The William Walford Thorpe Collection 1900-1932



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The William Walford Thorpe Collection consists of approximately 575 objects collected and donated by Thorpe, first member of the Department of Ethnology at the Australian Museum. It comprises of numerous artefacts, largely from within Australia, which contributed greatly to the Museums early collection of Aboriginal Indigenous artefacts.

William Walford Thorpe began working at the Australian Museum in 1899, taking on various roles including labourer, night-watchman and gallery attendant, and in 1900, an assistant to curator Robert Etheridge, who was responsible for contributing to the museums anthropological collections. In 1906, Thorpe was made the first member of the Department of Ethnology, despite the fact that, at twenty six, he wasn’t formally educated, and had only received his training working for Etheridge. Thorpe worked in the Department of Ethnology until 1932.

Throughout the 1920’s, Thorpe took part in numerous field trips to various locations in New South Wales, including Dark Point, Newcastle, Sydney, Morna Point and Port Stephens. Much material collected was during these trips, and form a large part of the collection.

Thorpe collected and donated over 575 objects to the Australian Museum from 1901 to 1935. Most of the objects come from various locations around Australia, though there are also various objects from India, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Micronesia, Niue and Tonga. A wide range of objects were collected, including stone axes, tools and other artefacts, arrows, fish hooks, pigment, textiles, arm ornaments, bark cloths and human bones.

Thorpe’s role in collecting and donating ethnographic material to the Australian Museum was significant. The first museum catalogue from 1837 only listed 25 objects of Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait background, and only 21 more were added from 1840 to 1854. At this time, there was a greater interest in mineralogical and zoological material. Whilst Pacific collections were actively collected after the Garden Palace Fire in 1882, it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that the Indigenous Aboriginal collection was expanded, largely due to people like Etheridge and Thorpe.


Ethnography; Field work; Indigenous artefacts

Indigenous Australian peoples

Coverage Spatial

Papua New Guinea; Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; Morna Point, New South Wales, Australia; Samoa; Niue; Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia; India; Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia; Dark Point, New South Wales, Australia Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Micronesia, Niue, Tonga; Micronesia; Tonga

Coverage Temporal




2012-05-30 23:42

2011-03-24 10:21