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About the Oceania collections

There are about 6,000 objects in World Museum's Oceania collections. Oceania is a geographical region covering a vast area in the Pacific Ocean. It includes the islands of Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia, and the continent of Australia. Artefacts from this wide range of cultures include ancestral wood sculptures, masks, weapons, body ornaments, ceremonial exchange items, garments and textiles such as barkcloth.

Most of the museum's original Oceanic collections were destroyed in the 1941 blitz. After this date museum staff actively acquired material by purchase and gift to replace that which had been lost.

Some of the most notable items to escape the 1941 fire are from Joseph Mayer and the Liverpool Royal Institution collections. The latter include several pieces which probably came from Captain Cook's voyages in the Pacific. The major collections acquired after 1941 came from the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, Mrs Harry G Beasley, Norwich Castle Museum and the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. Of these the collections from Norwich Castle Museum, founded 1824, include some of the older pieces such as a New Zealand Maori cloak dated to the 1770s.

The most important collections by area of origin come from New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji. Christian missionaries have played an important role in creating some of these collections. For example, Reverend JH Holmes (in the Gulf of Papua 1893-1900) collected items of everyday life as well as high-status objects, and the collections are relatively well-documented. Other collections were created by diplomats such as Sir Everard im Thurn, who was Governor of Fiji 1904-1910. In the 1960s the museum purchased New Guinea items specifically as art works from specialist dealers or sales rooms.

Recent acquisitions include a collection of contemporary sculptures from New Ireland (Papua New Guinea). These complex pieces were made for display at commemorative feasts for the deceased and were purchased from the collector in 1999. They are accompanied by detailed contextual information.