Aboriginal spears taken by Captain Cook to be repatriated to Australia

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Aboriginal spears taken by Captain Cook are to be returned by the University of Cambridge.

James Cook acquired the artefacts in the 1770s from the Gweagal clan, which greeted the British explorer when he first landed in Australia, and they were later donated to Trinity College.

The four spears will now be returned after 250 years and a 20-year campaign for repatriation by the descendants of the clan Cook first encountered at Botany Bay.

Professor Nicholas Thomas, director of the university’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) where the spears have been held, said: “They are the first artefacts collected by any European from any part of Australia that remain extant and documented.

“They reflect the beginnings of a history of misunderstanding and conflict.

“Their significance will be powerfully enhanced through return to (the) country.”

Dame Sally Davies, master of Trinity College, said returning the spears was the “right decision”.

The four spears, of which community leader Ray Ingrey says are ‘part of a dreaming story that tells us how our people came to be’ Credit: PA

The multi-pointed spears were swept up from a camp soon after the British arrived in Australia aboard the HMS Endeavor, and of the 40 taken, four were presented to Trinity when the voyagers returned.

Cambridge has now agreed to return the spears following a new formal request in December, and they will be handed over to the community of La Perouse, based in Botany Bay near Sydney.

Noeleen Timbery, La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council chairperson, welcomed the repatriation, saying they were “enormously significant artefacts to the La Perouse Aboriginal community”.

Ray Ingrey, a community leader among the Dharawal people – of which the Gweagal are a part – also welcomed their return.

He told the BBC: “It’s part of a dreaming story that tells us how our people came to be. So not only that they’re over 253 years old, and gives us a window into our historic past, but also toward that spiritual connection, which makes it so more important.”

The return of the spears comes amid a shift in policy toward repatriation at Cambridge and follows the decision to return the university’s large collection of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.

This has proved contentious in Nigeria itself, where there are competing claims to the bronzes from the Benin royal family and the Nigerian government.

Source: telegraph.co.uk