Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 2


  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 culture."

  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 1997 delegation.

  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 must decline.

  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."

June 2000

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