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stimulant/narcotic equipment / bag

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Bag made of textile (twine, wool, human hair), containing pituri.

  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 19thC (before 1897)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 20 centimetres
    • Width: 29 centimetres
    • Depth: 20 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Christy collection registration slip description, written in 1897?:
    Boat-shaped bag of Pituri, tightly woven of pale - coloured twine and coloured wool from Government blankets. The wool is dark blue and light-blue in colour, & occurs in concentric circles. The largest circle is black & of human hair, with which the suspension cord is also partly woven.
    ? Interior: beyond extreme S.W. of Queensland.In western Queensland, distinctively shaped bags were made to hold pituri, a nicotine-containing substance that was highly valued and widely traded. Only senior men in the community could use pituri, chewing it with ashes to obtain a narcotic effect.
    Pituri was made from the cured leaf and stem of the desert plant Duboisia hopwoodii, but only from those plants growing in the Mulligan River area of Queensland. This restriction seems to have been based on the nicotine content of plants growing in this area. Pituri was traded over at least a quarter of a million square kilometres of inland Australia, and was exchanged for boomerangs, spears, shields and ochre.This is one of four bags of pituri which the British Museum purchased from Finucane, along with other Aboriginal objects, during a tour of Europe in 1897. Finucane was a collector, who as part of his role as chief clerk of the Queensland Police Department, established the Queensland Police Museum.

    The 'Queenslander' newspaper announced news of Finucane’s pituri collection in 1891:

    ‘A very fine collection of pituri has just been received from Birdsville by Mr. Finucane, of the Police Department. It consists of eight bags of various sizes, made in the shape usually adopted for carrying long distances. The pituri is a grass which is dried and cut into chaff and carried in these peculiar bags. When prepared it is an intoxicant. It is made up by first chewing it, then mixing it with the ashes of the dried leaves of a plant which Mr. Finucane has also received. The chewed chaff and ashes are then worked well together either in a round or an oblong shape, and are then ready for a second chewing. This chewing, it is said, produces intoxication. The bags at one time were made of a local fibre, but since their intercourse with white people the blacks make the bags upon the threads of old blankets or rags. One of the bags, however, is made of human hair, and is a curiosity in itself. Mr. Finucane has received also other articles illustrative of the habits of the aborigines of Central Australia.’
    The Queenslander, 28 November 1891, p1050.


  • Bibliography

    • National Museum of Australia 2015 p.29 bibliographic details
    • Sculthorpe et al. 2015 p.40, fig.18 bibliographic details
    • Bolton 2011 p.64 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2011 26 May-11 Sep, London, BM, G91, Baskets and Belonging: Indigenous Australian Histories
    2015 23 Apr-2 Aug, London, BM, G35, Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation

  • Condition

    Frozen October 2011

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    One of four pituri bags purchased on 10th September 1897 from William Finucane for £10 by Charles Hercules Read (Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography at the British Museum 1896-1921).

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Oc1897C3.634 (old CDMS no.)


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Object reference number: EOC9638

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