- Museum number
Shield, undecorated, of bark and wood. Elongated, oval form, with pointed ends, slightly convex. Bark has rough surface and appears blackened in places with traces of white kaolin on outer side. Thin handle 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.
- Production date
Height: 97.30 centimetres
Weight: 2157 grammes
Width: 32.30 centimetres
Depth: 12 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Once thought to have been obtained on Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, when he visited Botany Bay near present day Sydney, New South Wales, in 1770. This view was based on voyage accounts from James Cook, Joseph Banks, and Sydney Parkinson. Sketches by Parkinson and John Frederick Miller depict a shield which at first view appears to match this description, with the hole near the shield centre being clearly visible in Miller’s drawing. Three fishing spears also collected during this encounter are in the collections of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge.
More recent scholarship by Thomas (2018) argues why this is not the shield depicted in the drawing. How and why it became Cook-related, and possible reasons for its later collection are explored by Nugent and Sculthorpe (2018).
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).
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).
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)
Wood identification and hole in shield:
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). See Attenbrow & Cartwright(2014).
'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 11/2 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. That such sheilds [sic] were frequently usd [sic] in that neighbourhood we had however sufficient proof, often seeing upon trees the places from whence they had been cut and sometimes the sheilds [sic] themselves cut out but not yet taken off from the tree'. (Beaglehole 1963: 133)
- On display (G1/wp96)
- Exhibition history
1987 May- Oct, Tonbridge, Penshurst Place, Captain Cook
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
2015-2016 27 Nov-28 Mar, Canberra, National Museum of Australia, Encounters
- Acquisition date
- (likely pre-1816)
- Acquisition notes
- Found unregistered in the collection in 1978 and registered with a Q number in that year.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number