BUTCHER, Benjamin Thomas (1877-1973)
Papuan Gulf carved wooden figure, circa 1920.
[London? : London Missionary Society?, n.d]. Photographic glass magic lantern slide, 82 x 82 mm, original manuscript caption to paper border ‘Curios Papua Butcher’; in very good condition.
This important photograph of a Papuan Gulf painted wooden figure with grass fibre tassels was taken by Benjamin Thomas Butcher (1877-1973), who worked as a medical missionary for the London Missionary Society in New Guinea between 1905 and 1938. During this time he was stationed in the Aird Hills in the Kikori River delta. Butcher had a keen interest in comparative religion and a deep knowledge of the traditional beliefs and customs of the Papuan Gulf peoples. He was instrumental in locating and identifying a rare figure known as Iriwaki (or Irivake) – a carving quite similar in style to the one pictured in this glass slide – which was subsequently field-collected by Paul de Rautenfeld on Urama Island in 1925 and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (992.417.121).
Butcher translated St. Mark’s Gospel into the Goaribari dialect of the Kerewa language (London : British and Foreign Bible Society, 1926), and wrote a short biography of James Chalmers, pioneer missionary in New Guinea (London : LMS, n.d.). In his later years he published his personal views on theology and spirituality in Many faiths – one essential (Sydney, 1965). Butcher’s papers are held in the National Library of Australia.