Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Large oval wood shield, slightly convex in front and painted with broad red bars, with white spots on a black ground, the back is concave with a handle cut out of the wood, at each end of the back is delineated a hand with the fingers pointing to the end on each side the handle is daubed with white pigment.


  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 19thC (before 1862)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 87.5 centimetres
    • Width: 35.5 centimetres
    • Depth: 7 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Information from Ian Coates from the National Museum of Australia (Dec 2012):
    The Christy Collection Registration slip includes the annotation: 'N.S.W. 4'

    This shield, is one of a pair of similar shields (also see Oc.1809), each featuring a series of stencilled handprints, similar to a motif found in Aboriginal rock art. They date to at or before 1862.

    This shield or the similar one (Oc.1809) is depicted in a drawing of objects displayed at the 1862 London exhibition. The drawing (Am2006,Drg.59) was one of a series done for Henry Christy by L Leila Hawkins (q.v.) of ethnographic objects displayed at the 1862 exhibition. It appears that some of these objects, including this shield and the similar one (Oc.1809) were acquired by Christy after the exhibition. The drawing (Am2006,Drg.59) is also held in the British Museum.

    The No 421 on the Christy Slip is a reference to its 1862 Exhibition catalogue number in the displays from New South Wales (NSW). In the exhibition catalogue, No 421 is described as:

    "Aboriginal Implements
    1. Aboriginal weapons, carved-work box - exhibited by S.S. Cowper
    2. Aboriginal weapons - H. Moss, Shoalhaven
    3. Aboriginal implements; exhibited by E Herbon, Macleay River
    4. Aboriginal weapons, spears , &c. exhibited by Miss Macarthur."

    Reference: p63, London International Exhibition, 1862; Catalogue of the Natural and Industrial Products of New South Wales. Printed by William Clowes & sons, London, 1862.
    'S.S. Cowper' was Sedgwick Spelman Cowper (1839 - 1896), who acted as secretary to the NSW Commission of the International Exhibition of 1862, in England. 'H. Moss' was Henry Moss, a prominent figure in the Shoalhaven district, serving as the first mayor of Nowra in 1872.
    Miss Macarthur was most likely Elizabeth Macathur (1840-1911) of Camden Park, the only child of James Macarthur, one of four NSW Commissioners for the 1862 exhibition.
    The State Library of New South Wales holds a manuscript that describes what happened to the material in the Exhibition’s NSW Court at the end of the 1862 exhibition. It notes that the collections of SS Cowper were returned him on 7 November 1862, and Miss Macarthur’s material was returned to J Macarthur Esq on 7 November 1862.
    Reference: State Library of NSW, MLMSS 508 Item 9 - Commissions: London International Exhibition, 1862, register of disposal of exhibits.
    Importantly the manuscript notes that the material displayed by Henry Moss and Mr Herbon, were sold after the exhibition for the amount of £1.10.0.
    This indicates that the two shields [Oc1808 and Oc1809] were part of the material displayed by either Moss or Herbon.
    However an 1861 description of the collection which Herbon was sending to London for the 1862 exhibition, explicitly refers to the inclusion of only a single shield,:

    "Amongst other articles of interest that have been added to the Exhibition is a collection of aboriginal weapons and utensils, consisting of a shield, waddies, cups &c. belonging to Mr Herbon of the Macleay River" - The New South Wales Exhibition, Sydney Morning Herald 30 October 1861, p5.

    Therefore it seems that the two shields were amongst the ‘Aboriginal weapons’ from the Shoalhaven district displayed by Henry Moss.James Backhouse, A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies, London, 1843 (p.433-4) illustrates and describes objects including these remarks regarding his visit in 1836 to Shoalhaven region and foot of Cambewarra Mountains: 'Fig.5, a shield of wood, having a handle in the centre, under which is a piece of soft, tea-tree bark, to defend the knuckles. This shield was whitened, and marked with red lines: sometimes they are blackened with blood and soot, under the idea of rendering them proof against injury; and on this black surface, the figure of a hand is occasionally depicted, by means of a white powder, thrown on before the black is dry, or the whole is dotted with white.'For shield collected by E. Herbon from Macleay River, see Oc. 1841.


  • Bibliography

    • National Museum of Australia 2015 p.201 bibliographic details
    • Sculthorpe et al. 2015 page 14, fig.2 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2015 23 Apr-2 Aug, London, BM, G35, Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    This object appears to have been part of Christiy's original collection which, after his death, was transferred to the British Museum by the Trustees of the Christy Collection.

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Oc186?C1.1808 (old CDMS no.)


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