October 17, 2007

Liverpool Museum to return Aboriginal remains

Posted at 1:51 pm in Similar cases

National Museums Liverpool has made a decision to repatriate some (but not all) of the Aboriginal remains in their collection.

24 Hour Museum

By Graham Spicer

National Museums Liverpool has agreed to return three sets of human remains from its collection to Australia.

The museum’s group was asked by the Australian government to return all Australian human remains in its possession in January 2006 and it was decided to repatriate the three sets of remains because of their cultural, spiritual and religious significance to Australian aboriginal communities.

“The repatriation of cultural items to their countries of origin is a complex, emotive and sensitive issue,” said David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liverpool.

“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.”

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

Another set is believed to be from north Queensland and was given to National Museums Liverpool by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in 1981. The Wellcome Museum had purchased it in 1933.

The third item, a skull, is believed to be of mixed Australian and European ancestry and was purchased by Liverpool doctor William Broad in 1948. Dr Broad had visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on skeletal remains.

None of the remains have been on public display or been used for research or educational purposes, and when they arrive in Australia they will be kept in a sacred keeping place at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, and may eventually be buried if returned to their original communities, says National Museums Liverpool.

A date for their return has not yet been finalised.

Nine national museums, including National Museums Liverpool, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, were given powers to move human remains out of their collections through the Human Tissues Act 2004, in response to claims from indigenous people, particularly from Australia.

It followed a joint statement from the British and Australian prime ministers in July 2000 saying that both countries would work harder to return Aboriginal remains to their descendants.

The Natural History Museum agreed to return the remains of 17 Tasmanian Aboriginal people to the Australian Government in November 2006.

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