Feather headdress from the Austral Islands

At the end of last year, Mark Hall, History Officer at Perth Museum & Art Gallery hosted the Perth leg of the project review for two weeks, with visits from Eve, Chantal and also Christofili Kefalas (Researcher of Maori material and British Museum Future Curators trainee). One of the most exciting discoveries has been the full recognition of the importance of a spectacular head-dress from the Austral Islands in the Perth collection.

Headdress from Tubuai, Austral Islands. The original Perth Museum register records this as ‘Cap worn by Tomatoa, Principle Chief of the Island of Tuhuca in the Australia group of the South Sea Islands’.

Headdress from Tubuai, Austral Islands. The original Perth Museum register records this as ‘Cap worn by Tomatoa, Principle Chief of the Island of Tuhuca in the Australia group of the South Sea Islands’.


This headdress of feathers affixed to a barkcloth structure was given to Perth Museum’s predecessor, The Perth Literary and Antiquarian Society, in 1843. It is shown on display in the Society’s Museum in one of only two photographs we have of the ethnography displays in the gallery in the rotunda.
The headdress can be seen just to the right of the central display of a Tahitian mourner’s costume. It is displayed with a number of hats and headgear.

The headdress can be seen just to the right of the central display of a Tahitian mourner’s costume. It is displayed with a number of hats and headgear.


In the 1930s the Director of the Bishop Museum in Hawaii Te Rangi Hiroa, also known as Peter Henry Buck, advised the then curator at Perth that Tamatoa was the name of a number of chiefs of the same ancestry on Tubuai in the Austral Islands.. The headdress has since then been attributed to Tubuai there does not seem to have been an island named ‘Tuhuca’. The headdress was published in Buck’s Art and Crafts of the Cook Islands (1944). There are two similar examples in the collection at the British Museum.

The headdress has for some time been recorded as being donated by Dr David Ramsay, a man who gave a significant collection of Maori material to the museum along with some outstanding Tahitian artefacts. However, the original register clearly states:
‘Presented by Gen Lindsay, Upper Craigie Perth,
No.1, Cape
[later corrected to ‘cap’] wore by Tomatoa Principle Chief of the Island of Tuhuca in the Australia Group of the South Sea Islands’
General Lindsay also donated a ceremonial staff of the Marquesas Islands at this time. A note below this entry states: ‘The above two articles from a Dr L MacLean’
Unfortunately we have not been able to find out any more about either of the men mentioned above but as always would welcome any information from readers.

Close up of the top of the headdress showing the plant fibre bindings which secure the feathers in place. The structure underneath the feathers is made of barkcloth and there is a barkcloth wrapping around the upper knot of the headdress.

Close up of the top of the headdress showing the plant fibre bindings which secure the feathers in place. The structure underneath the feathers is made of barkcloth and there is a barkcloth wrapping around the upper knot of the headdress.

– Eve

Advertisements