Museum Pieces to Return to Australia


Museums agree to Government request

National Museums Liverpool has agreed to a request from the Australian Government to return three items from its collections to their country of origin.

In January 2006 National Museums Liverpool received the request for the return of all Australian human remains in its possession.

The remains of three individuals are now being returned to Australia. A date for the return has yet to be fixed.

All the remains were brought from Australia many years ago.


One of the remains was collected from Darnley Island in the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea by explorers on the voyage of the Rattlesnake in 1849. National Museums Liverpool acquired it from the Norwich Castle Museum in 1956.

Another of the remains is believed to have originated in north Queensland. It was given to National Museums Liverpool by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, London, in 1981. This museum had owned it since buying it in 1933.

The skull is believed to be of mixed Australian and European ancestry. It was purchased from Dr William Broad, of Liverpool, in 1948. He visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on Australian skeletal remains.

National Museums Liverpool is returning the items because they have strong cultural, spiritual and religious significance to Australian aboriginal communities. None has been on public display, nor has been used for research or educational purposes.

All may have possible value for future scientific research in Australia. Studies are being undertaken into population relationships and movements, past diet, health, disease, medicine and mortality and previous cultural practices.

The remains will be kept in a sacred keeping place at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

They will be given the culturally-appropriate care which National Museums Liverpool cannot provide. Eventually they may be buried if returned to their original communities.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: “The repatriation of cultural items to their countries of origin is a complex, emotive and sensitive issue. National Museums Liverpool takes a decision in each individual case when items are requested for repatriation.

“Later this year human remains from National Museums Liverpool will be repatriated to New Zealand at the request of Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand.