Shield, undecorated, made of bark. Bark shield of the elemong type, an elongated, oval form, with pointed ends, and slightly convex. Bark has rough surface and appears blackened in places. A thin handle is attached vertically to the reverse of the shield at centre. Both shield and handle are made of red mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa). Pierced hole near centre, with ragged edges, and smaller hole near one end.
- mid 18thC (c. 1770)
- Made in: AustraliaEast Coast, likely in an area where red mangrove grows
- Found/Acquired: Botany Bay
- (Oceania,Australia,New South Wales,Sydney,Botany Bay)
- Height: 97 centimetres
- Width: 29 centimetres
- Depth: 12 centimetres
Previously identified as the shield thought to have been obtained on Captain Cook’s first voyage (HMS Endeavour 1768-1771) on April 29th, 1770 at Botany Bay, in present day New South Wales, Australia. This is based on voyage accounts from James Cook, Joseph Banks, and Sydney Parkinson. Sketches by Parkinson and John Frederick Miller depict a shield matching this description, with the hole near the shield centre being clearly visible in Miller’s drawing. Three fishspears also collected during this encounter are in the collections of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge.
Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.), 1955. The Journals of Captain Cook: The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771. Cambridge : For the Hakluyt Society at the University Press (entry for April 29th, 1770).
Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.), 1963. The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768-1771, Volume II. Sydney, London : Angus & Robertson (from page 54, from page 133).
Parkinson, Sydney, 1773. A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's ship, the Endeavour. London: Richardson and Urquhart (from p.134)
John Frederick Miller, 1771, shield, fish spear and javelins from New Holland…
British Library, Add. 23920, f.35
Sydney Parkinson, 1770, Two Aborigines and Canoes
British Library, Add. 9345, f.14v
Thomas Chambers, 1773, Two of the Natives of New Holland, Advancing to Combat
Plate XXVII, in Sydney Parkinson, 1773, A Journal of the Voyage to the South Seas. London: Stanfield Parkinson.
Tupaia, priest and navigator from Ra’iatea, 1770, Aborigines in two canoes
British Library, Add. Ms. 15508 F.10 (9)
Nugent, Maria, 2009. Captain Cook was here. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nugent, Maria, 2005. Botany Bay: Where histories meet. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Thomas, Nicholas, 2006. Cook’s sites. Sydney: Historic Houses Trust.
Thomas, Nicholas, 2003. Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook. London: Allen Lane (chapter 8).
Accounts from the early period of European settlement (from 1788) note that the southern shore of Botany Bay was known as Gwea, and therefore the people from that area called themselves the Gweagal.
British Museum scientists used variable pressure scanning electron microscopy (VP-SEM) to identify the wood as Rhizophora stylosa (Red Mangrove). Radiographic images reveal adze marks on the shield. Radiographic images also suggest that the ragged edges of the hole at the centre are consistent with it being a point of damage, rather than the result of a natural knot of wood falling out, for example. White material randomly distributed on shield surface was identified by FTIR as kaolin clay (June 2010).
Identified as a shield of the elemong type, by Val Attenbrow, Australian Museum, Sept 2010.
For a published account of above, see V. Attenbrow and C. Cartwright, An Aboriginal shield collected in 1770 at Kamay Botany Bay: an indicator of pre-colonial exchange systems in south-eastern Australia. In Antiquity 88 (2014):883-895.
On display: G35
Exhibited: Loaned to Penshurst Place, Kent in 1987 2010 Sept-Dec, London, BM History of the World 100 objects. 2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' 2015 23 Apr-2 Aug, London, BM, G35, Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation
Joseph Banks reported in his journal: 'Defensive weapons we saw only in Sting-Rays [Botany] bay and there only a single instance - a man who attemped to oppose our Landing came down to the Beach with a shield of an oblong shape about 3 feet long and 1 1/4 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.' (Beaglehole (ed.), The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks 1768-1771, vol. II, Sydney, 1963, p.133).
Africa, Oceania & the Americas
If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: email@example.com
Object reference number: EOC25006
British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.
The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.