Culture

Cambridge University Is Refusing To Return Aboriginal Artefacts Taken By Captain Cook

The university say returning the spears would damage the "integrity" of its collection.

England’s Cambridge University has rejected calls that it return to Australia a set of four Aboriginal spears, claiming that the removal of the artefacts would damage the “integrity” of its collection.

The spears were taken from Australia by Captain James Cook after a violent encounter between members of his crew and two men from the Gweagal tribe at Botany Bay in 1770. The Gweagal initially tried to repel the European landing party, but retreated after being fired upon.

Last November, Sydney man Rodney Kelly submitted a formal request that the spears be returned to Australia. Kelly claims to be a direct descendant of a Gweagal warrior named Cooman, who he says was shot in the leg during the altercation with Cook’s men.

On Friday, Kelly and a small group of protesters gathered outside the museum and held up an Aboriginal flag in front of the entrance.

In a statement to the university, Kelly said that “for the people of the Botany Bay region those spears represent who we and where we come from. They are symbolic of our tribe trying to piece our stolen culture back together.”

On Saturday, a museum spokesperson said that “removing parts of the Cook-Sandwich collection, which is of great historical, scientific and educational importance nationally and internationally, would cause considerable harm by depriving the collection of its integrity.”

According to the spokesperson, Kelly’s request “contains no clear proposal for housing and conserving the spears”. The university also disputed the claim that Cooman was one of the men encountered by Cook’s crew, and questioned Kelly’s ability to prove his descent.

“It is very important that any request for a change to the current situation of the spears should be made only after full consultation with accredited representatives of the Gweagal people,” the spokesperson said.

“It makes me angry they are trying these tactics to discredit me and my history,” Kelly told Reuters. “I want to do everything I can to bring those artefacts home for my people and every indigenous and non-indigenous person in Australia.”

h/t Cambridge News