Chance and wagon leaving Oodnadatta, Central Australia, March 1901

Walter Baldwin Spencer1901

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria
Carlton, Australia

Walter Baldwin Spencer, one of the founding fathers of anthropology in Australia, and Director of the then National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria) from 1899 to 1928, was invited to participate as zoologist and photographer in the Horn Scientific Expedition. This was the first primarily scientific expedition to study the natural history of Central Australia. The expedition took place from May to August 1894. At the end of the Expedition, at Alice Springs in July of 1894, Spencer met Frank J. Gillen, the operator of the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and the South Australian Government Sub-Protector of Aboriginal people. Gillen had for many years maintained an interest in and concern for the Arrernte Aboriginal people.
In 1901 Spencer and Gillen set out on an expedition together to study the Arrernte people, establish 'intimate relations with the natives' and study other groups between the Arrernte and the north coast. The only other European on the expedition was mounted trooper Chance, appointed by the South Australian Government, whose 'long experience of the Centre, his tact in dealing with the natives and his general handiness in all kinds of ways useful, in fact essential, in camp, from shoeing horses to cooking' made him invaluable. Two Aboriginal men were associated with the expedition for its duration, Erlikiliakirra and Purula. Erlikiliakirra, known as Warwick to the white men, was 'first-rate' and 'could pack horses and track them up splendidly' and became indispensable as translator. Other Aboriginal men were engaged for specific tasks when the expedition party made extended stays at certain Aboriginal camps to study the inhabitants. Erlikiliakirra was also known as ‘Jim Kite’.


  • Title: Chance and wagon leaving Oodnadatta, Central Australia, March 1901
  • Creator: Walter Baldwin Spencer, Francis J Gillen
  • Date Created: 1901
  • Physical Dimensions: w106 x h80 mm
  • Type: Image
  • Rights: Copyright expired. Source: Museum Victoria. Indigenous or Cultural Rights Apply
  • External Link: Museum Victoria Collections
  • Medium: Glass plate negative
  • Subject: expeditions, Aboriginal peoples (Australians), ethnology
  • Photographers: Walter Baldwin Spencer and Francis J Gillen
  • Artist Information: Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer (b. 23rd June 1860, Stretford, Lancashire, England, d. 14th July 1929, Tierra del Fuego, Chile) was a pioneering anthropologist and biologist. He was born was born on 23 June 1860 in England, and was educated at Old Trafford School and at the Manchester School of Art. He studied at Victoria University of Manchester, then moved to the University of Oxford in 1881 to study science under Professor H. N. Moseley, who combined enthusiasm for evolutionary biology with ethnological interests and a deep concern for his students. Baldwin Spencer came to Melbourne in 1887 to take-up the position as Professor of Biology at the University of Melbourne. Between 1899 and 1928, he served as the honorary director of the National Museum of Victoria. The 1894 Horn scientific exploring expedition to central Australia recruited Spencer as zoologist and photographer, and from 1896 Spencer teamed with Frank Gillen for intensive fieldwork, which was published in the important volume 'The Native Tribes of Central Australia' (1899), a text that was to strongly influence contemporary theories on social evolution and interpretations of the origins of art and ceremony. When the Commonwealth Government assumed control of the Northern Territory, Spencer led the 1911 Preliminary Scientific Expedition. Impressed with the findings of the expedition, the government appointed Spencer to Darwin for a year. As well as the substantial body of photography that resulted from these expeditions, Spencer and Gillen pioneered sound recording on wax cylinders and shot movie film in challenging conditions in remote areas of Australia. While visiting Oenpelli in the Northern Territory, in 1912, Spencer initiated the collection of over 200 bark paintings, which he donated with his entire ethnographic collection in 1917 to the National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria). The collection comprises his movies, wax cylinders and some 1700 photographic negatives. Francis J Gillen (b. 28 October 1855, Little Para, South Australia, d. 5 June 1912, Woodville, Adelaide, South Australia) was an ethnologist, born to Irish parents. Gillen joined the public service in 1867 as a postal messenger at Clare, South Australia. He was transferred to Adelaide in 1871, and worked as a telegraph operator. Gillen began work on the overland telegraph line in 1875, culminating with his appointment as Alice Springs Post and Telegraph Station Master in 1892. He was Alice Springs Special Magistrate and Aboriginal Sub-protector, and assisted the Horn Scientific Expedition to Central Australia in 1894. He met Walter Baldwin Spencer in 1894 during the Horn Expedition, and co-authored the seminal 'The Native Tribes of Central Australia' (1899) with Spencer. Gillen undertook expeditions with Spencer between 1901 and 1903, culminating in the book 'The Northern Tribes of Central Australia' (1904).

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