Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Mask made of turtle-shell plates which have been bent to form an elaborate human face, and sewn into place with fibre; shell eyes.

  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 19thC (before 1855)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 40 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    This mask is discussed in Haddon's 'Expedition to the Torres Strait', vol 4, p.298, who suggests that it was of the kind used in funeral ceremonies; an accompanying sketch by a Torres Strait islander shows a mask being worn on top of the head, and certainly the shell eyes on this mask would prevent a wearer from seeing through them. An original label on the top of the mask says 'A Tortoise Shell mask from Murray's Island, Torres Strait' (best guess - the label is faded). (MOH,4/1996).Description from Extracts from the British and Medieval Register 1757-1878, p.184:
    169. A mask made of tortoise shell long and narrow. L. 16 in. W. 9 inches. From Murrays Island, Torres Straits.Comment from Jude Philp, Senior Curator at the Macleay Museum in 2009 'wooden and turtle-shell masks often have 'eye' holes through the nose element'. This would enable the wearer of the mask to see out.


  • Bibliography

    • Sculthorpe et al. 2015 p.200, fig.78 bibliographic details
    • Mack 1994 p.60, fig. 33 bibliographic details
    • National Museum of Australia 2015 p.67 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited: 1993, London, Hayward Gallery, Aratjara: Aboriginal Art from Australia 1998, University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Torres Strait Islanders 2015 23 Apr-2 Aug, London, BM, G35, Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation
    2015-2016 27 Nov-28 Mar, Canberra, National Museum of Australia, Encounters

  • Condition


  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Presented by the Lords of the Admiralty through Sir John Liddell, C.B. (the Museum of Haslar Hospital)

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: EOC1677

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