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A4255 Figure 'Shou Lao', carved pinite, China, [early 19th century], excavated in Doctor's Gully, Palmerston, Port Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Click to enlarge.

Figure of ‘Shou Lao’ from China

Made in China, Asia, EARLY 19TH CENTURY.

This carved figure is a Chinese deity known as Shou Lao or God of Longevity. Shou Lao is one of the three Daoist Gods of Fu (Good fortune) Lu (Prosperity) Shou (Longevity). It was discovered in 1879, under the root of a large banyan tree at Doctor’s Gully, Palmerston, Port Darwin in Australia.

Shou Lao is the Daoist God of Longevity who usually has a very prominent forehead, carrying a gourd of elixir or a peach which signifies longevity. This particular figure is riding a deer which is also a...


Object No.


Object Statement

Figure 'Shou Lao', carved pinite, China, [early 19th century], excavated in Doctor's Gully, Palmerston, Port Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Physical Description

Carved figure of a bearded, robed man (Shou Lao the god of longevity) riding astride a deer. The man's torso is turned to face the front, his right arm is bent across his chest to hold a peach in his hand. His left hand rests in the deer's head. The space between the deer's legs and belly has not been completely carved away, leaving a large solid area of stone.

(A plaster cast of this object was taken and acquired by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1889, object number A1).


No marks



120 mm


80 mm


25 mm


235 g



On object file is a Note by Claire Roberts "John Wade's attribution of an early C19th date is based on information provided to him by Chinese archaeologists in Australia in conjunction with "The Chinese Exhibition" held in Australia in 1977 and other experts all of whom sighted the object. In a letter dated 23 August 1977 J Wade states:

"The Chinese archaeologists passed no comment on the figure regarding it as a curio. Other experts passing through and to whom I have shown it, place it at the earliest in the second half of the C18th, and most likely in the early C19th. It is of course a minor work and no doubt there are few accurately dated examples of this kind, but I see no reason to claim great antiquity for it"

Owing to the inadequacy of the record of excavation in 1879 it would appear that stylistic analysis is the only option for dating. The Powerhouse Museum continues to gather information and opinions about the date of the object." (John Wade was a Curator at the Powerhouse Museum)




China, Asia



The Shou Lao figurine was discovered in 1879 at Doctor's Gully, Palmerston, Port Darwin, Northern Territory, when a gang of workmen, making a road, cleared a banyan tree and found the statue wedged amongst its roots. The gang was supervised by a government official, Mr Strawbridge, who pocketed the find.

Late in 1888, the Curator of the Technological Museum in Sydney (later Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) wrote to various bodies exhibiting at the Centennial International Exhibition, seeking donations of material for the Museum. In response, the South Australian Commissioner sent a plaster cast of the statuette (museum number A1).

Thomas Worsnop, Town Clerk of Adelaide, purchased the figure from Strawbridge for five guineas. After his death there was an unsuccessful attempt to sell the figure to the South Australian Museum. Later the figure was placed, by Worsnop's daughters, on loan to the Art Gallery of South Australia, (apparently in the 1930s) but was withdrawn during WWII for fear of Japanese bombing raids.

The figure passed by descent to Mrs May Krogman, who offered it to the Australian Museum early in 1950. The curator at the Australian Museum suggested that it belonged in the Technological Museum and was purchased by that museum for 10 pounds.

John Wade (a former Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences curator) speculates that the most likely explanation for it's presence in Australia was that it came with Macassan fishermen engaged in the trepang trade with China.

Later comments on the office file by Claire Roberts (Powerhouse Museum Curator) following discussion with Margaret Clinch (13/2/1996) of the Northern Territory Historical Society suggest that the figurine was more likely to have been deposited in the tree some years before discovery. The Macassan connection is unlikely because trepangers did not usually come to Doctor's Gully / Darwin, preferring instead another area of the Northern Territory. Margaret Clinch feels the figurine was more likely left by local Chinese people already in Australia.




Credit Line

Purchased 1950

Acquisition Date

20 June 1950

Cite this Object


Figure of 'Shou Lao' from China 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 23 September 2019, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Figure of 'Shou Lao' from China |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=23 September 2019 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Icons: From the MAAS Collection at the Powerhouse Museum.

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