Accepted Paper:

Restoring a photographic record of the Marquesan past: The St George Expedition to the South Sea Islands, 1924-25  


Natasha McKinney

Paper short abstract:

The paper is focused on the limitations and potential of the photographic records from the St George Expedition to the Marquesas Islands, 1924-25, led by James Hornell.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the 1924-1925 St George Expedition to the South Sea Islands, directed by marine zoologist and ethnologist James Hornell, and the photographic record and object collection deriving from the expedition's visit to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. The expedition was the first and the last to be undertaken by the Scientific Expeditionary Research Association, which was established in 1922, with an Advisory Council made up of representatives from British scientific societies, and including leading anthropologists. Hornell defined the ethnological aims of the expedition in narrow terms and clearly considered himself as participating in 'salvage anthropology'. His enquiries and collecting were almost exclusively focussed on gathering evidence relating to the Marquesan past, rather than on contemporary life in the islands. Hornell, like others, considered there to be little value in examining post-contact Marquesan society, which had been dramatically affected by contact and colonisation. The photographs from the Expedition, now in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, are a visual manifestation of Hornell's research agenda, featuring megalithic architecture, and portraits of elderly, tattooed Marquesans. Thus, the expedition records taken as a whole present a limited view of Marquesan society, and represent a missed opportunity to more fully record knowledge and practices in the early twentieth century. However, the objects (now in the British Museum, MAA and the Pitt Rivers Museum) and the photographs are rare examples of their kind and the contemporary relevance of the collection for Marquesans is significant.

Panel P05
Reviving the archives as pictorial histories