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.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cartoons and Souvenirs from WWII

Upstairs in the Pier Store Museum is a small display on WWII. Alongside a strip of the Marsden matting used to make the airstrip (and now found around the island in many front fences and pig sty’s) are a series of watercolour cartoons painted by Sergeant John Gerald Allen, stationed here with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, also known as the 36th Battalion. The 36th Battalion designated as ‘N Force’ was made up of 1,488 personnel dispatched to protect the airfield.  They were stationed here between 1942 and 1944 and as a result, Norfolk’s war history is in many ways more closely tied to New Zealand than Australia.

 Due to eyesight problems Sgt Allen was classified grade 2 – fit only for home service. He appealed for an overseas posting and was allowed to join the 36th Battalion as a radar technician and worked at the Mount Bates radar station. Clearly Sgt Allen possessed not only artistic talents but a great sense of humour as evidenced in his regular contributions to the monthly newsletter called “Nformation”. His cartoon collection titled “Ordnance Oddities” depicts the lighter side of life for the Battalion while stationed on Norfolk. They include an image of a soldier with his arm around an attractive young woman while he writes home “Dear Mother, the main sport on Norfolk is “fishing””. The collection of empty bottles shown in “Spirit of Norfolk” is added to in “More spirits of Norfolk” where a soldier clearly under the weather watches as his chest appears to grow convict legs and walk away! “Deep in the Heart of Norfolk” shows a soldier asleep on the beach surrounded by palm trees.

The cartoons were donated to the Museum by Sgt Allen’s wife Peggy and son John, along with a war souvenir Sgt Allen took home with him. The souvenir (also on display) is a heavy naval machine gun shell with projectile (explosive removed), mounted on a piece of varnished wood. It has two 303 rounds mounted in a cross with a New Zealand army badge mounted over the crossed bullets. Sgt Allen told his family that he and some mates were walking in the Gaol area at Kingston when they “bumped into a door” and found a mound of the shells “there for the taking”. They took as many shells as they wanted and pulled them apart for the brass casings.

They tried a number of methods to remove the powder at the bottom. Once, they burnt it out by placing a kerosene soaked rag up the shell for a wick, put it in a kerosene tin and lit it. Following a tremendous bang and screams, they found that the shell casing had blasted right through the bottom of the tin and landed 100 metres away in a Norfolk Pine. It had narrowly missed the head of a Sergeant who accused them of “trying to do me in”.
The shell was actually for use in a Nordenfelt gun with a 4 ft long barrel, typical of those used on Russian torpedo boats around the 1890’s. They were used here in a gun used by the Islanders working in the whaling industry.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Lost Little Boy...

This post is written by Museum Guide Racheal McConnell.

If you have ever been down to the "Mission" valley and taken in the surrounds it can almost pass as a rustic scene straight from a Jane Austin novel, even after more than a century this peaceful valley still maintains an English rural feel. It is in this setting 120 years ago this month that the tiny body of John Selwyn Malegi was laid to rest in the Mission cemetery. However, John's story begins long before he was even born….

In 1867 Norfolk Island became the training centre and College of the Melanesian Mission, contrary to what certain modern authors portray, these Melanesians came from wide and far, willingly and openly, some with whole families, some already betrothed, and all young and excited by this 'new' education and way of life.
Fanny and little John
A few thousand miles from Norfolk Island sits a group of Islands called the Santa Cruz group, part of the Solomon Islands the name bares testimony to those Spaniards who discovered them in the great scramble for the Pacific. These Islands had a fearsome and unpredictable reputation, for years these Islands became the hunting grounds for raiders, smugglers, head hunters and "black birders" of all races and background, looking to kidnap cheap labour to sell to cane farmers and plantation owners. This resulted in the Islanders becoming very weary of foreign ships and carrying out "revenge" killings such as the martyrdom of the Bishop of Melanesia John C. Patterson himself in 1871, killed in revenge on Nakapu, Santa Cruz. The Mission fiercely fought the Blackbirders and slave trade and doubled the efforts to gain a foothold amongst this most hostile group of Islands.

Nelua lies only 20 miles from Nakapu, it is here that John's Story really begins. John Malegi's parents were both from Nelua, and in 1893 Fanny Malegi arrived on Norfolk Island with her son little Johnnie. This was not Fanny's first time on Norfolk. She had trained here earlier on as a teacher, helper and worker. She and her husband returned to Nelua and set up a school, curious youngsters flocked to it in defiance of the "barbaric" old customs; this created a hostile and dangerous situation for John’s parents. As a result Fanny’s husband was killed and her school destroyed, bravely Fanny held her ground, but in the end for the sake of her only son she returned to the safety of Norfolk Island.

Julia Farr, god-daughter and cousin of Bishop Patterson was a nurse/worker at the Mission and it is to her we give thanks for this account.  As a nurse Julia had to attend to "Little Johnnies" feet everyday.  Johnnie suffered from a tropical foot disease that prevented him from walking and he spent most of his time "scuttling about on his haunches" or being carried about by everyone, everywhere. This created a deep friendship between Fanny and Julia and Johnnie became everyone’s 'pet' or as Julia says "so full of pretty ways… always calling to skul (kiss) me" or calling Julia and the girls for a walk or a play.  Fanny assisted Julia in many daily rounds, the ladies worked hard and the tasks required were often thankless and praise was rarely given, from chaperoning, arrowroot making, and firewood collecting to all night nursing and having to hold classes first thing the next day.

At 11 am on the 21st of August Julia and Fanny noticed Johnnie was 'maro' sulky. The girls sat round laughing at Johnnie’s grave little face trying to get a laugh or a smile; instead he quietly buried his head against Julia, whom only that morning had played happily with him. The matriarchal, dominant yet liberal Elizabeth Colenso agreed with Julia that something was indeed wrong. Dr Metcalfe was called and feared Johnnie had "Congestion of the lungs". Mrs Colenso ordered he be placed in a hot bath and dosed regularly with Aconite. Torn between duty and love Julia had to dash off and attend to another very ill, dying boy Isaac Tuba, as well as attend her other duties. She returned at 9 to find Johnnie convulsing and vomiting violently. All through the night the nurses and the Dr tried everything Victorian medicine could offer; Mustard plasters, Linseed poultices and a lot of patience and prayer. Fanny never left his side. By 2:20 am the next morning Johnnies pulse became feeble and his temperature dropped. Julia at once placed him on a stretcher with hot bottles around him but then she writes "15 minutes later the 'wild' eyes took a natural look, the teeth unclenched and with one small sigh he 'fell asleep' so very literally no one believed it”, she goes on "it looked more like life than death and again and again we looked for signs" The frantic search for life was shattered by the broken cries of Fanny "we Paso.. We Paso" he's gone…he's gone. Fanny sat crumpled holding her boy, stroking him and talking to his lifeless body in Santa Cruz, Julia records this terrible scene; "…her grief is terrible, not noisy just heartbreaking" Eventually they dressed his body in a white night dress with a cross of pure white azaleas across his tiny folded hands. As dawn broke not a dry eye was left that day on the Mission. He was laid to rest on a cold, sunny afternoon at 2p.m on 22nd August 1894. Poor Fanny who had lost her only son, decided to return home to Nelua. We only get one last glimpse of Fanny, she writes to Julia a year later in June showing how this brave woman continued on despite losing everything She writes " the enemy wish to kill us but I do not fear them... I have not forgotten John and everyday I remember and cry for him, maybe I will not forget till death."

When the Mission left in 1920, Johnnies history all but disappeared along side it. We don’t hear from Fanny again and it is assumed she is buried on Nelua, oceans from the body of her beloved John. Now after 120 years exactly this Friday 22nd August we can re-unite mother and son in our minds and remember those that lived, loved and died here so far away from their homes.
The day after Johnnie was laid to rest Isaac Tuba lost his fight with Bright’s disease, as he was being buried along side Johnnie the same hymn floated from that scenic valley to the tops of the pine trees: "O' Lords stay now thine hand, death itself is just a relief- a beginning not an end."