tool prior to it being fired. However, many smaller shabtis bear only the name and title of the owner, often preceded by the introductory formula sehedj Wsir ‘glorifying the Osiris’. The god, Osiris is a central figure associated with death and resurrection.

In the Middle Kingdom only one or two shabtis were provided for each burial and were a mark of high status. They were often provided with miniature coffins and were considered to serve as an image of the deceased. In the New Kingdom, the iconography of agricultural tools developed, and the shabti’s role as a servant was developed. At the beginning of the 19th dynasty (1293-1185 BC) the number of shabtis provided for each burial increased; this coincided with a reduction in the size of the figures and a simplification of manufacturing processes leading to mass production in moulds. Shabtis came to be considered as slaves to do their owners bidding and a canonical organisation was established. A full complement of figurines comprised of 365 workers, one for each day of the year, which were organised in thirty-six gangs of ten, each supervised by an overseer, who was fashioned holding a whip. They were stored heaped inside shrine-shaped boxes or pottery jars. Sometimes they stood in ranks around the tomb chamber.

The shabti figurines in the Manuscripts & Archives department have been re-housed in custom-made archival quality boxes. Each figurine has a carefully padded individual compartment within each box, which are designed to minimise direct handling by researchers, while still allowing visual inspection.

Several thousand years have passed since they were first interred with their owners, and one can only speculate what tasks these Dublin-based shabtis had been ordered to carry out by their original owner. Perhaps, so far from their Egyptian home, these servants continue to carry out their master’s bidding to seek sustenance and comfort in the afterlife.


Andrew Megaw, Senior Conservator of Books and Manuscripts



Janes, G. (2012) The Shabti Collections 5 A Selection from The Manchester Museum. Lymm Cheshire : Olicar House Publications.

Stewart, H.M. (1995) Egyptian Shabtis. Princes Risborough : Shire Publications Ltd.

Taylor, J. (2001) Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. London : British Museum Press.




Brian Boru and the Battle to get an Exhibition Ready

The current exhibition, Emperor of the Irish: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf, involved months of work and collaboration with many different areas of the Library. Colleagues from the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, the departments of Early Printed Books and Special Collections, Conservation and Preservation, Digital Resources, the Librarian’s Office and Visitor Services were all involved in the preparations. Specially commissioned artwork for the exhibition and publications was produced by the animation studio Cartoon Saloon, Kilkenny. Exhibition design services were provided by Vermillion and the whole endeavour was supported by a grant from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The exhibition is also accompanied by a booklet, online exhibition and various articles published by Dr Bernard Meehan and Dr Denis Casey.

January 2014

The launch of the Battle of Clontarf Millennium Festival in the Long Room by the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan. The Trinity College Library and National Museum of Ireland exhibitions were announced at this launch.22 January 2014 2

Initial meetings with animation studio Cartoon Saloon and designers Vermillion to discuss the shaping of the exhibition.

17 January 2014 1

February 2014

Conservation work including repairs, dis-binding and mounting of exhibition items

7 february 2014 2

Editorial work on text for labels, explanatory banners, online exhibition, booklet, posters and press release

13 Febryary 2014

March 2014

Photography of exhibits for online exhibition, to provide an accurate record of the exhibit, and inclusion in Digital Collections


Banner design drawings from Cartoon Saloon

TM_BattleOF Clontarf B&W_30012014BattleOF Clontarf-roughcolo









April 2014


2 April 2014 2


2 April 2014 3


Curator ‘walk through’ talk for Library and Visitor Services staff

9 April 2014 curator walk through for staff

And finally, the launch


Estelle Gittins

Emperor of the Irish: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf runs until October 2014.The exhibition is also available online.

Details of the Battle of Clontarf Millennium events are available  at



Conservation of Greek Papyri

Cons papyrus project workThe Manuscripts and Archives Research Library in Trinity College Dublin holds over 1,200 important Greek papyri fragments, the majority of which came from extensive cemetery excavations by Sir W. Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), a British Archaeologist and Egyptologist in Gurob Egypt in 1890. These scraps of papyrus, used as padding within mummy casings, provide a record of the social history of the ‘ordinary ‘individual in Ptolemaic Egypt. They include miscellaneous fragments of private letters, legal and financial records, bills and decrees, and agricultural transactions, ranging from 262 – 200 BC. In September 2013, the Preservation and Conservation Department commenced work on a small selection of Greek papyri housed between glass and perspex pressure-mounts.

 Cons Pap 082 verso

Cons Pap 044 recto

The project involves the documentation and conservation of 300 papyri fragments and the provision of an improved housing system for the collection. The treatment involves the removal of damaging tapes used to hold fragments together and to hinge the papyri to either the glass or perspex. Texts obscured by creased and folded fibres are being revealed, and fractured areas are being consolidated, prior to remounting. The specialized skills required for the conservation of papyri have been introduced to the department by Clodagh Neligan, who is assisted by Rebecca de Bút. The goal of the project is to establish procedures that will be followed for the conservation of the entire collection of papyri fragments, with this small sample serving to tease out treatment methodologies and housing issues. Once remounted the collection will be ready for digitisation, which will increase access to this relatively unknown yet remarkable resource. This project is kindly funded by the University of Dublin US Trust fund.

Clodagh Neligan and Rebecca de Bút