Inside the Collection

Julian Tenison Woods, spiritual advisor to Mary McKillop

Photograph Julian Tenison Woods
Collector, naturalist and Catholic priest Julian Tenison Woods (1832-1889)

Behind the scenes at the Powerhouse, a team of people has been chipping away at a coalface. They are mining the collection. As part of a TAM (Total Asset Management) project, they are digitising early acquisition records to make sure the collection database contains a record of every item collected since the beginning of the Museum in 1882. They are also improving the documentation of some of our important early collections. Among other discoveries, the TAM project has uncovered a small treasure-trove for historians and followers of Mary MacKillop and her mentor, and for scholars of Asian culture.

Photograph of dragon vessel
A179 Vessel, with the image of a dragon, earthenware, collected by Julian Tenison Woods, China, c.1890

Julian Tenison Woods (1832-1889) was a Catholic priest, natural historian and collector. He is best known for his association with Mary MacKillop, whom he helped to found the Order of the Sisters of St Joseph in Adelaide. Woods was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales and published extensively on Australian geology, mining and mineralogy as well as paleontology, marine biology and botany. He collected mineral specimens and shells from all around Australia. Later in life Woods travelled to South-East Asia, to assess mineral deposits on behalf of resident British officials.

Photograph of bronze praying mantis
Animal figure, praying mantis, bronze, maker unknown, collected by the Rev. Julian Tenison-Woods, Japan, 1886. A84 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

He collected many specimens and artefacts during this journey, which lasted from August 1883 to June 1886, and included time in Singapore, Java, Malaysia, Borneo, Siam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China and Japan.

The collection offered for sale by his estate in 1890 contained a huge number of valuable specimens. Over 800 shells and 450 mineral specimens were acquired by the then Technological Museum. Many of these have now been transferred to other institutions, but a few choice pieces remain.

Photograph of Shells, Nautilus pompilius, Manila
E82 Shells, Nautilus pompilius, Manila, 1871from Tennyson Wood collection

The Museum also acquired many artefacts from Woods’ Asian journey, including teapots, opium pipes, landscape postcards, sandals, netsuke, tsuba, a kimono, an articulated metal crab, model houses, figurines of Asian people, coloured drawings of methods of punishment, and a large vase decorated with dragons. Intriguingly, there are also some miniature Buddhist shrines and a mala or ‘Buddhist rosary’.

Drawing, depicting punishment
P1517-2/1 Drawing, depicting punishment, paper/ink, artist unknown, Japan, ND. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The collection has been photographed and given some basic cataloguing data and these are available on the web for all the extant items (153 objects). The Museum now hopes to encourage research by making these objects available for study, and gathering information resources for publication on our website, and/or access through our Research Library. Meanwhile the TAM team keeps chipping, and hopes to uncover further treasures.

Written by Barbara Palmer, registrar.

One response to “Julian Tenison Woods, spiritual advisor to Mary McKillop

  • How wonderful to discover we have so many of our Founders awesome artefacts in drawings, writings and collections. I wish you well on your explorations. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. God Bless!

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