The Hedley and McCulloch Collection: Torres Strait 1907

Between 29 August and 4 October 1907 Charles Hedley and Alan R. McCulloch collected 167 artefacts, mostly from Mer (Murray Island), Torres Strait.

Great Barier Reef Mer Island Map

Design Unit © Australian Museum

In 1907, the Australian Museum mounted a collecting expedition to Torres Strait, led by Charles Hedley, with the assistance of Alan McCulloch.

Hedley and McCulloch collected biological specimens and artefacts on Mer (Murray Island) for a period of five weeks, from 29 August to 4 October 1907. Hedley explained in his report to the Curator: ‘Murray Island was chosen as a field of operations because its far northern latitude, volcanic structure, proximity to the Barrier [Reef] and backward condition of the population promised interesting Results.’ McCulloch added in his diary that the aim of this trip was to collect materials ‘of which we had no representatives in the Australian Museum.’ He also asserted that ‘it was general understanding that we should visit Murray Island, a locality rendered famous by Professor Haddon who had led an expedition there and collected much material for the British Museum.

Hedley recorded, in his field journal, the local names of artefacts, sometimes giving more information concerning their usage and social context in a laconic manner. McCulloch’s diary, on the other hand, contains numerous general observations and anecdotal passages that well reflect the local flavour of Torres Strait at the time of their expedition. Although it includes little anthropological detail specifically related to the collection.

On return from the Strait, Hedley and McCulloch reported that their expectations ‘were fulfilled. A large number of old curios are still in existence, almost every day we purchased some object of interest and where originals were no longer obtainable, models were made for us.’ It appears that numerous objects in this collection are contemporary replicas of old, pre-contact forms. Years earlier, Professor Alfred Haddon also acquired many artefacts made especially for him. Obviously, by the time of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition in 1898 and, even more so, by 1907 many traditional artefacts were still remembered but not customarily made and used. The overall impression is that a large part of the Hedley-McCulloch collection consists of artefacts made, not for use by Miriam (Murray Island’s) people, but specifically for artefact collectors. However, Hedley and McCulloch only slightly overstated the case by proclaiming that they enlarged ‘the
Museum collection by a fairly complete ethnological series, illustrating an Australian people not before represented in the Museum
.’

Reference:

Hedley & McCulloch: Report to the Curator, Australian Museum Archives;
AMS25/2; General Report no. 3, 25 October 1907
 


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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