Ancestors, artefacts, empire: Indigenous Australia in British and Irish museums [Hardback]

Gaye Sculthorpe(Editor); Maria Nugent(Editor); Howard Morphy(Editor)

ISBN: 9780714124902 | Published by: British Museum | Year of Publication: 2021 | 256p, H8.8 x W11.1, 160 images
Status: Not Yet Published - Available for pre-order

Ancestors, artefacts, empire


Museums across Great Britain and Ireland hold Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (collectively referred to as ‘Indigenous’) cultural heritage of exceptional value, but which is largely unknown, rarely seen, and poorly understood. Gifted, sold, exchanged, and bartered by Indigenous people, and accepted, bought, collected, and taken by travelers, colonists, explorers, missionaries, officials and others, these rare objects date from Captain Cook in 1770 to the present day. Numbering over 35,000 items, they represent all regions of Australia’s vast landmass, from deserts, islands, and coasts to tropical rainforests.

The book uses nearly 160 artifacts, selected from over 30 public museums, both large metropolitan and small regional, to present a multi-stranded narrative that opens up vistas on Britain’s Australian history as much as Australia’s British history.

More than twenty Indigenous, Australian, and international experts weave together deeply-contextualized accounts of objects and object-types; of makers, communities, and regions; and of collectors, networks, and institutions, while also exploring the meanings and importance of this material in Australia, Britain and Ireland, and the world today.

Distanced from their places of origin and dispersed throughout Britain and Ireland, these objects are gathered together for the first time. Out of museum stores and into this book, they are evidence of the complex, and often difficult, relationships between Indigenous Australians and British people and institutions, as well as being powerful conduits for telling that history anew and in ways that seek to challenge and rework its legacies.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge) [TBC]

Section I – Encountering objects

Gaye Sculthorpe (British Museum) Maria Nugent (Australian National University), and Howard Morphy (Australian National University)

2. Assemblages: Researching and interpreting dispersed Indigenous Australian objects and collections (Gaye Sculthorpe and Maria Nugent)

Section II – Moving objects

3. Reciprocity: Artefacts of Aboriginal trade and exchange
Philip Jones (South Australian Museum)

4. Travels with Bennelong: collecting in early colonial Sydney
Maria Nugent (Australian National University)

5. String ecologies: Indigenous country and pastoral empires
Jilda Andrews (National Museum of Australia & Australian National University)

6. Naval Pathways: Tracing objects from nineteenth century Royal Naval voyages
Daniel Simpson (Royal Holloway University of London)

7. Excellent judgement: bark paintings in the National Museum of Scotland
Howard Morphy (Australian National University), Antje Denner (National Museums Scotland), and Bree Blakeman (Australian National University)

8. Indigenous Afterlives in Britain
Gaye Sculthorpe (British Museum)

Section III – Telling objects

9. You are on Aboriginal land: interpreting gifts of stone
Matt Poll (University of Sydney)

10. Visitors to the rainforest: Engagements and encounters in far north Queensland
Lissant Bolton (British Museum)

11. Life in death: Funerary and mourning objects
Julie Finlayson (Australian National University)

12. History by design in the Kimberley
Shino Konishi (University of Western Australia) and Alistair Paterson (University of Western Australia)

13. Silent testimonials’: shields from Queensland frontiers
Gaye Sculthorpe (British Museum)

Section IV – Unsettling objects

14. Exile and punishment in Van Diemen’s Land
Gaye Sculthorpe (British Museum)

15. Intimate Relations: Objects from the Port Phillip District
Penelope Edmonds (Flinders University)

16. Woven lives - I: Women’s objects in colonial South Australia (Maria Nugent and Gaye Sculthorpe); II: Threads of reckoning / An Afterword (Natalie Harkin, Flinders University)

17. New postings? The Swan River Colony
Tiffany Shellam (Deakin University) and Shona Coyne (National Museum of Australia)

18. Rough justice in the northwest
Ian Coates (National Museum of Australia) & Peter Yu (Australian National University)

Section V – Performing objects

19. Unmasking the Torres Strait: objects and relationships
Chantal Knowles (Monash University)

20. Slow awakenings: Institutional engagements with Indigenous art
Howard Morphy (Australian National University) & Gaye Sculthorpe (British Museum)

21. ‘Strange and complicated feats with string’
Robyn McKenzie (Australian National University)

22. Show people: Objects of popular performance
Maria Nugent (Australian National University)

23. ‘Three boomerangs…shillling for each’: Linking objects and images from Moreton Bay
Michael Aird (University of Queensland)

Afterword: Howard Morphy, Maria Nugent, Gaye Sculthorpe

Appendix 1 Museums with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections
Appendix 2 Finding guide to collections
Appendix 3 Researching collections

Further Reading
Image credits

Additional Information

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