From Matlock to Tasmania

We are delighted that we have been able to loan two items from our collections to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) for their ‘taypani milaythina-tu: Return to Country’ exhibition.  This high profile and ground-breaking exhibition brings together Tasmanian cultural objects held in institutions around the world alongside creative work by twenty Tasmanian Aboriginal artists.

The two objects are a doll and a pincushion relating to Mathinna (sometimes spelled Methinna), an indigenous Australian girl who was adopted by Sir John and Lady Franklin during the period that Sir John was Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (modern Tasmania) in 1837 to 1843. When the Franklin’s returned home they left Mathinna behind; abandoned to a life of poverty, she lived at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart, and died at a young age, the precise date of which is unknown.

When the doll arrived at DRO it was labelled ‘Aboriginal Doll’, so we think it’s likely to have been Mathinna’s; we know that she was given her own doll by the Franklins. It’s clear it’s been well loved, as it now looks rather the worse for wear.

The pincushion is made of brown silk with a pink ribbon and is labelled as having been made by Mathinna. Sewing it would have been part of her education as a young girl brought up in a ‘genteel’ family.

Mathinna’s life with the Franklins makes her a figure of cultural significance in Tasmania and she has inspired many literary works and dance productions there. Little survives of her, so the pincushion made by her, and the doll which may have belonged to her, are of particular importance. 

The doll and pincushion were discovered whilst we were working on our ‘Discovering Franklin’ cataloguing project, funded by Archives Revealed. After a little research into Mathinna we got in touch with TMAG to tell them about our discovery, with the end result that they have now flown 10,000 miles to go on exhibition. The taypani milaythina-tu: Return to Country exhibition runs until February 2023, after which the doll and pincushion will remain at TMAG for a further 18 months for research and engagement activities.

Meanwhile, letters and images from our Franklin collection are featured in an exhibition about the Franklin Expedition somewhat closer to home – you can see them on display at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery until 9 August 2023.

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