Tasmanian First Nations peoples skulls return from Chicago Museum

The sacred remains of First Nations people from Tasmania were collected by British soldiers and settlers, who made a bundle of money scavenging the countryside for 'artifacts' and 'collectibles' to send back to motherland collectors during and following the 'Black War'.

The Fuller collection of rare artifacts: Roland W. Force & Maryanne Force, Praeger, 1971 -
The skulls of Tasmanian First Nations people are within this collection at the Field Museum in Chicago
Captain A W F Fuller, Armchair Anthropologist
Captain A W F Fuller, British armchair anthropologist
handling two whale bone harpoon heads from his collection.

Captain A W F Fuller was an armchair anthropologist and collector who amassed over 65,000 cataloged items, had a passion for ethnographic artifacts from the South Pacific region (7000 items - over 600 from Australia). He did all this without leaving his armchair in Britain.

In some instances Fuller acquired single specimens and in others he secured entire collections.

His massive collection included the sacred skulls of First Nations people from Tasmania where the British undertook a mass murder (Black War) campaign to eliminate all First Nations people.

At the time, British soldiers and settlers made a bundle of money scavenging the countryside for 'artifacts' and 'collectibles' to send back to motherland collectors.

The massive Fuller collection ended up at the Field Museum in Chicago, a place with enough space to house and display his vast amount of artifacts and bones - This is where the Tasmanian skulls are currently located.

The Fuller collection moved to Chicago in 1958

20 June, 2014

The skulls of three Tasmanian First Nations peoples will be brought home after a Chicago museum agreed to release them.

Three First Nations community representatives are on their way to the Field Museum to collect the skulls that have been in its collection since 1958.

They were first donated to an English museum in the 1830s but their identities remain a mystery.

"There's very little known about the two donors and nothing about how they obtained the skulls from Tasmania in the first place," the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre's Sara Maynard told AAP.

The skulls are among nearly 7000 items in the natural history museum's AWF Fuller Collection.

English World War I captain Fuller assembled one of the world's most extensive collections of Pacific artefacts, including 671 items from Australia, despite never setting foot in the region.

The Field purchased his collection in 1958 but put up no barriers when asked if the remains could be repatriated.

"Unlike many museums, they agreed without fuss to return our ancestors to us," Ms Maynard said.

"The museum has been really positive and really great to deal with."

The Tasmanian First Nations community's repatriation program has notched a string of successes since Australian museums began releasing remains in the 1970s.

The British and Natural History museums in the UK, and institutions as far flung as Sweden, have released remains since the 1990s.

The community would continue discussions with the Field about cultural objects such as spears, necklaces and casts in their collection, Ms Maynard said.

"We'll be working towards the return of these over a longer period," she said.

The community will decide what further research might be done on the skulls and on a burial when they arrive next Friday.

The campaign to bring back more remains from other museums would continue, Ms Maynard said.

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