Our venues

Also in this section…?

Transcript of the Returning to Australia talk

Lynne Heidi Stumpe:
Thanks Louise and hello everybody and I’m hoping my voice is ok during this talk!

Ok, well today I’d like to tell you a little bit about the background to the Australian skull that went back to Australia earlier this year. We actually received the request to return in December 2005, a number of years ago which gives you an idea of how long it can take to complete the repatriation process.

The request came in December 2005 from somebody called Bernie Yates, who was speaking on behalf of the Australian government. Bernie was working in the office of Indigenous Policy Coordination in Australia at the time and he requested the return of all of the Australian human remains in National Museums Liverpool’s collections. These were actually just the remains of three individuals and one of these individuals was represented by a skull with a separate jaw bone.

As some of you know, you may have been here actually, the skull went back to Australia earlier this year and on the 13 May 2009. A ceremony was held at the front of World Museum to mark the handover of the skull to the Australian government representatives and the Australian Aboriginal representatives. But before the actual handover went ahead, there were actually a series of events that were happening behind the scenes.

This is at the museum store in Bootle (shows slide.) This is the human remains cabinet where the skull was kept while it was staying here. One of two human remains cabinets that we have which are usually kept locked. The skull when it was taken out of the cabinet, first thing that morning was very carefully packed into its box, its archive box for transport by Tracey Seddon who’s one of our senior organics conservators. The delegation that came to collect the skull had actually asked us to present the skull covered so it wasn’t being treated in a disrespectful way when it was being handed over to them.

The skull actually was sitting on this little platform here (refers to image); it had its own mount before it was put away. Here are the representatives and the delegation. On the left is Alessandra Pretto, who is the Executive Officer for repatriation from the Australian High Commission in London. The person in the middle is Major Sumner and the person on the right is George Trevorrow.

George and Major are representatives of the Ngarrindjeri people and they are elders, Ngarrindjeri elders. They are wearing paint because they performed a private ceremony at the museum store before the official handover, this was just the two of them on their own in the museum store and they performed a smoking ceremony to cleanse the area that the skull had been kept in, for the sake of the skull itself and the sake of the other items in store around it and after they’d done that we then signed all of the paperwork. There were a number of forms and things to complete and we did all of that after the private ceremony. The actual signing of the forms marked the formal handover of the skull to the representatives who had come to collect it.

So after that the box that the transport crew packed the archive box in to was strapped securely into the van that had been organised by the Australian High Commission and away it went down here to World Museum.

When it arrived you can see that George is holding it, holding the packing crate covered by the Australian National flag and Major kindled a fire in a traditional bark container and put it on the floor. This kind of container is known by a number of different names depending on which language group you’re talking about in Australia, of which there are many. I’m not sure of the Ngarrindjeri name, I’m afraid I forgot to check with George and Major, elsewhere it’s known as a 'coolamon' or a 'pitchi' or a number of different names. The contents of the bowl are smouldering Eucalyptus leaves and a type of sea daisy which comes from the coastal area which is part of Ngarrindjeri territory.

After this, Major then addressed the spirits in the Ngarrindjeri language and he danced with three ceremonial boomerangs and he did this in a particular way - striking each boomerang to the floor and then holding it up to the air. As well as speaking in Ngarrindjeri, he spoke in English about ancestors and about the importance of ancestors and what an emotional moment this was for the Ngarrindjeri to have the skull repatriated to Australia. He thought it was quite interesting that the place opposite to the World Museum entrance, St John’s Gardens, was at one time a graveyard as well. He thought that that might be important to the fact that the ceremony was held in the place that it was.

After this Major performed a dance and cleansed the area again using the smoke and a feather which is a Pelican feather. During this time George also spoke to the audience and Major walked around the circle holding the bowl and fanning the smoke again with the feather.

Finally the crate was packed into its travelling van yet again and after everything was finished that day it travelled down to London for its flight to Adelaide. It was then to travel by road after that to Canberra and to the National Museum of Australia.

So after this you’re probably wondering as I was from the beginning of all of this, how did the skull get to Liverpool in the first place and why was it brought here? Well this is a bit of a detective story and as in all detective stories we’re trying to reconstruct what actually happened from evidence using a variety of different sources, and in this case the original sources are the original documents, the background information and historical information that we can find out and also scientific study; a forensic scientific study of the skull itself.

So in terms of where I came into this, finding out about the skull I looked immediately at what written evidence we had associated with the skull within the museum, but unfortunately this was very very minimal to the extent of things like information written on labels. I don’t know if you can see that very well, I do have those labels here and I can read you out the information. On one side we have the museum number assigned to the skull which is 48-4, which is on both labels, one for the cranium and one for the jaw bone 48-4 Australia.

On the other side we have Aboriginal skull or rather Aborigine skull and on the other label Mandible (skull separate). The skull also had the following written on it in ink which I’m going to read out, I’m not going to show you a photograph of the skull because generally speaking it’s not considered respectful to the skull to show photographs of it particularly now it’s been repatriated. So the skull had the following written on it in ink 48-4 again which is the museum accession number Australian Aborigine and WHB. The initials WHB and these were in a different handwriting which is presumably the handwriting of the donor as we’ll find out shortly.

When the museum acquired the skull it was recorded in the acquisitions register, which is also known as the stock book, and this gives usually minimal details of the item that we’ve acquired and who we acquired it from. Sometimes it gives more information but in this case it didn’t of course. So we had the entry right at the very top which reads 13.2.48; the day it came in, the accession number; 48-4, department; ethnology vertebrate zoology, skull of Australian Aborigine, number of specimens; one and source; Doctor W.H.Broad, 17 Rodney Street, Liverpool . And it was a purchase at the value of eight pounds. The skull is also mentioned in the museums 1948 annual report as a purchase in the Ethnology Collections but with no other details and there is no information on file at all apart from this to say where the skull came from originally or how Doctor Broad acquired it.

So to find out more I had to explore three different avenues of enquiry. First of all Doctor Broad and his history, secondly, what was happening in Australia in the first half of the twentieth century leading up to the skull coming here and thirdly, what the osteological evidence might have to say about it.

So Doctor Broad. Well from sources such as Who Was Who? and his obituary in the Lancet, I found out that William Henry Broad was born in 1875 and died in 1948 shortly after he sold the skull to the museum. He graduated in Liverpool in 1900 and he worked in several local hospitals including the Royal Infirmary. This is an entry in a book called 'Liverpool and Birkenhead in the Twentieth Century' which was published in 1911 and it gives us a nice photograph of Broad himself.

So reconstructing all of this information we found out that between 1902 and 1904, he spent two years travelling, visiting the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa. On his return to Liverpool in 1904, he became a consultant and he married Cynthia Hawkes, who interestingly was the daughter of Henry Morgan Hawkes of Adelaide in South Australia and they had one son. Doctor Broad was quite well known at that time in Liverpool as an orthopaedic surgeon but also as an Anthropologist. He held a number of prominent positions in the area including Regional Consulting Advisor in Physical Medicine and lecturer in Physical Anthropology at Liverpool University. Anthropology was a kind of second career for him and he was a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. He was also a member of Liverpool City Council and a President of Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society. His publications in scientific and medical journals included the papers, ‘The Skeleton of a Native Australian’, published in 1902 and ‘Prehistoric Man In The Light of Recent Discoveries’, published in 1914.

The first thing that came to mind was could the skull be from the skeleton that Broad had published information about in 1902? Well this is the first sheet of the paper, quite technical as you can see with measurements and so on and information about different vertebrae and he gave quite a lot of measurements about the skull and indeed he described the shape of the skull in his paper. He didn’t give a photograph but from the measurements of the skull in the paper, it didn’t tally with the one that we were concerned with. However, his obituary in the Lancet mentioned another paper entitled ‘Heredity and Skull Form’ published in 1913. Unfortunately this was the one thing that I haven’t been able to find to date, despite searching all the copies of all the relevant journals that it might’ve been published in. The Lancet [comma removed] didn’t mention the name of the journal unfortunately and searching all of the unpublished papers that I can lay my hands on that might be the one were talking about [‘and’ removed] I’ve drawn a complete blank. Of course I’ve contacted Liverpool University over this; I was working with someone there who I’ll mention later. And I also did a little bit of genealogical research and contacted everybody in the local are with the surname Broad, but again I drew a complete blank. I didn’t get to interview anybody in this particular case, unfortunately. It’s possible of course that further genealogical research will turn up something relevant but at that particular point in the research, I didn’t have the time to do it. So I had to abandon that particular line of enquiry at that point.

So another line of enquiry was what might have been happening in Australia at the time of Broad’s visit and what he might have been doing there. [question mark removed] For this I looked for published sources including general histories, I looked at scientific journals and I also looked at newspaper articles at the time. And, very interesting story this, apparently sending human remains to institutions outside Australia was very common up to 1913. In 1913, there was a permit system introduced which regulated and controlled the number of human remains being sent out of the country, but before that date it was very very common and in the early 19th century and early 1900’s there were several people associated with medical establishments in Adelaide who were sending Aboriginal remains to the United Kingdom. There were three of these main ones; the first and most famous was someone called William Ramsay Smith who was chairman of the Central Board of Health, city coroner, inspector of anatomy and a doctor at the Adelaide hospital. The second one was Edward Stirling who was the director of Adelaide museum and he was also a professor of physiology at the University of Adelaide. So he had a foot in both camps with collecting for museums and collecting for medical reasons. The third one was Archibald Watson who was Elder Professor of anatomy also at the University of Adelaide. Ramsay Smith was by far and away the most prolific. By the early 1900s [apostrophe removed], he actually had a supply network of people across Australia and he also acquired remains from the mortuary at Adelaide hospital. This became public knowledge in 1903 and he was at that point suspended from civic and medical duties on a charge of misusing human bodies; however he was later cleared and actually commended for his work.

In general, most of the people supplying remains were members of the medical profession or they had an interest in anthropology or both and the appeared to be collecting for science rather than for overt economic gain. They obtained remains from a variety of sources including Aboriginal burial sites, hospitals that we’ve mentioned and also battlefields and sites of altercation.

At the end of the 19th century, Aboriginal Australians were thought to be becoming extinct, particularly Tasmanians as we probably know. This meant that the[‘re’ removed] skeletons and other remains were in great demand in British scientific circles. Their possession and the related study meant high levels of prestige for an institution and an individual at this time. Ramsay Smith’s UK contacts were mainly with Edinburgh University. Watson and Stirling had contacts elsewhere, but none of the three had any links with Liverpool or Doctor Broad that I have been able to establish.

I’ll just put this (slide) back to Major, a lot nicer to look at than the front page of a journal.

So where does Dr. Broad fit in to this? Well that he wrote a paper on an Aboriginal Australian skeleton in 1902, before visiting Australia, shows that he was keenly interested in skeletal remains of this type. He already had an interest before he went. While in Australia, although he was only relatively newly graduated his aspirations as well as his medical background might also indicate contact with Ramsay Smith and others who were prominent members of the local community at the time. Then Broad’s wife came from Adelaide and in fact the local newspaper the Adelaide Advertiser has social columns with her name mentioned quite often at this period. It is possible therefore that he visited that area while he was in Australia during 1902 to 1904 when he was in his late twenties. Journeying by sea, he would have been there in the middle of his trip in about 1903. [new paragraph]

So there are three possibilities for the source of the skull: First of all that Broad may have acquired it before 1902 from Watson or Stirling or Ramsay Smith or from another source in the United Kingdom for example the Anthropology Society of London or auction houses at this time were selling or otherwise disseminating this kind of material. Secondly he may have acquired it in Australia between 1902 and 1904 from Ramsay Smith or other contacts in Adelaide or from another source and thirdly he may have acquired it after 1904, from Ramsay Smith or others in Adelaide or from another source.

So now the skull is back in Australia, it is hoped that further research there might shed some light on this. It is easier of course to carry out that kind of research there than here. I have contacted the museum in Adelaide and other obvious sources of information but without success.

I need to backtrack a little bit, to the identification and attributions from osteological sources. To return to the skull itself. Is there any scientific evidence that the skull is what it says it is, Aboriginal Australian or to show where in Australia it might’ve come from? Well the skull was examined in the first instance by Robert Connolly at the University of Liverpool department of human anatomy in June 2006, but the results were relatively inconclusive.

So through my contacts with the Australian High Commission in London, we arranged with Tania Kausmally, a Research Osteologist based at the Museum of London to examine the skull. This was in November 2006. She identified the skull as an adult female, probably not more than 35 years old. Her report was then passed to Richard Wright, who is the Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sydney, who analysed the photographs of the skull, the tooth size and the measurements. And from the photographs and illustrations provided with the report, Wright identified three features of the skull which indicated mixed Australian and European Ancestry. From analysis of the measurements he used CRANID an acronym which I forget what it means but is the computer program package which compared twenty nine measurements from the cranium with sixty four samples from around the world that included 2870 crania at the time. As there is a high correlation between the shapes of the skulls and the geographical origin of skulls this means that the origins can be kind of inferred from that and mapped out.

The analysis by CRANID also indicated mixed ancestry as did measurements from four of the teeth. This is because European teeth tend to be smaller than those of Aboriginal Australians. Wright also confirmed the skull as female from the CRANID analysis.

So back in Liverpool Museum, trying to put all of this evidence together, when the research had been taken as far as it could go, I provided all of the relevant information in the form of a report in April 2007 to an internal museum committee which included representatives from the Board of Trustees. This report included information on the remains of all the three individuals requested for return. So as well as researching the skull, I was also researching the other remains as well which was again quite a long journey. All of this was done in line with the museums human remains policy which was in place by that time and from all of this it was recommended that all three individuals be returned to Australia. The skull is the first of the three to have had arrangements made for its return. During this the representatives of the Ngarrindjeri people worked with the Australian high commission to organise the travel details.

The territory of the Ngarrindjeri people covers the lower Murray River area near Adelaide, east of Adelaide and the coastal area south of Adelaide. For many generations interestingly, there has been a lot of inter marriage in this area with white settlers. It is possible therefore that the skull originated there. However the Ngarrindjeri people on this trip were specifically collecting unprovenanced, unattributed remains were area of origin is not yet known. The overall idea being that the remains of each tribal group will travel back to their homeland together so that each group will take back their ancestors’ remains.

So that is as far as I can go in this story, but fortunately we do have a film of what happened to the remains that went back to Australia on this particular collecting trip not just the skull from Liverpool but the remains from other institutions as well. All of this process was documented by Maria Meriweather who was introduced to you earlier. So now we’re going to see the film that she made about the return of the remains.