The National Museum of Australia has been preserving, developing and exhibiting the National Historical Collection since 1980. Today, it is a rich and diverse collection of more than 210,000 objects covering all aspects of Australian life, histories and cultures. The objects featured here are some of the latest additions to the collection.
Many treasured objects have been donated by Australians to the Museum since its foundation. If you have an object or artefact that you believe would make a valuable contribution to the collection, please call our duty curator on (02) 6208 5019 or email Curator@nma.gov.au. Further information on donating is also available on the Museum website at Donating objects to the Museum.
Nelson's dog collar
by Martha Sear, Senior Curator
This copper collar with brass studs is linked to the dramatic story of a dog saving a cab driver from drowning in a flooded Melbourne street in the 1880s.
Melbourne’s location, close to the Yarra River, made it prone to flooding. On the evening of 15 November 1881, a thunderstorm brought heavy rain to the city, turning streets into miniature rivers. Thomas Brown, the driver of a horsedrawn cab, was pulled into a torrent racing down Swanston Street, in the heart of the city.
Brown’s cries for help were heard by local tobacconist and hairdresser Mr Higginbotham and his dog, Nelson. Luckily for Brown, Nelson was a Newfoundland, a breed with a strong instinct for water rescue and retrieval, with their large, powerful bodies, waterresistant coat and webbed feet.
Nelson made repeated attempts to catch hold of Brown, persisting even when the cab-driver was sucked into a culvert and had been given up for dead. In a final effort, Higginbotham, another man, Mr Mates, and Nelson plunged into the racing stream and managed to haul Brown out of the water. Bleeding, with a broken leg, Brown was taken to hospital.
We don’t know what became of Brown or Nelson. But Nelson’s collar has survived, and was purchased by the Museum at a recent auction, 130 years after the rescue. Perhaps Nelson was wearing the collar when he made his daring rescue — or maybe it was a gift from Thomas Brown, grateful he had escaped the fate of many Melburnians killed by floods in the nineteenth century.