By Barry Craig. Continued from OAS Journal Vol.21 No.3.
In this issue of the OAS Journal, I provide a short biography and a sample of the collections of:
Walter Mansell Balfour Ogilvy and Harry Lort Spencer Balfour Ogilvy
The two Ogilvy brothers from Renmark will be considered together but as Parts 5, 6. They both served with distinction in the Boer War (along with their other two brothers Grahame and Ingelram, half-brother Francis Allan Percy Wylie and their farmhand, Harry ‘The Breaker’ Morant). Walter and Harry enlisted together for service in the AN&MEF and embarked together on the SS Eastern, 28 November 1914. Both collected ‘native curios’ in New Guinea. Most of those collected by Walter went to the Department of Defence in Melbourne for a future ‘War Museum’. Most of those collected by Harry (c. 130 items) came to the South Australian Museum (some were retained by the family).
The Ogilvys were descended through a long line of landed gentry and noblemen dating back to, and beyond, George Balfour of Strathor, Sir Richard Mansel of Missenden, King Edward III, Thomas Holland (1st Earl of Kent) and Joan Plantagenet in the 14th century. Many were successful military leaders, as were the ancestors of the Ogilvy brothers’ step-father Frank Saville Wyllie, and this seems to have deeply influenced the careers of Walter and Harry.1
Walter Mansell Balfour Ogilvy
In the Nominal Roll for ‘D’ Company of the Special Tropical Forces, Walter’s ‘Trade or Calling’ is listed as ‘Soldier’. Harry was listed as ‘Auctioneer’ and was a land valuer, and insurance, shipping and general commission agent in Renmark. Both brothers were highly respected citizens in the Renmark district.
At the outbreak of WW1, Walter was a journalist for the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record and during his time in New Guinea, he wrote many articles for it. ‘In German New Guinea. A Trip up the Sepic [Sepik] River’ was published 21 December 1917 p.7. This trip took place around September 1916. Walter sent over fifty items collected on the Sepik River to Rabaul, which were forwarded to the Department of Defence in Melbourne and became part of the War Museum Collection now held by Museum Victoria (see Craig, Vanderwal & Winter 2015).
After enlistment, Walter was almost immediately promoted to Lieutenant and in February 1915 was posted as District Officer to Madang. He was promoted to Captain in October 1915. He returned to Australia on furlough January to April 1916 and took up duty at Kokopo near Rabaul upon returning to New Guinea. He terminated his service in June 1917.
While stationed in Madang, he sent to his wife ‘a parcel of spears and a fascinatingly hideous idol’; subsequently, a ‘comprehensive collection of savage trophies’ was on its way to the Renmark Institute to be used to raise funds ‘for the Belgian relief’ (Murray Pioneer 1 July 1915, p.5). Some of these were displayed at the Institute (Murray Pioneer 3 February 1916, p.5). It is not clear what happened to those collections.
When Walter returned to Renmark at the termination of his service with the AN&MEF, he ‘brought with him some interesting and valuable trophies, acquired during a trip among the cannibals on the great Sepic river . . . These are “painted heads” – skulls very skilfully prepared by the Kanakas after they have eaten the original owners of them, faced with very fine clay masks and shaped and coloured to represent the head of the original in life. Despite their cannibal practices, the warlike natives of the little known Sepic districts are declared by Capt. Ogilvy to be quite a decent sort of people’.2
A week later, the newspaper announced the collection ‘is now on view at Mr. Holden’s shop, where it may be viewed at the cost of a few pence’, the proceeds to be used for the Renmark Soldiers’ Memorial (27.4.1917, p.4). Twelve over-modelled Sepik River skulls were purchased by the museum from ‘Major Ogilvy’ at a later date (A.9744–9755), seven of which are currently on display in the Pacific Cultures Gallery. It is possible that either Harry’s rank as Major was attributed to Walter or Harry sold them to the Museum on Walter’s or the Renmark Institute’s behalf.
In an article titled ‘Trade With Natives’,3 Walter alluded to the means by which he acquired these ‘trophies’:
Most of the New Guinea natives are keen to trade and will barter almost any of their worldly possessions for our iron goods. Stone axes, knives, clubs, bows, arrows, spears, drums, skulls of their relatives may be had in exchange for knives, axes and tomahawks. Canoes even, beautifully carved, have been exchanged for a few knives.
It is now known that there were two kinds of over-modelled skulls (nambu) among the Iatmul of the middle Sepik: those prepared from the skulls of slain enemies (Bateson 1932:262) and those prepared from the skulls of a dead relative as part of the funerary rituals (Wassmann 1991:73-80). The process of preparing the skull at Kandingai, a western Iatmul village, was told to Wassmann in the early 1970s:
If a man of importance dies, he is placed on a bier in his dwelling house. Throughout the night the women hold a wake; they weep and sing mourning songs (nglasa kundi). The men assemble in the men’s ceremonial house. The following morning the corpse is interred. One month later the grave is opened and the head severed from the body. It is cleaned and washed and a rattan cord is passed through the ear holes and tied tightly under the lower jaw so that it does not fall open; the skull is then placed on a bamboo . . . and exposed to dry in the sun for five or six days.
Meanwhile an oil obtained from a type of tree known as ngwat is mixed with red clay (nguapma) and the pulp of a few gourds (kwayavu) and kneaded into a firm paste. Once the skull is dry, a portrait is modelled on it with this paste, first the nose, then the mouth, eyebrows, eyes, ears and chin. This work was formerly done by the women; today it is the task of the men of the deceased’s clan.
The portrait skull was then placed on the peg-neck of a mannequin and decorated with ornaments and personal possessions of the dead man, and became the abode of the ghost of the dead man. The mannequin then became the focus of the mortuary rituals.
In this western Iatmul village, the portrait skull was kept only for a few months and then destroyed to prevent the ghost of the dead man returning to the village to cause mischief. In other Iatmul villages, it appears that the portrait skulls of particular individuals were kept for many years, even generations (see the story of Mwaim, Bateson 1932: 406).
Bateson, G. 1932. Social Structure of the Iatmul People of the Sepik River. Oceania II, 3,4: 245-291, 401-453.
Craig, B., R. Vanderwal and C. Winter. 2015. War Trophies or Curios? The War Museum Collection in Museum Victoria 1915-1920. Melbourne: Museum Victoria Publishing.
Wassmann, J. 1991. The Song to the Flying Fox. Boroko: National Research Institute. Renmark’s Fighting Stock, Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record 12 November 1914, p.4.  Murray Pioneer 20 April 1917, p.4.  Murray Pioneer 8 July 1915, p.7.