Bark shield

Australian bark shield

Face of shield

Back of shield

Back of shield

From Botany Bay, New South Wales

Length: 97 cm
Width: 29 cm



Collected on the first voyage of
Captain James Cook (1768-71)

AOA Q78.Oc.839

This bark shield has been identified, reasonably convincingly, as having been collected in 1770 on Captain Cook's First Voyage in HMS Endeavour (1768-71). It is, to date, the only Australian artefact in the British Museum that has been ascribed to the voyages.

The shield has very few distinguishing features, but these do seem to tally with a contemporary illustration and description. The naturalist Sir Joseph Banks wrote in his journal: 'Defensive weapons we saw only in Sting-Rays [Botany] bay and there only a single instance - a man who attempted to oppose our Landing came down to the Beach with a shield of an oblong shape about 3 feet long and 1½ broad made of the bark of a tree; this he left behind when he ran away and we found upon taking it up that it plainly had been pierced through with a single pointed lance near the centre.'

Such a hole, close to the handle, is visible on this shield. There is also a sketch by John Frederick Miller dated 1771, after the sketch by Sydney Parkinson, the Endeavour's official artist, which depicts a shield with a hole in it, just like this one.

On display: Enlightenment: Trade-Discovery