Trail of martyr's remains goes cold

March 24, 1995

Home Office delays are preventing the final chapter being written in an archaeological quest to recover the head of Yagan, an assassinated Aboriginal leader.

Southampton University postgraduate Cressida Fforde spent four years combing archives in Britain and Australia to trace the gruesome trophy. She established that a mass grave in Everton cemetery in Liverpool was the resting place for the head, which both the Australian government and present-day Aborigine leaders want repatriated.

The head was buried in 1964 along with other human remains no longer required by Liverpool City Museum, including another Aborigine head and a Peruvian mummy. However, the trail has been cold for the past year while the Home Office attempts to locate the parents of 20 stillborn babies also buried in the mass grave, to seek their formal permission for the remains to be disturbed while Yagan is disinterred.

"An advert has been placed in a Liverpool paper to try and contact those parents whose address is unknown," said Ms Fforde. "The amount of progress is abysmal."

Ms Fforde's research began when she was contacted by Ken Colbung, president of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, who had been searching for the head since the 1960s. Yagan is regarded as a martyr in Western Australia and there is a statue of him in Perth. He was killed in 1833 by bounty hunters after leading an attack against white settlers who had murdered his brother.

Yagan's head was cut off and smoked in a hollow eucalyptus tree to preserve it before being bought by a soldier who took it to England. Unable to sell the head, the soldier donated it to the Liverpool Royal Institution, which loaned it to Liverpool City Museum.

A request for exhumation was made last year by Mr Colbung, supported by the Australian government. But this week the Home Office would only say it was still under consideration.

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