Grave expectations: When a celebrated Aboriginal man was exhumed in 1903 locals were shocked to find his coffin EMPTY - as incredible grave robbing scandal that shocked Australia was uncovered
When the grave of an Aboriginal man was exhumed in colonial-era Australia, an empty coffin sparked sinister rumours among the local townsfolk.
Poltpalingada Booboorowie, a Ngarringjeri man residents knew as Tommy Walker, was a popular figure before his death.
Poltpalingada Booboorowie是一名Ngarringjeri男子，当地居民称他为汤米·沃克(Tommy Walker)，他在去世前是一个受欢迎的人物。
He would frequently dress in a top hat and tails as he wandered the streets of Adelaide in the early 1900s.
Although Walker accepted the colonial rulers with good humour he would often make fun of them when he ended up in court.
When caught without a tram ticket, Walker told one judge he had the same free-fare rights a parliamentarians.
'The newspapers would comment upon his appearances in court where he would make some sort of sarcastic remark to the judge,' historian Robert Foster told the ABC.
So liked was Walker that well-heeled Adelaide society types were saddened when he passed away in 1901.
The city's stock exchange even paid for a funeral and headstone and fond obituaries published were published in the local press.
However two-years later when Walker's grave was exhumed on orders of the South Australian parliament, the coffin was found to contain only sandbags.
Suddenly all eyes turned to the state-coroner who presided over Walker's autopsy and burial, a man by the name of William Ramsay-Smith who was educated in Edinburgh, and was not well-liked among residents.
Two of Ramsay-Smith's disgruntled colleagues had tipped-off parliament, telling the authorities that something was amiss with Walker's grave.
'They decided to go to parliament and to suggest to them that they should exhume Tommy Walker's grave, and not just Tommy Walker's,' Historian Tony Love said.
'There were a couple of others, a Chinese man and an American black man who had been a sailor.'
The missing bodies sparked a scandal which blew open a behind-the-scenes practice of body-shopping, in which scientists in Australia were shipping the bodies back to the United Kingdom to be studied by academics.
Darwin's Origin of the Species had been published about half a century earlier and the anatomy of Indigenous people's was a topic of particular interest to the well established scientific institutions and museums of Europe.
Locals back in Australia were outraged when they discovered the truth with newspapers declaring: 'Tommy Walker - he rests in pieces'.
Ramsay-Smith was charged with 18 breaches of the Anatomy Act and there was also a parliamentary inquiry conducted which uncovered the practice was common among Adelaide's museum, hospital, and medical school.
Despite the outrage the inquiry reprimanded Ramsay-Smith for his 'zeal in the cause of science' impairing his judgement but did not find him guilty.
He was removed from his official position but continued his scientific studies for the next two decades - attending burial sites of the Ngarrrindjeri people in South Australia.
When he died in 1938, 180 skulls were found in his residence.
The practice led to distrust among Aboriginal communities in South Australia over the following decades with many refusing to go to hospitals for treatment.
Indigenous elder Major Sumner explains that even now the Ngarrindjeri people insist on an open coffin at a funeral.
'We make sure the right person is in the box or there is a person in there, because if we dug up all the coffins in our cemetery more than half would be empty because in those days the coroner had full control of what to do with remains,' he said.
The South Australian Aborigines Friends Association wrote on behalf of the people of Point McLeay Mission to return Mr Walker's remains but the request was largely ignored for more than 70 years.
There have been renewed efforts in recent years to repatriate the remains of those indigenous people transported to British institutions, with more than 1,500 ancestral remains being brought back by the end of 2019.
Thousands more are still in British, European and American museums.
Mr Sumner, who has been travelling to foreign countries regularly for the last 30 years to negotiate the repatriation of his ancestors, said negotiations can be slow.
He explains while some people are willing to listen and want to learn about Aboriginal culture, others have the view that the remains are their property.
Mr Sumner would like to see a National Resting Place establish for the remains of those ancestors returned to the country, not only out of respect but also a reminder that we should move forward as a society and not regress.