Ms Mary Mcmahon

Supervised by

Research interests

Picturing Indigenous Australia in the British Museum

Colonial depictions of Aboriginal people have been held in museums in the United Kingdom since the nineteenth century, often treated as supplementary to ethnographic object collections. Prior to entering these institutions, they played an influential part in ‘knowledge’ generation and imperial messaging in Britain. This thesis investigates the significant pictorial collection of early colonial representations of Indigenous Australians in drawings, paintings and print held in the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum, to illuminate their role in colonial, imperial and Australian Indigenous histories. Together with images in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Museum, and related institutions, this collection contains works by many well-known colonial artists working in early-nineteenth-century Australia. They demonstrate the range of visual records circulating to Britain in the early-nineteenth century and how pictorial works informed public understanding of colonial acts and ideas of humanity and civilisation, when both concepts were in flux across Britain’s empire. 


Educational background

MA, History of Design, Victoria and Albert Museum/ Royal College of Art. 

BA, History of Art, University College London.


Funding and Awards 

2016-2020: AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Studentship.

2017; 2018-2019: AHRC Student Development Fund (to support placements at the British Library and the British Museum).

2018: RHUL, History Postgraduate Forum, Second Place.

2017: RHUL, History Poster Presentation, First Place.



2018-2019: Seminar Tutor (HIST0008:'Making History'), University College London

2019-2020: Seminar Tutor (HIST0008:'Making History'), University College London


Talks and Conferences

Co-organised the two-day multidisciplinary online workshop ‘Teaching through objects: engaging students with material culture in university and public settings’ (26-27 November 2020).

Co-facilitated workshop, ‘Decolonizing Higher Education’, Montgomery College, Rockville, MD (28 October 2020).

'The Davis Collection: visual sources and pseudoscience', Research Slam, The British Museum (25 February 2020).

‘Illustrating Empire: The Depiction of Aboriginal Australians in British Periodicals, 1834-1886’, Royal Holloway Postgraduate History seminar (20 February 2019).

‘Valuing the visual: the colonial print in a pseudoscientific British collection’conference paper, Graphic Encounters and the Inscription of Indigeneity, organised by La Trobe University, held at University of Melbourne (7 November 2018).

‘Challenging Objects: The "Galerie Anthropologique"’, Challenging Histories Workshop, Victoria and Albert Museum (6 July 2018).

'Introduction to the Enlightenment Gallery and Captain Cook at the British Museum', UCL Widening participation group, The British Museum (19 June 2018).

‘Interpreting the Image as Scientific Source: The Collection of Joseph Barnard Davis’, Royal Holloway Postgraduate Research Forum (24 April 2018).

‘Picturing the Antipodes: race, image and empire in 19th-century Britain’, Göttingen Summer School (26 July 2017).

‘Depictions of Indigenous Australians in the "Galerie Anthropologique": Objecthood and Interpretation’, Material Matters: the Place of Objecthood in Academia and the Museum, The National Gallery (25 October 2017).



'Valuing the visual: the colonial print in a scientific British collection’in the edited volume Graphic Encounters and the Inscription of Indigeneity (Miegunyah Press, expected 2022).

Exhibition Review: 'What it is to be here: Colonisation and Resistance' (The Portico Library), Journal of Museum Ethnography, No.34 (2021).

Contributor to Reimagining Captain Cook: Pacific Perspectives, exhibition publication, British Museum, London (2019). 


Other work conducted during PhD

Co-curator of Reimagining Captain Cook: Pacific Perspectives at the British Museum (April 2018 - August 2019).

Co-convenor of the Royal Holloway History Department’s Postgraduate Research Seminar Series (2017-2019).

Contributor to MOOC ‘Confronting Captain Cook: Memorialisation in museums and public spaces’, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (2018).

PhD Research Placement relating to exhibition James Cook: The Voyages at the British Library (June-September 2017).



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