Monday, January 23, 2012

Volunteer Work Behind the Scenes

Every Friday Helen Price volunteers her time to the Museum and travels up to our main store and conservation area to work on objects in the collection. As she is a trained conservator we are extraordinarily lucky to have available to us her skill and knowledge.

Helen has worked with many objects but in particular has created custom-made housings for objects kept in the main store.  Obviously if an object is badly stored and handled it will lead to damage and deterioration occurring. For objects that are already fragile and in a poor condition it is even more important to ensure they are properly supported while ‘sitting’ on a shelf. Helen has made housings for, amongst other things, books, uniforms, hats, bags and jewellery. She has made boxes with multiple compartments for HMS Sirius artefacts that are works of art in their own right!

Recently, the museum made the decision to ask Helen to make boxes for the valuable Births, Deaths and Marriages and other records such as Land Titles, held in Registry at Kingston. These BDM records date back to 1882 and an earlier, The Pitcairn Island Clerical Register, dates 1853-1882. The books are historical artefacts, but they also need to be accessed by staff in their work at Registry. Of course, regular handling pulling them on and off shelves and opening the pages and limited storage options has led to damage occurring and many are in a very fragile state. Scanning of the records has occurred so the original documents do not need to be handled often, but they still need to be accessed from time to time and they need to be stored correctly. Helen has begun creating custom made boxes for each of the record books and she has designed them so that the book does not have to be taken out of the box to be read – the box always stays as a support behind the book and the pages are able to be turned within its protective walls.

The acid free board that is used to make the boxes is expensive and the museum has a limited supply. However we felt that these records though not part of our collection and responsibility, were too valuable to risk losing and that it was important that they be attended to. Of course, the job is only able to be carried out with Helen’s expertise and voluntary effort available to us. At some stage in the future it would be wonderful to give them a proper home where sufficient space and proper environmental conditions were available. Re-binding is also an option – but one far beyond our means at present. In the meantime, we are pleased to be able to support Registry staff with their handling and storage of these important documents that record so much of life on this island since 1856.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thomas Saulsby Wright

Twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11.30am, the museum runs a tour of the Norfolk Island Cemetery called “For Whom the Bells Tolls...” This is the only dedicated cemetery tour on offer on the island and over the course of an hour and a half we are able to really explore the amazing stories of the people who have lived and died on this island.

The grizzly stories of punishment, riot and execution in the Second Settlement are aplenty and are marked by the graves of men who died at very young ages. However there is one headstone from that period that stands out because of the old age of the person and it reveals a very unusual story. Thomas Saulsby Wright, a convict, died on the 7th February 1843 at 105 years old. When we learn that he was convicted of forgery we might question his age, but it is correct and he was 105 when he passed away!

Wright, alias ‘Tommy the Banker’ (he had worked for years as a banker), was originally sentenced to death for forgery in 1799 then aged in his sixties, but this was commuted to a life sentence and he was transported to Sydney where he was eventually pardoned. However aged 102 he was again caught with forged bank notes – and was transported to Norfolk Island with a sentence of 14 years imprisonment!

The Australian newspaper of 9th November 1839 tells the story of his trial and is recorded by Frank Clune in his book “The Norfolk Island Story”. The report includes that the court heard that Tommy the Banker pleaded not guilty, even though “A search warrant was issued, and the constable found several notes on Wright’s person, and in his house one hundred and ninety-one 10 pound notes, two hundred and fifty 5 pound notes, three hundred and seventy-six 2 pound notes, eighty-seven 1 pound notes and one hundred and ninety-five 20 pound notes, amounting in all to 8,000 pounds”. Plates were also found for a ‘Parramatta Banking’ company, a ‘Parramatta Trading company’ and another company “termed a ‘Defiance Company’, which he presumed had been jocularly so-called, because it was intended to set the law at defiance by fraudulent dealing”. Wright’s notes were from the Austilin Bank (perhaps he meant A-stealing!). The Attorney-General admitted that the plates were so well executed that any one would be likely to be deceived by their close resemblance to the notes of the Bank of Australia.

The judge asked Wright what he was doing with the notes and the Australian reports: “The prisoner…said that he had been sixty-two years a banker; he had undertaken to establish a bank for a company at Parramatta, but that he got connected with a party of swindlers, who robbed him. He was able to take up all his own notes signed by himself…and in fine that he had as good a right to establish a bank as any other gentleman…’Laughter in Court’, reported the Australian!

However Thomas Saulsby is probably still chucking in his grave as one of his forged bank notes appeared at an Australian auction house in late 2009. The auctioneer was originally very excited – perhaps this was the earliest Australian bank note ever found! However it was a one pound note, issued by the Austilin Bank and signed by Thomas Saulsby himself. After checking out the details of his time on Norfolk Island with Tom Lloyd, the auction house went on to sell the note for $30,000! The only thing he may be unhappy about is that 'Saulsby' was incorrectly spelt on his headstone as 'Saulsbury'.

There are many more amazing stories revealed during the Cemetery tour which runs from 11.30am to 1.00pm every Tuesday and Friday. The cost is $20 or reduced to $15 if a Museum Pass has also been purchased.