The discovery of the artifacts was made by Dr Gaye Sculthorpe, curator and section head of Oceania at the British Museum and curator of the BP exhibition Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation at the British Museum showing until 2 August.
While on a research visit last week to inspect the Australian collections of RAMM she noticed a group of artefacts from the state of Victoria. She said that seeing the name and date of the donor, W. R. Hayman 1868, was “a Eureka moment”. Until now, the only Aboriginal artefact known to be surviving from this tour is an Aboriginal club, in the collection of the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum, Lords’ Ground, London which is currently on loan to the British Museum for the BP exhibition, Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation.
The objects donated to RAMM by Hayman consisted of a boomerang, several clubs, 2 spearthrowers, 2 spears, 2 ‘parrying sticks’, and firesticks.
William Reginald Hayman (1842-1899) was the manager of the Aboriginal cricket team that toured England from May to October 1868. Born in England in 1842, he was the eldest son of Philip Charles Hayman, a doctor of Axminster, Devon.
Hayman emigrated in 1858 from Devon to western Victoria where most of the cricketers came from. He was one of the instigators of the tour and its manager in England. During their tour, the Aboriginal cricketers mounted displays of their traditional skills in boomerang and spear throwing and dodging cricket balls thrown at them before and after the games of cricket. The team played 47 matches, the last one October 15-17 at The Oval.
On 18 October 1868, they left for what has been described as a ‘brief holiday’ in Devon, where Hayman was born and his family still lived. A demonstration of skills was staged by some members of the team at a sports meeting at Plymouth on 19 October. This included ‘native sports’ of throwing the spear and boomerang. The cricketers sailed from Plymouth on 26 October 1868. Hayman did not sail on the same ship as the cricketers. He donated the objects to RAMM on 29 October 1868, which was the year in which the Museum opened.
The research visit by Dr Sculthorpe to the collections at Exeter was undertaken using funds from RAMM given by the Designation Development Fun, managed by the Arts Council England, in support of the redevelopment of RAMM’s World Cultures Gallery. Two of the artefacts are currently on display at Exeter, the rest being in storage. All are in good physical condition and are excellent examples of the types of artefacts used by Aboriginal people in Western Victoria.
Dr Sculthorpe said “The 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour of England, is a key moment in Australian history and these artefacts of great significance as tangible evidence of this historic tour, the first Australian cricket tour to England.”
Tony Eccles, curator of World Cultures at the RAMM, says “it is wonderful that this piece of important Aboriginal history in Exeter has now been recognised.”
The BP exhibition Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation
23 April – 2 August 2015, admission charge £10 plus a range of concessions. Tickets can be booked online at britishmuseum.org/indigenousaustralia or 020 7323 8181.
Opening hours 10.00–17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00–20.30 Fridays.
An accompanying publication from British Museum Press is available. The BP exhibition Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation, authored by Gaye Sculthorpe, John Carty, Howard Morphy, Maria Nugent, Ian Coates, Lissant Bolton and Jonathan Jones. This ground-breaking publication explores the unique and ongoing relationship that Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders have to place and country. It also explores the profound impact and legacy of colonialism, the nature of collecting and the changing meaning of objects now in the collection of the British Museum.
In November 2015, many of the objects in this exhibition will travel to Canberra for a related exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. This will be the first time that these objects have been exhibited in Australia since they were collected. The British Museum acknowledges that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, this return will be of high cultural and symbolic significance.
BP’s investment of almost £10 million in extending its long term partnerships with the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and Tate Britain until 2017, represents one of the most significant long-term corporate investments in UK arts and culture.
In a media statement the Australian High Commission said, “[It is] delighted to support the public programme associated with the BP exhibition Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation at the British Museum. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture are an important part of Australia’s national identity.
“With over 60,000 years of continuous culture and history, we are proud that Australia is home to one of the world’s oldest living cultures. This exhibition and public programme will reveal to new audiences how diverse and strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is today and its important place in contemporary Australian cultural life.
“We are pleased that this exhibition is organised with the National Museum of Australia and that it has been developed in close consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Image: British Museum – artifact used to demonstrate throwing abilities.