Theft in the name of science

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  • Published 20080902
  • ISBN: 9780733322839
  • Extent: 296 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

DURING THE NINETEENTH and early twentieth centuries, numerous skulls and skeletons of Queensland Aboriginal people found their way into museums and scientific collections throughout the world. These bones were greatly prized as evidence strengthening now long-discredited theories of
human racial diversity which had pernicious consequences for Indigenous Australians still not yet
fully overcome.

I have found many documents surviving in archives and libraries telling of the theft of Aboriginal bones in Queensland. But one of the most disturbing accounts of how they were procured is to be found in Queensland’s State Library in the unpublished memoirs of Korah Halcomb Wills. He was a butcher by trade. After some years in Melbourne, Wills moved in the mid-1860s to the port town of Bowen, where he managed a hotel. In his memoirs, he tells of how the growth of pastoralism in the region was the cause
of violent conflict with the Birri-Gubba and other local Aboriginal peoples. Resistance became so fierce that local pastoralists lobbied the colony’s government for a detachment of Native Police to be stationed in
the region.

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About the author

Paul Turnbull

Paul Turnbull is a historian and professor in the School of Humanities, Griffith University.

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