The British Library’s Alfred Cort Haddon 1898 Expedition (Torres Strait and British New Guinea) Cylinder Collection includes 141 wax cylinders recorded on the Torres Strait Islands and in British New Guinea as part of the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. This cylinder collection constitutes the earliest collection of sound recordings in the Library’s Sound Archive and the earliest extant collection from Oceania.

The collection is made up of two parts, 102 cylinders that were recorded on the Torres Strait Islands, and 39 that were recorded in British New Guinea. This page documents the history of the wax cylinders that were recorded during the 1898 Torres Strait and New Guinea expedition in British New Guinea.

A note on institution names
The British Library Sound Archive and the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) have previously been known under different names.

The British Institute of Recorded Sound (BIRS) was established in 1955 by Patrick Saul, who was its Director until 1978. The BIRS became part of the British Library in 1983. It was renamed as the National Sound Archive (NSA) (Day 2001) and is now referred to as the British Library Sound Archive.

AIATSIS was founded as the Australian Institute for Aboriginal Studies (AIAS). In 1989, AIAS became AIATSIS following the passing of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Act.1AIATSIS. 1 May 2020. Our History. Available at: https://aiatsis.gov.au/about-us/our-history [Accessed 19 May 2020]

The C80 Haddon British New Guinea cylinders comprises 37 recordings from 39 cylinders; cylinders C62/1479 and C80/1086 have not been digitised due to damage. Many of the recordings have announcements in English at the start, but some of these are indecipherable.

Some of the cylinders were initially put with the Torres Strait cylinders under the collection number C80, but after investigations by Alice Moyle in the 1980s identified the British New Guinea cylinders, they were separated out from C80 and added to C62, the collection made by Seligmann and others in New Guinea in 1904 as part of the Daniels Ethnographical Expedition.

Seligmann had been noted as the recordist for both sets of cylinders. True Echoes research indicated that he was not the only recordist for the 1898 cylinders, and a request by Don Niles of IPNGS to reconsider the name and make-up of the C62 collection led to the decision to reunite all the cylinders collected as part of the Cambridge Expedition of 1898 within the C80 collection.

The cylinder that is now C80/1469 was originally designated as a British New Guinea cylinder and put into C62 with all the other cylinders collected in British New Guinea in 1898 and 1904. However, research conducted by the True Echoes team has concluded that this cylinder was recorded in Torres Strait, so it is included in the Research Document for C80 Torres Strait. The cylinder had an insert that identified the performer as Peter from Mabuiag.

Some of the cylinders have a small amount of information on their lids or as inserts. Most, but not all, have a sticker on their lid, often with a number written in red; these numbers are referred to in the British Library as the Frazer numbers. However, recent research by the True Echoes team indicates these may not have been ascribed by Sir James Frazer or his wife; further investigations are needed, and we refer to them instead as the “red ink labels”. We do not know whether a reference list of these red ink labels has survived.

Some of the cylinders are in a metal tin; some of these are branded with “C.J. Van Houten & Zoon” – cocoa producers.

History of dubbing and connection back to Papua New Guinea

The Torres Strait cylinders were dubbed onto 7” reels in 1979; the British New Guinea cylinders with red-ink labels 66–74 Torres Strait, and 78 Torres Strait were included in this.2King, Anthony. 24 October 1979. Letter to Alice Moyle. Copies were shared with AIAS at Moyle’s request.3Durán, Lucy. 3 December 1979. Letter to Alice Moyle. This work was completed before Lloyd Stickells, the sound engineer, had constructed an improved reproducer, which was subsequently used to re-dub the cylinders.4Ward, Alan. 18 October 1984. Correspondence with Alice Moyle. Durán, Lucy. 13 October 1982. Letter to Alice Moyle. Durán, Lucy. 21 October 1982. Letter to Alice Moyle.

Tape copies of the wax cylinder field recordings started to be produced in 1983.5Ward, Alan. 26 January 1983. Letter to Patrick Saul. Copies of the tapes were then provided to AIAS, and Moyle completed audition sheets in 1985.6Moyle, January 1985. An AIAS audition sheet for the 1898 recordings was also provided to Alan Ward by Grace Koch in 1989.712 September 1989 – Koch > Ward

Don Niles from the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies found out from Alice Moyle that there were recordings made in British New Guinea in 1898, and contacted Durán in September 1982.829 September 1982 – Niles > Durán; 10 June 2020 – email Niles > Barnecutt Durán informed him that “we have preliminarily identified 87 cylinders as emanating from Papua New Guinea, but we are not sure who recorded them.”913 October 1982, Durán > Niles She undertook to send Niles a list, and copies of the dubbings when made. Niles wrote to Durán again in March 1983 to ask permission to obtain copies of the Haddon tapes directly from Alice Moyle at AIAS.10Dubbing Checklist 1983

All of the original C62 cylinders from British New Guinea were dubbed by Lloyd Stickells in February 1983.11Dubbing Checklist 1983 In June 1983, Durán sent Niles “reel-to-reel” copies of these dubbings.12Niles, Don. 04 May 1988. Letter to Durán Durán wrote that “the first 39 cylinders were probably recorded by C. G. Seligmann in New Guinea in 1904, and cylinders 40–67 were probably recorded by Haddon Etc. during their visit to New Guinea in 1898.”1316 June 1983, Durán > Moyle, 04 May 1988, Niles > Durán The dubbings that Durán sent did not include the British New Guinea cylinders that had the red-ink labels: 67–74 Torres Strait.

Alice Moyle sent Niles a 5” reel copy of these cylinders, that she referred to as “the Kiwai material”, sometime before April 1984.1422 May 1985, Moyle > Ward Niles confirmed that the music was Kiwai, and the language was southern Kiwai, Island Kiwai dialect.1502 April 1984, Niles > Moyle, in letter 22 May 1985 Moyle > Ward

Some of the British New Guinea cylinders, including the “Kiwai” cylinders with red-ink labels, 67–74 Torres Strait, were dubbed again in 1989. It is not clear which other ones were dubbed.

All of the cylinders from British New Guinea were dubbed again and digitised by Will Prentice in April 2001, and Kevin Lemonnier in January 2010, according to SAMI.

Other recordings

There are three cylinders for which no language was noted, and there is no other information recorded to identify them by location or date. These are C80/1455, C80/1457, and C80/1458. They are all noted as hymns, sung by men either solo or in groups.16 Much early hymnody in Papua New Guinea sets words in local languages to tunes from the overseas (European) homeland of the missionaries. Only later did some churches use traditional tunes for such purposes.

C80/1458 is noted as ‘Hymn No. 23 Wareham’; Wareham is the name of a hymn tune.17https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/hymns/jesu-the-joy-of-loving-hearts-stf-365/

There are also three occasions where Ray noted recording cylinders in different languages, but these recordings cannot be located in the collection. On 6 July 1898, Ray noted that “One of the crew of Lokoho also sang 2 Kabadi songs” after Ahuia had performed for the phonograph (Ray 1898–1899:74). The Lokoho was a Government ketch (Haddon 1898–1899:236), and Kabadi (or Abadi) is a district in western Central district that includes the village of Pinu, where Lawes had founded a mission station.18http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll123/id/48671

On 22 September, in Saguane, Ray noted recording songs by the the Mangaian teacher Teina Kori and his wife (Ray 1898–1899:87-88). These songs, which were presumably in the reo Mangaia dialect of Cook Islands Maori, cannot be identified in the collection today.

On 27 September, Ray noted “In evening Phono – got a very fair selection of various Kiwai songs, also one in Kuboia [?]” (Ray 1898–1899:88). It is not clear what the word Kuboia or Kubira refers to, presumably a language or dialect.

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  • British Library Board. 2010. Memory of The World Register: The Historic Ethnographic Recordings (1898–1951) at the British Library (United Kingdom). [pdf] UNESCO. Available at: <http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/CI/pdf/mow/nomination_forms/Uk%20ethnographic.pdf> [Accessed 28 April 2020].
  • Clayton, Martin. 1996. “Ethnographic Wax Cylinders at the British Library National Sound Archive: A Brief History and Description of the Collection”. British Journal of Ethnomusicology, 5: 67–92.
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  • Haddon, Alfred Cort (ed.) 1904. Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait: Volume V, Sociology, Magic and Religion of the Western Islanders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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  • Haddon, Alfred Cort (ed.) 1946. “Smoking and Tobacco Pipes in New Guinea”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, series B, 232/586 (6 Jun): 1–278.
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  • Holmes, John Henry. 1898. Diary of John H. Holmes 01 April 1898 to 31 December 1898. Manuscript. Records of the London Missionary Society. London: SOAS Library, digitised by AJCP https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-1642900159
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