15 October 2013
Families from the UK and Burma have recently discovered a common ancestor: a certain William Ninnis Porter who donated numerous Burmese artefacts to RAMM over 100 years ago. Until they made contact on the internet, the UK family had no idea that they had Burmese relations. After uncovering more information about their ancestor, they decided to meet up and visit RAMM to see the collection he deposited here in Exeter.
Their ancestor was a Devonian, the son of Commander William Porter who lived in Topsham. After graduating from CambridgeUniversity, William Ninnis entered the Indian Civil Service in 1870 and served in Burma, where he became a District Superintendent in 1880. He also served as a political officer in the Third Burma War (1885 to 1893) and was mentioned in dispatches. By 1902 he was the Divisional Commissioner of Police and retired from Government service in 1905 when he became Commissioner. Porter didn’t stay at home for long; at the age of 66 he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a Major and acted as second-in-command during in the First World War. Although seriously injured at the Battle of Loos, he continued serving with the Royal Sussex reserve battalion leaving the army in 1919 on account of his injuries. He died in 1928.
During his time in Burma, Porter had obtained a collection of objects. These items were donated to RAMM on two occasions; the first when he was on furlough out of India in 1888. This donation consisted of 11 clay Pegu temple plaques that date to the 15th century. Six of these plaques can be seen by museum visitors today in the World Cultures gallery and depict the evil forces that tried to tempt the Buddha away from finding enlightenment. The second and largest donation came in 1907 when Porter had returned from British India as a Commissioner and presented the museum with 26 items including weapons, helmets and grass rain cloaks.