Colonial Ambitions and Collecting Anxieties on Western Australian Frontiers

Nicola Froggatt

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis analyses the ensemble of Aboriginal objects in British and Irish
museums to assess what, how and why Aboriginal cultural material from
Western Australia was collected during the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries (c. 1828–1914). It explores the uses and meanings that Aboriginal
belongings accrued in non-Aboriginal contexts, asking how British collectors
understood and deployed them to uphold their own anxieties and ambitions.

The study begins by examining distinct yet intersecting impulses that fed
much collecting activity: the notion of a ‘colonial frontier’; the interplay
between individuals’ experiences across different British colonies; and the
significance of mining activity. Each offers a different view of how the
personal and the political informed collecting. ‘Ethnographic’ collections are
often discussed in relation to material acquired at similar points in time.
However, within Western Australia it is thematic lenses rather than
chronological parameters that offer the richest insights into collectors’

Collectors frequently related their activities closely to Aboriginal peoples’
perceived capabilities, ‘usefulness’ and potential for assimilation into colonial
society. For many, ideological narratives emphasising Aboriginal peoples’
supposed temporal and spatial ‘remoteness’ from Europeans intersected with
closer personal experiences. Subsequent chapters develop this argument by
examining how items were curated at international exhibitions in France and
Scotland at the turn of the twentieth century, and how some British and Irish
anthropologists operated in Western Australia between 1910 and 1912.
These events were marked by a complex interplay between the personal and
the political, and by strategic attempts to obscure the agency of Aboriginal

The experiences, ambitions and anxieties of collectors and others involved in
collecting offer important insights into colonial processes and ideologies.
Tracing these reveals how ideas about the supposed past, present and future
life of Western Australia’s Aboriginal peoples were upheld, complicated and
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Laidlaw, Zoe, Supervisor
  • Ansari, Sarah, Supervisor
  • Manktelow, Emily, Advisor
  • Sculthorpe, Gaye, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Apr 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021


  • Collecting
  • Museum Collecting
  • Australia
  • Aboriginal Australians
  • Colonial ideology
  • racism

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