When the Australian Museum continued to rebuild its collections after the devastating fire in 1882, our federated nation was coming of age. That year our new capital city was named Canberra and also the ‘Kangaroo and Map’ postal stamp was issued. The stamp was not only an iconic Australian but probably the first in the world depicting, god forbid, a native animal rather than royals or heads of state.

The new addition to Anthropology Collections also reflected the Museum’s forward thinking, ambitions and interest in the wider world. They include a large collection from Solomon Islands, sizable collections from Papua New Guinea, Alaska, ancient Egypt and Java (Indonesia).

The Solomon Island collection was sold to the Museum by Jean J Steuernagel, a private collector from Moore Park in Sydney, who unusually for that time provided very specific information about the place of collection and indigenous names. In addition, the price asked for the collection was ‘absurdly low’ - observed William W. Thorpe – Museum ethnologist.

Bride price Solomon Islands: E81757
Bride price Solomon Islands: E81757 Image: Emma Furno
© Australian Museum

The Papuan collection was sold to the Museum by Sidney G Macdonell, plantation entrepreneur and trader in the Orokolo region of the Papuan Gulf. In a few years that follow he supplied the Museum with even more Papuan artefacts.

The Australian Museum exchange program with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania delivered us an outstanding collection of artefacts of indigenous Alaskan people - then called Eskimo. This collection, in part, was originally assembled in 1897 by a colourful naturalist and Arctic explorer Edward Avery "Ned" McIlhenny. The other part was gathered by George Byron Gordon – an accomplished American archaeologist and scholar who also lead two expeditions to Alaska in 1905 and 1907.

The Javanese collection is a set of shadow puppets from Malang in East Java; it was assembled and donated to the Museum by Professor John Macmillan Brown from Canterbury College in Christchurch, then part of the University of New Zealand. Professor Brown, of Scottish descent and prominent academic, promoted humanities in New Zealand with great vigour. He also initiated studies of the Pacific cultures and their origin, perhaps without modern scientific rigour, but certainly with enormous enthusiasm.

A portion of the ancient Egyptian collection was obtained via the Egypt Exploration Fund, but a larger part was donated by Ernest Wunderlich, who in the following year became one of the Trustees of the Australian Museum. This generous donation enlarged our Egyptian collection to over 700 objects.

Among the objects of Australian Aboriginal cultures the Museum purchased a bust of Trugunini from Professor Stuart Thomas Peter Anderson. And Major Reuter Emerich Roth donated a sword from China associated with the Boxer Uprising in 1899-1901. It was a busy and prosperous year for the Anthropology Collection