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Mithina objects loan to TMAG link Derbyshire

Two objects linked to 19th century Australian girl loaned to Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Glossop Chronicle, 9 October 2022

Derbyshire County Council’s Record Office has loaned two objects to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) that shine a light on colonialism.

The objects are a pincushion and a doll associated with Mithina, an indigenous Australian girl, who was adopted by Sir John and Lady Franklin while Sir John was Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (modern Tasmania) in 1837 to 1843. Mithina, also known as Methinna and Mathinna, was born around 1835 and died young at the age of around 17 or 18.

The pincushion is thought to have been made by Mithina, and the doll is thought to have belonged to her.

TMAG is staging an exhibition called ‘taypani milaythina-tu: Return to Country’ and the objects will be an important part of that.

Mithina was born on Flinders Island and lived during a very turbulent period for the indigenous people of Tasmania. The island was where the last remnants of aboriginal Tasmanian population were exiled by the colonial British government.

When the Franklins returned to England Mithina, aged eight, was left behind. She was moved around several times, including periods at an orphan school, and her short life was not easy.

Eleanor Franklin, Sir John’s daughter, married John Philip Gell of Hopton Hall, Wirksworth, which is how the doll and pincushion ended up in Derbyshire. The Gell family archive is deposited at the record office and contains records, maps, correspondence and diaries from the 13th century to the 20th, as well as a few small objects.

The objects will be on show at the museum, in Hobart, Tasmania, until 12 February 2023, after which they will remain at TMAG for a further 18 months for research and engagement activities, returning to DRO in August 2024.

With so few records surviving about Mithina, the doll and pincushion are a highlight of the exhibition, and TMAG has used the image of the doll on exhibition banners on the front of the museum’s building.

Councillor Barry Lewis, Derbyshire County Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Strategic Leadership, Culture, Tourism and Climate Change, used to be involved with the Australian Museum in Sydney, and is an expert in Aboriginal rock art in the Sydney region.

He said: “I spent a lot of time looking at Aboriginal responses to colonisation in rock art, so I find this particularly fascinating.

“Mithina’s story is a sobering one about the sad history of Tasmania, and indigenous people in general, at that time, and we’re glad to help the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery tell that story.

“The request to borrow the objects is a welcome outcome of Derbyshire Record Office’s ‘Discovering Franklin’ cataloguing project, funded by Archives Revealed, which has significantly raised the profile of the Franklin material in the Gell family archive at DRO.”

The archive continues to provoke interest from around the world as well as locally, and while the doll and pincushion are in Tasmania, letters and images from the archive are on display in an exhibition about the Franklin Expedition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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