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Katherine Maria Pease

Katherine Maria Pease Routledge was a Darlington born archaeologist and explorer best known for her ground-breaking work on Easter Island in the early 19th Century.

Front profile photograph of a woman with short waved hair, a rounded set face, rather stern
Katherine Maria Pease, 1919. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

Katherine was born in Darlington in 1866 into the rich, Pease family. She would often spend family holidays at Marske-by-the-Sea making up stories of high sea adventures. Katherine disliked the strictness and formality of her rich family and what society expected of her.

Katherine believed she was capable of achieving much more in her life than just a ‘good marriage’. In 1891, aged 25 she went to Oxford University to study anthropology (the development of human society and cultures).

In 1906 at 40 years old, Katherine married William Scorsby Routledge. A known adventurer and explorer. They spent the first two years of their marriage living with the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya. Her work here is an early example of anthropological observations by a woman.

A man stands on the deck of the ship 'Mana' with a dead ostrich hanging from the sail
A man, possibly Scorsby Routledge, on the deck of the ‘Mana’. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

Sitting with a Kikuyu woman she noted: ‘We sat under the shade of the hut, and discussed the weather, the crops, and the grandchild, interests were of more importance than the colour of skins.’

In 1913 the couple set out on their ‘Mana Expedition’ to Easter Island where they did the first archaeological work on the Moai statues. They discovered that they were not just heads but their bodies were buried deep in the earth.

Katherine flourished in her work on Easter Island. She took many photographs and made detailed sketches and notes of everything she observed. Many of these objects are now held by the British Museum and the archaeological and anthropological Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Photograph possibly take by Katherine Routledge of the Moai statues on a hill side. Their huge heads are the only thing above the ground. A boy sits next to his horse and one of the moai heads for scale.
Photograph of the Moai statues on Easter Island, possibly taken by skilled photographer Katherine Routledge. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

Katherine used the skills she developed in Africa to make friends with the local Rapa Nui (Easter Island) people. Although there were times of great strain between them Katherine and Scorsby managed to build up a trusting relationship with the people and Katherine recorded many of their oral histories.

In 1919 Katherine published her book, ‘The Mysteries of Easter Island’, filled with all the details of the ‘Mana Expedition’.

It is believed that Katherine suffered from schizophrenia. In 1929, Katherine was confined to Ticehurst Hospital, a mental institution. She died there in 1935 aged sixty-nine and although a sad ending, Katherine’s detailed recordings of the Moai Statues was so significant that they are still referenced by archaeologists today.

Interior of a bedroom in ticehurst hospital, showing a chair next to a window and table and the end corner of a bed showing on the right
Interior view of a bedroom at Ticehurst Hospital. Image courtsy of the Wellcome Collection.

In 2011 a blue plaque was placed on Southend Mansion, now a Bannatyne Hotel in Darlington, where Katherine Maria Pease was born. The Plaque commemorates Katherine’s life and her vast contributions to anthropology and archaeology.