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 (pre 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
Previously identified as the shield thought to have been obtained on Captain Cook’s first voyage (The 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, 2005. Botany Bay: Where histories meet. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Nugent, Maria, 2009. Captain Cook was here. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thomas, Nicholas, 2003. Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook. London: Allen Lane (chapter 8).
Thomas, Nicholas, 2006. Cook’s sites. Sydney: Historic Houses Trust.
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.
See Nugent, Maria, 2009. Captain Cook was here. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (pp.11-12).
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.
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'
Requested NMA loan
9 June 2010
Reason for analysis
Examination of an Australian bark shield (Oc1978,Q.839)
Oc1978,Q.839 is a bark shield, believed to be that obtained in 1770 in Botany Bay, NewSouth Wales, Australia by Captain Cook, which featured in the A History of the World radioseries and project run in collaboration with the BBC in 2010. It was examined using opticaland scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-radiography and Fourier transform infrared(FTIR) spectroscopy, to answer a number of curatorial questions that arose during thepreparation of the script for the radio series.SEM examination of samples from the shield and handle showed both to be made ofRhizophora stylosa (one of several mangrove taxa which has the common name of redmangrove). The shield appears to have been shaped with short, shallow adze strokes andfinished by smoothing/rubbing. The handle is made from a separate piece of fresh green R.stylosa wood inserted very tightly into two holes bored in the shield's vertical mid-section.The central hole is unlikely to result from loss of knotwood or attack by worms as has beensuggested. From close examination of the hole it is much more likely to be an impact ordamage point, although it is not possible to suggest how this was caused.FTIR showed the creamy white material thinly deposited on the surface to contain kaolinite,probably in the form of a clay, and an acrylic. It is unclear whether this was applied as apigment or is an accidental deposit. The acrylic suggests the wood may have beenconsolidated as part of previous conservation treatment.
Analysis reference number
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
Object reference number: EOC25006