Sunday, October 28, 2012

Henry Waterhouse and the Stone Hatchet

More wonderful stories emerging from our re-housing of the HMS Sirius objects through the Commonwealth Your Community Heritage Program. This is a very interesting one!

One of the more curious objects in the HMS Sirius collection is an aboriginal stone hatchet. It is an edge-ground stone and was found amongst a collection of flint pebble and ballast and heavily concreted iron shot. Its unnaturally shaped edge drew the eye of the maritime archaeologists distinguishing it from the River Thames flint pebbles. They realized that it was a stone axe and originally wondered if it related to the Polynesian settlement (approximately AD 900 to 1100), as Polynesian axes have previously been found in Emily Bay. However examination by Australian prehistorians confirmed that it is a tool made and used by Australian Aborigines and probably originates from the cobble beds of the Nepean River between Emu Plains and Richmond Hill, New South Wales.

It has been fashioned from a flattish pebble, one end of which has been ground on two sides to form a sharp cutting edge, suitable for woodworking. Stone hatchets were commonly used to remove bark from trees for canoes and shields, for cutting notches up trees when pursuing possums or searching for honey and for chopping and splitting wood. A wrap around handle made of wood would have been attached to the hatchet head. Analysis of the surface residue was even able to show that the natural bonding substance used to secure the hatchet handle to the head was a mixture of plant resin and animal product filler, such as kangaroo dung.

The question of how an Aboriginal stone hatchet head came to be on the Sirius when she was wrecked is also interesting. It is known that officers of the First Fleet collected ‘curiosities’ and that there were exchanges between Aborigines and officers. We have recently discovered that one officer in particular who was known for collecting native artefacts, lost his collection in the Sirius wreck. It is possible that we can link the stone hatchet head to Acting 3rd lieutenant Henry Waterhouse.

Waterhouse was 16 when he joined HMS Sirius as a midshipman. By that time he had already seen service on four ships having been recommended to Governor Phillip. He was promoted in 1789 to acting 3rd lieutenant and spent time in Port Jackson working with senior officers surveying the harbour and surrounding land, showing interest in the country and its people.

Waterhouse was part of the ship’s company when HMS Sirius was wrecked loosing his collection of native artifacts. He returned to Port Jackson on HMS Supply working there with Captain Arthur Phillip. On one journey, when Phillip was speared by Aborigines, Waterhouse carried him to the boat and held him during a two hour trip back to the settlement. 

Returning to England he carried a parrot and a “squirrel” (possum) from Captain Phillip as a gift for Lady Chatham.  He later served on HMS Bellerophon and in Lord Howe’s fleet. In July 1794, Captain John Hunter asked for him as second captain aboard Reliance when he returned to NSW to take up the post of governor.   Waterhouse remained in the colony until 1800 going to the Cape of Good Hope in 1796 to purchase stock which included the first merino sheep to land in NSW. Although he received land grants and leases he did not settle and returned to England in March 1800.  He died at Westminster in 1812, aged 42 years.

The stone hatchet is on display in the Pier Store and will be on display in the new Sirius Museum currently being prepared in the former Protestant Chapel at Kingston. The entire Sirius collection will be re-housed there with wonderful new displays and cabinets thanks to funding from the Commonwealth Your Community Heritage program and the Norfolk Island Government. We are in the final weeks of planning for the relocation of the objects and the opening of the new museum – busy but happy work for us all.