Returning Home: the photographs of Charles R. Browne

Inishbofin Heritage Museum presents ‘Returning Home’, an outdoor exhibition of photographs taken in Inishbofin 1893. The aim is to add living faces to the anthropological collection of human remains that Trinity College, University of Dublin released for burial in 2023. The exhibition includes a photograph Alfred Cort Haddon took of the skulls he stole from St Colman’s Monastery in 1890, which triggered a ten-year campaign for the return and burial of the remains. The exhibition is located on the old pier, the same spot that Charles R. Browne measured the heads of Islanders in 1893.

Browne was the first (and only) graduate of a small Anthropology Dept that Prof Daniel J. Cunningham established in the Anatomy Dept of Trinity College in 1891.  Browne and his brother John were keen photographers and they systematically documented the topography, people, modes of life and archaeology of eight districts in the west of Ireland, which they surveyed between 1892 and 1900  as agents of the Anthropological Laboratory in Trinity College.

Haddon and Cunningham set up the laboratory in 1891 and mobilised it for an ethnographic survey of the Aran Islands in 1892. The laboratory moved to Inishbofin in 1893 for a second survey. Haddon visited the island during a survey of fishing ground in 1890 and recorded the theft of thirteen skulls from St Colman’s Monastery in his journal. He also took a photograph of the skulls in situ. Haddon intended returning to Inishbofin in 1893, but Cunningham dropped him from the survey because of his home rule sympathies and radically anti-colonial attitudes.

Returning Home’ features 11 photographs from the photographic archive Browne compiled in 1897. Inishbofin features in one of two albums that record the work of the Anthropological Laboratory. A selection of these photographs were included in ‘The Irish Headhunter’ exhibition in 2012, which toured the districts the Browne surveyed. Marie Coyne noticed the photograph Haddon took of the stolen skulls and this triggered a ten-year campaign to have the remains returned for burial.

The campaign concludes on Sunday 16 July 2023 when the remains will be buried in the grounds of St Colman’s Monastery, one hundred and thirty three years to the day after they were stolen.

To mark the occasion, Inishbofin Heritage Museum and The Library of Trinity College, University of Dublin has given permission for a limited edition print of Haddon’s photograph of the ‘stolen skull’. Copies can be purchase here.

The entire collection of Browne photographs in Trinity College is freely available online.

You can download the catalogue of the 2012 Charles R. Browne exhibition called ‘The Irish Headhunter: the photograph Albums of Charles R. Browne’.


Posted on

June 10, 2024