Katharina Wilhelmina Haslwanter is a PhD student from Zurich University and an affiliated researcher of the Pacific Presences project. In the following two blogs, she presents some of her recent research findings on the Wollaston collection, and therewith gives insight into the early history of MAA.
In summer 2015 and January 2016, I was researching the western New Guinea collection from Alexander Frederick Richmond Wollaston at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) as part of a Doc.Mobility research fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation. During my current internship with the Pacific Presences project I decided to take up my research on this collection again, trying to solve the puzzles surrounding the numbering of this collection.
Dr Elisabeth Blake, who kindly helped me during my research in 2015 / 2016, has already given a fascinating insight into the 1912-1913 Wollaston expedition in a previous blog post. I would like to complement her account with additional information on Wollaston and his expeditions as an introduction.
Alexander (Sandy) Frederick Richmond Wollaston (1875-1930)
Sandy Wollaston, a British ornithologist, medical doctor, botanist and explorer, participated in two expeditions to Dutch New Guinea. Both expeditions moved from the south coast into the island’s interior with two aims: to collect scientific specimens and to reach the snow-covered mountains of the Nassau Range (now Sudirman Range). The first expedition was undertaken by the British Ornithologists’ Union in 1910 and 1911. While bringing back diverse collections, they did not get further than 40 km inland let alone reach the mountains, as the expedition was ‘poorly planned and deliberately misdirected by the Dutch authorities’ towards the Mimika river.
Disappointed by this defeat, Wollaston decided to try it a second time following another river route. With financial support from the British Ornithologists’ Union and private benefactors, Wollaston himself led a second expedition to western New Guinea in 1912-1913. This time they followed the Utakwa (today Otakwa) and Setakwa Rivers from the south coast up to the Tsingarong and Bandarong Rivers, and finally managed to reach the base of the glacier, which covered the higher region of the mountain range. However, they could not get further, because they didn’t have the right equipment nor the necessary experience to tackle the glacier.
Nevertheless, the members of the two British expeditions collected important natural history specimens and ethnographic material and documented their encounters with the Papuans in photographs and in notes. The ethnographic collection is diverse, ranging from clothes and body decorations, tools and weapons to musical instruments and carvings, as the following two images demonstrate.
Headdress made of 99 humeri (upper arm bones) of a phalanger (a marsupial) from the Amungme (prefix+H&L 1914.231.216).
Prow ornament from the Kamoro (1914.231.188).
Wollaston donated the biggest part of his object collection to the then called Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (MAE, the predecessor of today’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, MAA), namely 231 entries representing 408 objects. A further part of his collection (184 entries) is at the British Museum. Of the 231 entries at MAA, two third come from the Kamoro people which live in the lowlands at the south coast of western New Guinea. 79 entries come from the mountain areas, namely from the Tsinga valley Amungme and a group of people who probably were Ekari- or Moni-speaking to which Wollaston referred to as ‘Tapiro’.
Already during my research on the Wollaston collection in summer 2015, I was puzzled by the many different sets of numbers associated with the objects. One object could bear up to four different numbers –as can be seen in the image of the prow ornament above – which made the search for an object entry on the digital database quite challenging. Moreover, in most cases there were at least two digital records for a single object. At the time, my research focused on the objects themselves –their use, origin and composition – not on their museum history. I remained, however, interested in understanding what generated multiple numbers and digital duplications. As part of the Pacific Presences internship, I decided to investigate the way in which the Museum handled the Wollaston collection once it entered its walls. Here, I would like to share what I have found so far.
Various sets of numbers
After his return from the second expedition, Wollaston loaned his collection to the MAE, where the honorary keeper Alfred Cort Haddon and his assistant John Willoughby Layard undertook comprehensive research on it, comparing it with other specimens from the same region of origin, in the UK as well as at the Rijksmuseum Leiden in the Netherlands. The purpose of their research was the compilation of the Report on the Ethnographic Collection from the Utakwa river made by A.F.R. Wollaston, which was published in 1916 as part of the larger British Ornithologists’ Union’s Report on the Collections made by the British Ornithologists’ Union Expedition and the Wollaston Expedition in Dutch New Guinea 1910-13. Their report gives a detailed description of the object’s composition as well as information on their use and value as it was known at the time, and included eight plates with astonishingly accurate sketches of the objects, as can be seen in the example below. For their report, Haddon and Layard numbered the objects present from 1 to 257. This is one set of numbers associated with the collection (which I will refer to as H&L numbers), usually found printed on square labels adhered to the objects.
Photograph of Plate I in Haddon and Layard’s ‘Report on the Ethnographic Collection from the Utakwa river made by A.F.R. Wollaston’ (Doc.58, MAA Archive).
When Haddon and Layard finished their research for the report, 105 objects were returned to Wollaston in March 1914. The rest of the collection remained at the MAE as a gift from A.F.R. Wollaston. It was then accessioned into the Museum’s Register, assigned with the only recently introduced three-part numbering system, which is a combination of the accession year (1914), the number of the collection (231) and a suffix for every individual object or object group. As there were 187 objects or object groups respectively, the Accession Register numbers for the Wollaston collection are therefore 1914.231.1 to 1914.231.187. It is important to mention that in the case of the Wollaston collection, the collection was first numbered for the Annual Report, where it has the numbers 1914.371.1 to 1914.371.187 (note the different collection number between the dots. This is another set of numbers.). Only after this, the collection was accessioned into the Accession Register, as cut out copies of the Annual Report glued into the Accession Register indicate.
Most of the objects however do neither bare the Accession Register number (which would have been and still is the rule), nor the Annual Report number, but a combination of the accession year, the collection number and as a suffix the numbers used by Haddon and Layard in their report, leading to a range of numbers between 1914.231.1 to 1914.231.257 (which I will refer to as prefix+H&L numbers). This of course made it difficult to link the object to its corresponding Register number.
Let me illustrate this with an example. While the Register number for the object below – a string bag with a protective shield and a sliver of bone from the Amungme – is 1914.231.34, the object itself is inscribed with the prefix+H&L number 1914.231.219.
String bag with protective shield and sliver of bone from the Amungme (1914.231.34).
So far, I have not found any document that would explain why on the objects the prefix+H&L numbers were used instead of the official MAE Register numbers, which would have been the rule.
One reason for this might be linked to the fact that a big part of the Wollaston collection was on display. If the Museum staff would have put the new Register numbers with the objects, the connection with the H&L report numbers and therewith the vast knowledge on the objects documented in the report would have been lost for the visitors. To make clear to which collection the objects belong, it might have been decided to add the accession year and the collection number to the objects as well. This could have led to the combination found on the object. However, this is only one possible explanation, and proof for it is needed.
I would like to close this blog entry by pointing out, that while our research privileges the physical objects –their use and construction, their origins and histories, their meaning to the people who made and used them and their descendants, as well as to people who look at them and work with them in museums now, and the many other aspects object research can involve – it is also part of our museum duty to retrace the journeys that bring objects to museums and to consider how they are processed within these institutions. It provides an important insight into the practice of museum work and the methods implemented in museums historically. Even if it might sound rather tedious to some, it is an exciting and important part of museum work, which can be highly satisfying, when one encounters a missing piece of the puzzle and suddenly the picture becomes clearer.
Katharina Wilhelmina Haslwanter, 2017
 With western New Guinea I am referring to the western half of the Island New Guinea, which is currently a part of Indonesia and organised into two provinces, Papua and Papua Barat (West Papua).
 Ballard, Chris (2001). A.F.R. Wollaston and the ‘Utakwa River Mountain Papuan’ Skulls. In: The Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jun. 2001), pp. 117-126: p. 117.
 Klein, Willem Carel (1954). Nieuw Guinea. De ontwikkeling op economisch, sociaal en cultureel gebied, in Nederlands en Australisch Nieuw Guinea, Vol. III. ’s-Gravenhage: Staatsdrukkerij- en uitgeverijbedrijf: p. 73-74.
 With ‘entry’ I mean an entry in the Accession Register. However, one such entry can comprise of more than one object, for example the entry 1914.231.35 is a jaw’s harp and its case, and therefore two objects.
 The biggest part of the collection was given in 1914, two smaller additions reached the Museum in 1924 and 1925.
 Cf. Ballard, Chris (2001). The British Expeditions to Dutch New Guinea (1909-13). In: Ballard Chris, Anton Ploeg and Steven Vink (eds.). Race to the Snow. Photography and the exploration of Dutch New Guinea, 1907-1936. Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute, pp. 27-34: p. 30.
 It was mainly his collection from the second expedition, but included some specimens from the first expedition.
 It was not the first set, though, as Wollaston had himself numbered the collection, as a little notebook in the British Museum archive reveals. And it was not the last set, as the collection has another number in the Accession Register (1914.231.1 to 187) and the Annual Report (1914.371.1 to 187). Finally, some singular objects bear an additional ‘Z Number’, which had been used in different ways over time, e.g. as a temporary number to objects that could not be correlated to a number in the Accession Register. This means that there are up to six numbers associated with some objects in the Wollaston collection.
 This range of numbers is of course incomplete, as 105 of the objects bearing H&L numbers have been given back to Wollaston.
 The Annual Report for the year 1928 notes that the Honorary Keeper of the New Guinea collection, Dr Haddon, ‘overhauled all the ethnographical specimens from Netherlands New Guinea, and installed as many as possible in the Andrews Gallery. The collections from the Utakwa River given by Dr Wollaston can now be conveniently studied.” The collection remained on display – with a brief interruption during the Second World War – until the refurbishment of the Museum in the 1980s.