Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Shipwreck Story

Many significant shipwrecks have occurred around our island and all are worthy of investigation.  There is much information known and recorded about the HMS Sirius and her wrecking on the reef off Norfolk Island, in fact 19 March 2015 marks the 225th Anniversary and already more than 150 people have booked to come to the island for this important day.

However, more than twenty other shipwrecks have occurred around the island and little is known or recorded about these.  It is an ongoing task of the Norfolk Island Museum to research and record these other shipwrecks and then as part of our Historic Shipwrecks Program obligations, to upload the details into the Australian National Shipwrecks Database (ANSDB).  Established by the Commonwealth’s Department of the Environment in 2009 the database includes all known shipwrecks in Australian waters.  It is an incredible information management system that not only stores the information but is also publicly accessible. 

 The link to the site is - http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/shipwrecks/database.html  Please go onto the site and click through to look at those listed for Norfolk Island and let us know if you have any stories or associated material that may support our listed shipwrecks.

 This week we have been researching the Fairlie, a 756 ton barque recorded and commonly believed to have wrecked between Phillip and Norfolk Island in February 1840. Our research has highlighted a major problem with this as it appears that this ship did not wreck here at all.  The Fairlie was built in 1811, chartered by the East India Company for voyages to India until 1833 when she made her first voyage to Australia from England with 376 convicts on board.  The Fairlie undertook two convict transport voyages to New South Wales then in 1866 she was sold for ‘breaking up’ or to be used as a hulk. This ship in fact, never came to Norfolk.

The ‘shipwreck’ that did happen in February 1840 was recorded in contemporary eye witness accounts and newspaper articles; the vessel was a ‘boat’, certainly not a ship of 756 ton!  The first reference to this boat being named the Fairlie appears to be in “The Norfolk Island Story”, by Frank Clune published in 1967.  The HMS Sirius Expedition Report of 1985 then records the Fairlie shipwreck in one of its Appendixes referencing the source material to Frank Clune.   From there it became  as a feature of the Norfolk Island “Shipwrecks” stamp issues of 1982 (Pictured here - I wonder if this makes the stamp collectible!).  And finally the story ends up being incorrectly recorded onto the official ANSD.

 The incorrect stamp issue caught the eye of the late Mr EJ Hogan who, according to the Ship Stamp Society in the U.K. is one of the best researchers of ‘ships on stamps’.  He wrote about it being incorrectly identified in the Ship Stamps Society’s magazine, Log Book Vol 16 page 14.   and it was by happening upon his post on this site that we were alerted to the error.

Frank Clune, references his information to Thomas Cook, Overseer and Clerk on the island at the time.  However when you read Thomas Cook’s account, he does not name the boat at all.
Thomas Cook describes the incident occurring on 14 February 1840 as the “event of a boat being capsized in attempting to cross the bar …… the morning part of the day was remarkably fine, and until within an hour of the boat nearing the land, the bar was perfectly favourable, but alas!”  Cook says “by the time the Coxswain had brought her convenient to the Bar the Seas rose, and with a fury seldom witnessed (although the Seas off that coast are allowed, with their ground Swells, to be as dangerous as any ever yet seen) a race of them followed and brought her too far in to admit of their returning to Phillip Island where they had been on a Shooting excursion, thus leaving the Coxswain no alternative but to face the Bar, and trust to the exertions of the Prisoners to save the passengers himself and crew from Watery Graves which then threatened them.  He therefore brought her up to the Bar, and in attempting to cross, his Boat was caught by the Seas and thrown up perpendicular, in which position she was again struck and thrown completely over.  A Pickup Boat, as on other similar occasions was employed with a view to save them, but so powerful were the Seas that they carried her high and Dry on the Beach.  The praise due to the exertions of the men on this perilous occasion in sacrificing their lives to the object of saving their fellow creatures surpasses any ordinary calculation.” Cook then refers to the Commandant of the island at the time, a Major Thomas Ryan as a humane ruler who was ill and confined to his bed.   He states, “our Worthy Commandant previous to his illness was particularly guarded against any accident in the occasion of a Boat crossing the Bar. He was generally in attendance at the Harbour himself, and in the event of there appearing  the least danger of a capsize, he would have two or three pickup Boats, well manned, in readiness to assist, also 200 or 300 men at his call to save the drowning;”  Thomas Cook is describing exactly the same place at Kingston that our freight is carried through today using motor launches and lighters, these boats all being of a similar size. A ship of 756 ton would not attempt to ‘cross the bar’. 
Other accounts of the incident featured in The Sydney Herald, The Australasian Chronicle and The Sydney Monitor are very colourful and graphic, vividly describing the dreadful circumstances and the deaths of the three men from suffocation, strangulation and drowning.    The graves of these three casualties are in our cemetery, being:  Honourable Captain John Charles Best, Mr. John McLean Esq. Superintendent of Agriculture, and Corporal McLauglin of the 50th Regiment.

The ANSD has now been updated to reflect the correct information.  The fact that this mix up in ships involved in this wrecking has lasted for so long as a result of inaccurate recording highlights the importance of programs such as the ANSD and the need for research to continue. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thomas Rossiter donation

The museum received a generous donation this week from Peter Rossiter, great-grandson of Thomas Rossiter. In 1859 Thomas was the first ‘outsider’ to be appointed on Norfolk Island by Governor Denison when he took up the position of government Storekeeper and school teacher. There are a number of descendants of Thomas and his wife Charlotte Bissox on Norfolk Island today as two of their sons married two of Isaac Robinson and Hannah Quintal’s daughters. There are also today descendants of Thomas’s sister Jane on Norfolk, who came here with him and married Franklin Bates. 

Nancy and Peter Rossiter with Museum curator Lisa Richards
Peter was born on Norfolk and spent most of his school years here until moving away soon after the War with his family. He and wife Nancy now live in Ballina and have regularly visited the island over the years. A number of years ago they donated the surveyors chain used to mark out much of Norfolk Island and especially the Mission land; and a steelguard used by Isaac Robinson to weigh things such as bags of wheat etc. Peter’s donation this week includes important original documents including Land Grants, Supplementary Instructions to Thomas’ role; and the 1871 certificate appointing him as Registrar of Norfolk Island, issued by Samuel Richard Earl of Belmore Governor and Commander of Norfolk Island.

Thomas’s job would have been a difficult one. Not only did he initially conspicuously reside in Government House, but he was paid substantially above anyone else on the island. He had to displace George Hunn Nobbs as schoolteacher and undertake duties as custodian of property. Denison required him to implement a “marked and precise line of demarcation between public and private property”, which included animals as well as structures. There were many actions that he had to take that would have been unpopular, however he was a good teacher and hard working, and was eventually accepted by the islanders. Today we especially remember him for his role in starting an agricultural competition that became part of our annual Agricultural and Horticultural Show.

The “Supplementary Instructions to Mr Rossiter” is an interesting document. It is undated and initialed JY at the bottom of each page, no doubt being Sir John Young who became Governor after Sir William Denison in 1861. It is likely that this document was drawn up in the mid 1860s. It begins with the statements: “The Instructions given by Sir William Denison are to remain in force with the trifling exception hereafter mentioned which is adopted at the insistence of the several parties concerned but I think it necessary to add in order to avoid any ambiguity as a misapprehension that the phrase ‘Government property’ signifies property belonging to the Crown…The cattle, sheep, horses, houses, tools etc. etc. in trusted to the Storekeepers care must therefore be considered as the property of the Crown..

Young outlines that monies accrued from fines will remain in the hands of the Chief Magistrate and be expended in the repair of the piers and bridges. He then goes on to answer specific questions that Rossiter had put to him. The first query asks if the repair of Government House, the Church, School House, Shearing Shed and the Cemetery should be from the Public Funds. Young confirms that they are, which includes the buildings and fences, and that Rossieter will be responsible for having the work done economically and well. “The Chief Magistrate may select the workmen in the first instance, but he may not select any whom Mr Rossiter objects, or whom he thinks unlikely to work diligently or efficiently”.

In answer to the next question it is also confirmed that the roads and drains should be kept in repair at the community’s cost and royalties charged on the sale of sawn timber in the former crankmill will be put to the upkeep of the piers and bridges.

An interesting question asked of the Governor is for approval of a proposition put forward by the Chief Magistrate for the “consideration of the people by Bishop Patterson respecting a Melanesian College or school..”. The answer comes back “I am not in favour of it – any such proposition should first be submitted to the Governor before it is proposed to the people. The Chief Magistrate should not submit any proposition of so great importance to the formal vote of the people without previous communication with the Governor, and receiving his sanction to that effect”.

Rossiter’s powers as invested from the Governor as spelt out here indicate the authority he would have had over many aspects of life on the island. This is an import historical document in itself, and together with other documents, letters, Land Grants, sale and lease of land documents, make for an important addition to our collection. Thanks to earlier donations by Peter and also from Jill McDowell of a large number of items owned by one of Thomas’ daughters Ethel Rossiter (nee Robinson), our museum is fortunate in having a large collection of Rossiter artefacts and stories.

Our sincere thanks to Peter for donating this further material.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I named it Norfolk Isle...

James Cook recorded his discovery of Norfolk Island on 10 October 1774, his journal claims possession and naming of it on 11 October 1774, that is 240 years ago.

In July 1772 the Resolution, commanded by Captain Cook, and the Discovery, commanded by Lieutenant Furneaux, set sail from Britain towards the Antarctic in search of the Great Southern Continent. The ships became the first known to have crossed the Antarctic Circle in January 1773 before sailing on to New Zealand.  

After visiting Amsterdam and Middelburg, plus two islands that Cook called the Friendly Islands now known as the Tongan group the Resolution and the Discovery were separated and never met again. Both ships returned separately to New Zealand, the Discovery returning to Britain arriving there in July 1774. En-route to New Zealand the Resolution sailed west and explored the islands which Cook called the New Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu.  Cook sailed past or visited nearly all the islands in the group, including Malekula, Tanna and Erromango and then sailed on to New Caledonia.

On Monday 10 October 1774 the Resolution was sailing with a gentle breeze and pleasant weather when an island was discovered. At daybreak their distance from the island was about 3 leagues.  Coming closer to the island they sounded the bottom and had approximately 22 fathom of water with a sea bed of coral sand mixed with broken shells.  They were off the north coast of the island now known as Duncombe Bay.

The following day Cook and some of the officers went ashore to take a view of the Island and its produce, Cook’s journal reads “We found the Island uninhabited and near akin to New Zealand, the Flax plant, many other plants  and Trees common to that country was found here but the chief produce of the isle is Spruce Pines which grow here in vast abundance and to a vast size……… Here then is another Isle where Masts for the largest Ships may be had."

The journal entry for 11 October continues with “I took possession of this Isle as I had done of all the others we had discovered, and named it Norfolk Isle, in honour of that noble family.  It is situated in the Latitude of 29° 00’s , Longitude of [168° 16’] East, it is about 5 leagues in circuit of a good height and its shores are steep and rocky.”

The approach of night brought them all back on board ship and some hours later the Resolution made for Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand.  From there Cook hoped to refresh his people and put the ship in a ready condition to cross the great ocean to finally arrive at Portsmouth in July of 1775.

 James Cook became a national hero, he was presented to the King and made a member of the Royal Society.  Cook’s second voyage of discovery was one of the greatest journeys of this time. He named our beautiful Norfolk Isle and charted many other Pacific islands for the first time.  He disproved the idea of the Great Southern Continent and was the first recorded explorer to cross the Antarctic Circle.  Of course this did not mean retirement for Cook who then went on to his third and final voyage of discovery the following year.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Mystery Ship

The mammoth job of cataloguing all of Les Brown’s papers and photographs has brought forth some very interesting items. A lone, fairly poor quality photograph of a line drawing of a ship with three masts and thirteen gun placements could have been filed away with no further thought – except for an intriguing note written upside down on the paper. The note says “Kingston Norfolk Island Cooking-pot Uprising July 1846”. A stamp dated 1993 shows that the photo has come from the Launceston Reference Library collection. What was this drawing all about?

Janelle Blucher made contact with the Launceston Reference Library and found out that the drawing is on the back of an ink and watercolour image of the action of what we refer to today as the ‘cooking pot riot’. That image is reproduced in our museum as it is the only image that details the action of the riot. However what has never been known is the name of the artist, who it appears has used the reverse side of the paper to draw the ship onto. The Launceston Reference Library told Janelle that they began life as the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute in the 1860s and the drawing has been in their collection for as long as they can remember, but unfortunately they have no details on the artist.

Our Norfolk Island Cemetery tells the story of the riot through the headstone of Stephen Smith, the cook which reads that he was “…barbarously murdered by a body of prisoners whilst in the execution of his duties at the settlement cookhouse, leaving a wife and three children to lament his loss”. Murderers Mound lying outside the cemetery fence is of course the most vivid reminder of the event as the mass grave for twelve men executed for their part in the mutiny. Another five men were later hung whose bodies were buried elsewhere.

The riot was caused by the removal of the convicts billys and kettles, made by prisoner ‘mechanics’ and used by the convicts to cook their meals. The reaction of the prisoners on finding the pots confiscated was instantaneous. A group of prisoners stormed the barracks store to retrieve their cooking gear and in the ensuing chaos, three soldiers and Stephen Smith were killed. The mutiny lasted only twenty minutes until order was restored by soldiers with levelled muskets and fixed bayonets.

The mutiny was led by convict William Westwood, a bushranger known as ‘Jackey-Jackey’. Just before his hanging he made the following statement: " Sir the strong ties of earth will soon be wrenched and the burning fever of this life will soon be quenched and my grave will be heavens resting place for me William Westwood. Sir out of the Bitter cup of misery I have drunk from my sixteenth year 10 long years, and the sweetest draught is that which takes away the misery of living death - it is the friend that deceives no man, all will then be quiet, no tyrant will disturb my repose I hope -Wm. Westwood.".

Was the person who drew the picture of the riot there at the time, witnessing the murder and chaos and misery of the men as they were hung? Was this ship sitting out to sea at or was it from his imagination? Les Brown, no doubt, would have known the answer or would have had a pretty good idea at least. His papers and photographs continue to intrigue and we give on-going thanks to Paul Bowe for donating his collection of books, papers and photographs to the museum.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The First Maori Map

Norfolk Island’s history is really quite amazing. There are so many ‘firsts’ and unique stories that emerge from this little rock, 3 miles by 5 miles, and thousands of kilometers from the mainland. One of the least known ‘firsts’ is that the first time Maori lived in a European community and the first known map made by Maori both occured on Norfolk Island! This was when Tuki and Huru, two men from the upper North Island spent nine months on the island in 1793.

Tuki's Map drawn on Norfolk Island
The reason they were on Norfolk is entwined with the reasons the British settled Norfolk Island so quickly in 1788. On discovering the island in 1774 Captain Cook recorded two items potentially very useful to Britain: the flax plant (Phormium tenax) which could be made into sail cloth and the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) for use as ship’s masts. Access to timber and marine supplies from Norfolk Island, New Zealand and NSW became a key reason for the choice of NSW as the location for a new colony by the Pitt Government in Britain.  A Pacific boat building base could be established that would support the expansion of naval and East India Company interests in East Asia and overcome recent losses of resources from Baltic ports and North America following the War of Independence. Plans were therefore made to settle uninhabited and resource rich Norfolk Island prior to the First Fleet leaving England.

The first Commandant of the Settlement, Lieutenant Philip Gidley King tried hard to fulfill his orders to process the flax plant. When all attempts proved fruitless he resorted to an extreme measure, sailing to New Zealand to ‘acquire’ (in reality kidnap) Maori and bring them to the Island to instruct in the processing method. Unfortunately for King, those men, Tuki the son of a priest and Huru the son of a chief, quickly let him know that as it was women’s work they knew little of flax processing. However during the stay their relationship with King became a positive one based on genuine mutual respect and they lived in Government House with King, his wife and young children.  

The men appeared to enjoy a true social exchange. King recorded Maori vocabulary and customs in his journal. Tuki drew the earliest known map by a Maori of his homeland, first in the sand then transferred to paper (now in the UK National Archives). The map is a testament to the quality of communication that occurred between the men as it uniquely records social, mythical and political features in the landscape. When King personally accompanied Tuki and Huru home on the Britannia he was presented with gifts of thanksgiving for their safe return, including two Basalt patu, now on display in our museum in the Commissariat Store. King was never to learn that the reason the Norfolk flax species could not be processed was due to the local variant having little fibre content.