The Bruce and Black Collection from Mer (Murray Island), Torres Strait (about 1900)
Twin collections from Mer
In 1908, a prolific Sydney collector Percy George Theodore Black donated 49 Torres Strait artefacts to the Australian Museum. All the artefacts were collected on Mer. Part of the collection was a complete mourning outfit. Other parts included several small ancestral figures (Ad giz) and two sorcery figures (esau-mani). While the exact date of origin of these artefacts is not known, they clearly predate the Australian Museum expedition to Torres Strait in 1907. Some were probably made in the first few years of the twentieth century and some probably earlier.
Black acquired these 49 artefacts from the resident teacher, John Bruce, who lived on Mer. For many years Bruce had maintained contact with Professor Alfred Haddon from Cambridge University, who undertook the most comprehensive anthropological study of Torres Strait Islanders in the 19th century. Bruce was a valuable informant who was familiar with local culture and provided Haddon with anthropological information and artefacts.
In 1905, Bruce sent a collection of 49 artefacts to Professor Haddon, strikingly similar in composition and number to the collection obtained by Black. It appears that some, if not most, of the artefacts in both collections were commissioned by Bruce. The Australian Museum Archives holds the documents associated with Black’s donation (B.23/1908), which include the original labels hand-written by Bruce. Subsequent annotations in pencil indicate that these artefacts were ‘supposed to have been collected by J.S. Bruce for A.C. Haddon?’ It is quite likely that both collections were assembled at the same time, around the turn of the century and one of them was obtained by Black.
Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager