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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.