The Papua Insects Foundation

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The Stirling Expedition or

The Dutch-American expedition to the Nassau Mountains (1926-1927)

The Dutch-American Expedition to the highlands of Central Dutch New Guinea (1926-1927), also called The Stirling Expedition, was led by the American antropologist Dr. Matthew W. Stirling. The aim of the expedition was to map the unknown interior of the Carstensz Mountains (Snow Mountains).
The Expedition had about 400 participans of which 75 Ambonese soldiers, 130 Dayak canoers and 250 Indian convicts as porters. Important Dutch members of the expedition are topographer and ethnographer Charles Constant le Roux and biologist and botanist Willem Docters van Leeuwen who also took care of zoological collections.
Their expedition reports were not only about the local inhabitans and their environment at the river Mamberamo and the Rouffaer River but also about the troubles during the expedition between the American and Dutch members of the expedition. These reports give a total different view on the expedition than the films do which were made during the expedition and explain why the Dutch finally took over the leadership of the expedition.

A scoop in history of expeditions was the use of a seaplane with which 1600 kilometers was flown for making airial pictures and film. The aim was to find pygmy tribes in the Nassau Mountains. The American filmer Richard K. Peck made a film of more than 6 kilometers length of the habits and life of the local people and the diaries of Matthew Stirling and historian Stanley Hedberg are treated in the film. On the website of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington more than 700 pictures and a 2 hours film are accessable, titled “By Aeroplane to Pygmyland”.

The Nassau Mountains (Snow Mountains) form an almost impenetrable area with altitudes from 1500 up to 3000 meters. Matthew Stirling read about pygmys in early reports and was appealed to find them himself. Although the expedition was insufficiently prepared it was ahead of its time. For the first time an aeroplane was used, Stirling had the plan to fly in goods and people, to do research and return by plane again. A film camera was used to make a film report, a phonographic device was taken for recording local music and other sounds and a radiostation to have contact with the civilized world. "Fast and spectacular", as Americans used to do in that time. However, the plans failed with the East Indian mentality and local tropical circumstances. Slow boats on flooded rivers from camp to camp, an airoplane which was mostly out of duty due to engine trouble and broken off floaters, problems between the American and Dutch expedition members and the commanders of the military escort. It meant the end of an expedition which could have been very successful.

Nevertheless some successes were made. A lot of interesting historic information was collected and stored on the local people and botanical and zoological material was collected by Willem Docters van Leeuwen, mainly at Albatross Camp. The insects collected during this expedition are stored in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, The Netherlands.

updated on 10th November 2013