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A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island in Northern Vanuatu


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Collection No. T-5291
Size 37cm x 39cm
A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island  in Northern Vanuatu
A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island  in Northern Vanuatu
A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island  in Northern Vanuatu
A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island  in Northern Vanuatu
A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island  in Northern Vanuatu
A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island  in Northern Vanuatu
A Rare 19th Century Wood Back Ornament, Espiritu Santo Island  in Northern Vanuatu

This rare and beautiful 19th Century Men’s Back Ornament is from Espiritu Santo Island in Samna Province in Northern Vanuatu ( formerly known as The New Hebrides Islands)

It would have been worn only by a man of a certain grade in the men’s secret societies for which Vanuatu is well known. Artworks and Ornaments were made specifically for levels or grades in the men’s secret societies. I have looked very hard for a historical photo of a man wearing one of these ornaments but I haven’t found it yet, I am sure that one exists. If you see a photo of one being worn could you please let me know?

The fine ovoid form is flat on the side it would have rested on the man’s back. There is pecked designs around the edge of the wood ornament, it has a fine tree bark string belt decorated with old trade beads that was used to attach it to your waist.

Provenance: Captain William Campbell Thomson ( 1851 – 1934 ).  The Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic Art 

William Campbell Thomson was born in 1855 in Glasgow, Scotland.  Captain William Campbell Thomson’s obituary notes that he commanded A.U.S.N. steamers from 1875 to 1919 most notably, the “Arawatta”, “Aramac”, “Levuka”, “Wyreema”, “Wyandra” and “Wodonga”.

During his 44 years of service, he traveled the eastern Australian coast, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Fiji and other parts of the South Pacific. Thomson was a well-respected seaman who was the author of at least three publications including “The Gulf of Carpentaria”, “History of the N.E. Coast of Australia” and “The Early History of Australia”.

He was captain of the Croydon when it was chartered by Alexander Agassiz, the famous American scientist, and engineer, on a voyage from Brisbane to Cooktown in April/May 1896.

Thomson gathered a very fine collection of Oceanic and Aboriginal artworks including items from inhabitants of northern Queensland, PNG, and Fiji.