RAS President's address of May 1993

Dominik Wujastyk D.Wujastyk at ucl.ac.uk
Tue Nov 9 17:05:04 UTC 1993

The following is forwarded to INDOLOGY by me personally, for general


OF 13 MAY 1993

[Prof. ADH Bivar, Pres., Royal Asiatic Society, London]

"The Treasurer has reported the state of our finances.  Once more, as
anticipated, we have a five-figure deficit.  A shortfall of \pounds
13,683 looks worrying, but is less so for the moment. Measures of
economy, introduced last year, somewhat reducing our activities, have
also slimmed down expenditure.  Nearly half of the deficit still relates
to commitments undertaken several years ago, when income was higher.
Without this factor, and items of capital outlay themselves designed to
reduce costs, the deficit would stand at little more than \pounds 7,000.
Even so, overheads continue to creep up, with the threat of recurring
deficits. That is a situation that cannot be tolerated indefinitely.

Council's remedy for meeting this problem is twofold.  First I stress
the importance, nay necessity, for the Society's well-being, of securing
the regular support of corporate and institutional subscribers.  Several
years ago, following an active campaign by our late Treasurer Mr G.A.
Calver, a respectable list of corporate subscribers was built up, which
did much to offset an earlier deficit.  But such subscriptions are
naturally not open-ended.  As one covenant expires, effort is required
to secure fresh donors.  Our Treasurer is now embarked upon a new
campaign to enlist corporate help.  His first approaches have been most
encouragingly received, and we have good hopes for the future.  So it
may happen that Fellows known for their standing with powerful
corporations could be receiving requests from the Treasurer for
introductions or recommendations. All I need say is that twenty
five-year covenants for \pounds 500 per year would see us home and dry
through the next quinquennium.

So much then for what we need others to do for us.  Now there is what we
must do for ourselves.  And here I have to broach the question of the
Farquhar Albums.

During the preparation of Mr Raymond Head's catalogue of the Society's
paintings and drawings, the volumes of the Farquhar Albums, illustrating
south-east Asian birds, fishes and plants, for many years on loan with
the Natural History Museum, were recalled for photography and
examination.  At that time it was noticed that there was loosening of
the bindings, which in library use would create a problem of security.
The cost of satisfactory repairs was believed to be about \pounds 6,000.
Council at this stage was faced with a dilemma.  Either the albums could
be returned to the Natural History Museum, in which case repairs ought
to be put in hand.  This was an obligation with which the Museum was in
no position to help.  Or they might be retained at the Society, in which
case further expenditure would be required to provide secure and
fireproof storage.  Otherwise, in view of the quite substantial market
value they were believed to possess, Council could proceed to a sale of
the albums, and realize the proceeds.

The position of the Farquhar Albums is rather different from other
possessions of the Society formerly discussed in this connection.  The
Natural History of Asia is less closely linked now than in the past to
the Society's principal interests.  For decades, many members, including
I am afraid myself, have been unaware even of the existence of these
albums.  I should be surprised if there were not members of the audience
today who had never heard of them before this moment.  Nowadays the
interest of these albums is more artistic than scientific, and in their
recent location they were rarely consulted.  After discussion, Council
agreed unanimously that a sale by auction should be put in hand.  The
intention is to place the proceeds in an endowment fund, invested to
secure the fullest protection of capital. Income could then be applied
to offsetting the Society's reemerging deficit.  A reference to the
Charity Commissioners has confirmed that the course proposed would raise
no objection on their side, and that Council under the Charter has
authority to decide the matter.  Accordingly, instructions have been
given to put in hand the sale of these albums, and it may be up to a
year before they are actually sold.  We plan, as in the case of the
Rashid al-din manuscript, for an introductory brochure to be printed.
While every member of Council regrets such deaccessioning, in present
conditions this Society, lacking the resources of a public museum, can
hardly finance custodianship of major national assets.

At this stage we cannot closely guess what figure the Farquhar Albums
are likely to realize.  But the two lines of policy I outline, both
successfully carried through, should guarantee our future for at least a
decade, and in reasonable circumstances much longer."

Dominik Wujastyk           Phone (and voice messages): +44 71 611 8467
Wellcome Institute, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE.


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