Richard and Phebe Parkinson, Two of the Most Prolific Collectors in the Bismarck Archipelago Richard and Phebe Parkinson, Two of the Most Prolific Collectors in the Bismarck Archipelago By Rainer Buschmann Richard Parkinson (1844–1909) and his wife Phebe (aka. Phoebe 1863–1944) were among the most prolific ethnographic collectors in German New Guinea. The Parkinson family collected well over 10,000 artifacts and Richard Parkinson would pen important ethnographic books, the most prominent of them, Thirty Years in the South Seas, was recently translated into English. According to some sources, Richard Parkinson was born as the illegitimate child of the Duke of Augustenborg in Danish Schleswig. The Duke enticed his horse attendant, English-born Parkinson, to adopt paternity through an arranged marriage to Richard’s mother. Despite disavowing paternity, the Duke took an interest in young Richard and provided him with a good education. A chance meeting with Johann Kubary, an ethnographic collector for J.C. Godeffroy & Sohn, convinced Parkinson to surrender a teaching job and join the company as a land surveyor and plantation manager in Samoa, where he would arrive in 1876. By 1879, he had married Phebe Coe, the daughter of an American adventurer and a Samoan mother connected to the main Malietoa line. Phebe thus had her feet firmly rooted in Samoan and western traditions. Phebe’s sister Emma Coe married another prominent foreigner, James Forsayth, who set up a significant shipping business in Samoa. Unfortunately, Forsayth went missing on the sea, and, in 1878, Emma and her new Australian business and domestic partner, Thomas Farrell, moved to the Bismarck Archipelago. Emma and Thomas profited from the ill-fated French settlement organized by the Marquis de Rays’ attempt in southern New Ireland. They benefited through shipping many of the surviving colonists to nearby Australia and taking over the remains of the French settlement. By 1882, Emma encouraged Phebe and her husband to join their venture in the Bismarck Archipelago. Following Thomas Farrell’s death in 1887, Emma founded E. E. Forsayth & Company. Emma Forsayth increased her social standing in the Bismarck Archipelago by building plantations and trading posts. Her lavish feasts attended by notable European residents earned her the moniker of “Queen Emma.” Likewise, Richard Parkinson’s training as a land surveyor facilitated his sister-in-law’s commercial expansion. He was, however, more interested in natural science and ethnography than building a business empire. In conjunction with Thomas Farrell, Parkinson employed trading voyages throughout the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands to acquire close to 5000 artifacts, which they in turn sold to the Australian Museum. Such commercial transactions make sense in the context of Farrell’s expanding trade and the need for a steady cash flow to support this endeavor. Following the German annexation of the Bismarck Archipelago and the northern Solomon Islands between 1884 and 1885, Parkinson joined the service of the New Guinea Company, charged with administrating the new colony. He anticipated that this company would operate similarly to the Godeffroy venture and allow Parkinson to entertain his passion for collecting. His hopes, however, were soon dashed as the company maintained ownership over individual natural science or ethnographic collections and drowned their employees in an ever-increasing flood of mandates and restrictions. Left with little alternative, Parkinson returned to the services of the E. E. Forsayth company. Nevertheless, his passion for collection remained, and he often clashed with Emma Forsayth over his apparent lack of commercial engagement. Fortunately, his wife Phebe intervened on his behalf with her sister, allowing Richard to continue his “wasteful” hobby. Parkinson Family Portrait from the year 1906. Seated from right to left: Richard (hand on the shoulder of his son Paul Manfred), Phebe Parkinson (her son Carl Manfred in her lap), daughters Nellie (with grandchild Rudolf in her lap) and Louise. Standing right to left: sons Otto and Eduard Parkinson, sons-in-law Carl Diercke (married to Nellie) and probably Alfred Wrighson (married to Louise), and daughter Dollie Parkinson. Photo courtesy Dieter Klein By the 1890s, Parkinson shifted his patronage of Australian to European museums and focused more on obtaining state decorations rather than hard cash for his ethnographic collections. Often worn in the buttonhole of one’s overcoat, state decorations underscore their wearer’s social standing vis-à-vis other colonial residents. The need for social distinction through decoration often equated to a metaphorical disease in German New Guinea, where the wearer supposedly suffered from “chest pains” or “buttonhole ailment.” For Parkinson, state decorations were prominent factors of self-fashioning. Similarly, obtaining this distinction was a highly gendered activity since only men were considered proper bearers of German state orders. In German New Guinea, orders took on a high degree of conspicuous consumption that rivaled even the strangest indigenous cultural practice. Richard Parkinson and his Saxon and Württemberg decorations A. B. Meyer, director of the ethnographic and natural science collections in Dresden, became Parkinson’s premier recipient and the two exchanged a lengthy, mostly lost, correspondence that culminated in several publications. In the end, Parkinson would supply 700 artifacts and several skulls to the Dresden institution and received the Saxon Knight’s Cross of the Order of Albrecht, First Class in 1897. Similarly, Parkinson’s exchange with Karl von Linden in Stuttgart led to a donation of 165 artifacts, for which he obtained the Württemberg Knight’s Cross of the Order of Frederick in 1904. From Parkinson’s perspective, a more frustrating trade developed between himself and the former director of the Godeffroy museum, J.D.E. Schmeltz, in Leiden between 1897 and 1900. Parkinson ended up donating a sizable collection of close to 500 artifacts to the Leiden Museum in hopes of a Dutch state decoration. Despite his insistence, Parkinson’s efforts came to naught, partially because of the reluctance of Dutch authorities to bestow decorations in exchange for museum donation. Similarly frustrated was his exchange with the museum in Vienna. Curator F. Heger was less than impressed by the collection that arrived in Vienna in January of 1900. Heger found the artifacts less than adequately packed, resulting in damage to many objects. He further reprimanded the lack of labels and complained that Parkinson’s official list did not match what he had sent. Parkinson and Heger were off to a rocky start, and his desire for an Austrian decoration could not be fulfilled. Parkinson’s relationship with the Berlin Ethnographic Museum proved equally troublesome. He frequently clashed with director Adolf Bastian and Felix von Luschan, the African and Oceanic collections’ curator, to centralize Parkinson’s services for their museum. After being accused of passing on artifacts and human remains to A. B. Meyer in Dresden, which Luschan regarded as Berlin’s property, Parkinson would walk away from any patronage for the museum located in the German capital. Malagan frieze from Simberi (Fischer) Island collected by Richard Parkinson around 1894, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, 08056, Photo by Eva Winkler Spirit boat with four carved figures from the Tabar Islands collected by Richard Parkinson around 1897, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, 12080, photo by Eva Winkler Despite his mixed success with the European museum community, Parkinson continued to engage in natural science and ethnographic collection. In 1896, for instance, he invited trained zoologist Friedrich Dahl to stay with Parkinson’s family at Ralum Plantation to establish a research station. Sponsored by the Berlin Museum of Natural Science and the Naples Zoological Research Station, Dahl’s residence was unfortunately cut short when the directors of the two institutions squabbled over the specimens returned by the zoologist. Similarly, Parkinson expanded his ethnographic reach by joining the SMS Möwe (Seagull), a survey ship stationed in German New Guinea following 1895. For instance, with this ship, the colonial resident was able to visit areas of New Guinea under German control, collecting artifacts while the ship’s crew surveyed the coastal regions of this island. The Seagull also provided an avenue to repair Parkinson’s damaged relationship with the Berlin Museum. Luschan had urged his museum administration to agree to a yearly payment oscillating between 1,000 and 2,000 marks to support the survey vessel’s crew in their ethnographic collection activity for the Berlin Museum. Parkinson was more than willing to employ the Berlin monetary subsidies while serving as an ethnographic expert during the Seagull’s survey duties in the territory or during their function as a punitive vessel against the indigenous population. While Luschan was not pleased about this arrangement, he accepted Parkinson’s assistance as a necessary evil. The unstable relationship between Parkinson and Luschan had much to do with the fact that the colonial resident was never nominated for a Prussian decoration. By the turn of the century, Parkinson’s collection numbering close to 2,000 objects received much acclaim. His makeshift museum at Ralum attracted many local colonial residents and visitors to the territory. However, he was perhaps most proud of his collections having pedagogical purposes for the indigenous people of the Bismarck Archipelago and thereby fulfilling ethnography’s salvage agenda. Parkinson considered many of the pieces held at Ralum to be unique and, as far as the local Tolai society was concerned, no longer available following the turn of the century. Occasional visitors obtained single artifacts from the Ralum collection, but, generally, Parkinson kept the collection together until it was time to sell his ethnographic trove. Although this collection would have possibly earned Parkinson additional state decorations, declining health signaled a return to the monetization of his ethnographic material. Realizing the potential of the collection for potential retirement payment, Parkinson offered it to different German-speaking museums for the price tag of 10,000 marks for about 1,500 artifacts. Baining artifacts in Richard Parkinson’s possession, from Dreissig Jahre in der Südsee His demands of a little under seven marks per object were not excessive and well within the range of museum expenditure. Parkinson, however, was soon disappointed about the expected museum official interest in the collection, which he considered unique given the age and scope of the trove. In the end, the Field Museum in Chicago was the beneficiary of the reluctance of European institutions to purchase Parkinson’s collection in Ralum. The purchase emerged gradually. During the first decade of the twentieth century, Chicago museum officials obtained close to 3,000 objects from Richard and Phebe Parkinson. Shortly before the Chicago payment for his collection arrived in the Bismarck Archipelago, Richard Parkinson passed away following an extended illness on 24 July 1909. Richard and Phebe Parkinson had a large family of twelve children, many of whom became active members in the growing colonial community of the Bismarck Archipelago. Richard’s death occurred in the same year as that of their son Otto, who committed suicide. In addition, “Queen” Emma sold her business empire to a Hamburg-based commercial conglomerate under the leadership of Heinrich Rudolf Wahlen, leaving Phebe exposed. She had a long-standing reputable standing among both the indigenous Tolai of the Gazelle Peninsula as well as the European population, which was greatly facilitated by her ability at communication—she spoke no less than three European languages, indigenous Tolai (Kuanua), and pidgin English. Her nickname was “miti,” depending on the source either a rendition of “Mrs” or “mother” as an honorific designation among the Tolai. Because of her status as a Mischling (half-caste) in a colony that was increasingly engulfed by a concern for whiteness, Phebe’s standing declined. Leipzig-based ethnographer Ernst Sarfert put it bluntly in an article about German New Guinea published shortly before the Great War: With the arrival of white women, a new civilization took its first steps. The society of the [Bismarck] Archipelago was by no means without women. Far from it, one could argue: A woman has for a long time, maybe romantically, held the reins of this society. One should then directly point out that this was the time of the half-blood women, half-cast [sic] of Samoan and White blood, which serendipitously took root in the colony. Married to Europeans, they created a large family [network], whose female offspring were married to other Europeans. This family was for many years the societal center of the entire archipelago; its primary representative reigned as royalty, and the moniker “Queen” was closely attached to her name […] The representatives of this romantic Bismarck Archipelago period lament its impending demise. The white woman is emerging to take its place [...] [T]he arrival of white women indicates that the storm and stress [Sturm und Drang] period characterizing societal intercourse have come to an end and that European earnest and European women are by now determining the interaction and toil of the colony. Phebe withdrew from Ralum plantation to her house in Kuradui, where she established an essential shelter for mixed children resulting from widespread non-sanctioned unions between German fathers and indigenous women. To make ends meet, Phebe attempted to reconnect to the commercialization of ethnography practiced by her husband. This practice, however, was a far cry from her husband’s ethnographic network that earlier spanned the whole Bismarck Archipelago alongside Buka, Bougainville, and the occasional visits to New Guinea. Most notably, Phebe’s collections came from New Britain, where the large Baining bark cloth masks and headdresses, as well as the remarkable Sulka masks, were gaining attention in German ethnographic circles. In 1910, for instance, she sold a large collection of 75 artifacts for 1,700 marks to American anthropologist Albert B. Lewis, collecting for the Field Museum in Chicago. Around the same time, Phebe entered in an agreement with the Hernsheim company, to collect exclusively for Max Thiel and his representative Emil Timm in the Bismarck Archipelago. Her activity with the Hernsheim Company led to a two-part collection of over 700 artifacts that arrived in the Hamburg Museum starting in 1911. Ludwig Cohn, a natural science and ethnographic collector dispatched to German New Guinea by the Bremen museum, gives a little insight into the Phebe Parkinson’s collection practice: “[T]he Sulka just celebrated a great feast; the governor [Hahl] did acquire lots of dance wear for Munich, he claims nothing is left; the rest was purchased by Frau Parkinson, of which she promised me I will get some (… for exorbitant prices).” Despite the reduction in collecting area, Phebe Parkinson, through agreements with prominent traders and colonial officials, commanded a tight control over the material culture emerging out of New Britain and managed to monetize her ethnographic reach quite prominently. Hernsheim Manager Emil Timm seated in the center, to the right is Phebe Parkinson wearing a black armband mourning the passing of her husband and her son Otto. Photo courtesy Dieter Klein The outbreak of the Great War greatly impacted Phebe’s life. Australian occupation and consequent expropriation of German firms severed old ties. Already at the margins of German colonial society, her status of part-Samoan meant further exclusion under the new administration. Although Phebe managed to hold on to Kuradui plantation, she fell into debt and had to sell this asset. Her children and grandchildren provided shelter. In the late 1920s, famous American anthropologist Margaret Mead attempted to assist Phebe in publishing her life story. The memoir, however, fell victim to the stock-market crash. Mead forwarded significant sums of her own money to assist Phebe and unsuccessfully attempted to find a publisher for an English translation of Parkinson’s principal work. The Japanese invasion of the Bismarck Archipelago brought further hardship. Although the Japanese allowed Phebe to continue to reside on a family-owned plantation on New Ireland, the nearby crash landing of an American bomber led to internment. The hardships of the camp were too much to bear for the octogenarian, and Phebe passed away on 28 May 1944. In October of 2003, Phebe’s descendants located her makeshift grave on New Ireland and returned her remains to Kuradui plantation to be buried next to her husband.