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  • Description

    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.


  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • mid 18thC (c. 1770)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 97 centimetres
    • Width: 29 centimetres
    • Depth: 12 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    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.

    Voyage accounts:
    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)

    Pictorial references:
    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)

    Interpretive sources:

    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.


  • Bibliography

    • MacGregor 2010 89 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G35

  • Exhibition history

    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

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1770 (post)

  • Acquisition notes

    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).

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


Shield, undecorated, of curved oval form. A thin handle attached to inside centre of shield. Pierced hole near centre.

Shield, undecorated, of curved oval form. A thin handle attached to inside centre of shield. Pierced hole near centre.

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Object reference number: EOC25006

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