In June 1947, under Sierra Leone’s colonial rule, an Ordinance, cited as the ‘Monuments and Relics Ordinance’ was created for “…the Preservation of Ancient, Historical and Natural Monuments, Relics and other objects of Archaeological, Historical or other Scientific interest.”
It was in this Ordinance that “…from the commencement of the Ordinance, there shall be established a Commission to be known as the Monuments & Relics Commission…which…members…shall be appointed by the Governor.”
After Sierra Leone gained its Independence, an ‘Act to Amend the Monuments and Relics Act‘ was enacted in November 1962 by the “Queen’s Most Excellent majesty by and with the advice and consent of the House of Representatives…”
In addition to reflecting the change of government authority from the ‘Governor’ to the ‘Minister’, it also gave new definitions of words that defined the work of the Commission, such as ‘Ethnographic’, which now meant:-
“…any remains of early European settlement or colonisation, or any work of art or craftwork if made before 1937 or…of historical, artistic or scientific interest...”
In 1967, two further amendments to the Monuments & Relics (Amendment) Act were made:-
- a new definition of ‘Minister‘ to now mean the ‘Minister for Education‘;
- “…to acquire, maintain and administer the Sierra Leone Museum founded by the Sierra Leone Society and all things moveable or immoveable thereunto pertaining including the land and building situate at the Lucien Genet Gardens, Pademba Road Freetown.”
Thus it was that the Commission took control of its current site by the Cotton Tree under the auspices of the Minister of Education.
Once Sierra Leone had become a republic, the government of the day transferred authority over the Commission from the Minister of Education to the Minister of Tourism & Culture. Whilst this might have been thought of as logical, the lower priority of Tourism & Culture in the funding of successive governments, and the lower priority of Cultural Heritage within the priorities of the new Ministry, has consequently ensured the shrinking of the historic influence of the Commission, the ensuing gradual lack of financial support for the work of the Commission and the Museum, and the inevitable decay and destruction of many of the nation’s valuable monuments, sites and relics.
The Current Commission
In 2009, a new Board of Commissioners, fearing for the permanent loss of Sierra Leone’s cultural heritage not only to the country but also to the world at large, began the uphill task of overcoming decades of administrative neglect. Even without substantive national government support, the new Commission has been able to pursue strategies which are enabling the closer involvement of institutions such as London University, the British Museum, the European Union and the United Nations, to come to fruition for the benefit of Sierra Leone.
With the Commissioners volunteering their own time – and frequently donating their own resources – the Museum is now the beneficiary of increased attention; new projects of refurbishment; programmes of redevelopment and a redefinement of the role of the Commission and the Museum in the nation’s consciousness.