Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Documenting, Researching and Conserving Pitcairn Island’s Material Culture

The Pacific Development and Conservation Trust of New Zealand have confirmed their most generous financial support for our project titled “Documenting, Researching and Conserving Pitcairn Island’s Material Culture”.   
The Pacific Development and Conservation Trust (PDCT) was established by Trust Deed by the New Zealand Government on 23 May 1989. The money for the Trust was received from the French Government in recognition of events surrounding the destruction of the Rainbow Warrior vessel in 1985.  Some of us might recall Norfolk Island’s connection to this incident with the vessel Ouvea arriving at Norfolk Island after smuggling explosives and other gear into New Zealand.  Thirty years has passed since the explosion of the Greenpeace vessel that tragically killed photographer Fernando Pereira, just earlier this month the French secret-service agent who led the attack made a public apology for his actions.
We at the Norfolk Island Museum are extremely pleased and excited to be provided with the financial resource to pursue this project. The aim of our project is to locate, document and provide conservation advice on Pitcairn Island’s material culture that is held with the communities on Norfolk Island and New Zealand.  
'Bounty' kettle
The permanent population on Pitcairn Island has been decreasing rapidly in recent times with the islanders migrating mainly to New Zealand.  The cultural material is leaving the island along with the people putting the provenance of the material at risk and creating potential for these objects to be lost.
This is a two stage project.  Stage 1 is to identify and document Pitcairn Island’s cultural material located in New Zealand and Norfolk Island while Stage 2 will focus on Pitcairn itself.  This initial successful grant is to facilitate stage 1.
The need for this project has been identified through feedback from Norfolk Islanders visiting Pitcairn Island, and also by our relationship with the Pitcairn Island Museum, whom have little resources to undertake this type of project themselves.
This project is fundamental to the protection of Pitcairn Island’s material culture.  No previous projects have provided for such a holistic approach to ensure material is identified and documented. This project also explicitly acknowledges that there is a distinct Pitcairner culture created through the historical circumstances of its 18th century establishment by Polynesian and European forebears:  its development on Pitcairn and later Norfolk Island. Today, these objects are an important part of this heritage.  

'Bounty' cannon
 Documentation of this material and associated knowledge about its cultural contexts, uses and significance will form a focus for future community interest in its material and cultural heritage, as well as provide a body of material for researchers – wherever they may reside, through physical and digital access.  And what a valuable gift this will be to the future generations of Pitcairn and Norfolk Islanders.
Individuals will be given the opportunity to tell their stories about life on Pitcairn Island.  They will have the opportunity to have these stories recorded for themselves and their families. Participants can showcase their material culture and connections to Pitcairn Island.  Basic conservation advice will be provided to ensure the objects remain in good condition, objects will be photographed and their history recorded.  This information will form a comprehensive database.   The Norfolk Island Museum will be the repository and access point of this data base of material, information and research enabling full and direct access to the community. 
The Pitcairn and Norfolk Island culture is intrinsically interwoven; this project is imperative to protect our shared heritage and culture.  It also offers a fantastic opportunity to develop research, learning and curatorial outcomes.  
We’ll keep you posted, in the meantime please contact us at the Norfolk Island Museum - your knowledge and ideas are important!

Janelle Blucher

Monday, September 14, 2015

Shipwrecks in our waters - The Oscar Robinson

There are many more shipwrecks in the waters surrounding Norfolk Island than is commonly known.  One of these lesser known shipwreck stories is that of the Oscar Robinson, a wooden hulled sailing vessel of 61 ton that became stranded on the reef close to the narrow entrance into Emily Bay.
The Oscar Robinson was originally a trader off the coast of NSW, built in 1883 at Williams River in NSW and registered in Sydney to Mr John Pinto of Balmain.  This schooner became a regular trader between Sydney, Lord Howe and Norfolk Island, providing a vital freight and passenger service between these ports. 
On this particular voyage in January 1898 she was headed from Sydney to Noumea via Lord Howe and Norfolk Island; offloading passengers and loading up with fifteen ton of onions at Norfolk. The ship was anchored off shore at Kingston, towards the south.  Captain Garth was not on board having left the vessel in charge of the mate Mr. Bezer and a local pilot, Guildford Adams. On 16 January about 2 p.m. a heavy, black, nasty-looking squall gathered to the south-west, the decision was taken to manoeuvre the schooner out to sea. The wind being favourable for this direction her course was set to go between Nepean and Norfolk Islands, a passage occasionally used by small vessels.  Unfortunately the squall produced little wind and that which did arrive came from the east south east put the vessel in difficulty.  The anchor was lifted and she started with the foresail and inner jib. Shortly afterwards the mainsail was partly hoisted, then lowered and the outer jib set.  All to no avail, the vessel drifted dangerously close to the breakers and an unsuccessful attempt was made to change course but as she would neither tack nor wear she struck the reef. 
Onshore the desperate scene was witnessed by many including the Norfolk Island Council of Elders as they were just about to hold a meeting.  Seeing the dangerous position of the vessel, the elders rushed to the boats, two were quickly launched but they were not able to reach the schooner before she struck.  The rescue boats proceeded through the narrow passage into Emily Bay and worked continuously throughout the afternoon until all the cargo and mail was recovered, fortunately the two men on board were not hurt beyond exhaustion and disappointment and everything was landed undamaged.   The Oscar Robinson was the second trading vessel lost at Norfolk within a five year period, the other was the Mary Ogilvie, both ships were under the command of Captain W.G Garth, we can only imagine his dismay.
During the evening Mr Young and a crew of locals made fast a line from the stranded vessel to a pine tree, they carried a small anchor and hawser (travelling block) out into the bay and at high tide that night the vessel floated off  the reef into Emily Bay, where she sank in shallow water.  
The Chief Magistrate appointed Captain Bates, Captain Champion, Sen. and Mr Snell as surveyors to survey the vessel, and an auctioneer for its sale.   The next day the wreck was surveyed and it was recommended that she be sold.  She went to auction on 20 January, the hammer went down on the sale at £46 10s and Mr. Charles Chase Ray Nobbs was the new owner of the sunken Oscar Robinson. 
Thirty men and boys were employed with casks, buckets and pumps to bale her out at low tide, succeeding in keeping the water down and managing to take her broadside onto the beach.  The men from the No. 2 whaling company were then engaged and put her further up onto the east corner of Emily Bay.  There begun the stripping of the copper sheathing and other repairs, most people who had carts and other appliances also provided assistance. It is not known whether this work was undertaken for remuneration from CCR Nobbs however it is known that Captain Garth was presented with a salvage claim for £299.
Charles Chase Ray Nobbs stated his intention to patch up the vessel and then send her to Sydney for final repairs.  He intended to keep her for the inter-island trade.   The Oscar Robinson was given a new master and a new name.  The new master was Captain Bezer, the chief mate that had struggled alongside Guildford Adams attempting to save her from shipwreck.  Agnes was the new name.  CCR Nobbs renamed his new schooner after his wife Agnes and the Agnes was the first vessel to be registered at Norfolk Island.

Janelle Blucher

Monday, September 7, 2015

Pictures from the past

Robert Finlay and his wife Jeanette visited the Norfolk Island Museum last week. Robert came to Norfolk Island for a holiday in February/March 1959 with his mother Mrs Beverley Finlay, from Launceston, Tasmania to visit his uncle and aunt who were living on the island at the time.  Mr Frank Patrick, his uncle, was the Officer in Charge of the airport, and Mrs Patrick was Robert’s mother’s sister.

Robert found some slides which belonged to his mother from that era, and brought the images with him to show us at the museum.

They include photos of the ‘NI’ pines at the airport; the airport lounge before and after upgrade; Joy Cochrane nee Christian pictured with Robert on horseback; the Burns Philp store at Middlegate; a church picnic at Kingston; views of Kingston prior to the pine plantings; view of Kingston from Rooty Hill Road; Burnt Pine shops; Hopkins store; Philip Island; views from Mt Pitt; airport office; the OIC house at DCA circle; the fire engines and a number of others.

Thank you Robert for so generously sharing your photos.

Monday, August 31, 2015

MMAPSS Success

We are delighted to have received notification from the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS) of our successful grant application to undertake the ‘HMS Sirius Collection Condition Assessment 2015’ project. 
Established in 1995 MMAPSS provides funding to support Australia’s maritime heritage. It is jointly funded by the Australian Government and the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM).  The Norfolk Island Museum has been extremely fortunate to have been the recipient of numerous grants over the years; grants that have assisted us in caring for the HMS Sirius Collection and funded the research, conservation, care and display of various aspects of Norfolk Island’s maritime heritage.

This year’s project provides for a conservator from the ANMM to visit Norfolk Island to conduct an assessment of the condition of the HMS Sirius Collection, the proposed date for the visit is February 2016.  In 2012 the collection was relocated from the Pier Store Museum into a dedicated HMS Sirius Museum, this is in the old Protestant Chapel or the Prince Phillip Youth Centre as some of us will remember.  This dedicated museum offers better environmental conditions than the Pier Store.  The collection is continuously monitored by the museum staff and preventive conservation is applied to ensure it remains stable in the new environment. 
However, it is seven years since a qualified conservator has undertaken a whole of collection condition assessment.  In this time not only the collection on display has been exposed to movement and a fluctuating environment, but the collection in storage has been rehoused into micro-environments.  This amount of changing activity to the collection now requires an assessment to record its condition. It is hoped the assessment will record the collection is in a good condition due to the environmental improvements over this time.  
Sirius artefacts raised from the seabed

Janelle Blucher

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Volunteers come at the right price. They are priceless!

It has been an extremely busy and productive past couple of weeks at the museum as we have benefited from the valuable skills and time offered by two wonderful volunteers.  Sue and Don Brian are not strangers to Norfolk; they left the island eighteen months ago after living here for five years.  Don taught science and chemistry at NICS and Sue volunteered her time to the museum four days a week for the most of that time, Sue had to have Wednesdays off from the museum so she could attend to weaving with the guys at the Golden Orb, and if she wasn’t at either of those places, you could find her volunteering for the National Park.  Outside of these times they were involved in many other charitable activities supporting the island. 
What they have achieved for the museum these past two weeks is just remarkable.   

Sue developed a template that enables us to upload multiple entries into our database in one single upload.  This is no mean feat considering there are more than eighty fields and multiple layers of classifications necessary for the cataloguing.   This template has enabled us to finally upload the Les Brown Collection of over 1,000 files, plus books and images into our database.  This week Sue has uploaded more than 2,000 entries into our database.    Sue’s previous volunteer work with the museum was mainly in the field of conservation, with a science background, she was perfect for the job, this week she has been able to provide instruction in conservation techniques to Gaye Evans, who has recently joined us at the museum.
Don originally planned for a one week holiday and extended to two.  He was kept busy for the first week digitising our entire collection of cassette tape recordings.  This digitising work is done in ‘real time’, outsourcing for this project would have cost hundreds.  Amongst this collection of cassette tapes is a recent donation by Chris Nobbs including nineteen oral history interviews he conducted during the 1980s and ‘90s, now we can hear those voices and listen to those stories.
Both Sue and Don have been enthusiastic researchers of everything ‘Norfolk’ even after they left the island, Don has taken on many interesting research projects himself and Sue has recently focused her research time on the shipwrecks of Norfolk, this research can now be seen on the Australian National Shipwreck Database, you can access it at www.environment.gov.au/topics/heritage/historic-shipwrecks/australian-national-shipwreck-database.
The final day of their ‘holiday’ on Norfolk was taken up with performing the next step in the conservation of the artefacts recently recovered from the works in the Blacksmith’s Compound.  More than one hundred ferrous objects were brushed and then placed back into fresh solutions of 2% sodium hydroxide; this part of the conservation process is to remove the corrosion causing chloride from the objects.  Sue’s work on the cataloguing template will be greatly appreciated again when it comes time to record these items into our database. 
These are the major projects accomplished during their two weeks on island, there were many other tasks completed along the way.  Sue and Don, your generosity and achievements are immeasurable, a huge thank-you to you both from a truly grateful Norfolk Island Museum.  Come back soon ..okay!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Carronade’s Tampion

Earlier this year we announced that a tampion (or tompion) had been brought back to the island after being at the Department of Materials Conservation at the Western Australian Museum for twenty two years undergoing conservation.  This tampion had been discovered in one of the HMS Sirius carronades when it was recovered from the wreck site.   We are delighted to finally have this object on display in our HMS Sirius Museum in a special cabinet constructed by K.C. Industries.

Myra Stanbury, now an 'Honorary Research Associate' at the Western Australian Museum, was the Registrar during the expeditions to recover the Sirius material from the reef.  She travelled to Norfolk in March this year as a guest presenter for the ‘225th Anniversary of the wrecking of the HMS Sirius’, bringing with her the tampion.  She said “In the process of conserving the second carronade recovered from the Sirius wreck site a disc-shaped, lathe-turned wooden tampion (or tompion) was found in the muzzle of the gun. 

Made of maple (Acer sp.), the plug was designed to prevent the penetration of sea water into the bore of the muzzle-loading gun which could cause rust to develop and render the gun unserviceable. Sometimes the tampions were carefully sealed with tallow or putty to make them watertight. This appears to have been the method employed on the Sirius carronade as a ‘waxy-oily’ layer of material was removed from the machine-turned inner surface of the tampion before it was placed in a treatment solution to remove some of the reactive iron corrosion products.Attached to the inner side of the tampion was a lanyard consisting of two 34-cm lengths of twisted twine. This was spliced to a ball of string wadding that fitted snugly within the 131 mm bore of the gun. When loaded with a clean round shot to fit the gun the ball of wadding in the muzzle would prevent the displacement of the tampion by the impact of the round shot as it rolled back and forth in the barrel with every roll of the ship. In this way, sometimes helped by the addition of olive oil or other suitable lubricant into the chamber of the gun, the bore was kept in good condition while at sea”.

This tampion is a very significant object. Not only is it a very rare example of a complete tampion of this period, it is now displayed beside the carronade it was recovered from, and the carronade itself is rare for its early short barreled design –  and it is on display within several hundred metres of the site of its recovery.  Come to the HMS Sirius Museum and take a look for yourself, remember entry is free for residents.   (Our image shows the tampion on display.)

And last but not least, I want to say a huge thank you to two amazing people who have volunteered their time at the museum last week.  Some of you may know David and Michelle Cullen being regular visitors to the island, they have been working hard in the Guard House completing a huge task of sorting papers, creating files and entering data.  I think we’ve exhausted the island’s supply of manila folders.  Thank you, thank you …. and see you again next year.

Janelle Blucher

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Touching History


This is exactly what 8th generation First Fleeter descendant Andre Forrester did in our museum this week, touched a tangible connection to the history of his forefather.

‘Do not touch’ is a general rule in our museums, particularly when it comes to metal, the moisture, oils and salts on your skin transfer to the object encouraging corrosion.  However, this particular metal object has a sign beside it which reads ‘please touch’.   This object is a ballast block recovered from the wreck of the HMS Sirius during the ‘2002 Sirius Expedition’ the fifth and the last maritime archaeological expedition conducted on the wreck site of this flagship of the First Fleet.  

This iron ballast block has a long conservation story. For many years it has been immersed in a caustic solution undergoing an electrolytic reduction process to remove the chlorides from the metal.  This took multiple changes of more than 120 litres of solution, rinsing and maneuvering of a block weighing in at approximately 100 kg, hundreds of chloride readings and plenty of patience.  Then it was necessary to remove the remaining accretions cemented onto the block, and finally it was ready for applications of rust converters and waxing.  It is these applications and layers of wax that is providing the protective coating that enables it to be ‘touched’.   To list the names of the people that have supported the Norfolk Island Museum with the conservation of this object over so many years, are too many.  However, we’d like to say thanks to Shane McCoy from the Administration Works Depot for his recent work on the final stages and preparation for display.

This is a wonderful addition to our HMS Sirius Museum, housing the most extensive collection of cultural material from the First Fleet.  The First Fleet consisted of eleven ships, nine of these were privately owned and two British naval ships, carrying over 1400 people they left Portsmouth in May 1787 to arrive at Port Jackson in January 1788, these people are the founders of modern Australia.

Andre’s ancestor Robert Forrester was a convict in the First Fleet, making his voyage to Australia on one of the privately owned ships, the Scarborough.  Originally sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for stealing six guineas in gold with a couple of other characters, his sentence was later reprieved to 7 years transportation.  Robert came to live on Norfolk Island between the years of 1791 and 1793 holding a grant of 12 acres at Mount Pitt Path in Queenborough.  Robert Forrester’s descendants have come back to Norfolk to make it their home.  It was an honour to ask Robert Forrester’s descendant Andre to be the first First Fleeter descendant to ‘touch’ this link to his history.

Janelle Blucher