The Dunstan Deals: How Some Geological Treasures Left Australia

Rix, A. (2023)


During his tenure as Chief Government Geologist of Queensland from 1908 until 1931, Benjamin Dunstan sold a complete Triassic amphibian fossil and Queensland’s largest meteorite to overseas institutions. When he died in 1933, he left a personal collection of fossils and other geological material which his widow Ada Dunstan sold to the Natural History Museum in London. These included a large number of meteorites from Queensland’s famous Tenham meteorite shower. This paper documents these transactions and finds that there was little consideration given in any of these cases to the value of these important geological specimens to Australian public collections or to the nation’s geological heritage. Ethical questions remain about the standards of provenance and ownership applied by both vendors and purchasers, in particular the role of Dunstan in his capacity as Queensland’s senior government geologist.