A BELT buckle depicting a West Indian slave playing cricket in chains, unearthed on the banks of the River Tweed, is expected to fetch £100,000 to £150,000 at a Sporting Memorabilia auction in May.
It’s the first time the buckle, billed by auctioneers Bonhams as the oldest artefact depicting cricket outside the British Isles, has been put up for sale since its discovery by Clive Williams while holidaying with his family in 1976.
Cleaning revealed a picture of a young, Afro-Caribbean cricketer being bowled out, looking ruefully behind him as the cricket ball sends stumps and bails flying. A plantation setting and a chain around his neck identify the batsman as a slave.
The artefact then became the object of intense academic study by The British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the M.C.C. at Lords, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, who concluded the distinctive cabbage palm placed the scene in Barbados, sometime between 1780 and 1815.
The depiction and provenance of the find inspired C L R James, the late celebrated Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist, theorist and writer on cricket, to effuse: ”The little buckle and its fascinating story enrich cricket and must go on enriching the whole world.”
It represents “the earliest known secular sportsman depicted in the Americas,” a Bonhams spokesman said; “It is the depiction of cricket being played outside of these islands that makes the buckle so unique.”
Since its discovery, the belt buckle found in the Borders has featured on postage stamps of Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago; gold and silver Royal Mint coins for the Central Bank of Barbados, International Cricket trophies and Man of the Match awards.
But a mystery remains as to how the buckle, described by the Pulitzer-winning author James A Mitchener as “a valued piece of social history”, came to be buried in a gravel pit beside the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders.
Experts believe it traces to the Hotham family who have centuries old connections to the West Indies, the Royal Navy and cricket.
The Admiral Sir Alan Hotham (1876-1975) was a cricket devotee and lived upstream from where the buckle was found. In the 1780s his ancestor, the 1st Baron Admiral Hotham (1736-1813), served in the West Indies, notably Barbados, during the American Wars of Independence.