Thursday, May 24, 2012

A World Class Ceramics Collection

The displays at the Commissariat Store Museum are impressive, containing artefacts that have been recovered from archaeological digs in World Heritage Listed KAVHA. Norfolk’s British settlement began within months of Sydney’s in 1788 yet the level of disruption that we have had to our landscape since then is minimal in comparison to Sydney. The result of that circumstance is that the archaeological digs here were able to uncover many unique and rare objects including ceramics. As a whole our ceramics collection is impressive in terms of the range of styles, makers, techniques used and patterns.

The museum produced a book on the collection in 2003 called “Kingston Ceramics”.  Written by Nigel Erskine it is a dictionary of the ceramic wares held in the museum and while on sale at the REO CafĂ© and Bookshop to our visitors, is also regularly sold to academics and researchers who are aware of the importance of the collection.

A unique feature of ceramics from the Kingston area is that some bear personalised marks of identification, know as Pitcairner scratch marks. This practice was common amongst sailors and continued by the Bounty mutineers when they arrived on Pitcairn Island. These scratched markings were used to denote ownership of a wide range of property - including trees, bottles, crockery, cutlery and tools. At first a single letter may have been used, however as the population increased the use of more complex marks evolved. These personal scratch marks were inherited down through the generations of families and a register of 150 personal marks dating to about 1893 still survives on Pitcairn Island. While personal marks are still commonly used on Pitcairn today, the custom appears to have declined amongst the Pitcairn Islanders on Norfolk Island during the second half of the nineteenth century and is no longer in practice.
Pitcairner Scratch Marks
The history of ceramics is fascinating. In the 18th century, most inexpensive earthenware came to England from China through the East India Company. English potters had been unable to match the quality and durability of white Chinese earthenware. When the East India Company's trade began to decline in 1773, English potters had the chance to wrest the ceramics market out of the hands of Chinese potters and exporters. Possibly as early as 1762 Josiah Wedgewood perfected 'Creamware' which was thinner and harder than earlier English pottery and by 1765, on the basis of this, King George III's wife, Queen Charlotte, solicited Wedgewood to be "Potter to His and Her Majesty". As a result of his new title, Wedgewood changed the official name of his creamware to "Queen's Ware". Wedgewood continued experimenting, increasing the flint content in the body of the ware itself and adding a small quantity of cobalt blue to the glaze to offset the natural yellow tint of the body. He produced a ware with a very white surface which was named 'Pearlware'. Pearlware completely eclipsed the creamware market and was manufactured by many potters, one of them naming it 'China Glaze'.

In the 1820s pearlware was replaced by the stronger earthenware 'Ironstone' developed by James Mason, and by bone china developed by Josiah Spode. Ironstone was given a variety of names emphasizing either brilliant whiteness or immense strength. The use of  'China' in some of the more creative earthenware names, such as Ironstone China', 'Granite China', 'Opaque China' and 'Stone China' conveyed a sense of strength associated in the public mind with Chinese ceramics. An invoice from Josiah Spode to William Tatton in 1796 contains the first reference to 'English China' as a general term to cover ironstone ware. The best ironstone wares rivaled porcelain and were quickly in use for everything from tea services to chamber pots.
The Copyright Act of 1842 meant that English decorative art designs had to be registered at the British Patent Office. This seriously limited the range of subjects available for reproduction, which in turn inspired many 'romantic' patterns and artistic designs. From 1842 to 1883 registered designs were marked with a diamond-shaped stamp that indicated the day, month and year the patent took effect. Patents were initially for periods of three years. After 1883 registered designs were marked with an identifying number.

 The printing process also has an interesting history. Transfer printing allowed a potter to duplicate a pattern by transferring it from a copper plate to a ceramic vessel via a specially treated paper. The vessel was then glazed and fired in a kiln. This process was much cheaper and quicker than the hand painting techniques used prior to 1751. Transfer printed patterns afforded consumers complete sets of identical dishes that were never possible before. The first successful colour used in transfer printing was deep blue cobalt. This was the only colour that could withstand the high temperatures needed for the underglaze transfer process. By 1828 new techniques allowed black, green, yellow and red enamels to be transferred resulting in prints of two or more colours. The process was expensive, however, with each colour requiring its own transfer and separate firing. By 1852 multiple colour underglazing techniques were developed and also included the colour brown.

Blue and white continued to be the cheapest process with the most favoured patterns being Willow, Tower Blue and Blue Italian. A minor problem facing manufacturers was acquiring pictures to copy. Copyright laws did not exist in England until 1842, so many pictures were simply copied from books. Pictures of stately buildings, European scenes and great events such as battles were favourites.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Polynesian Settlement

The first people to occupy Norfolk Island travelled here by canoe as part of the great Polynesian voyaging. The history of these people can be described as one of the last, great expansions of Homo sapiens as this species left Africa, passed through Asia, down the east coast and divided at what is now Taiwan, one section going through to Australia, the other section through to New Guinea and out into the pacific Ocean. This happened some 30,000 years ago when the migration halted for thousands of years. From there the migration divided into three sections – one northwards, now named Micronesia, one eastward named Melanesia and the last one Polynesia, the largest of the three. This is known as the Polynesian triangle; the most northward corner is Hawaii, the eastern corner Easter Island and the south corner New Zealand.

Unearthing the Marae
 New Zealand is considered to be the last area of the migrations and the date of the first settlements on the South island was about 750AD. The Polynesians were excellent mariners and soon colonised the North island and the outlying ones. From here they still explored the surroundings and ventured in their canoes to see what lay beyond the horizon.

Now the story of Norfolk Island can be told – the small settlement here was discovered and excavated in the late 1990s. Many artefacts had been found on the surface from the date of the first British settlement in 1788 to the present day and it was decided that a team of archaeologists should explore the possibilities of finding a living area. This was done and the artefacts recovered put the date of settlement as between 800AD and 1450AD.
Artefact finds

Some of the most revealing specimens recovered show that the voyagers had possibly been to other places as about 26 small pieces of obsidian (volcanic glass) were recovered in one area near Emily Bay and analysis of these pieces revealed that 25 of them had come from the Kermadec Islands (northeast of New Zealand) and one piece from Mayer island which is on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Itmust be remembered that trading may have taken place and goods swapped so the above cannot be verified.

In 1999 the living area was found and excavated and the artefacts recovered were enough to realise that the Polynesians had been here for many years. It is not known how many lived here, how many trips were made, what caused the Island to become deserted, or if any died here as no burials were found. The Group excavating were restricted as to how many square metres could be explored so, after the major find of a marae (pictured), the excavations had to cease as all available area had been examined”.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mutiny on the Bounty

Last Saturday 28th April was the 223rd anniversary of the Mutiny on the Bounty. It is perhaps the most famous mutiny and one that has captured the mind of Hollywood with no less than 5 movies being made since 1917. Some of the facts of the mutiny have been blurred as a result of their Hollywood treatment but it is still an amazing story none the less.

The Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery in the Pier Store tells the story of the mutiny and houses a number of artefacts from the Bounty including a cannon, kettle, iron stone plate and smaller pieces from the ship. What happens is as follows…

The Bounty left England on 23 December 1787 on what should have been a straight forward mission. Bligh’s orders were to sail via Cape Horn but delays meant that they experienced the notoriously harsh weather conditions of Cape Horn late in the season – snowstorms, gails, constant rain and high seas. In April 1788 Bligh admitted defeat and turned for the Cape of Good Hope.

Ten months after leaving England the Bounty reached Tahiti on 25 October 1788. After the harsh conditions of the voyage Tahiti must have seemed like a tropical paradise. Six months were spent in Tahiti cultivating the breadfruit seedlings so they would survive the long journey to the West Indies. Fresh food, a pleasant climate, friends and sexual relationships were a predominant improvement on life at sea!

The Bounty left Tahiti on 4 April 1789. There was some tension on board between Bligh and Fletcher Christian. However there was no air of impending mutiny – this is pure invention by Hollywood script writers. Bligh slept at night with his door open, without guards or weapons. Three and a half weeks after leaving Tahiti, on the 28th April just before sunrise, Christian accompanied by Charles Churchill, John Mills and Thomas Burkitt went to Bligh’s cabin and woke him. They forced him on deck with his hands tied. It seems to have been an impulsive action.

The mutineers decided that Bligh should be set adrift in the jolly boat – the smallest of the three boats carried on the Bounty. The jollyboat, however, was unseaworthy, as was the cutter. The longboat, the largest of the boats, 23foot long (7 metres) and 6ft 9inches across (2 metres) was then chosen and into this went nineteen men. Some were forced, some went voluntarily. There began Bligh’s story of his amazing feat of sailing 3,700 nautical miles in an open long boat to safety.

After Bligh was put to sea in the longboat Fletcher Christian and his twenty-four man crew sailed back to Tahiti in the Bounty. Christian intended to settle in Tubai despite a violent clash with the natives when they first arrived. They sailed on to Tahiti to stock up on plants and animals required for their Tubaian settlement. Nine Tahitian women were taken with them, eight men and ten boys. Peter Heywood reported that most went of their own free will. The settlement was a failure as they continued to have disputes with the natives. After three months the mutineers abandoned it and returned to Tahiti. Sixteen mutineers decided to remain on Tahiti in spite of the risk of capture.

On the night of 22nd September 1789 the bounty left again. This time there were nine white men, six male and nineteen female islanders and one baby girl onboard. Many of the women had been kidnapped. One jumped overboard and swam for shore, another six were put onto a neighbouring island because they were considered too old.

The Bounty then sailed towards Tofoa, but changed direction and headed for the tiny, remote island of Pitcairn. It arrived on 21 January 1790. There began another chapter of this amazing story – the story of our ancestors.