McCONNEL, URSULA HOPE (1888-1957), anthropologist, was born on 27 October 1888
at Cressbrook, near Toogoolawah, Queensland, fifth daughter and eighth of ten
children of James Henry McConnel, grazier and farmer, and his wife Mary Elizabeth,
née Kent, both Queensland born. David Cannon McConnel was her grandfather. Raised
at Cressbrook (the family property and Shorthorn stud), Ursula was educated at the
Brisbane High School for Girls and later at New England Girls' School, Armidale,
New South Wales, where she took prizes in singing and languages. From 1905 to 1907
she attended courses in history, politics, literature and music at the women's
department, King's College, London. Although once engaged, she never married, and
pursued a career with vigour and dedication.
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Australian Dictionary of Biography
As one of the first students of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown's Australian tenureship, Ursula McConnel conducted ethnographic fieldwork as a participant-observer in western Cape York Peninsula between 1927 and 1934. She worked chiefly among the Wik peoples, particularly the Wik Mungkan based at Aurukun Mission. As part of her anthropological study McConnel amassed a substantial material culture collection of over five hundred artefacts. Together with Donald Thomson's collection from the same area, it forms a unique record of Wik Mungkan material culture from that period. In 2006 a large collection of professional papers belonging to Ursula was discovered and donated to the South Australian Museum.
Ursula Hope McConnel was born on the family property, Cressbrook, at Toogolawah, Queensland, to James Henry McConnel and Mary Elizabeth, née Kent. Her aunt, Mary Bundock, later Mrs Murray-Prior, was a significant early collector of Aboriginal artefacts from the Richmond River district of New South Wales and may have encouraged Ursula in developing a professional interest in the Aboriginal people of Queensland.
After school at The Brisbane High School for Girls (Somerville House), and the New England Girls Grammar School, Armidale (New South Wales), Ursula went to London. She took courses in history, politics, literature and music between 1905 and 1907 at the women's department, King's College. Ursula enrolled at the University of Queensland in 1913, graduating BA with first class honours in 1918. She was appointed honorary demonstrator in the Philosophy Department where her brother-in-law, Elton Mayo, was professor. In 1922 she returned to London and enrolled as a PhD student in cultural anthropology at University College, London.
In 1926 McConnel abandoned her thesis and returned to Australia to commence fieldwork among Aboriginal Australians in North Queensland with Professor Radcliffe-Brown of Sydney University. She stayed at the Presbyterian Mission at Aurukun as the guest of Reverend William and Geraldine (Gerry) Mackenzie, the friends and helpers of Frances Derham. McConnel, however, was publicly critical of the mission, and as a result she and other anthropologists were banned from it. In 1930 she received a grant from the Australian National Research Council and went to Cairns. From there, she and her friend Margaret Spence returned on horseback to Cape York, despite mission opposition. Although she published scholarly articles in Oceania and was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to study under Edward Sapir at Yale University, Connecticut, United States of Americia in 1931, she was excluded from academic employment (which she bitterly resented) and denied a PhD on the grounds of insufficient publications.
When research and fieldwork funding also dried up in the late 1930s, McConnel went into semi-retirement. She purchased a house at Eagle Heights, south of Brisbane in the late 1940s and continued to write up her field data on the Wik-Mungkana for publication, producing her book, Myths of the Munkan (1957), with help from her friend the poet Judith Wright, in the year of her death. The importance of McConnel's scholarly contribution was recognized after her death. With those of Donald Thomson, her publications form the foundations of present-day anthropological research on Western Cape York Peninsula. She had devoted much of her life to this endeavour, driven by a sense of duty and justice towards the Aboriginals with whom she had worked.
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Australian Women's Register
McConnel had a full academic career which involved research in both London and Australia. Yet despite publishing regular scholarly articles and receiving a Rockefeller Fellowship for study at Yale, she was refused academic employment and denied a PhD in Australia. She did a lot of fieldwork on Indigenous Australians.
photographer and anthropologist, was born on the family property, Cressbrook, at Toogolawah, Queensland, on 27 October 1888, fifth of the ten children of James Henry McConnel and Mary Elizabeth, née Kent, of Jondaryn on the Darling Downs. Her aunt Mary Bundock, later Mrs Murray-Prior (daughter of Ellen Bundock, q.v.), was a significant early collector of Aboriginal artefacts from the Richmond River district of New South Wales and may have encouraged Ursula in developing a professional ...
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Design and Art Australia Online