In February 1929, Australian Anthropologist Sir Baldwin Spencer and his secretary and companion, Ms Jean Hamilton, travelled to Tierra del Fuego to study Yaghan people, who they defined as a dying race. Two months later, it was Spencer who was dead, of heart failure. Lost and alone, it was up to Hamilton to bring the fruit of their ill-fated expedition home to Melbourne. The collection included photographs, cultural objects and detailed notes on Yaghan people, their culture and language. These were acquired into the Museums Victoria collection, where they have remained, barely touched, for 90 years. After Hamilton's return, English scholars published an account of the expedition, relying heavily on her account and Spencer's diary. While Hamilton worked full-time on the publication, she was not named as an author. The book, Spencer's Last Journey demonstrated typical colonial biases of the day, consigning Yaghan people to an exotic 'other', to be analysed at distance. Yaghan culture continues to thrive and evolve.
The Museums Victoria collection is an important bridge between Yaghan community and their past, however language and distance have so far prevented meaningful knowledge sharing. For this project, Museums Victoria will collaborate with the Yaghan community on Navarino Island, Chile to share knowledge that will breathe living culture and language back into the collection, while also giving the community access to information only available in the museum collection. The first step has been to digitise the collection, connecting names, dates and locations to all the material and to publish them online in both Spanish and English. It is also important to note that part of the collection remained with the Pitt Rivers Museum following the publication of the book and parts of that are now digitised and available via Pitt Rivers Online Collection Database.