Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Conservation Story




Janelle Blucher is responsible for the conservation of our museum artefacts and each week works on a range of objects. Over past weeks she has been working on a beautiful but very fragile copper bust of young girl. Janelle has written the following article on the bust and the work she has completed. 

It is absolutely wonderful when an object that has been buried in the ground for who knows how many years makes its way to become an incredible ‘surface’ find; it occurs not so irregularly on this island that boasts multiple layers of history.


One such find was at No. 5 Quality Row in Kingston, originally the Commissariat Storekeeper’s Quarters which was constructed between 1842 and 1843.  It was later occupied by David Buffett from Pitcairn Island and then Gregory Quintal.  In 1908 the house was destroyed by fire and remained a ruin until 1971 when it was reconstructed and occupied by the Chief Administrative Officer. 

During the 1980’s Robert VJ Varman, Curator of the Norfolk Island Museum, conducted archaeological digs and wrote many reports on the archaeology of Norfolk Island. Varman found a bust of a young girl’s head in the garden at No. 5 Quality Row; a charming sculpture made from beaten copper layered over soapstone.  Standing approximately 35cm high, the form appears to be life-like; she has short hair draped with a scarf, a pinched nose, smiling eyes and mouth.  The sculpture ends at the top of her d├ęcolletage that is supported upon a short pillared hexagonal base.

Extremely fragile and quite weighty, the sculpture’s pillared based is cracked around its circumference, fortunately the sculpture has a support rod from the base through to the top of the head.  The copper has peeled away in some areas and deteriorating green corrosion products began to appear in a troublesome form.

Usually on display at No. 10 Quality Row,  the bust’s deteriorating condition necessitated some conservation activity and its removal from display. Copper alloy is still a difficult metal to conserve.  Beyond mechanical removal of corrosion products on the surface of the object there are a number of chemical treatments that may be considered. None of these chemical procedures promise a successful conservation result and some can permanently change the patina.  

The method selected to treat ‘our girl’ was by firstly very gently ‘mechanically’ removing the surface green corrosion products, using fine brushes and scalpels looking through an illuminated magnifying glass.   She was swabbed and cleaned with methylated spirits and a ‘spot’ test of the chemical Benzotriazole (BTA) was applied.  Deciding upon this treatment a three percent solution was applied, then swabbed and wiped off with ethanol.  (“The application of BTA should be an inherent step in the conservation of all cupreous metal artefacts” Donny L. Hamilton, Conservation Research Laboratory, Texas A&M University.)  

An application of microcrystalline wax completes the treatment by providing a barrier between object and environment.  She is now back on display, however as the pillared base is broken she is not standing upright but has been laid in a mount made from archival quality materials that supports the weight of her head.

Robert Varman speculated that she could possibly be French made in the first half of the nineteenth century.  She truly is a beauty; come and see for yourself!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Island Education and Norf'k language


Norfolk Island school girls and teachers in 1896

Over the last few weeks a number of school groups have been in and out of the museum and we have also met with Prof. Peter Muhlhausler on a recent trip, following up on Norf’k language projects. Peter is Professor of Linguistics at Adelaide University and was largely responsible for supporting the initial training of Norf’k language teachers at NICS.

At the prize giving at the school this week, Principal Michelle Nicholson quoted from a report to the NSW Minister for Public Instruction by the first school inspector to visit the island in 1897. He said “The inhabitants of the island, without exception…exhibit considerable interest in the education of their children and cause them to attend school most regularly and punctually”. Michelle remarked on the fact that the education of our children continues to be highly valued on Norfolk.

This began on Pitcairn Island, most probably with John Adam’s conversion and teaching of the children to read using the Bounty Bible and Book of Common Prayer. Brian Mercer records in “An Island Education, A history of the Norfolk Island Central School” that from 1835 all children were compelled to go to school, many attending from the age of six until they were married. He says “In N.S.W. by contrast, it was not until 1880 that the Public Instruction Act made it law for parents to send their children aged 6-14 to school. But even then, children were only required to attend about three days per week. Not until 1916 were pupils in N.S.W. compelled to attend every day”.

On arrival at Norfolk Island on 8 June 1856 one of the first decisions the community made was about founding a school. The first classroom was set up in the New Military Barracks and classes began just six week later on the 14th of July. Attendance of all children was compulsory. Norfolk Island should stand proud of the fact that with the introduction of legislation in 1857, we were the first in the British Empire to legislate compulsory school attendance.

Clear evidence of the continued value of participation in school life and education on island today, is through the annual awarding of the Queen Victoria Scholarship. Begun in 1887 as a memorial for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee the committee deciding on how the island would commemorate this important event said: On 20th June Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, will have reigned for fifty years. The event will be commemorated throughout the British Empire. Norfolk Island must not be behind…it (is) highly desirable that a permanent memorial of the happy event should be established on the island. After due consideration and a careful weighing of such suggestions as were brought forward, it was finally decided that this memorial should take the form of an Endowment of (for the present three) Queen Victoria Scholarships in the Norfolk Island Public School. These scholarships are to be obtained by competitive examination”.

In the first year the scholarships were £2 each for the senior winners and £1 for the junior winners. These days the scholarship is still competed for and represents an honour rather than monetary reward. The original Scholarship Board naming all winners between 1887 and 1971 is on display in the Pier Store, the current one being at the school itself.

As we were reminded during Peter Muhlhausler’s visit, the teaching of Norf’k language at the school today is cause for celebration, especially given early efforts to eradicate its use by NSW authorities. This began after 1896 when the executive government of Norfolk was changed from a locally appointed head of government, to a NSW appointed Chief Magistrate.  One of the first acts of the first Chief Magistrate, Colonel Spalding, was to arrange for the 1897 inspection of the school. As well as the positive comment about parental interest in education made in the Report as quoted by Michelle, a key recommendation was that a trained teacher be sent from Sydney to take up the position of Headmaster. However, it was not until 1906 that the first ‘outside’ appointed principal arrived on the island (beginning the system of short-term three to five year appointments which continues to today).

With non-Norfolk Islanders now in charge of the school, it was not long before a concerted effort was made to eradicate the use of the Norfolk language by children when at school. This was initiated in 1915 with a new school rule banning anything but the ‘King’s English’ being spoken during school hours. Infringements would be dealt with by a caning or writing out lines to the effect of “I must not talk gibberish at school”.

This policy followed from a 1914 Memorandum relating to Norfolk Island written by Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Department of External Affairs. In a section headed “The Local Jargon” Hunt wrote:
“It is not picturesque nor effective, and justifies its description as “a barbarous attempt to garrotte the English language”. Its use contributes to maintain a spirit of exclusiveness amongst these folk, and for this reason, as well as because it has no merits to justify its continual existence, it is hoped that its employment may be discouraged in every way”.

The first headmaster to introduce the rule predicted “I feel confident that it is only a matter of a few generations when the island “jargon” will disappear altogether”.  After WWII the policy was not policed as rigorously and in 1987 the policy was reversed, with Norf’k language being included in the school curriculum.

The Norfolk Island Language (Norf’k) Act 2004 allows the teaching of Norf’k at school and affirmed “the right of people to speak and write it freely and without interference or prejudice from Government or other persons”. Norf’k language has been taught as a Secondary School, NSW Board of Studies endorsed elective from 2001. It is now taught to all students from Kindergarten to Year 9.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Museum Acquisition - convict made chest of drawers



The Norfolk Island Museum Trust recently purchased a convict made chest of drawers that had been locally put up for tender. Made of Norfolk Island Pine it is stamped BO ↑ CD. The BO is for the Board of Ordnance and CD Commissariat Department. The broad arrow was used as an identification of British government property. As the museum is located in the basement of the Commissariat - it has made its way ‘home’ to the building it would have been issued from!

The Museum Trust were able to make this purchase as a result of accumulated profits from the Trial of the Fifteen play and the arrangement made by the late Peter Clarke, the author of the play, on how they could be expended. Peter’s son Stephen now holds the rights to the play and each year he agrees with the Trust on a program of expenditure. This year that included the purchase of acquisitions for the museum collection. It is so gratifying to see such a direct link between the efforts of the Museum to Produce, our Actors to perform, visitors purchasing tickets each week - and our collection.


Its purchase complements a few other pieces of furniture that also show similar markings including two convict settles or bench seats.  Most likely these were made for the verandahs of the houses and buildings for the Officers.  One of the settles has graffiti on it from an officer of the 99th Regiment stationed here during the 2nd Settlement.  The other piece is a cedar table that is actually part of a sectional table and may date from as early as 1825. While we don’t know the date that the chest of drawers was made, we will be researching its design to see if we can identify the most likely period. 

 Broad arrows are on many of the items in the museum collection. Being found in possession of marked objects without good cause was a serious offence. The symbol has been documented back to the 16th century to mark Royal property, and was occasionally referred to as a ‘Royal cipher’. An 1806 proclamation stated that:

“The Board having been pleased to direct that in future all descriptions of Ordnance Stores should be marked with the broad arrow as soon as they shall have been received as fit for His Majesty’s Service; all Storekeepers and Deputy Storekeepers and others are desired to cause this order to be accordingly attended to, in the Department under their direction, reporting to the Board in all cases when articles are received to which this mark cannot be applied”. [28th July 1806. Quoted from the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps website]

As a result the broad-arrow mark appears on everything from furniture to cooking pots and cutlery, packing crates and barrels, construction materials from timber to bricks and tools – and convict clothing. However an object that has a broad arrow on it doesn’t necessarily mean it has an association with convicts.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bishop Patteson's "South Sea Island Labour Traffic" Memorandum

 By Janelle Blucher



The Norfolk Island Museum Trust has recently purchased additional shelving and a filing cabinet to properly house the books and files donated to the Museum by Paul Bowes from the Estate of the late Les Brown.  Undertaking the task of re-housing this collection again reinforces the value and interest of this material. One item is a Memorandum written by Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, the first Missionary Bishop of Norfolk Island. Dated 11th January, 1871 it is on the “South Sea Island Labour Traffic” and was presented to both Houses of the General Assembly in Wellington NZ in 1871.

Bishop  Patteson was a strong advocate against ‘blackbirding’ throughout the South Pacific Islands and ironically it was this atrocious activity that led to his violent death in 1871. 

In the Memorandum he expresses his concern with the means of ‘procuring the labour force’ from northern New Hebrides (Vanuatu), Banks and Solomon Islands to work on the cotton and sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji.  This procurement of labour is otherwise referred to as ‘blackbirding’.  Bishop Patteson states, “No regulations can prevent men bound by no religious or moral restraint, practicing deception and violence to entice or convey the natives on board, detaining them forcibly while on board.”

Blackbirding was especially prevalent between 1847 and 1904.  The Queensland
Government first attempted to control it in 1868 with the Polynesian Labourers Act. This regulation provided for the treatment of labourers — who theoretically worked of their own free will for a specified period — and the licensing of “recruiters.” However the Queensland government lacked constitutional power outside its own borders which made the regulations impossible to enforce.

If it was assumed that the Government of Qld and H.M. Consul at Levuka, Fiji did all in their power to safe guard labour ‘traffic’ from abuse and provide some security to the islanders whilst working on the plantations.  Bishop Patteson states that they do not and cannot protect the so-called labourers from these lawless men. These lawless men were the masters and crew of the transport vessels, there was no way to protect the recruited labourers whilst on board. 

It was impossible for any of the islanders to make a bona fide contract as the traders could not speak more than half a dozen words in any one of the dialects of these people.  For example, ten people of Mota Island entered into one such contract with a trader holding up 3 fingers, this signified either 3 suns or 3 moons to the islanders where in fact in meant 3 years to the trader.  The three years had passed and these men were still absent from their home. 

The traders or recruiters supported the system of so-called emigration.  This system degenerated into a practice approaching a slave trade, or perhaps amounted to it.  It was a mockery to speak of it as a system of emigration.

While there was the suggestion of a benefit to bringing the islanders into contact with ‘civilisation’, indeed what type of civilisation did they make contact with on the plantations?  This was difficult to ascertain as most were not returned to their homes.  Of the 400 or 500 Banks Islanders taken away only a tenth of that number were returned and the Bishop stated, “of these no exhibit benefit, but noticeably bearing bad character amongst their own people”.

The Bishop received reports of the “nefarious nature of many of the transactions, undoubtedly in a number of instances being nothing less than kidnapping.”  One person writes to Patteson stating he knows the names of 4 vessels carrying on this ‘rough work’  “these men have no scruples of conscience, and, so long as they make money, are perfectly dead to any code of laws, human or divine.  This is told in confidence from a friend for the Bishop’s own protection when amongst the Islands.  

Patteson reported that in former years the natives would come off shore to the boats, bringing articles of trade. They trusted the white people and the white people trusted them. The missionaries and other seafarers used to transport the island people from one island to another and they would receive hogs and other articles in return.   This activity however was now to the slavers advantage.  The natives were easily enticed below deck, the hatches put on, and the vessel was off with the unsuspecting human cargo. 

Patteson chillingly surmises that should any ship be wrecked on these islands the lives of those on board would probably be taken for those lives that have been stolen and the natives would be condemned and called bloodthirsty.  This is not right in the mind of Patteson, however he declares that any civilised people would do the same in their situation.  

Patteson had spent many years travelling throughout the islands and developed an intimate and trusting relationship with the islanders. Now the traders were using the name of ‘Patteson’ and the mission ship ‘Southern Cross’ to decoy natives from the islands.   The evil effects of trafficing having damaged relationships meant the white people were now obliged to be cautious.   He asserts that some of the Melanesian scholars from the mission on Norfolk Island had returned to the islands and tried to dissuade their people from going on these blackbirding vessels

Bishop Patteson's study on Norfolk Island
Bishop Patteson concludes by exclaiming the desire to “protest by anticipation against any punishment being inflicted upon natives of these Islands who may cut off vessels or kill boat’s crews, until it is clearly shown that these acts are not done in the way of retribution for outrages first committed by white men”.    Reports of killings of boat crews had been received, “it is the white mans fault, and it is unjust to punish the coloured man for doing what may be naturally expected”.

Patteson said people spoke and wrote about the treachery of these Islanders but he had experienced no kind of behaviour during his fourteen years of intercourse with them, if they are treated kindly they will reciprocate kindly.

Bishop Patteson sailed to the islands on the Southern Cross in April 1871.  On the morning of the 20th of September he landed alone on Nukapu near Santa Cruz where he had called at every year and would give the Chiefs and people presents. That afternoon his body was retrieved from a floating canoe by the crew of the Southern Cross; Patteson had been clubbed to death.  Captain Jacobs of the Southern Cross records with certainty that some vessel had been there ill-using the natives just previous to their arrival, or they would never have killed the Bishop.  Patteson was buried at sea the next morning.   The Southern Cross arrived back at Norfolk Island with her flag half-mast bearing the news of Patteson’s death.  The HMS Rosario under the command of Captain Markham touched at Norfolk Island soon after and decided to sail to Nukapu to investigate the situation.  The missionaries on Norfolk made a plea for no attempt to punish the islanders and the Captain agreed.  However when the Rosario appeared off Nukapu the natives naturally assumed that she had come to avenge Patteson’s murder.  The natives set off an assault of arrows and a sergeant of marines was killed, the crew responded with guns resulting in a number of natives being shot.  This unfortunate sequel to Patteson’s death was the absolute reverse of what he would have wished.

The death of Patteson made a huge impact in England, Australia and New Zealand, attention and focus was targeted towards the cessation of blackbirding which amounted to slavery, kidnapping and murder.  The Under-Secretary for the Colonies, moved the first reading of the Pacific Islanders Protection Bill in 1872, this became known as the Kidnapping Act but was doomed to be ineffective as it only applied to British subjects and ships.  Fiji was annexed in 1874 and a new Pacific Islanders Protection Act was passed in 1875, however this was still limited in preventing the incidence of blackbirding.  Queensland had a demand for labour and the practice continued until the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, that year the Commonwealth Pacific Islands’ Labourers Act was passed and a provision made for the cessation of the labour trade and deportation, with certain exceptions, of all “Kanakas” (as they were colloquially called) still in Australia after the end of 1906.

Ref:   Memorandum by Bishop Patteson on the South Sea Labour Traffic, Missionary Bishop, Norfolk Island, 11th January, 1871.  Presented to both Houses of the General Assembly, by Command of His Excellency, Wellington 1871.
Martyr of the Islands – The Life and Death of John Coleridge Patteson, Sir John Gutch