Captain Sydney Mercer-Smith

Sydney Mercer-Smith (1857 – 1933) was a Queensland government agent on board the recruiting vessels for the Queensland Labour Trade from January 1893 – November 1903 (Edmondson 1984:77). Previous to this appointment Mercer-Smith had spent 14 years in the merchant marine and served as Navigating Lieutenant on the Queensland naval vessel Gayundah (Edmondson 1984:77). He then entered the labour trade in the year following the extension of the trade from 1890 to 1902, making 12 voyages on the recruiting vessels: Helena, Ariel, Fearless, Roderick Dhu, Rio Loge, Sybil, Lochiel and Sydney Belle (Turnbull 2013). After his last voyage in 1903 [?] Mercer-Smith served as Chief Examining Officer during the First World War and retired as a Commander of the Royal Australian Navy Reserve. He died in Brisbane 16 August 1933. The collection of Captain Sydney Mercer-Smith collected throughout the Islands, was donated to the UQ Anthropology Museum in 1951 by his son also Sydney Mercer-Smith. The collection comprises 126 objects with over half of these (55%) recorded as coming from the Solomon Islands, 28% from Papua New Guinea and the remainder recorded as from Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia and ‘Melanesia unspecified’. The types of things collected were typical of most collections formed this time that being items classified as ‘Equipment’ including mostly clubs, spears and bows (48%) and ‘Bodywear’ comprising mostly arm and nose ornaments, and combs (26%). Other items in the collection include: food containers, lime spatulas and rattles. References: Edmondson, C 1984, ‘The diaries of S.M. Smith Government Agent: a new light on the Pacific Islands labour trade’, in BJ (ed.), Lectures on North Queensland history, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, pp. 73-95. Turnbull, P 2013, Guide to sources for north Queensland history, Melbourne University, Parkville Victoria.

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