Stuff the British Stole – Season 2, ABC review

Marc Fennell's ABC documentary series Stuff the British Stole, about where the world's treasures belong, is spot-on.
Stuff the British Stole S2 ABC

Over the last few years, the popularity of grave robbing has really taken a hit. Time was, you could make a video game titled Tomb Raider, or show Indiana Jones pillaging some ancient temple, and your audience would understand that what they were watching was the rescuing of long-lost treasures, valuable items being salvaged so they could be appreciated by the wider world. Those precious things were just… lying around. Obviously.

This is not a viewpoint supported by Stuff the British Stole. Marc Fennell’s documentary series (now in its second season) travels the world to look at the origins of some of the world’s great cultural treasures and ask the question, ‘What is all this stuff from across the globe doing in the British Museum?’

To be fair, not everything has ended up as part of the Museum’s collection; there’s plenty of good stuff stashed away in stately homes, quirky collections, and the British royal family’s jewellery box. Which is part of what makes this series so intriguing.

Beyond the provocative title, it’s really a look at some of the world’s classic treasures – and colonialism’s darkest periods. Across eight episodes, this second season covers: a collection of Egyptian artefacts that ended up in NSW; a look at the British Empire’s history of resource extraction through the prism of the world’s largest diamond; the body snatchers robbing graves for science in the 19th century; how Britain stole the rubber trade from Brazil; and much more.

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While each episode focuses on an item, the stories behind them are very different. Episode One looks at the Elgin Marbles, highlighting the conflict between the UK (which has them) and Greece (which wants them back); how their history is used to support one side or the other’s arguments, and a project that’s trying to end the conflict once and for all.

A later episode focusing on the UK’s Operation Legacy is the opposite, looking at a cultural artefact (the records of Britain’s brutal history in Africa) that the UK government set out to destroy. Episode Four, ‘Girl & The Doll’, takes a battered children’s toy and through it, examines the devastation wrought upon the Indigenous people and culture of what is now Tasmania.

Whatever your views on whether the British have a right to claim ownership to these items, the series does an excellent job of outlining the arguments and controversies around them (some claim Lord Elgin was ‘rescuing’ the Marbles from a region in turmoil). Most of them boil down to, ‘It may have been technically legal at the time, but “technically” is doing a lot of heavy lifting,’, a mercenary view of history, where might and money makes right, and theft can be made to seem virtuous, so long as you stash your stolen goods in a museum.

Fennell is an engaging host, and the storytelling here is spot-on whether he’s pointing out the human quirks and foibles of those involved or sketching in the geopolitical state that allowed so much looting to take place. And while the UK can (and does) certainly defend itself, it’s clear the days when Britanna ruled the waves – or could tell people asking for their stuff back to bugger off – are fast fading into the distance.

Not so long ago, the idea of Britain giving up any of their ill-gotten gains would have been laughable. Now it’s only a matter of time before someone with the geopolitical strength to back up their claims decides they’re not asking for their stuff back, they’re taking it.

Stuff the British Stole – Season 2 is airing weekly on ABC, Mondays, 8pm, with all eight episodes available on ABC iview.


4 out of 5 stars

Stuff the British Stole, Season 2


Host: Marc Fennell


Stephanie Weimar

Format: TV Series

Country: Australia/Canada

Release: 17 June 2024

Available on:

abc iview, 8 Episodes

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.