Setting the Records Straight

Written by Dave Parkhill,  Assistant Collection Manager (Archaeology).

In 2015 the Queensland Museum commenced a rehousing of the Archaeological Collection, which includes almost 1000 pieces of antiquities. This grouping includes such diverse items as Roman lamps, Greek glassware and Egyptian funeral objects. This was seen as a perfect opportunity to research material that had been donated decades ago and to ensure the information we had in our database was as accurate as we could make it. 

One task involved researching the donation history of objects gifted by Ken Jackson, who collected them whilst on active service with the 2/9th Infantry Battalion of the Australian Army, during the Second World War.

In 1937, George Kenneth Jackson joined the Queensland Museum as a cadet, and quickly became a valued member of Queensland Museum. Ken, as he preferred to be known, joined the Australian Army at the outbreak of WW2 and, until his untimely death in 1943, maintained his passion for the Museum, collecting a wide variety of artefacts and natural history specimens on our behalf.

In the course of my research I accessed original letters held in the QM Library and Archives, which allowed me to recognise several anomalies in the database that were rectified. These included problems such as locations with incorrect spelling; broad or ambiguous locations such as “United Kingdom”; and inconsistencies in the collectors numbering methodology.

Part of the problem in dealing with hand written correspondence is, of course, the legibility of the script. Given the conditions Jackson was often writing under this problem can only be exacerbated. In fact, in one letter from Ken to Heber Longman, then Director of the Queensland Museum, he apologises for “…this scratchy note…”

Extract of personal correspondence from Jackson to QM 6th January 1941

Added to the complications of legibility was the intentional removal or absence of information.  Correspondence from service personnel was subject to military censorship, and this is evident in at least two letters Ken wrote to the Queensland Museum. One letter clearly shows that it had fallen prey to the censor’s razor, and we can only wonder what information was removed.   It could well have told us the exact location of a find site, but unfortunately we will never know.  The other letter gives us an idea into Ken’s ingenuity, writing “I cannot as yet tell you the local name, but they come from the old Roman town of Camoldunum.”  As  Camoldunum was the Roman name for the town that became Colchester, in the English county of Essex, Jackson was telling us exactly where he found these artefacts.

extract of personal correspondence from Jackson to QM 18th July 1940
Extract of personal correspondence from Jackson to QM 18th July 1940
Extract of personal correspondence from Jackson to QM 3rd November 1941
Extract of personal correspondence from Jackson to QM 3rd November 1941

Like many collectors, Jackson used his own system to number and record his finds: using the letter J as the prefix followed by sequential numbers. This system would normally work well, except Ken was a prolific collector across many disciplines, and his numbering was consecutive. At first glance it appeared  that there were items missing from the Archaeology Collection but this was  resolved by the knowledge that he simply continued the numbering sequence across his archaeological, biological and palaeontological collections.  Added to this was the fact that amongst the Jackson material were seven objects labelled L1 – L7.  Correspondence shows that these were in fact collected by Captain B. M. Lovett, Jackson’s commanding officer, and given to Ken for the Queensland Museum, hence the prefix L.

Extract of personal correspondence from Jackson to QM 21st December 1941
Extract of personal correspondence from Jackson to QM 21st December 1941

This project, and others like it, will continue to add important information to our knowledge of the Queensland Museum’s Archaeological Collection, and ensure the information in the database is as complete as it can be, as well as providing strong insights into the personal lives of the collectors.


I would like to thank Dr Michael Quinnell and Jeff Hopkins – Weise, both ex Queensland Museum employees, for the biographical research carried out on Ken Jackson.

Join us as we celebrate National Archaeology Week 16 – 20 May 2016. Queensland Museum curators and their favourite collections as they delve into our fascinating past with daily Meet the Curator sessions in the Discovery Centre at 1pm.

See the Museum’s ancient Book of the Dead as well as see mummified animals from Ancient Egypt. You will hear about colonial life in Queensland as discovered through the Mill Point Archaeological Project and get an opportunity to touch and feel Aboriginal stone tools and learn how they are made and used.

Discovery Centre, Level 3, Queensland Museum, Cnr Melbourne & Grey streets, South Brisbane.