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.

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