Sun, Jul 26, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Elizabeth ponders ‘illegal’ Commonwealth presents


Queen Elizabeth II on Friday toured a new exhibition of gifts given to her on Commonwealth tours, but wondered whether some were “illegal” and would have to be handed back.

Three whale teeth fashioned into necklaces had the Head of the Commonwealth wondering whether they were “illegal” and would have to go back to Fiji.

The items were part of a public exhibition opening today at her Buckingham Palace official residence in London, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth.


The exhibition not only displays gifts from around the world, including dazzling jewelry and ethnic craftwork, but also shows off dresses and gowns worn by Queen Elizabeth during her Commonwealth tours since she inherited the throne in 1952.

During her preview tour, the 83-year-old sovereign questioned whether the sperm whale teeth should be on display, saying “only they’re illegal now.”

Sir Hugh Roberts, director of the Royal Collection, replied: “Well, I suppose Ma’am, luckily they were given to you long enough ago for that not to be, I think, too much of an issue.”

Laughing, the queen said: “I hope not, it would be awful if somebody comes round and says you’ve got to return them.”


Born out of the British empire, the Commonwealth of Nations brings together around a third of the world’s countries and a quarter of the world’s population.

The modern Commonwealth was formed in 1949 when eight countries — Australia, the UK, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa — signed the Declaration of London after a six-day conference.

The UK’s environment ministry later eased the queen’s fears by saying that “historic” sperm whale teeth did not need a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species License if they were simply on display.

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