Collections without End

The Ghostly Presences of Captain Matthew McVicker-Smyth and his Western Australian Mineral Collection in the State Library of Western Australia

in Volume 6 (2018): Issue 1 (Jul 2018)

The discovery of five photographs in 2018 in the State Library of Western Australia led us to the existence of a forgotten private museum housing the collection of Captain Matthew McVicker Smyth in early-twentieth-century Perth. Captain Smyth was responsible for the selling of Nobel explosives used in the agriculture and mining industries. The museum contained mineral specimens in cases alongside extensive, aesthetically organized displays of Australian Aboriginal artifacts amid a wide variety of ornaments and decorative paintings. The museum reflects a moment in the history of colonialism that reminds us today of forms of dispossession, of how Aboriginal people were categorized in Australia by Western worldviews, and of the ways that collectors operated. Our re-creation brings back into existence a significant Western Australian museum and opens up a new discussion about how such private collections came into existence and indeed, in this instance, about how they eventually end.

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