Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ship's Model HMAT Supply

We were thrilled this week to receive a wonderful donation and addition to our collection. Danny Vadas from Newcastle has donated a ship’s model of the Supply which he has hand made. Not only is it a simply beautiful addition to our collection, it is also meticulously made and aids our telling of the Supply’s role in establishing and supporting the settlement of Norfolk from 1788.

Danny Vadas
 With the looming presence of so many ‘big name’ ships in our history – the Sirius, the Bounty and (both) Resolution’s – the Supply’s story has perhaps been lost a little in our daily interpretation of the First Settlement. She was of course, involved with two very important events on Norfolk – the arrival of Captain Philip Gidley King and the small group of 22 who began our first European settlement on the 6th March 1788; and the wrecking of HMS Sirius off the reef at Slaughter Bay in 1790. Both of these were key events in the settlement of Australia.

Danny has made his model as painted by Midshipman George Raper off Lord Howe Island on the fateful 1790 voyage to Norfolk Island, together with Raper’s painting of the actual wreck which shows a glimpse of Supply's stern in the background. Danny says “These two paintings are regarded as the best primary sources for the Supply, as they were done ‘on-the-spot’ by an accomplished seaman”.

The Supply was the smallest of the eleven First Fleet ships at only 170 tons and 70 feet long – she was smaller than a Manly ferry! She carried 55 seaman and was skippered by Lieutenant Henry Ligbird Ball. Built in 1759 for the Admiralty in a Thames-side shipyard, possibly by either H. Bird or Thomas Slade, she was totally re-masted and fitted in 1786/7 after being commissioned for the First Fleet journey. She was intended as an armed companion to the flagship Sirius and back-up in case of an emergency. Because she was small and fast, she was the primary leader of the Fleet and often had the job of rounding up ships that had become detached from the others. She was given jobs such as sailing ahead to find land, relaying the Commodore’s signals and even searched for a man lost overboard from the Alexander

Danny's model of HMAT Supply
On leaving Cape Town on the final leg of the voyage, Captain Phillip transferred from the flagship Sirius to the Supply. They reached Botany Bay on 18 January 1788, two days ahead of the rest of the Fleet, and the Supply's officers planted a flag. After the arrival of all the Fleet and the disembarking at Port Jackson, only the Sirius and Supply remained in the colony. After the Sirius was wrecked the Supply was the only ship left to support both settlements. In total the Supply made ten trips Norfolk Island between 1788 and 1790.

The fate the Supply is uncertain. Some sources indicate that she served as a hulk in Sydney Cove until broken up in 1807. Others say she returned to England in 1791, was renamed the Thomas & Nancy, and served as a coal carrier on the Thames until around 1806.

The flags Danny has put on his model are a Jack from the Jackstaff, a long Pennant from the mainmast and a Blue Ensign from the peak of the gaff. His model shows her with 4 x 4lb long guns and 4 x 12lb Carronades as well as 6 swivel guns. She sits in a purpose made case with a nameplate HMAT Supply. HMAT standing for, His Majesty’s Armed Tender. It took Danny over 2,500 hours to make this model – and one look confirms that it is a superbly hand-made work of art. It is well worth a trip down to the Pier Store to see Danny’s model - you will not be disappointed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

221st Anniversary of the Wrecking of HMS Sirius

Saturday 19 March is the anniversary of the wrecking of the Sirius at Sydney (Slaughter) Bay on Norfolk Island. The Sirius’ story is now very much a part of Norfolk Island’s story – from the impact her wrecking had on the fledgling First Settlement here in 1790; to the recovery of her artefacts particularly throughout the 1980s; to the daily display of those artefacts at the Norfolk Island Museum today.

Her role as the flagship of the First Fleet places the site and artefacts as Australia’s most important shipwreck. The artefacts on display at the Pier Store Museum are the most significant display of First Fleet cultural heritage held anywhere in Australia and her Territories.

National Library of Australia: Raper, The Melancholy Loss of HMS Sirius
 The circumstances of the wrecking are as follows. The Sirius and Supply had arrived at Norfolk, prior to the Sirius continuing on to China to collect much needed supplies for the settlements here and in Sydney NSW. Both ships arrived on the 13th March in foul weather. Because of the conditions they could not risk the usual anchorage position off the settlement at Sydney Bay and sailed around to Cascade Bay. By 15 March all the people had been put ashore but the weather worsened. Captain John Hunter wrote: “These people were no sooner on shore than the wind shifted to the eastward and the weather became hazy and blew strong so that I had no prospect of being able to land any part of the provisions… I knew the exhausted state of stores there … and considerations gave me much anxiety and uneasiness”. While the convicts and marines who had been put ashore made their way by foot from Cascade to Sydney Bay, the ships were both scattered and driven out of sight of the island and would not re-appear for three long days.

By morning 19 March the Supply had completed unloading. As the Sirius returned from the southeast, Hunter then brought the Sirius across from Phillip Island to the south point of Nepean and in to Sydney Bay. He brought the ship’s head to the wind – that is facing out to sea. Just as the loading of the longboats had been completed, Hunter noticed that his ship was rapidly drifting towards the shore.  The Supply was already under sail and her Captain Lieutenant Henry Lidgard Ball called out to Hunter, waving his hat towards the reef to warn that both vessels were coming perilously close to it. Immediately Captain Hunter gave the order to sail windward on a port tack. At this point the Supply was ahead, but leeward of the Sirius. Just at the critical time as they sailed off – the wind shifted direction two points to the south. This wind shift was to spell disaster for the Sirius. It was now impossible for the ships on their port tack to clear the rocks off Point Ross.

The Supply was able to pass just clear under the Sirius’ weather bow by taking a starboard tack. Desperately, Hunter tried to do likewise. The ship failed to tack and fell off the wind – this would head her straight back again towards the rocks off Point Ross. Hunter now had no option. He had to change to a starboard tack by turning the ship’s head away from the wind, endeavouring to sail east past the landing point and off between Nepean Island and the eastern point of Sydney Bay. Hunter took this action, no doubt knowing that it was a forlorn hope. The wind and current were dead against him. Again, he desperately tried to change tack then frantically cut away the anchor, halyards and sheets in the hope that would slow them down. But the wind just blew the ship backwards until, as he describes in his Journal “she struck upon a reef of coral rocks which lies parallel to the shore, and in a few strokes was bilged”.

Today, standing on the water front at Slaughter Bay and looking out across the waves it is not hard to imagine the distress that would have gripped the entire community as they watched this disaster unfold. Amongst those watching on the shore was Norfolk Island’s Commandant, Philip Gidley King. King would return to Sydney Cove on the Supply to deliver the news to Governor Arthur Phillip. So critical was the loss Phillip thought seriously of closing both settlements and heading back to England. He wrote “You never saw such dismay as the news of the wreck occasioned amongst us all; for, to use a sea term, we looked upon her as our sheet anchor”. Luckily there had been no loss of life from the wrecking, however the Sirius had been the main means of contact with the outside world for both Settlements. Without her they must have felt hopelessly marooned on an alien shore far from the Old World and home.

On Norfolk Island the effects were felt immediately. With an ‘overnight’ doubling of the population, food and other supplies were seriously short. Starvation was a real possibility. Within a week martial law had been enforced. Lieutenant Ralph Clark of the Royal Marines had been on board the Sirius for the journey to Norfolk Island, and had been put ashore at Cascade before the wrecking. His diary entry expresses their fears: “Gracious God what will become of us all, the whole of our provisions in the ship, now a wreck before us. I hope in God that we will be able to save some if not all but why do I flatter myself with such hopes – there is at present no prospect of it except that of starving”. Starvation was averted by the arrival of over 200,000 migratory birds nesting on Mount Pitt in the following four months. Eventually hunted to extinction in Norfolk Island these birds were christened the Providence Petrel.

Immediately the Sirius ran aground as much as possible was thrown overboard with the hope it would float ashore. To rescue the crew a rope was fastened to a barrel and floated ashore, then fastened to a pine tree allowing the men to scramble to shore. Convicts who volunteered to rescue the livestock broke into the rum supply and caused a fire, resulting in a further loss of precious supplies. In the following weeks it was decided to strip the ship of hardware so desperately needed on the island. Sails, hawsers, masts and spars, fittings and the timbers of the ship itself were removed until she was down to the waterline. It took two years to do this, finishing with fifteen cannons being removed in 1792. Before long all trace of the Sirius disappeared from view.

The title of the printed image by George Raper sums up the feeling at the time: “The Melancholy Loss of HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island March 19 1790” (National Library of Australia).

A special invitation is made to all today, Saturday 19 March to come and visit the artefacts from the Sirius at the Pier Store on the 221st anniversary of her wrecking.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Josiah's Cup

Robert (Punga) Adams and his sister Sue Sinclair, together with their partners and other members of the Adam’s family made a visit to the museum this week. They came to present us with Josiah’s or Siah’s Cup, after their father the late Charles Adams, gifted it to the museum in his Will. This is a very special gift indeed.

Robert Adams and Sue Sinclair hand over Josiah's Cup to Museum Curator Lisa Richards
 The cup was brought to Norfolk Island from Pitcairn by Josiah Adams, grandson of the original John Adams. It is not known for sure, but believed that it may have belonged to John Adams. It was passed down from Josiah to his son Guildford, who passed it his son Guildford Paterson “Pat” Adams and then to his son Charles. It is a mariner’s cup or mug and was most likely traded or purchased from a whaling ship passing by Pitcairn. The family believe it dates from the 1790’s.

The cup was used for Christenings in the Methodist Church when it was located in the Old Military Barracks from 1887 until the early 1920’s. Josiah, or Siah as he was known, was well known for walking along Quality Row with his cup asking everyone “was the kettle on”. Kik Quintal remembers stories that as he was leaving he would say that he would bring a little wood next time. In those days a trip up-county was needed to collect wood for the fire. The saying “I’ll bring a little wood next time” is still used today, particularly if you have to eat and rush off – “sorry f do semes Siah, eat en start, I’ll bring a little wood next time”. Robert has told us that in early tennis matches on the island, players would challenge each other and say “let’s play for Siah’s Cup”.

Josiah Chester Adams was born on Pitcairn Island in 1830, the son of George Adams and Polly Young. He married Dinah McCoy in 1858 and died in 1907. The endemic plant streblus pendulinus or Isaac Wood, is known as Siah’s Backbone and was named after him as he was known for his supple spine!
Josiah's Cup

Siah’s cup will be put on display in the Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery upstairs in the Pier Store, allowing future generations of Norfolk Islanders to see and learn from it. It is an object that holds great significance and value to this community. The stories of Siah’s Cup tell us about the people of this island, their history and culture. It will sit proudly alongside other objects owned by Islanders that also help to tell our stories. We are very thankful to Charles for bequeathing Siah’s Cup to the Museum and to Robert, Sue and their families for delivering their precious family cup to us. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Paper Conservation Training

We have had a fantastic week down here at the museums, immersing ourselves in the world of paper conservation. Under the expert tuition of Caroline Whitley, Senior Conservator of paper and photographic materials with the Australian National Maritime Museum, three workshops were held providing training to a total of fourteen staff from the museum, KAVHA and Records Department. Each of these three areas is responsible for paper based artefacts and items that are part of our island’s material heritage. From photographs, letters, documents, maps, newspapers and books – we have a large collection of paper based items to care for and ensure that future generations will have access to.

 Caroline took us through best practice handling procedures as most damage is caused by poor handling. Preventing damage occurring in the first place was a good lesson and place to start! We then looked at options for collection housing, focusing on making two types of protective enclosures to help preserve items during storage, handling and transport. These are mylar (polyester) encapsulations and boxes. We came to understand the need for being precise and patient, clean and orderly and having good cutting skills. We saw how hand making a box from proper archive quality materials to neatly fit a fragile or damaged book, results in a housing that is not only lovely in its own right, but importantly provides the support and protection required to stop further damage.

After the workshops Caroline looked at some of the paper-based conservation ‘issues’ that we have in the Museum. We were also able to extend her visits to include Registry and Records Departments. We kept her busy as she provided advice on objects requiring attention such as historic Births Deaths and Marriage records; less than ideal storage facilities; the best options for keeping files to ensure they don’t create damage; and specific remedial work on maps, letters and documents. Janelle Blucher had some wonderful 1:1 sessions where she was able to learn further techniques for repairing damaged items. Caroline gave so generously of her time, working far beyond the hours we had requested. Her skill in this area is immense and we learnt so much from her, even though we knew that we had just scratched the tip of her paper conservation knowledge. We are very thankful to the Australian National Maritime Museum for making Caroline available to us, and also for all their support in ensuring we had the correct materials ordered and ready on-island for her visit. Our sincere thanks to you Caroline for all the preparation time you put into getting here, and also for such fabulous training while on island with us.

This training was made possible with the use of the profits from the play The Trial of the Fifteen. Expenditure of these monies is agreed on by the owner of the rights to the play, Peter Clarke’s son Stephen, and the Museum Trust.