Archibald Sillars Hamilton

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Archibald Sillars Hamilton

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Archibald Sillars Hamilton, known professionally as 'AS', became one of the most famous phrenologists in colonial Australia. Born in or before 1819 in Ayrshire, Scotland, he grew up as phrenology reached a frenzy of popularity in his native country. His father, Edward Hamilton, was a muslin manufacturer, but it was the influence of his mother, the popular phrenologist Agnes Sillars Hamilton, that determined his future livelihood. Hamilton arrived in Launceston in November 1854, and over the next 30 years lectured and gave private readings across Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and both of New Zealand’s islands. In 1854, a private customer of Hamilton’s could opt for either a description of their character with advice (3 shillings, 6 pence), a written sketch of character (5 shillings), or a detailed character reading with a phrenological chart (10 shillings). Hamilton was given the head of Ned Kelly after his death and he published an account of the skull's phrenology. Phrenologists believed that the exterior of the skull directly reflected the surface of the brain, which itself comprised a multitude of organs responsible for functions ranging from love of children to religiosity, concentration, and social sympathy. Hamilton was charged in 1860 in Maitland with inciting to exhume corpses from a burial ground. His target in that case was the skull of the Aboriginal man Jim Crow, executed a few months earlier. Hamilton’s collection of human remains was a powerful drawcard to his lectures. By the time of his death, he had amassed some 55 skulls or parts thereof – about 30 Aboriginal, four Maori, one 'Hindoo', one Chinese, and the rest European. He sourced them not only through grave-robbing, but also through gifts and trades within the networks he forged in each new town. Hamilton died in Redfern, Sydney, in 1884
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