The wreck of the Charles Eaton on the Great Barrier Reef in 1834 is one of Australia’s most infamous maritime disasters. The majority of the survivors were massacred by headhunters although two boys—John Ireland and William D’Oyle—survived, being adopted by Torres Strait Islanders. Captain Lewis of the Isabella, who eventually rescued the boys, brought back to Australia a headhunters’ ‘mask’ mounted with the skulls of those who died. Two vastly different images of this mask survive: a reading of Brockett (1836) suggests that the author himself sketched the mask during its transportation to a museum in Australia, while a differing sketch in Curtis (1838) is also claimed to be a reproduction of the original. Reportage of the grisly aftermath of the wreck of the Charles Eaton was given international coverage (McInnes 1981), with Goodman claiming that ‘no other shipwreck had been so widely and closely publicized’ (Goodman 2005), yet details of this reportage were conflicting, particularly the published images of the headhunters’ mask. As no evidence of an Indigenous account of the massacre exists, it is the purpose of this paper is to investigate the facts of the existent European accounts surrounding the discovery of the mask; to inquire into which of the two surviving images might be a true representation of the original and to trace what became of the mask following its arrival in Australia.
|Keywords:||Colonial Images, Masks, Charles Eaton, Headhunters|
Associate Professor in Creative Writing, School of Communication, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Caost, Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia