History Centre Heroes: Reverend Henry Moore Dauncey

Like the explorer and mountaineer Gertrude Benham, today’s History Centre Hero didn’t come from or live in Plymouth. Like Benham though he did contribute a number of items to our collections, all of which have provided us and our visitors with a fascinating insight into a country and culture that we may otherwise not have had.

Reverend Henry (known as Harry) Moore Dauncey (1863-1931) was born in Walsall, near Birmingham and came from a middle class religious family. He decided from an early age that he wanted to be a missionary overseas. He was thrilled to be offered a posting by the London Missionary Society to Papua New Guinea in 1888, known at the time as British New Guinea.

He arrived in the capital Port Moresby at the age of 25 and eventually moved to a village called Delena. He stayed there until 1928 when he retired. He then relocated back to the UK, moving to Bournemouth.

The village of Delena in Papua New Guinea where Reverend Henry Dauncey worked.
The village of Delena where Dauncey worked, seen from the mission house.

Missionaries were often the first Europeans to settle into overseas communities for long periods of time. When Dauncey arrived in Papua New Guinea, European rule was already well established.

Dauncey, who was supported by his wife Mary and their three children, was very dedicated to his work, educating the Papua New Guinean people about the Bible and European customs. His work during the 40 years he spent there contributed to the religious transformation of Papua New Guinea which is now largely Christian.

As part of the process of converting people to Christianity, missionaries often encouraged them to give up spiritual objects – many of which are now in European museum collections.

Our biggest and most significant Papua New Guinean collection, with more than 400 objects, came from Dauncey. He sold most of them to us in 1909 and 1923 and also gave us a few objects as gifts. It’s been described as one of the best collections of New Guinea material in Britain.
Objects from Plymouth Museum's Papua New Guinea collection

We don’t exactly know why Dauncey chose Plymouth. Like many other travellers though it’s highly likely that he visited the Museum at the beginning or end of one of his voyages.

The objects include body ornaments and jewellery, weapons and tools, ceremonial and magical items, as well as objects used for music, dancing, eating and drinking. Dauncey also wrote a book about his life and work called ‘Papuan Pictures’ (1913), which is illustrated with his photographs.
Body adornments, jewellery, musical instruments and masks collected by Reverend Henry Dauncey and now in the collections at Plymouth Museum.

The book and the many objects tell us a lot about local life in Papua New Guinea at the turn of the twentieth century – as seen through a missionary’s eyes.

Dauncey also contributed material to several other museums and archives including the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London; the Royal Anthropological Institute; the Pitt Rivers Museum; the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge; the British Museum; the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen; the Harvard Peabody Museum in the USA and the Australian Museum in Sydney.

An image of Reverend Henry Moore Dauncey from one his photograph albums, showing him dressed up in a local headdress. 
Taken from one his photograph albums, this image shows Dauncey dressed up in a local headdress.
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