Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

The James Matthews: a dichotomy. An investigation of the James Matthews

Author/s A. Metcalf

Year of publication 1996

Report Number: 111

This report is the project of a practical experience in a heritage institution, as part of the third and final year of an undergraduate course in Cultural and Heritage Studies at Curtin University of Teclmology. When selecting a written project as part of the practicum, it was decided to engage in a project that would be as meaningful as possible for all concerned. The process of selecting the project subject was not a simple one, and the idea eventually evolved after meetings with one of the maritime archaeologists and curators at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle. The Museum's exhibition of the recovered artefacts from the wreck of the James Matthews (?-1841) interested me, especially the dual history of the ship, and the fact that the wreck may be the last remaining hull of a slave ship known anywhere in the world. My personal interest in the history of the Atlantic slave trade, and the impact of that trade on both the geographical regions that received African slaves, and on the lives of the slaves and their descendants made the project an attractive exercise. As well as satisfying scholastic requirements and achieving personal satisfaction, the project addressed issues and ideas that the museum had not, until now had opportunity to investigate. It is hoped that this project will be useful (as a case study) to the Museum and to heritage practitioners generally, extending investigation into the prospects of further study of the James Matthews.The social function of museums is also investigated, along with further details of the history of the slave trade and the dominant position of European males in Victorian society. The viability of additional excavation, the raising of the hull, and the feasibility of incorporating the artefacts other then the hull into a travelling exhibition, will be discussed. This report may also be useful to the museum as a pilot project for other students who may serve an internship or practicum at the Maritime Museum, and who are interested in studying the wrecks off the W.A. coast from an approach other then one of maritime archaeology.