Skip to Content
Crest figure carved in the image of a whale with black, red and blue paint - Donald Ellis Gallery

Whale Crest Figure

Northern British Columbia

ca. 1850-60

wood, paint

width: 9"

Inventory # N2978-5



acquired by the Scottish Reverend Robert J. Dundas from Anglican lay minister William Duncan in 1863 at the village of Metlakatla, BC
by descent in the family
Simon Carey, London, United Kingdom
Sotheby’s New York, Oct 5, 2006, lot 40


Tsimshian Treasures, Ellis (ed.), Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, 2007, pgs. 78-79

The present whale crest hat was acquired by the Scottish Reverend Robert J. Dundas from the English lay missionary William Duncan on a trip to Canada in 1863. In 1862, Duncan had established a model Church of England mission at Old Metlakatla, an abandoned settlement near Prince Rupert, B.C. Dundas acquired almost 80 objects from Duncan, including crest helmets, rattles and antler clubs which remained in the Dundas family for several generations.

This small carved and painted figure was once a part of an elaborate crest hat that included a number of appendages that were carved as separate attachments. It was originally attached to the creat hat that is now housed in the British Museum and was acquired by naval officer Edmund H. Verney, possibly on his 1863 voyage to Metlakatla with Rev. Roobert Dundas. The Verney crest hat features a nearly identical whale figure on one side and an empty space were this one was once fastened on the other.

This small image may represent a killer whale, or may be intended to portray a baleen-type whale, such as a humpback. The related image on the Verney crest hat more closely resembles a typical killer whale representation, with its large teeth and taller dorsal fin. It’s possible that the Verney whale is a male and the smaller fin on the Dundas figure is meant to convey a female killer whale, which does not develop the tall dorsal fin seen on the male of the species. Just how the figure was separated from the original crest hat and became part of the Dundas Collection is not known.