Author: Rosita Henry
Collector: John Gaggin
Born: Ballycotton, Ireland, circa 1841
Died: Melbourne, Victoria, 8 June 1920, aged 79
Active : John Gaggin began collecting Aboriginal artefacts in the Wet Tropics region during the 1880s. He continued to collect in the region into the early twentieth century.
Background biography: John Gaggin came to North Queensland on 26 August 1883, having been persuaded by his friend, John Archibald Boyd (Archie) to join him at Ripple Creek Plantation near Ingham. The two had met in Fiji in 1869 where they had become fast friends.
After Gaggin joined Boyd, he initially worked as the storemaster at Ripple Creek Plantation, which Boyd managed for his brother, Mitchell Boyd. According to J.A. Boyd’s diaries, Gaggin spent much time with him exploring the countryside and generally enjoying life, hunting and fishing.
Gaggin accompanied Boyd to Java, Indonesia, in 1890 to search for labour for the plantation. The two men maintained a lifelong friendship. Gaggin was a witness at Boyd’s wedding to Jeanie in 1894 and even dedicated his book, Among the Man-eaters (1900), to Boyd, ‘old chum and comrade’.
Although the nature and extent of Gaggin’s collecting practices are unclear, there is evidence that he was interested in a least one type of artefact, the carved and painted anthropomorphic firemaker from the North Queensland rainforest region. Gaggin visited A.J. North, of the Australian Museum, in 1896 and gave him one of these objects as a gift. In a letter dated 8th February 1896, North wrote to J.A. Boyd of Gaggin’s visit that “He gave me one of his Tikowinnas, a charm which now descends from the handle of the dilly-bag you gave Mrs North when passing through to England”.
This particular artefact is probably one and the same as the artefact labelled E11411, in the Australian Museum, Sydney. The firemaker (E11411) which is described as a tikovina was offered to the Museum by a Dr J. Sanders in exchange for two boomerangs on 5 March 1903. Dr Sanders’ address at the time was c/- A.J. North.
John Gaggin provided information to the Curator of the Australian Museum, R. Etheridge, on this particular artefact (Letter from R. Etheridge to J.A. Boyd, 4 March 1903). Gaggin also was the informant who told the anthropologist A.W. Howitt about the narrative beliefs and practices of Aboriginal people of the Herbert River region associated with this uniquely shaped firemaking tool. From his account it is clear that these objects had symbolic significance for people of the Herbert River that went well beyond their utilitarian value (Howitt 1904: 498-99).
A photograph of one such firemakers given to Howitt by Gaggin appears in Howitt (1904: 499). this particular firemaker is now held in the Victoria Museum, Melbourne (Registration no. X983)
Gaggin, J. 1900. Among the Man-Eaters. London: T.FisherUnwin
Howitt, A. W. 1904. Native Tribes of South-East Australia. London: Macmillan and Co.