Midhurst grandmother donates rare items to British Museum

From the British Museum, Jim Hammill and Jago Cooper with Denise Knowles and Linda Knowles. On the table are the maps, the photos and the feather necklace. SUS-141230-115859001
From the British Museum, Jim Hammill and Jago Cooper with Denise Knowles and Linda Knowles. On the table are the maps, the photos and the feather necklace. SUS-141230-115859001

A MIDHURST grandmother who is one of the only people to have met a South American tribe has donated rare and never-seen-before Peruvian artefacts to the British Museum.

Items including a ceremonial necklace made from bird feathers and photographs have been donated by 84-year-old Denise Knowles.

As a young mother, in 1954, she undertook the daunting journey from Britain to join her husband, who was working in the remote Amazonian forests of Peru. “We travelled for six weeks by steamer across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal,” said Mrs Knowles.

Once they landed in Lima’s port, Callao, the next leg of the journey was by steam train into the Andes – at that time the highest passenger train in the world.

A dangerous car journey on hazardous mountain roads through steep-sided canyons followed, until ultimately she was reunited with her husband, Oliver, in the tiny village of San Juan de Perene.

Among the indigenous Indian tribes were a small tribe known as the Chunchus, who lived a nomadic existence, and did not mix with local villagers and plantation workers. But Oliver and Denise were invited into the tribe and as a result acquired a number of Chunchu items.

Mrs Knowles, a long-standing stalwart of the Stedham WI, said it was when she recently moved from her house in Stedham to a small bungalow in Ashfield Close, Midhurst, that she realised the importance of the collection.

So her daughter Linda, who was born in Peru, rang the British Museum. Linda said: “They said they had no Chunchu artefacts in their collection, and so we were delighted to pass it on to the premier anthropology collection in the UK.

“Hopefully the maps, pictures and artefacts will be of use to social anthropologists, and, who knows, may even go on display one day.”

Oliver, who died in 2006, was a forester for the Peruvian Corporation, which at the time had developed world-famous coffee plantations.

The plantations and the surrounding forest were known as the Perene Colony.

The colony had never been mapped, so Oliver took survey expeditions in the 50,000 square kilometres of jungle and river to produce the maps.