Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas 2011

What a fabulous night at the Christmas Pageant this week. Our very own Queen, Miss Artefact, had been pulled out of a back cupboard, dusted off and made an entrant in the Beauty Contest. While perhaps not a real beauty she was certainly full of character and scared a large number of small children! Our great thanks to Louci Reynolds for being such a sport, dressing up and becoming the part - and helping to raise funds for Hettae Uklan. Thanks also to our driver, the impeccably dressed Peter Davidson, and to Peter Guile for initially so enthusiastically embracing the contest. Also to Sue Brian for whipping up the dress and making our costume ideas become reality. Louci’s ‘beautiful’ make-up was due to the talented Beach and Rachael – thanks yorlye!

Christmas Presents from the REO Café and Bookshop
If you’re stuck for the perfect presents for your family and friends, then come on down to the REO Café and Bookshop and give the lasting gift of a book. We have some great titles in stock at present so you’ll have no problem finding the perfect gift. Here are some choices:

After the Bounty, a sailor’s account of the mutiny and life in the South Seas, by James Morrison, Royal Navy. This is an account of the mutiny by James Morrison, the boatswain’s mate and one of the mutineers. He places much blame for the mutiny on Bligh’s irascible personality and style of command. Morrison chose to stay behind in Tahiti when Christian and the other’s sailed for Pitcairn and was then captured when the Pandora came searching for the mutineers. He was imprisoned in the horrific “Pandora’s Box” and just survived the Pandora’s wrecking. Morrison is a born story teller and this hard-cover book would be welcomed in many Christmas stockings. $30.00

An Uneasy Relationship, Norfolk Island and the Commonwealth of Australia, by Maev O’Collins. This is a book that should be read by everyone today on Norfolk Island given the governance changes we are undergoing. Maeve’s book is essentially a study of the relationships between governors, politicians, public servants and the community leaders during the years that followed the take-over of Norfolk Island by the Commonwealth in 1914. Many of the issues raised in those early years after federation have a striking immediacy and relevance. $15.00

Pitcairn Tapa ‘Ahu no Hitiaurevareva, by Pauline Reynolds. This beautiful book should be in the stockings of all Norfolk Island kids. It tells the forgotten story of the women of the Bounty through the only surviving examples of tapa cloth they made and brought with them to Pitcairn Island. These pieces are the only existing material evidence that we have of these courageous women. $25.00

Maconochie’s Experiment, How one man’s extraordinary vision saved transported convicts from degradation and despair, by John Clay. A man way before his time, Alexander Maconochie’s term as Commandant on Norfolk Island must have been a most welcome reprieve for the convict’s living in this prison of ‘ultimate terror’. For three years he carried out his reformist ideas that included introducing a ‘mark’ system whereby prisoners could reduce their sentences by good behaviour and hard work. The British authorities only saw him as ‘soft’ and had him replaced by a series of ruthless disciplinarians. We only have a limited number of this wonderful hard cover book. $29.00

Saving our Precious Sound and Film Archive

Over the years there have been numerous recordings made on Norfolk Island, capturing the people, events and environment of the island. Some have been made for public use such as the wonderful Norfolk Legacy tape from the early 1980s, which is shown and sold at the Pier Store museum. Other recordings are family films, the ones many of us have made over the years capturing weddings, birthdays, Christmas or special family gatherings. There are also films that have been made by tourists and visitors, and others that have been made as part of tourism promotion. Various sound recordings have also been made, sometimes professionally done, at other times when a tape recorder is whipped out to capture the words of an older family member as they recount a story from their youth.

In 2006 the Museum Trust undertook the Oral History Project, interviewing over 30 older islanders who talked on a range of subjects relating to life on Norfolk Island. Those tapes are now in the process of being transcribed and translated where Norf’k has been spoken. They will also become part of the valuable collection of material that is the visual and oral recordings of our culture, heritage and history.

Together with the Museum the Norfolk Island Historical Society is keen to ensure that recordings held around the island are kept in good condition and copied into digital formats. The Historical Society will be embarking on a project that will aim to convert film, tape and VHS to digital formats and will be asking people if they would like their recordings converted and for a copy to be kept with the Society. While the project is still unfolding, both our organisations are keen to make everyone aware of these plans and to ask that any recordings that might be found during ‘spring cleaning’ be safely put to one side.

Another of the wonderful images that has been scanned from photograph albums in the Museum collection contains these wonderful images from Princess Juju, a school concert held in 1924. We would love to know the names of any of the people in the photo, please contact me on 23788 if you can help.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Scanned Photo Albums

One of the jobs that our wonder volunteer Sue Brian has been undertaking is the scanning of all the images in photo albums in our collection. This is being done for a number of reasons: it provides a back-up copy in case of some disaster that destroys the image or album; and it means that handling of old and fragile albums and photographs is lessened as access can primarily occur via the digital copy. Over the years the museum has been lucky enough to have a number of albums donated that include images from across the island covering people, events and scenery going back to the 1870s.

One of the photos that Sue scanned recently has a photo of a view looking through the arch that used to stand at the entrance to the Lumberyard. It is an intriguing photo. The arch is now long gone, but provides an opportunity to imagine Bay Street not only with this additional structure in place, but as the place where the action of the infamous Cooking Pot riot occurred in the prisoners’ mess area in1846. This was the riot that led to twelve men being executed and their bodies thrown in a pit outside of the consecrated area of the cemetery, now known as Murders’ Mound.

The Lumberyard contained a yard separated from the Prisoners’ Mess by a stone wall. Three-quarters of the yard was roofed to form an open shed under which was a hundred foot saw-pit. An overseers’ room and carpenters’ shop were located at the north end of the yard. The entrance – as you can see from the photo was located in the south wall. The activity of this area must have been great. The carpenters’ shop was later transferred to the open shed in which a number of benches were fitted. The saw-pit in this shed was only used in wet weather, three others being located outside the building. Coopers, wheelrights, turners and other craftsmen employed in the Engineers department also worked in the carpenters’ Shop.

The prisoners’ mess was located alongside this area and had a yard, cookhouse, constables’ room, gatekeepers lodge, entrance way, store, overseer’s mess and numerous privies. The cookhouse had a flagged floor and contained four coppers and a fireplace. The prisoners’ sugar and soap rations were issued from the store located on the west side of the entrance way. The mess rooms consisted of two sheds erected around the north and east sides of the mess yard. One shed was for the ‘old hands’ and the other for the ‘new’ – however as no fence divided the two this could not be enforced. The mess yard was a dangerous place, the haunt of the so-called ‘Ring’ even becoming an area that the overseer dared not exercise authority.

Another of the jobs that Sue is working on includes incorporating a number of these scanned images into a 20 minutes slide show, complete with backing music. She has spent countless hours doing this. The display will be available for all to see within the next few weeks at one of our venues, the details will be advertised once it is in place. This project provides us all with the opportunity to look through our fabulous photographic collection – in effect opening up these precious albums and bringing their stories and memories to life.

Successful Grant Applications

We have just received notification of two successful grant applications that we are absolutely thrilled about.

The first is a grant from the National Library of Australia’s Community Heritage Grant Program. The grant for $3,700 will be used to set up disaster bins in each of our venues. Disaster bins are quite literally wheelie bins that sit at each venue, filled with the items needed to do a mop up should a disaster occur.

As we know, one of the biggest issues we face at the Pier Store is that it is so close to the sea. This building is almost the first that would be hit if a tsunami occurs again. Other disasters that could occur in any of our buildings include fire, cyclone damage or flooding (even from a burst pipe). Planning for a disaster is part of good museum management and nearly all museums have plans and policies in place about how to deal with a disaster. Disaster bins are an expensive exercise for us as our museums are spread across 3 buildings, we have paper based collections in the Guard House and other items in storage at Anson Bay. This grant will ensure that we are equipped to move straight in after a disaster occurs and save as many objects as possible. Our sincere thanks to the National Library of Australia.

The second grant we will receive is from the Maritime Museum of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), supported by the Australian Government through the Australian National Maritime Museum. This grant for $7,198 is to complete a project called the “Post 1856 Norfolk Island Maritime Project”. It will work with the two key stories of whaling and the Resolution and will include working with collection items such as photographs, artefacts, oral histories and sound recordings.

With this grant we will be able to things such as re-house the Resolution bell, undertake conservation on artefacts, digitise over 300 images and slides, collate recordings of whale songs and oral histories, establish audio-visual presentations in the display area, undertake research on other Resolution artefacts and upgrade display panels. Wow – a total overhaul! Our since thanks to the MMAPSS and the ANMM for this grant.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Very Special Lamp

Late on a Friday afternoon a few months ago two visitors to the island called into my office asking to speak to me. Bob and Penny Burgess were here on holiday, but had also come to the island with the aim of arranging for a very special lamp that they own to come to Norfolk Island for an extended loan. The Burgess’ had been told that their lamp had been taken from Captain Bligh’s cabin just before the Bounty was burnt on Pitcairn Island in 1790. After having it hang in their house for over 20 years, they believed that it had such great historical and special significance that it should return to Norfolk Island for all to see. They generously offered for the museum to hold it for the next 5 years. 

 Bob and Penny were given the lamp about 1990 from the widow of Mr Ted (Edward) Winter. She and Ted were fairly regular visitors to Norfolk Island during the 1950's and 1960's. Ted worked in Sydney on Sydney Harbour possibly with the Maritime Services and when they visited Norfolk, Ted would do handyman work for Lavinia Christine (Donkin then Roberts) Nobbs, better known as Aunty Kit. She lived at Moira and together with her sister Val, ran the shop on New Farm Road. The Winter’s would stay with Aunty Kit on their visits and became quite friendly. She told them that the lamp was given to Fletcher Christian’s granddaughter Sarah who married George Hunn Nobbs and it was handed down through the Nobbs family until it came into Aunty Kit’s possession. At some time in the 1960s she gave the lamp to the Winter’s and they took it home to Australia with them. After Ted passed away Mrs Winter gave it to their friends Bob and Penny, who describe themselves as “collectors of everything!”  Bob and Penny have been wonderful custodians of the lamp as they have kept it safe and in very good order over the years.

However, it now appears that the lamp is not “the Bounty lamp”. Nigel Erskine, a former Norfolk Island Museum curator and someone very familiar with Bounty artefacts, inspected the lamp at the Australian National Maritime Museum, where he now works. Nigel dates it as mid to late 19th century and describes it as a high status lamp, unlike one that would be carried on a ship, but possibly could have been a church lamp. It is a very fine piece with three (originally four) glass panels that are flashed ruby/clear, most likely acid etched. The design on the glass includes a griffin – which is included in the Bligh family crest - another factor leading to a belief of ownership by Bligh. Another confusing feature of the lamp is that one of the glass designs includes a fleur-de-lis which is a French decorative item not usually found on English objects.

 This wonderful lamp has now come back to Norfolk Island and will be with us for the next five years. Its story is a mystery that we want to try and reveal. When did it first come to Norfolk Island and who brought it here? Perhaps it came with the building of St Barnabas or through other ecclesiastical contacts of George Hunn Nobbs? Perhaps it hung in Branka House when Fletcher Nobbs and Sarah lived there, or did it come to Moira at a later time? We will research to try and date it more precisely looking at details such as the making of the glass and its design elements. However it may be that there are people on the island who remember the lamp hanging at Moria or someplace else. We would be most grateful to speak to anyone who remembers it or has any information. Please call me on 23788 or 51434.

National and Commonwealth Heritage Listing for HMS Sirius Shipwreck Site

On Tuesday 25th October, on the 225th anniversary of her commissioning, the shipwreck site of HMS Sirius, here on the reef at Norfolk Island, was added to the National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists. This confirms the site as one comprising heritage values of great significance and value to the Australian Nation.

In 1787 the Sirius was the lead ship for the First Fleet of eleven ships setting out from Britain on the voyage to establish the first settlement in Australia. They landed at Botany Bay on the 18th January 1788 and soon after established the settlement at Port Jackson. Norfolk Island was then established as the second colony within the next few months. As the lead ship the Sirius was captained by John Hunter and carried Arthur Phillip the first Governor for the new colony. Her wrecking here was a devastating event for the fledgling communities. Of all the eleven ships of the First Fleet, we only know of the final resting place of the Sirius, the circumstances of the others being unknown. The image by George Raper of “The Melancholy Loss of HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island March 19 1790” (National Library of Australia), captures her stranded on the reef.

 The signing by Minister for Environment Tony Burke, formally adding the site to the Heritage lists occurred in a ceremony jointly conducted (thanks to modern technology) at the Norfolk Island Central School and the Australian National Maritime Museum. A video link up saw students from NICS together with students from Parramatta asking and answering questions about the Sirius and her wrecking prior to the official signing. Our Chief Minister David Buffett spoke about the friendships and benefits that have resulted from her wrecking here on Norfolk Island. Minister Burke said the Sirius tells an important part of Australia's story, "It is a critical part of the colony of New South Wales. It's a critical part of Norfolk Island and put together, it's a part of the heritage of the nation we all call home."

The site as it is listed covers all the areas that artefacts were found during the four official expeditions that occurred during the 1980s and the last one in 2002. Over 3,000 artefacts were recovered which are now exhibited and cared for by the Norfolk Island Museum. A number of objects are on loan to the Australian National Maritime Museum, including one of her anchors. 

 The video “Search for the Sirius” is shown at the Pier Store Museum where the artefacts are exhibited. This tells the story of the official expeditions and is well worth viewing. We also have a number of books for sale that tell the story of the life, wrecking and recovery of the Sirius artefacts. These are available at the REO Café and Bookshop and the Pier Store museum. Our web site launched in 2009 tells the complete story of the Sirius and can be found at           

On this small island so far from the major cities on the mainland our museum is responsible for, and displays the artefacts from Australia’s most important shipwreck. Alongside the Sirius collection, we have of course, the KAVHA collection – an array of over 6,000 artefacts that have come from the archaeological digs in World Heritage Listed KAVHA. Our own Norfolk Island collection includes artefacts from the Bounty (such as the cannon, kettle and plate), Pitcairn Island, the Melanesian Mission on Norfolk, the Resolution and other aspects of daily life on Norfolk since 1856. These are collections that visitors will travel to Norfolk Island specifically to see. We are indeed privileged to work with them on a daily basis and have them entrusted to our care.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ensign Best and the life of an Officer

When we think of the Second Settlement on Norfolk Island most of our thoughts turn to the terrible conditions of the convicts and the misery of their lives. However, while that was certainly occurring there was also another type of life happening for the officers, their wives and families.

Ensign Best served on the ship James Pattinson with the 80th Regiment and was on Norfolk Island from August 1838 until March 1839. He kept a diary which was intended to keep his family informed of his life away from home. For this reason perhaps it describes the books he read, a lot of fishing and hunting, cliff top walks, jolly evenings at mess and visits of fellow officers. Presumably he found it too distasteful or uninteresting to write about the convicts and his work with them. He mentions a severe military flogging with curt repulsion and just a few words to explain why it occurred. When he attends a court martial he describes in detail the journey riding to it but tells us nothing of the case or outcome. Best thoroughly accepted the view that convicts were there to be punished and did not dwell on their squalid and awful lot. The following entries are from his dairy:

25th September 1838. Was a great day of employment to us bachelors of Norfolk Island. We purposed giving a ball in the mess room the following day & determined to do it in a style hitherto unknown. A great quantity of evergreens were brought in and disposed around the room so as to make it resemble a shady bower. Over the Orchestra was a transparency expressing our welcome to our guests. The supper room was disposed as an armoury & and a transparency over the door inscribed with the words “Eat drink & be merry”.

26th Arose early, bathed and rendered what assistance I could to the committee of management; as soon as my services were dispensed with I went out shooting returning at seven P.M my sport was a wild cat. At nine the Company began to assemble and as ushered into the ball room expressed great satisfaction with the grace & beauty of its appearance…Dancing was kept up till midnight when supper was announced. The supper room afforded quite as much gratification to our guests as the Ballroom…A table in the form of a T occupied the centre & one end of the room bearing on it all the luxuries of Norfolk Island. When eating had ceased several toasts were proposed and songs sung. Dancing was then resumed until past five when the party broke up…

8th and 9th October.  As we proposed opening the cricket season on the 10th with a match between the two regiments I devoted these two days to getting the ground into some sort of order and practicing. The ground was in a wretched state cut up by carts and overgrown by weeds. This work, my garden and stockyard with my bathe in the morning, and evenings read, left me most anxious for bedtime which I make 10 o’clock.

10th There was great excitement; in the Barracks men rushing violently about and betting figs of tobacco on the result of the game, on the cricket ground a pitching of wickets and tents. At half past twelve the playing commenced and lasted till five when the 50th were declared victorious. This was a result I had expected, few of our men having taken a bat in hand since leaving England…A pig with a soaped tail was then turned loose and afforded great amusement after which the men ran races in sacks. All these diversions having ceased we returned the men with the pig to their barracks and we to my room where dinner was ready; when this was disposed of we adjourned to the mess room and danced all night…

31st Bathed at six. Wrote till breakfast. Took my gun up to Long Ridge to shoot pigeons only killed two. Arranged with McLean that Storey should go out with me at five next morning…

Thursday November 1st. I was up and ready to start at five…We went to Steeles Point for White Swallows they were too wild however to allow themselves to be knocked down and out of four I shot only one was fit for stuffing…I shot a pair of slate coloured birds and a mutton bird. Ascending the cliffs with our game we went to the camp of the charcoal burners for water to take a snack of what we had brought in with us. In another attempt I killed the Wood Quest and put him on a stick...

2nd Took my gun and went to Longridge...then I walked to the Ansons Bay Hut. From Ansons Bay we went to Duncombe’s Bay where we cliffed to the bottom…here was the island where we hoped to get many birds. Storey and myself swam over, the distance was not great but the current was very strong. We remained hunting the birds for about two hours but they had done hatching and were so wild that we only got three black and white swallows a pair of mutton birds and a young gannet…

6th February 1839…While sitting at luncheon Mr Hayne commander of the ‘Alice’ joined our party. He is quiet and gentlemanly and one of the handsomest men I ever saw. We soon dispersed in search of various amusements and assembled again at seven to dinner. We sat late and heard some good singing from Mr Turner, he has a good voice and some taste but wants scientific teaching. Towards four in the morning some of the party waxed boisterous and chairs flew like flies about the room to the infinite danger of the spectators of the fray. As soon as the storm had passed and the principles carried off to bed the rest of the party dispersed…

Captain Alexander Maconochie

The Norfolk Island Museum is fortunate to have a copy of statistics and comments written by Captain Maconochie, Commandant of Norfolk Island from 1840 to 1844. His paper is titled as “Criminal Statistics and Movement of the Bond population of Norfolk Island to December 1843” and has been reproduced in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol 8, No. 1 – March 1845. Most of the 50 pages are devoted to statistical tables but these are interspersed with enlightening comments on all aspects of convict life on the Island during the years Maconochie was in charge.

One subject that he wrote about was the religious life (or lack of it) amongst the prisoners and he found that the younger English prisoners were far better educated than the Scotch or the Irish.  Also married men were found to be “well conducted” and stayed away from the groups of convicts who had sunk to the depths of a despicable way of life.

“This degree of education among the English prisoners is higher than among the older ones.  When they read or write, they do both better than the others.  Their minds are generally more active, they covet a better class of books and more readily acquire general, though superficial, information from them.  On the other hand, these same young English prisoners, who are thus distinguished among us for superior education and educability, are not less remarkable for indifference to their religious duties and careless of religious instruction.  The older prisoners, without being always the better men for it, are peculiarly accessible to religious exhortation and impression and show much respect to religious addresses.  They thus come readily to church, they listen with extreme attention to any sermon in the least suited to them and they are frequently even deeply moved by one bearing on their individual circumstances.”

Maconochie discusses some of the reasons for these differences in attitude to religious instructions but fails to come to a conclusion except commenting upon the differences in the degree of education.  He goes on to say “I have frequently seen even very bad men exhibit considerable religious sensibility, not hypocritically or ostentatiously, but striving to conceal it and perhaps the first to laugh at it, to escape the jeers of, at the moment, their less sensitive companions.  But, as a class, the young English prisoners exhibit their appearances almost the reverse of these.   They come unwilling to church; they not unfrequently misconduct themselves there.  I have had occasion to sentence many to sit for different periods on the front benches, immediately in my own view and several have even been brought before me by their better – minded companions for arguing that religion was a hoax, supported by the better classes in order to control the lower.”

It can be seen from these comments that Maconochie was intensely interested in the character, conduct and upbringing of the prisoners and obviously had their well-being in mind – not everyone in charge of the prisoners took the time to study their faults and failings and ponder over their life before becoming a convict and the ramifications of confinement for years with the prison system.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

1799 Farthing Coin

We meet the most interesting people at the Museum. Visitors tell us the fascinating stories of their descendants who lived on the Island, and other specialists in fields relevant to our history openly share their knowledge. A few weeks ago we met Russell Stanley, a specialist in coins who writes articles for collector magazines. Russell was interested to see that there are very few coins from the early First Settlement in our collection and none on display. Answering the question as to why so few coins have been found in the archaeological digs, led to an interesting exchange of information and resulted in a wonderful donation from Russell to the museum.

When he visited Norfolk in the mid 1980s Russell found a very corroded 1799 farthing (1/4 of a penny) at Cascade. The road was gravel at that time and the coin was embedded in a bit of dirt at the side of the road. Due to its poor state, most likely only a coin specialist would have realised what it was (the photos shows what it would have looked like). Russell has now very generously donated the coin to us. He has told us that it is worth very little in a monetary sense because of its poor condition. However it is a valuable item to us because we know exactly where on Norfolk it was found and together with the other early coins we have, will form part of a display on coinage in the First and Second Settlements. This will fill an important gap in our displays.

In the first twenty years of the settlements in NSW and Norfolk Island there was very little coinage in circulation. A major problem with the little that did exist, was that it constantly moved offshore due to the purchase of supplies necessary to keep the settlements alive. As Governor of NSW, King tried to overcome this by increasing the value of the coinage, but this only resulted in inflating the cost of the imported goods – in other words the coins still ended up in the pockets of the traders! The next attempt to keep currency in the colonies was a defacing of Spanish dollars by cutting the central portion out of them to make the iconic ‘holey dollar’, with the small cut-out being a silver coin called the ‘dump’, and given the value of 15 pence.

Bruce Baskerville has told us that in the Second Settlement on Norfolk soldiers pay was only received as a lump sum on their return to Sydney or elsewhere. This meant there were simply not a lot of coins about. The resulting problems with payments to the soldiers resulted in a strong barter economy. Bruce makes the point that as there were a lot of whaling ships calling in for supplies, there must have been some trade even if a lot was still bartered. We also know of convicts making and trading hand made items such as decorative writing boxes and furniture with passing ships.

As Russell’s find of a farthing at Cascade shows, coins have been found here. Ruby Matthews told us that when the Pitcairners arrived they found coins and not knowing what they were for, used them as skimming stones at the waters edge! While there are no coins in the collection of items found during archaeological digs in KAVHA, it is likely that some have been found in Kingston as well as across the island and are in private hands. If you have any old coins found on Norfolk, we would love to know about them and would welcome the opportunity to photograph them and offer any conservation advice that we can. Please contact me or Janelle Blucher on 23788.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Photo Album returns 'Home'

We were contacted a few months ago by Graeme Angus from Sydney. Graeme had purchased a photo album in the 1980’s from a garage sale and it contained black and white and hand coloured photos of Norfolk Island taken by Roy Bell. The album has Bell’s signature on the back cover. Graeme asked if the Museum would like to have the album and we were delighted to receive it this week.

However what makes this album special is the inscription on the inside cover. It reads: “Presented to Iris, From her fellow Guides who spent may happy days in her company at Norfolk Island. 11th March 1947. It is signed by Dolores Buffett, Audrey Scott, Amy Bathie, Dolly Evans, Gordina Douran, Jean Buffett, Fay Bataille, Madeline Snell, Edie Cooper, Mildred Nash-Christian, Sib Bataille, Dorothy Gondon, Jean Laing (colourist), Enid Leslie Quintal, Mabel Leslie Quintal, Pamela EH Chistian, Dawn Adams, Clara Adams, Beverly Downes and Verle Young.

 ‘Iris’ was Iris Thomas nee Christian and it appears the album was presented to her when she left Norfolk to live in Sydney. She returned here in the early 1950’s and passed away in 1954 at the young age of 42 - her grave is in the Norfolk Island Cemetery. Iris had an older sister Joan (Baker).

Iris’ father was Limon Howland Christian (known as Howlin), son of George Henry Parkin ‘Parkins’ Christian. Howlin had worked on the ship The Iris in Auckland and sadly passed away in his 30’s after drowning in Auckland harbour. Iris’ mother, Emma Petherbridge re-married Louis Victor Bataille and together they had another three children; Seabury, Richard and Fay. Emma was keenly involved in the establishment of Girl Guides on Norfolk by Mrs Eric Stopp in 1928. In guiding photos of the time Iris is often seen as a flag bearer and was a very keen Guide. Fay also later became a leader in Girl Guides on Norfolk.

Norfolk’s guiding history is interesting. For the first ten years meetings were held at the school. However owing to the increase in girls wishing to join, the Committee decided they needed their own hall and approached the Administrator and he allowed them to lease a quarter of an acre on land adjoining the school. Fundraising followed to raise the funds to erect a building. The pines were donated as was much of the labour for the actual building. The building was opened in 1940 however 40 years later as the school population grew an arrangement was made with the Administration for the Guides to lease land on the land where the Girl Guide Hall stands today. The new hall was made, once again, by fundraising and voluntary labour. The original guide hall still stands today and is the school library building.

Today while many Brownies are enrolled there are a smaller number of guides, however guiding still has a strong and important role to play here in fostering friendships, striving for personal and community goals and spending ‘many happy days’ together. I’m sure Iris and those other twenty young women who signed her photo album all those years ago in 1947 would agree with that. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Up-Town Presence

In the midst of the downturn in tourism on Norfolk Island over the last few years, the Museum has been quietly going against the trend of dropping sales. Despite lower visitor numbers to the island we have seen an increase in sales of our Museum Pass and bookings for the Cemetery Tour “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. We think that one of the reasons for this has been that we are offering visitors what they want – a flexible experience that is ‘do it when you want’ and of high quality. Of course as more visitors come to the island to experience our heritage and culture through World Heritage Listed KAVHA, we are well placed to provide the content they are after.

 Over the last few years Baunti Escapes has been enthusiastically selling all our tickets and tours and we have also jointly brought our ‘products’ together. For example we have put together a Traditional Dinner and Play Combination where visitors see The Trial of the Fifteen play and then go on to a traditional island dinner at the REO Café provided by Baunti. Late last year Baunti provided a wonderful opportunity for us to have an up-town presence by providing valuable and extensive space in their offices to display information about the museums, our tours and tickets. This has been fantastic for us – we had long desired a place in town to be able to sell our tickets as there is nothing worse that meeting a visitor at one of our museums on the day before they leave who tells us “we just didn’t know you were down here”. Now we have a much greater chance to catch them early in their stay to tell them all about what we have on offer down town.

And Baunti has now made our up-town presence even greater with a great big sign displaying our Museum logo placed on their awning. We couldn’t hope for a better opportunity to catch the eye of visitors as they wander through town. Have a look next time you drive past – I’m sure you’ll agree that it offers a great chance for us to attract even more visitors down the hill to Kingston to see the museums.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Miriam Christian

In the annexe of our house museum at No. 10 Quality Row we have a display of the various inhabitants and restorations since the house was built in 1844. It was built to be the residence of the Foreman of Works, the first being Thomas Seller. On arrival of the Pitcairners in 1856 Isaac and Miriam Christian and their children moved into the house. They eventually raised fifteen children together before Isaac’s tragic death in a whaling accident in 1877. While the house is presented as it would have been during the time of Thomas Seller, the presence of Isaac, Miriam and all those children can also be felt.

Included in the display is a copy of a poignant letter written by Miriam to her mother Elizabeth Young. Elizabeth had been part of the group of 26 who left Norfolk in 1863 to return to Pitcairn Island. They were the second group to return after dissatisfaction with the arrangements on Norfolk and an enduring homesickness for Pitcairn.

Group of Pitcariners 1857, Miriam is thrid from left top row. National Library of Australia
January 9th 1873.

My dear beloved mother,

The arrival of Russell and Stanley and old Mr Buffett took us quite on surprise. they arrive here in October last and oh how glad we are to hear that you are all quite well, especially you dear my dear mother. we are all quite well at present. Hunt & Parkins is gone away in a schooner to the Fiji. Isaac & Leonard came home a week ago. Godfrey is gone third mate of the whaling barque Fanny Fisher with Capt West. we are verry sorry indeed to hear how poorly off you all are in clothing and other things that you find it hard to get on Pitcairns Island. the community in general has raise a subscription for you all and given into the hands of Russel and Stanley for the good of our Pitcairn friends. I hope it will be received with thankfull hearts. I hope dear mother that you will come back again to us a Norfolk Island. poor old Arthur Quintall has gone the way of all the earth. he died about a month after Russel and Stanley came here. dear mother I send you a box of things by Russell and some other things in it for those whose names are writen on the parcels. the rest is for you dear mother one parcel for Agnes Warren from Mr Rossiter her friend. We send an album containing the likenesses of our family. you will find four bars of soap in the chest for you mother. when you give out the parcels with their names on it the chest belongs to you. it was Godfrey’s chest therefore I send it to you. everybody is sorry to part from Russell and Stanley. tell Robert to take Lydia and you and come back to Norfolk Island for we have a good doctor here. if the letters that I see come from Pitcairns Island which someone wrote saying that the people on Norfolk are a verry wicked set of people and courting the Scriptures as they do thinking that they were perfect and without sin. I would wish them to bear this in mind. Let him that think he stands take heed lest he fall. Doras is still living with us but not married yet. Mr Nobbs is getting to be very old. Jacob and Marias children are verry sickly. they lost three since you left us and another one now is verry ill and is not likely to live long poor little Lucy. we got three more since you left us. one is dead and two alive. at one time Isaac, Hunt, Godfrey, Leonard, and Parkins all gone to sea. Hunt and Godfrey has been living in Fiji a long time and Isaac, Leonard and Parkins has been whaling out of Sydney. dear mother Russell says that someone on the Island is always quareling about lands. my lands dear mother I leave it into your hands to give it to those that look after you and Isaacs lands he give to Margarett and Thursday. and now I wont write any more for they will tell you all about us. and now dear mother I hope and pray that if we don’t meet you on earth we may meet each other in heaven above. goodbye mother, farewell      Your daughter   Miriam Christian
My husband sends you his best wishes

The photograph is of a group of Pitcairn Islanders on the verandah of one of the houses on Quality Row in 1857 and is from the National Library of Australia. Miriam is third from the left in the back row.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Longridge Agricultural Settlement

Last week I wrote about Elizabeth Robertson, the daughter of Gilbert Robertson Superintendent of Agriculture between 1845 and 1847, whose grave is in the Norfolk Island Cemetery.  Many thanks to Peter Guile for contacting me to let me know that Elizabeth and her family did not live at Branka House as I had stated, but in a house that was located across the road in the area which is now the southern end of the airstrip.

There is a wonderful plan of the Longridge Agricultural Settlement produced in 1846 by W.T. Montney and with the help of Peter and Mudgi I was able to make sense of where the buildings lay in relation to current day roads and houses. The plan is on-line at the State Library of NSW and it is fascinating viewing. The direct link is: Today, while there are a few ruins still left to see across a number of properties, it is easy to forget the extent of the buildings that existed.

The plan shows a collection of 35 buildings including stable, barn, store house and shed, wool store and corn shed, yard, prison, officers’ quarters, police hut, prisoners’ barracks, well, cook house, bakehouse, prisoners’ gardens, overseers’ huts, boilers, slaughterhouse, pig yard and sties, paddock, bullock pen, airing ground, Superintendent of Agriculture house, gardens, office and stables, dairy, hut stock yard, cow shed, government gardens, lumber yard and workshop, privy and new coffee plantation. In Raymond Nobbs’ book “Norfolk Island and Its Second Settlement” he describes the range of buildings: “Many of the structures were constructed of rubble calcarenite and plastered with sills, head stones and thresholds of massive calcarenite…The Prisoners Barracks consisted of three buildings with a total capacity for 167 prisoners. The buildings were timber framed and weatherboarded set on a stone foundation”.

Branka House is the prison identified in the plan (no.7). Commandant Alexander Maconochie developed both Longridge and Cascade as agricultural outstations as he wanted a place to keep the newly arriving prisoners away from the influence of the old hands in Kingston. The Longridge settlement created work for convicts in tending crops that provided essential food for the island. The prison was built for Maconochie to test out his ideas for rehabilitating prisoners. It had a single pitch roof and contained twelve solitary confinement cells built at ground level. The only access was through a hatch on the second floor which was divided into two and where a Protestant and Roman Catholic clergyman would sit and read to the convicts from the Bible. In evidence he gave to the Select committee on Prison Discipline in 1850 Maconochie was asked how long he kept the men in separation. He replied that he kept one man in for six months and deeply regretted it as “he became nearly helpless and was a very different man afterwards from what he was before”. 

It was not until George Hunn Nobbs converted the prison into a home in the early 1880’s that the double gable that Branka House is known for today was built. The structure now called the Arches or Stables is the most intact one left in the area. Its origins have been described as unknown however on Montney’s map it appears as the middle section of the three winged prisoners’ barracks. Remains of the bakehouse can be seen at the top of Rocky Point Road and others such as the cookhouse and well remain, but cannot be seen from the road. Unfortunately we have no artefacts from the Agricultural Settlement in our collection and overall there is still much to be discovered about this intriguing settlement.

Of course, with the building of the airstrip the home of the Superintendent of Agriculture and Elizabeth Robertson was demolished. How lovely it would be to be able to wander through that house today and imagine Elizabeth sitting beside a window, writing her letter to her dear sister Fanny.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Elizabeth White Robertson

During “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, the cemetery tour we conduct every Tuesday and Friday, we usually stop at the grave of Elizabeth Robertson. Elizabeth was the adult daughter of Gilbert Robertson, the Superintendent of Agriculture between 1845 and 1846, and mother Agnes. Together with their four daughters and a son, the family lived in Branka House at Longridge. 

Amidst the grisly tales of mutiny and murder of the convicts and their overseers, Elizabeth’s story provides the opportunity to talk about the lives of the women in the Second Settlement. With nearly an entirely male convict population, the majority of the women here were the wives and daughters of the officers and civilian men. Through a series of letters Elizabeth wrote in a diary form to her sister in Tasmania, we have the chance to peer into their lives. Her diary is a popular seller in our REO Café and Bookshop, titled simply “Elizabeth Robertson’s Diary, Norfolk Island 1845”. It covers a six week period commencing just weeks after her arrival on the island.

Elizabeth was homesick for Hobart and especially missed her married sister Fanny. It seems clear that she knew that her illness, tuberculosis, was serious as she is haunted by premonitions that she may never see Fanny again: “when I look round and miss the dear faces that I have been accustomed to – the thought comes into my head that I may never see them again and I can scarcely refrain from tears..”. She also tells us about the violence of the settlement. The period the family were on the island includes during the terms of the notorious Commandants Major Childs and his successor, John Price. She was here during the infamous Cooking Pot Riot, a number of escape attempts, executions of convicts, convicts attacking other convicts, an accidental self-shooting by an officer – plus much more: “there are two bushrangers out just now they have been out for four days – yesterday there was a gang of men beating their overseers – fired a pistol and then drew another there was a terrible uproar..”.

Intermixed with her descriptions of the news of the convicts and their conduct, we also gain a glimpse of the social comings and goings – the visits of the ladies and the gentlemen. Elizabeth is not shy in describing her contempt for a number of the men – “he is as great a Jackass as ever I met” and her frustrations with visits on a Sunday which she feels should be for quiet and contemplation. We also get a feel for the organisation of social calls - “We wanted father to go with us to the settlement to day for Mr Rowlands says the people are all wondering [why] we have not been returning their calls – but he will not go till he has finished sheep washing”.

In a lovely surprise, last week we received an email from a descendant of Elizabeth’s father Gilbert. She has sent us the transcript of a letter Gilbert wrote to his wife Agnes, in January 1847. By this time Gilbert had resigned his post on Norfolk after coming into conflict with John Price, had left his family behind and travelled ahead to Hobart to seek new employment and make arrangements for them to follow. When he left Norfolk in late 1846 Elizabeth’s illness was much worse. So very sadly, his letter is written without knowing that his daughter died ten days earlier – “May God in his mercy assist and direct you in the very trying circumstances in which you are placed and may he grant that my dear Lizzie may be restored to such a measure of health as will enable her to accompany you with comfort..”. He is hopeful that Elizabeth may have been wrongly diagnosed as he talks of having set up doctor’s appointments for her: “from what I hear of two cases very similar to Lizzie’s I am in hopes that the Doctors may have quite mistaken her complaint”. 

However Elizabeth did not live to see Hobart again and died on January 14 1847. Her grave is close to the front fence in the Norfolk Island Cemetery – looking over a magnificent view of the bay. Around her are the graves of so many others from that period – military, civilians, convicts. It is over 164 years since her death, yet through her diary we can still get to know a little of her and life on this island during that tumultuous time.

Elizabeth Robertson’s Diary is for sale at the REO Café and Bookshop or on-line through the Shop section of our web site at

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Opening of Meralda Warren Exhibition

It was such a cold and blustery night last Tuesday however in the R.E.O. Café and Bookshop there was a wonderfully cheerful and warm atmosphere at the opening of the Exhibition of New Work by Pitcairn Islander, Meralda Warren. As Meralda’s many friends welcomed her back to Norfolk the room was filled with chat, laughter and overwhelming praise for her art work. 

 The exhibition which runs till Friday 8 July includes six of Meralda’s latest works. All are painted works on paper bark cloth or tapa that Meralda has made. The scenes depicted are all based on themes that come from Meralda’s Pitcairn Island home including whales, turtles, the Bounty and the island itself.

Meralda says: “The art of making Tapa was prohibited by the missionaries 75 years ago until the challenge of not losing that side of our heritage became too strong for me to let go. Discovering how to make Pitcairn Tapa Cloth in 2007, I was encouraged by the Ahu Sistas and my mum Mavis. I have gone forth to discover when to harvest the Aute plant. How to strip the outer bark from the inner fibrous paper mulberry bark using a sea shell. Soaking the bark in citrus juice instead of water to finally beating the bark out into a piece of workable beautiful cloth over a wooden log using a beater that I have carved out of wood called an Eeí. Once dried and I am satisfied with the texture, I seal the piece using Arrowroot cooked to the right consistency”.
Keepers of the Sea

The revival of tapa making by Meralda on Pitcairn is important. She is reviving a part of the culture that was considered to have been lost forever from the mid 1930’s. Tapa making provides one of the only means of understanding the lives of the Tahitian women who married the Bounty mutineers including their role in enabling early survival on Pitcairn. However not only has Meralda revived this lost skill and mastered it herself, she has been passing on that knowledge to the next generation of Pitcairn Islanders. Included in the exhibition are four works by Meralda’s grand nieces and nephews aged 9, 10 and 11. By teaching the children she is ensuring that the heritage of their foremothers will not be lost to future generations of Pitcairn Islanders. We are all enriched by that.

Amongst those who came to the opening it was especially good to see Alice Buffett who made a special effort to attend. What a treat, and thanks to Kath and Matt for making that possible. Please come down to the REO Café between 9.00am to 3.00pm from Monday to Friday 8th July to see this wonderful exhibition, it is well worth it. 
Bounty's Home

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Exhibition of New Tapa Work by Merlada Warren

Meralda Warren
We are very excited to be hosting an exhibition of new tapa works by Pitcairn Island artist Meralda Warren, which will be opened by Meralda herself. Meralda has become Pitcairn Island’s most original artist.  In 2007 she decided to learn and revive the art of tapa making on Pitcairn. She exhibited for the first time in 2008 in Tahiti during the Tahiti Bounty Day festivities and here on Norfolk Island in 2009 with the ‘Ahu Sistas Jean Clarkson, Sue Pearson and Pauline Reynolds.  Since then she has developed her practice even further and her tapa paintings are now held in collections all over the world.

Meralda’s latest tapa paintings were recently on display at the Te Papa Museum Maori and Pacific Textiles Symposium where she was the keynote speaker along with Pauline Reynolds. The paintings were also exhibited at the British High Commissioner’s Residence during a Showcase Event built around Meralda’s presence in Wellington.  This event focused on a ‘Positive Pitcairn’ and many of New Zealand’s important tourism movers and shakers were present.
Scraping the outer bark

Meralda will be visiting Norfolk for two weeks and we now have the opportunity to see these latest paintings. Included with her work will be “Pitcairn’s Next Generation Tapa” – four works by young Pitcairn Islanders. Through teaching young Pitcairn Islanders the art of tapa making, Meralda is single handedly ensuring that this knowledge will not be lost to future generations.

Everyone is warmly invited to the opening this Tuesday 28th June between 5.00pm and 7.00pm in the R.E.O. Café and Bookshop. The exhibition will then be open between 9.00am and 3.00pm Mondays to Fridays, finishing on Friday 8th July.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Two New Donations

At this week’s Museum Trust meeting two new donations were formally accepted into the collection. We are always grateful and welcoming of donations that help to tell aspects of Norfolk’s story and both these donations do that.

Ned Lenthal has donated a very beautiful antique hand coloured print of a view of Kingston, made by Fred B. Schell in 1886. Schell was an American illustrator who was brought out to Australia to produce views for a series made to mark 100 years of Australia’s settlement. He was active in Australia from 1886 to 1889. Not only has Ned donated the print he has also kindly offered to frame it ready for display. Once framed it will be displayed in the Commissariat Store exhibition. 

Some of the wonderful items donated by Annette Stolz
Annette Stolz has also made a very generous donation of a collection of hand-made items that she collected while on Pitcairn Island in 1993. Included are 12 wooden fish and boats, 12 woven hats and baskets, 3 painted hattie leafs, 8 shell necklaces, 1 wooden doll, 1 woven hat brim and 3 commemorative coins. What makes this collection special is that Annette knew who had made each item and was able to tell us the story of their making. Among the makers are Jacob Warren, Dave Brown, Royal Warren, Carol Warren, Irma Christian, Thelma Brown, Denis Christian and Ben Christian. The brightly coloured woven bags had not faded at all as Annette had kept them away from all light sources.
Top shark by Denis Christian, bottom by Ben Christian

All donations to the museum are put before the Museum Trust who formally accept them into the collection. For acceptance into the collection, we do have a set of criteria that needs to be met. We require that items fit within our collection areas, have a good provenance or information available regarding when it was made, who by, who has owned it, how it was used etc. Items that are very fragile or in such a poor condition that we are not able to care for them cannot be accepted. Once accepted, each item is entered into the database with the donor recorded and are given a unique museum code. They are then either put on display or stored for later display. With objects that are sensitive to light such as Annette’s bags and Ned’s print, they may go on exhibition for a short period only, displayed away from direct light sources.

Of course one of the benefits of donating objects to the museum is that they are able to be enjoyed by the wider Norfolk Island community, our visitors to the island and also made available to researchers. All are cared for by museum staff including receiving any conservation that may be required over time. Please contact us if you would like any information about donating items to the museum.

Wooden doll by Jacob Warren

Monday, May 30, 2011

Our Whaling Heritage

We recently received a donation from Di Adams of some whale oil in two old bottles - one a very 1960’s or 70’s style Schweppes Low Calorie Lemonade bottle complete with a plastic topped cork stopper! The oil had come from her father George ‘Mack’ Adams, who had worked in the early whaling industry, as had his brother Charles ‘Pat’ Adams. A number of years ago Pat wrote down his account of an accident that occurred in 1939 aboard the whale boat “Lanic”. His son Robert, ‘Punga’ Adams, kindly donated a copy to the museum. There are so many stories that come from Norfolk’s whaling past – and the museum has a number of objects on display to help with their telling. However reading Pat’s account of what it was actually like out there in the open sea in one of the New Bedford style whale boats really highlights the dangers faced and the skill of the Norfolk men in those early whaling days:

“It was late 1938 Whaling Season that I took the place of my Grandfather, John (Rigger) Adams, as a crew in the boat “Gwendoline”, built by the late Mr Tom (Pert) Quintal, named after Gwendoline Menzies, now Mrs Bert Bergagnin. The boat captained by Thornton (Bobo) Yager with his crew, Boatsteer, William (Mancy) Edwards, Augustine (Hares) Adams, Victor (Mate Bob) Edwards, Tom (Farmer) Quintal, Ernest (Bera) Quintal and myself Charlie (Pat) Adams. There were two other boats in the Company, Louis Battaile’s “Advance” and Nathan (Shunnah) Quintal’s “Lanic”.

1939. I had a full season and it was a wonderful experience which I will never forget. The day commenced at 8.00am. As soon as the boats are cleared of the jetty, the Captain or some other crew member would offer a prayer, asking for the safety of the boats and its crews – then again at lunch time Grace was always said.

Early one morning we were the first boat launched – about 500yds out from the Cascade Jetty, a school of whales came up alongside the boat – our Boatsteerer immediately harpoon a whale, and the boat was Fast .

It was one o’clock before the “Advance” and “Lanic” caught up with us, some of the experienced boatmen took a few of our places in the fast boat, Gus (Hares) and myself were transferred to the “Lanic”. It was soon noticed that the harpoon rope was wrapped around the whale’s tail, making it hard for those trying to kill the whale getting near enough to lance it. So we in the “Lanic” was given the job to try and get a harpoon into the whale – Gus (Hares) Adams was in the Captain’s position and Jimmy (Bill) Edwards Boatsteerer.

Suddenly the whale surfaced, hitting the “Lanic”, knocking Andrew (Peak) Evans into the water, and myself up into the Rope Tub. On sounding, the whale once again hit the “Lanic”, taking a V shape out of the boat where I was rowing, before I was knocked into the Rope Tub. Henry (Seymour) Buffett who was rowing the Midship Oar, the oar was broken when the whale hit it, Henry had ribs broken and he was badly injured, he was worried with the injury for the rest of his life. The “Lanic” was badly holed and Ernest (Reuben) Christian, Andrew (Peak) Evans and myself was given the task to sail the “Lanic” with Henry Buffett, injured, back to Cascade Jetty.

We were about seven miles off Steele’s Point, only able to use the jib sail, as we had to be careful to keep the water from entering the boat – luckily the sea was calm. We had the Distress flag, or Wave, up and those on the cliffs soon picked the Wave up, and knew we have had an accident. A few miles from shore Darky Douran, in his launch “Gordina” took us in tow and safely landed us at Cascades. Unfortunately the whale was lost after nine hours of hard work.

There were only two boats available for a week until the “Lanic” was repaired. There is a movie film of this Fast Boat and accident to the “Lanic”, taken by the late Jimmy Mitchell and his daughter, Pat Magri, may still have it.

After each whale is safely handed over to the Shore Crews, the boat crews and those on shore and on the cliff tops would sing the ‘Doxology’, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”. And when we are towing late in the evenings people would light fires on the cliffs to help pilot us to land. Thus the wonderful old Whaling Hymn “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” was always sung.

Sadly after the passing of my great friend and mate, Charles (Tene) Menzies, a few years ago, I think I am the last of the “Old Hand Harpoon Whalers”, boat crew.