Foundation of Anthropology Collections
The first Aboriginal artefacts were acquired in 1835
Museums are dedicated to collecting, caring, studying and exhibiting the objects of lasting value and interest. Collections are the museum’s essence. The Australian Museum was established in 1827 but the beginning of its collections cannot be precisely dated. Probably the Museum already had some collections when William Holmes was appointed Museum Keeper in 1829. Three years later some collections were accessible for public viewing, when Dr George Bennett visited the ‘Sydney Museum’ [Australian Museum] in 1832. In his opinion the best in ‘presentation and numbers’ was the collection of birds, followed by mammals and reptiles. Bennett recommended extending the collections by the addition of ‘native weapons, utensils and other specimens of the arts as existing among Aborigines’ (Wanderings in New South Wales … London 1834, p. 67-9). In 1835 Bennett himself became Secretary and Curator of the Museum, a role similar to a director. He set out to ‘extend the collections’ and presided over the acquisitions of the first ‘native weapons’.
In 1835 Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, Surveyor General presented to the Museum 23 Aboriginal artefacts (and 64 birds) gathered on his expedition to western New South Wales. In 1836, retired captain, Philip Parker King and Commander Morgan Lewis donated about 50 artefacts collected during their rescue expedition to Torres Strait.
King was a member of the first Museum Board of Trustees (the Committee of Superintendence of the Australian Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens) and made his donation to the institution he was appointed to foster. Mitchells’ artefacts were probably the first anthropology collections ever acquired by the Australian Museum.
Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager