14 November 2013

One Big Mistake to Avoid When Donating to a Museum Collection

While working at Boggo Road Gaol Museum late one afternoon back around 2004, we had a couple of people from Toowoomba turn up asking if the objects they had recently donated to us were out on display yet. What objects, we asked? Some old prison laundry baskets, they said. The staff looked at each other - we didn't have any baskets in the collection. However, the visitors were insistent that somebody from the museum had turned up to their house to collect these baskets. We knew nothing of it, but when they described the person to us we guessed what had happened.

They had advertised the baskets for sale, and this person turned up asking for them to be donated to the museum instead, which is what they thought they did. They had been scammed.

If you or a family member has some old prison stuff at home (uniforms, photos, paperwork, prisoner-made items, bits of a prison building... anything), then this is the kind of story you need to keep in mind. Please be careful, and thoroughly check who is asking about it.

If you are concerned about what might happen to your prison stuff in future and don't want to see it thrown in the bin (or some shyster to get their hands on it) then your best bet is to donate into the care of the not-for-profit Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society so they can add it to the Queensland Prisons Collection.

Be careful when donating objects to museums like Boggo Road - there are private businesses out there taking donations without telling you who they are.
Pre-1960s cap badge (BRGHS)

This collection has evolved over some time now, going through a few different guises along the way. I myself have been heavily involved with it since 2002, no doubt more than any other single person since that time as I collated, cataloged and stored hundreds of prison artefacts. I know this stuff like the back of my hand and am very happy to say that the care of this collection has just got even better.

The EPA Boggo Road collection (1992-2002)

To start off with... the Environmental Protection Agency supervised the Boggo Road museum collection during 1992-2002. The artefacts were documented, registered, and stored at the Boggo Road Gaol Museum as the ‘EPA collection’. Following the retirement of the curator in May 2002 I conducted a thorough on-site stocktake and found that several hundred on-site artefacts were unregistered, because:
  • many were not associated with the Boggo Road site, or 
  • it was not known where they came from, or 
  • they were duplicates of other artefacts, or 
  • certain groups of artefacts had just not been fully registered (such as books). 

The Boggo Road Gaol Museum Collection (2002-2003)

I was not authorised to enter these 'homeless' artefacts into the government's EPA collection, so in order to minimise further deterioration and possible loss I registered them in an interim collection register I named the ‘Boggo Road Gaol Museum Collection register’. This way, the objects could be registered into the EPA collection in future.

The Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society Collection (2003-2010)

After the formation of the BRGHS in 2003 the register was renamed the ‘BRGHS Collection’. NEW artefacts collected by the museum staff after May 2002 were also entered into this register. When the on-site collections were analysed for the Queensland government in 2004, some of the items in the interim BRGHS collection were absorbed into the government-owned collection (as I had planned for) and then moved off site at the end of 2005 when Boggo Road closed.

What was left formed the BRGHS collection was also moved off site. There were now two separate collections. The BRGHS collection was still active, but the government collection is no longer being added to.

Be careful when donating objects to museums like Boggo Road - there are private businesses out there taking donations without telling you who they are.
Prisoner-made tattoo machine (BRGHS).
And finally... the Queensland Prisons Collection (2010-)

The BRGHS continued to receive artefact donations but their collection system was outdated because many items in that register had been returned to government. In 2010 I developed a new numbering system and collection policy and re-registered all remaining items into the ‘Queensland Prisons Collection’.

This collection has recently been put into new storage and a new database set up. The upcoming Queensland Prisons Museum will be a great opportunity for some of these artefacts to be displayed for the Queensland public again. In fact, the BRGHS has a number of new displays in the pipeline at various places. This has prompted a wave of new donations to the collection

We continue to collect, document and store artefacts and images relating to Boggo Road and Queensland prisons. If you have any, let me know!


Please be aware that some organisations requesting your artefacts and stories are private companies who may use them for personal profit by restricting free access to the material and then prohibiting other researchers from using it.

It is also possible that items you donate could later be sold.

The BRGHS is a not-for-profit incorporated association and cannot use your donations for personal profit.
Please email us if you are not sure about people requesting donations from you.

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