Footsoldier's padded armour from Korea, Asia. Part of the Pitt Rivers Museum Founding Collection. Given to the Museum in 1884.
This padded canvas armour dates to the 19th century although it is of a style worn by the Korean military since the late 16th century.
The coarse material was hand-woven by women and it was worn by a foot soldier, probably drawn from the rural peasantry. it features pearwood block-printing: Chinese script on the chest and helmet reads, 'Om Mani Padme Hum', which loosely translates as, 'Behold! The Jewel of Enlightenment is in the Lotus!' This common Buddhist mantra is sacred to Kwn Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion.
The large symbols on th kilt and the three helmet flaps may represent the Taoist 'Five Sacred Mountains'. Korean textile armours are quite rare and only a handful of examples survive in museums.
A Place in History
Gilbert and Ellice Island stamp, London Missionary Society 1970, showing Samuel James Whitmee
This armour was one of many objects collected and donated by the reverend Samuel James Whitmee (1838-1925) of the London Missionary Society (LMS). The LMS was a non-denominational missionary society formed in England in 1795 by evangelical Anglicans and Nonconformists, with a largely Congregationalist and anti-slavery stance.
Whitmee served in the Pacific Islands and met Robert Louis Stevenson whilst in Samoa, to whom he taught the local language. Although Stevenson initially opposed Christian missions as having a dire effect on the people, Whitmee and his handful of colleagues obviously had a positive impact on the famous writer who observed in one of his letters: "whether Catholic or Protestant...with all their deficiency...the missionaries are the best and most useful whites in the Pacific."* Whitmee's reputation in the Pacific was such that he was even pictured on the 25c stamp of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1970 (now Kiribati and Tuvalu, respectively).
*From The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, vol. III, p262, quoted in James Townsend, 'Robert Louis Stevenson: So Near, So Far', Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Vol. 12:22 (Spring, 1999)