McConnel, Ursula Hope (1888-1957)

Also known as
McConnel, Ursula (1888-1957)
Field of activity
Anthropologist; Photographer; Artist; Ethnographer
NLA Persistent Identifier
https://nla.gov.au/nla.party-639321

Biographies

Ursula Hope McConnel (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...

View the full record at Australian Dictionary of Biography

Ursula McConnel is recognised as an influential anthropologist of the Cape York Peninsula and a talented amateur photographer. McConnel used her photographs to illustrate publications of her research in magazines and ethnographic journals such as and . She was also a collector of Indigenous artefacts. 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 McConnel was an academic and a talented amateur photographer who used her photographs to illustrate her articles, which were published in magazines and ethnographic journals such as .

Ursula Hope McConnel was born at Cressbrook, Queensland on 27 October 1888. The eighth child of ten, her parents were James Henry McConnel and Mary Elizabeth (née Kent). They were farmers and graziers. She attended the Brisbane High School for Girls and went on to the New England Girls School in Armidale, NSW. A gifted student, she obtained first class honours in Philosophy at the University of Queensland. In 1905 she went to London where she took classes in history, literature and music at King's College. Two years later in 1897 she returned to Australia and enrolled at the University of Queensland, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in 1918 and an MA with first class honours in 1921. Following this, in 1923 McConnel began a PhD in anthropology at University College in London, under the supervision of (Sir) Grafton Elliot Smith and William Perry. However, she did not complete her doctorate due to ill health and loneliness, and in 1926 returned to Australia. This was to prove a fateful decision, since it prevented her from ever attaining an academic position. She subsequently studied at the University of Sydney under the anthropologist Alfred Radcliff-Browne, who trained her in the techniques of fieldwork.

Working under Radcliffe-Brown, the focus of her academic endeavour was an ethnographic study of the Aboriginal people of the people of the Cape York Peninsula and their culture. Beginning in 1927 she undertook five field trips to the Cape York Peninsula and conducted research into the Wik Mungkan. As part of her research project she took numerous photographs documenting the people and their artefacts. Joan Kerr in has suggested that these photographs differ little from those taken by other male academics. She adds that there was little interest in women's issues within the scholarly world at the time (Kerr 106). One such photograph is (1936). Used to illustrate her article 'Cape York Peninsula: Development and Control,' it made no mention of women's work, its only focus being the artefacts. She used the same photograph for her article 'Inspiration and Design in Aboriginal Art.'

McConnel's more 'private, informal photographs,' however, told a very different story to the official photographs. From these it is clear that she did indeed develop a particular interest in women's artefacts and women's business. The same photographs also show a more personal response to her sitters, their relaxed faces and postures reflecting the connection that had formed between her and the Indigenous people she met.

McConnel published (Melbourne, 1957) as well as numerous articles, many of which were published in and . She was also a collector of Indigenous artefacts; these are held by a number of museums in Australia. While still working in Cape York, McConnel was awarded a Rockefeller fellowship to study under Edward Sapir at Yale University. Sapir was the pioneer of anthropological linguistics and this was consequently to become an important component of her fieldwork alongside photographic documentation and the collection and description of artefacts.

McConnel never married, despite her striking good looks. At a time when most women were dependent financially on husbands, she made enough money to support herself through her investment in wool bonds and was able to retire in the mid-1930s. For the next 20 years she lived in Creswell. She died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage aged 69 in Brisbane on 6 November 1957.

Sadly, academic recognition of and respect for her achievements only came after her death. Today, along with the work of Donald Thomson, her publications form the foundations of present-day anthropological research on Western Cape York Peninsula.

McConnel Collection, South Australian Museum

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

South Australia Museum Archives

Ursula McConnel Collection, National Museum Australia

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 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, (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.

View the full record at 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, nee 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 interest in the Aboriginal people of Queensland. After school at Somerville House, Brisbane and the New England Girls Grammar School, Armidale (NSW), Ursula went to London with her sister Beatrice. Both enrolled in non-matriculation courses in the Women’s Department of King’s College (1904-5). Deciding on a career instead of marriage, Ursula enrolled at the University of Queensland in 1913. After 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. During this time she became interested in psychoanalysis, particularly dream symbolism, and through this was probably led to study anthropology. In 1922 she returned to London and enrolled as a PhD student in cultural anthropology at University College, London. McConnel’s career as an anthropologist is well covered by O’Gorman. It began in 1926, when she 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 ...

Flourished

  • fl. c.1904 - c.1957

View the full record at Design and Art Australia Online

Ursula McConnel undertook research into the Aboriginal peoples of the Gulf of Carpentaria region of the Cape York Peninsula 1927-1928 and 1934.

View the full record at Encyclopedia of Australian Science

Related people and organisations

Australian Women's Register

Design and Art Australia Online

Resources for Ursula Hope McConnel

Selected resources (35)

Australian Women's Register

  1. McConnel, Ursula Hope
    Published: National Foundation for Australian Women
    Series: IspartOf The Australian Women's Register
  2. Ursula McConnel: The Archaeology of an Anthropologist
    O'Gorman, Anne
    [Canberra, ACT]
    Published: Australian National University
  3. Heritage : the national women's art book, 500 works by 500 Australian women artists from colonial times to 1955
    Kerr, Joan
    [Roseville East, NSW]
    Published: Craftsman House
  4. The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia
    Smart, Judith and Swain, Shurlee (eds.)
    [2014]
    Published: Australian Women's Archives Project
  5. Cape York Peninsula: Development and Control
    McConnel, Ursula
    Series: IspartOf Walkabout
  6. Ursula McConnel
    Kerr, Joan
    [Roseville East, NSW]
    Published: Crafstman House
    Series: IspartOf Heritage: The National Women's Art BookKerr, Joan
  7. Journeys to the Interior
    Rothwell, Nicholas
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Black Inc.
  8. Feminist Anthropology Thesis Topic: Re-reading Australian Women Ethnographers; a Feminist Appraisal of the Anthropological Work of Phyllis Kaberry, Olive Pink and Ursula McConnel in the 1930s
    Leslie, Christina
    [Bundoora, Vic.]
    Published: La Trobe University
  9. First in Their Field: Women and Australian Anthropology
    Marcus, Julie; Lepervanche, Marie de; McBryde, Isabel; Prior, Mary Ellen Murray; White, Isobel; Morris, Miranda; O'Gorman, Anne; Marcus, Julie and Cheater, Christine
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Melbourne University Press
  10. Ursula McConnel : A Woman of Vision
    O'Gorman, Anne
    Series: IspartOf Bulletin (Olive Pink Society)
  11. Australian Anthropologists and Political Action 1925-1960
    Sutton, Peter
    Series: IspartOf Oceania
  12. Unexpected Treasure: Surprise Discovery of Early Anthropological Papers by Ursula McConnel in Adelaide
    Sutton, Peter
    [Oxford]
    Published: Blackwell
  13. Ursula McConnel
    Kerr, Joan
    [2011]
    Series: IspartOf Design and Art Australia Online
  14. Brilliant Careers - Women collectors and illustrators in Queensland
    McKay, Judith
    [South Brisbane]
    Published: Queensland Museum Publication
  15. Only Sticks and Bark: Ursula McConnel - Her Collecting and Collection
    O'Gorman Peruso, Anne
    [Carlton, Vic.]
    Published: Melbourne University Press
    Series: IspartOf The Makers and Making of Indigenous Australian Museum CollectionsPeterson, Nicolas, Allen, Lindy and Hamby, Louise
  16. Native arts and industries on the Archer, Kendall and Holroyd Rivers, Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland
    McConnel, Ursula H
    [Adelaide, South Australia]
    Published: The Hassell Press
  17. McConnel, Ursula Hope (1888 - 1957)
    O'Gorman Perusco Anne
    [Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia]
    Published: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University
    Series: IspartOf Australian Dictionary of BiographyAustralian National University
  18. Myths of the Munkan
    McConnel, Ursula H
    [Carlton, Victoria]
    Published: Melbourne University Press
  19. The snake, the serpent and the rainbow : Ursula McConnel and Aboriginal Australians
    O'Gorman, Anne
    [Carlton, Victoria]
    Published: Melbourne University Press
    Series: IspartOf First in their field : women and Australian anthropologyMarcus, Julie
  20. Surprise Discovery of Early Anthropological Papers in Adelaide
    Sutton, P
    [Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia]
    Published: Australian Anthropological Society
    Series: IspartOf The Australian Anthropological Society NewsletterAustralian Anthropological Society
  21. 'Perhaps if there had been more women in the north, the story would have been different: Gender and Race in North Queensland 1840-1930.
    Henningham, Nikki
    [Melbourne]
    Published: The University of Melbourne, Department of History
  22. Ursula McConnel
    [c. 1938 -]
    Series: John Oxley Library, Manuscripts and Business Records Collection, State Library of Queensland
    Copied and digitised from an image appearing in Biographical Record of Queensland Women 1939
    119332
  23. Letters from Ursula McConnel to Fry
    [7 : c. 1950 - c. 1952]
    Series: South Australian Museum Archives
    Seven letters containing an exchange of information regarding social organisation of Australian Aboriginal people mainly focusing on the concepts of matrilineal and patrilineal kinships.
    AA 105/7/1/1-7
  24. McConnel, Ursula Hope (AA 191)
    Series: South Australian Museum Archives
    The South Australian Museum Archives contains material collected in the field by McConnel, including negatives, lantern slides, a photographic album, photographic prints, field notes, paintings and audio capture in various formats. The collection was augmented with the chance discovery of McConnel's tin trunk in a shed, scheduled for demolition on a property at North Brighton, in South Australia. Over 800 photographs and 3000 loose pages were contained in the trunk, which was donated to the South Australian Museum in July 2006. The combined material provides great insight into the personal and professional life of McConnel.
    AA 191
  25. Oceania vol. Xxl
    [0.06 m, 1 book : 1950]
    Series: South Australian Museum Archives
    A copy of 1950, Oceania, vol. xxl, no. 2; sent to Fry and Tindale (see aa 338) from Ursula McConnel (see AA 191). This book contains several loose, hand written copies of McConnel's Diagrams of Marriage, and Marriage and Kinship Systems; plus notes and annotations written within the book itself.
    AA 105/7/2
  26. Sir John Burton Cleland (1878-1971) - Papers, principally relating to anthropology and medicine
    [1905 - 1971]
    Series: The University of Adelaide, Barr Smith Library Rare Books & Special Collections
    1. Letters from 'persons of note' and 'prominent persons'. 1905-44. 3 cm. 2. Correspondence (mainly letters received by Cleland). 1912-59. 8 cm. 3. Letters from Olive Pink. May 1930 - December 1934. 2 cm. 4. Note books of observations and experiments on expeditions to Macdonald Downs 1930, Cockatoo Creek 1931, Mt 5. Reports by Cleland on anthropological expeditions 1933-39. 1 cm. 6. Reports on visits to and inspections of missions and 'native institutions' by Cleland (most on behalf of the Aborigines Protection Board) and on matters of Board policy and the welfare of Aboriginal Australians. 1938-48 and undated. 2 cm. 7. Reports on visits to missions and locations by others, and copies of correspondence memoranda etc. received by the Aborigines Protection Board. 1929, 1937-60. 4 cm 8. Papers and addresses by Cleland on Aboriginal Australians (reprints, ms and typescripts, some with notes). 1934-57 (most undated). 5 cm. 9. Daisy Bates Memorial Committee. Correspondence and newspaper cuttings re the Fund, use and publication of the papers, and the award of Memorial Prizes for projects by schoolchildren on aboriginal life. 1951-53, 1960-61. 1 cm. 10. Newspaper and magazine cuttings, principally general articles re Aboriginal Australians. 1934, 1947-48, 1951 (re Flinders Chase), 1953, 1955, 1959 (Stuart Royal Commission), 1960 (proposed memorial to Ernest Kramer). 2 cm. 11. Contributions by Cleland on medical, botanic and ornithological subjects (reprints, photocopies and journal issues). 1906-70. 4 cm. 12. Obituaries 1971 and draft entry in 1966 Who's Who. 1 cm. 13. 'Medical pictures and notes'. Collection of popular articles, illustrations, photographs, cartoons etc. relating to the history of medicine. 3 cm. 14. Reprints of papers by A.A. Abbie, Joseph Birdsell, J.R. Casley-Smith, H.M. Cooper, H.H. Finlayson, Edmund Gill, C.J. Hackett, F.R. Irvine, Ursula McConnel, R.T. Simmons and T.G.H. Strehlow on the physical anthropology and material culture of Aboriginal Australians. 1947-59. 16 items. 15. Publications on Aboriginal culture and social issues. 1932-59. 10 items. Note: the 6 items listed below have now been catalogued separately: F.W. Albrecht, The natural food supply of the Australian Aborigines Ronald M. Berndt, Social anthropological survey of the Warburton, Blackstone and Rawlinson ranges [report] March 1959 The National Aborigines Day Observance Committee in association with The National Missionary Council of Australia, Call to national observance Ministers' Bulletin 43, May 1960 H.K. Fry, Dieri legends (1-2) Folk-Lore xlviii, June and September 1937 Nganyintjanya Ernabella News Letter August 1943
    MSS 572 C61
  27. Reed Basket
    Series: National Museum of Australia
    1985.0074.0047

Encyclopedia of Australian Science

  1. McConnel, Ursula Hope
    Published: The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre
    Series: Encyclopedia of Australian Science
  2. McConnel, Ursula Hope (1888-1957), Anthropologist
    Perusco, Anne O'Gorman
    Published: Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2000
    Series: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 15, 178-179
  3. First in Their Field: Women and Australian Anthropology
    Marcus, Julie, Lepervanche, Marie de, McBryde, Isabel, Prior, Mary Ellen Murray, White, Isobel; Morris, Miranda; O'Gorman, Anne; Marcus, Julie and Cheater, Christine
    Published: Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1993
  4. Enigma Variations
    Rothwell, Nicolas
    Published: 2009
    Series: The Weekend Australian, 6-7
  5. Where are the Women in Australian Science?
    McCarthy, Gavan; Morgan, Helen; Smith, Ailie; van den Bosch, Alan
    Published: Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, 2003
  6. Brilliant Careers: Women Collectors and Illustrators in Queensland
    McKay, Judith
    Published: Queensland Museum, Brisbane, 1997
  7. Ursula McConnel's Tin Trunk: a Remarkable Recovery
    Sutton, P.
    Published: 2010
    Series: Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 134, 101-14
  8. Only Sticks and Bark: Ursula McConnel - Her Collecting and Collection
    O'Gorman Perusco, Anne
    Published: Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2008
    Series: The Makers and Making of Indigenous Australian Museum Collections, 419-42

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  1. McConnel, May Jordan (1860-1929)
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    ... McConnel, Ursula Hope (1888 - 1957) ... McConnel, Mary (1824 - 1910) ... May Jordan McConnel was the first paid female union organiser in Queensland, elected Secretary of ... suffrage, was founded. May was elected as Treasurer. In 1910, the McConnel family left Brisbane for the ...
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  2. Kerr, Joan (1938-2004)
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  1. Studies Among Natives— —Miss Ursula McConnel's Work
    The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954) Monday 11 September 1933 p 18 Article Illustrated
    ... Studies Among Natives— —Miss Ursula McConnel's Work American Indians have long been noted for their ... ," according to Miss Ursula McConnel, a Queensland scientist who returned to Australia recently after two years ... 761 words
    • Text last corrected on 5 January 2015 by Spearth
    • 1 comment on 3 January 2015
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  2. "BELONG ARCHER." WHERE BLACK MAN STILL HOLDS SWAY. WOMAN'S AMAZING TRIP. By URSULA McCONNEL. (Copyright.)
    The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) Wednesday 18 April 1928 p 14 Article Illustrated
    ... "BELONG ARCHER." WHERE BLACK MAN STILL HOLDS SWAY. WOMAN'S AMAZING TRIP. By URSULA McCONNEL ... I, too, "belong Archer" now! Miaa Ursula McConneL. B-A-, carried out her reseircb work in Cape York ... 1212 words
    • Text last corrected on 11 November 2019 by RACJ
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  3. Death of Pioneer, Mrs.M.E. McConnel Of Cressbrook
    The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947) Monday 17 November 1941 p 7 Article
    ... , Toogoolawah; and A. W. Biggs, Sydney; Misses Kath-arine and Ursula McConnel, Cressbrook. The funeral will take ... Death of Pioneer, Mrs. M. E. McConnel Of Cressbrook The death occurred this morning at Cressbrook ... 262 words
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    Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW : 1901 - 2001) Friday 16 October 1959 [Issue No.118] p 3150

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  2. COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC SERVICE. Examination No. 1158. FOR APPOINTMENT AS SORTER (FEMALE), DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, NEW SOUTH WALES. Held 10th March, 1923.
    Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (National : 1901 - 1973) Thursday 5 April 1923 [Issue No.24] p 467

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