• The Gweagal shield taken by Captain Cook on display at the National Museum of Australia earlier this year. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Rare artefact belongs in Australia, say traditional owners in response to British Museum's latest offer over the shield taken by Captain Cook on his first visit to Australia.
Myles Morgan

22 Apr 2016 - 2:02 PM  UPDATED 22 Apr 2016 - 2:42 PM

What you need to know about the Gweagle Shield

  • It's a 1-metre long bark shield
  • Taken by Captain Cook's landing party in Botany Bay, 1770
  • Landing party fired on two Aboriginal men as they came ashore
  • On temporary display at the National Museum in Canberra

An ancient shield taken by Captain James Cook’s landing party in Sydney in 1770 could return to Australia under the right “loan conditions”.

The British Museum has written to the clan which claims ownership of the wooden Gweagle Shield after they protested in Canberra earlier this year. Gweagle man Rodney Kelly demanded the shield be surrendered by the British Museum during its temporary display in Canberra.

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The Gweagal shield on display: a 'first contact' artefact not yet returned
The shield which was taken from the Gweagal people of Botany Bay in 1770 by the crew of the Endeavour, remains a powerful artefact of first contact.

In a letter to Mr Kelly, the British Museum said it was possible the shield would again go to Australia.

“The British Museum does acknowledge that the shield represents a powerful symbol of early contact in Australia between the British and Aboriginal people of Botany Bay,” British Museum Deputy Director Jonathan Williams wrote.

“The Museum often lends objects around the world and is open to the possibility of lending the shield to Australia again.”

Gweagle man Rodney Kelly said he was grateful to start a dialogue with the British Museum but its position was still offensive.

“I think it’s an insult to our people wanting to loan us that when it should be ours to keep, ours to share with the world not theirs,” he told NITV.

The Gweagle Shield is a one-metre long bark shield. There is a small hole near its centre, possibly a bullet hole.

In his record of his first visit to Australia, Captain Cook noted that his landing party fired on two Aboriginal men at Botany Bay who opposed their coming ashore.

It’s believed the shield was taken by one of Cook’s men at some point on that day in April 1770.

“It means a lot to me and my people because it connects us to the warrior who was there on that day in 1770 and it just means so much for it to be brought back to us, and for the people of Australia.”

The British Museum told Mr Kelly the shield would need to be displayed under strict conditions if it returned to Australia.

“All decisions regarding the loan of objects for the collections are made by our Trustees, taking into account normal considerations of security, environment and so on,” Jonathan Williams wrote.

“For a further loan to Australia, there would need to be a host institution that meets the loan conditions which is acceptable to all parties.”

Mr Kelly agreed that the shield should be displayed in a place where it will be preserved by professionals.

“We don’t want to store it in our places. We don’t have the resources or anything for that. We want to see it in a museum so everybody can go and see it and learn the story of that day.”