BRITISH MUSEUMS' RESPONSES TO REPATRIATION
REQUESTS FOR TASMANIAN ABORIGINAL MATERIAL
Bristol City Museum, with 92 stone tools, are
prepared to return remains but not cultural property. They feel
their holding it gives other European societies insight and understanding
of our culture. They say Exeter's return of a necklace and bracelet
is possible because they belonged to a named individual, and besides,
Exeter has a better bracelet. They welcome our visit to discuss
ways to make their collection more accessible and explore other
avenues together for better cultural understanding.
British Museum has a kelp bag, two skin bags
with cremation ash, five baskets, canoe model, club, 10 necklaces,
300 stone tools. The British Museum Act forbids de-accessioning,
nor would they want to do so, as they are an international museum
and resource devoted to preserving mankind's cultural heritage.
Representatives of the Museum were "unavailable" to
meet with a delegation of Tasmanian Aborigines in 1997, but met
later with officials from the Australian Embassy.
Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and
Anthropology has tools, proclamation board, necklace, two baskets.
Their refusal is their final decision. They considered these factors:
source of the request,nature of the artefact, means by which the
museum acquired it, any direct links with living people, and ultimate
destination if returned; but did not indicate which of these in
particular were most influential in forming their decision. Under
their policy of sharing information, they sent us a complete set
of computerised catalogue records for all the Tasmanian artefacts,
and offered to provide further information as far as practicable.
Horniman Museum has stone tools. These were
acquired legally by exchange and purchase. Collections are held
inalienably by Trustees on behalf of "the people of London"
in perpetuity, and are also bound by the Companies Act 1985. However,
the TAC 1997 delegation received the impression that the curator
and director were supportive of repatriation.
Manchester Museum has a shell necklace and stone
tools. Any decision to repatriate material needs the ultimate
approval of the Council of the University of Manchester, ethical
and legal considerations prevail. Two important objectives are
that the material is safeguarded and accessible. They are happy
to discuss with us ways to make our material in their collection
more accessible to us and they sent catalogue information and
photos. "[The museum] provides a cultural embassy for Tasmanian
Aboriginals without which Europeans would become ignorant of your
Natural History Museum with a skeleton and other
remains; stone tools. They replied only that the British Museum
Act did not allow them to pass on or dispose of material.
Pitt Rivers Museum with necklaces, canoe models,
basket, large collection of stone tools; hair samples (?). Although
they have returned remains, they have made clear before and will
make clear again, they are opposed to repatriating cultural property.
"Cultural property is the very subject matter of this museum";
see their primary role to assist and facilitate research on collections
and preserve objects for future generations of scholars. Confirmed
to 1997 delegation that they have one skull although had previously
advised us had no remains.
Oxford University museums and institutes advised
TAC delegate in 1985-86 that human remains had been transferred
and dispersed. Since then they acknowledge they hold at least
one skull from Flinders Island (Wybalenna), viewed by the TAC
Royal College of Surgeons Odontological Museum
has human remains. They will return remains to close relatives
who can furnish legal evidence of relationship, and where neither
the individual's wishes nor British or international laws are
contravened. They therefore refuse, since these remains don't
fit this category. Helpful with providing further archival information.
Advised the TAC 1997 delegates the remains are used to train dentists.
Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museum, Brighton,
with a stone flake, are happy to consider requests for human remains
or non-Western objects charged with particular significance or
symbolism, but not utilitarian objects, so are very sorry but
Cambridge University's Department of Biological
Anthropology with human remains, has not answered our letter of
October 1994. We had been referred by Professor Lund of the University's
Department of Anatomy.
In Scotland, after the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow
University refused to return a necklace with no reason given,
we offered to exchange a contemporary shell necklace. No answer.
The National Museum of Scotland will not return human remains
and necklaces, since information derived from material of this
kind may be of real importance to future humanity. They will "take
into account" our expressed abhorrence at their suggestion
that "accredited" scholars would be allowed to examine
the skull. In 1990 they had given us all the information that
"at present can be supplied on these skulls."