Ursula Hope McConnel (1888-1957), was born on 27 October, 1888 at the family estate ‘Cressbrook’, near Toogoolawah, Queensland and this is where her ashes now rest. Her father was Henry McConnel, son of David Cannon McConnel, and her mother was Mary Elizabeth, née Kent.
Ursula McConnel attended Brisbane High School for Girls and completed her schooling at New England Girls' School, Armidale, New South Wales, winning prizes for singing and languages. In her late teens, she studied history, politics, literature and music at the women's department, King's College, London, and by the age of 20 she achieved first class honors in philosophy and Psychology at the University of Queensland.
Between 1927 and 1934 McConnel undertook multiple field trips to far North Queensland to conduct ethnographic research with Wik Mungkan Aboriginal Australians. During this time she publishing a number of articles in Oceania (the drafts of which are contained in these archives). McConnel was also awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to study under Edward Sapir at Yale University, Connecticut, United States of Americia in 1931. However, despite her significant published and unpublished contribution she was unsuccessful in her applications for academic employment and was denied a PhD on the grounds of insufficient publications.
Ursula McConnel's substantial field research with the Wik Mungkan people of Cape York Peninsula, far North Queensland was obtained under grants from the Australian National Research Council. Material Collected during and related to these field trips is currently housed in several locations including; the South Australian Museum and the National Museum in Canberra. Further archival material related to Ursula’s personal and professional life can be found at the University of Sydney (Fisher Library), there is also a significant collection related to Ursula McConnel and her family at the John Oxley Library in Queensland
Originally, the South Australian Museum's collection was comprised of material collected in the field by Ursula McConnel. Items held included film negatives, lantern slides, a photographic album, some loose photographs, audio capture in various formats including wax cylinder recordings, paintings and some field notes. This original archival grouping of material complements and records Ursula McConnel’s significant Wik Mungkan material culture collection held at the South Australian Museum. Ursula McConnel’s tin trunk was discovered in a shed intended for demolition on a property in North Brighton, South Australia. This trunk contained over 800 photographs and 3000 lose manuscript pages and was donated to the South Australian Museum in July 2006. This material provides much greater insight into the personal and professional life of Ursula McConnel, as it contains a great many drafts, notes, talks, revisions as well as personal letters.
Peter Sutton wrote about the discovery of the tin trunk and places it within its Australian Anthropological context in his article 'Ursula McConnel’s Tin Trunk: A Remarkable Recovery', published 2010 in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. The text for the material found in the 'Tin Trunk', has been adapted into HDMS by Mary Filsell from Peter Sutton's original document titled: Inventory of items found in Ursula McConnel's Tin Trunk donated to the SA Museum in June 2006 by Peter Sutton.