Sunday, November 24, 2013

Letters from Pitcairn Islander Girls

A few months ago we wrote about a donation to the Museum of six letters from Frederick (Fred) and Roslyn Howard. The letters were written in 1856 and ’57 to Fred’s great Grandfather also named Frederick Howard, by two young Pitcairner girls, Catherine ‘Kitty’ Christian and Louisa ‘Victoria’ Quintal. Fred and Roslyn had emailed a copy of the letters and promised that when they visited Norfolk this month they would bring the letters with them. Well this week the wonderful moment arrived and they brought them in to the museum and formally made their donation.

These letters are very special. They provide us with a rare opportunity to get to know the youthful Kitty and Victoria and through them the community as a whole. We so often think about that arrival of our ancestors from Pitcairn, imagining what it would have been like for them to land at their new home so alien yet full of new promise. What did they think, how did they feel? 

Frederick and Roslyn Howard
 Howard met Kitty and Victoria in the days after they had arrived on the Morayshire. Howard was Second Master on board HMS Herald, which was here at Norfolk Island when the Pitcairners landed on the 8th of June 1856. Captain Henry Mangles Denham from HMS Herald was of course one of the people greeting the Islanders as they came ashore on Kingston Pier. The Herald had come to Norfolk Island during its work undertaken between 1852 and 1861 carrying out an important series of hydrographic surveys amongst the island groups of the South Pacific and in the waters adjacent to Australia.

From the letters we get a sense of these girl’s humour, innocence and naivety, together with their obvious enthusiasm for meeting the new people they are coming into contact with as a result of the enormous change that has just occurred in their young lives. Together with a separate letter to this donation sent by Kitty’s mother Charlotte to Howard, they reveal how easily trusting they were, sharing their feelings and personal circumstances so openly.

Howard’s view of the Pitcairners is fairly well known as another of his letters to Emily (now held by the Mitchell Library) describes them in great detail – and refers specifically to Kitty and Victoria. It was Howard’s sister Emily who received Kitty and Victoria’s letters, sent to her by Howard as he sent all his letters to her for safe keeping. From Emily they were passed down through the family to Fred’s father, who had kept them in Howard’s old sea chest where they remained untouched for many years until Fred and Roslyn discovered them. Roslyn has also compiled for her family a fabulous history of Frederick’s life detailing his years at sea.

It is such a generous act of Fred and Roslyn to separate Kitty and Victoria’s letters from their collection and return them to Norfolk and we sincerely thank them for doing so.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Lieutenant Colonel James T. Morisset

It was wonderful to meet Jan Lowe at the Museum this week visiting from Sydney for a relaxing week on Norfolk. However Jan’s visit has provided not only the opportunity to have a relaxing time, but as a descendant of Lieutenant Colonel James Morisset and Victor Selheim Morisset, to walk in the places that her ancestors walked. To proudly say on Norfolk that you are a descendant of James Morisset can be a tricky thing as without a doubt he has been described as one of the more notorious of Commandants on Norfolk Island during the Second Settlement.

His time here between 1829 to 1834 is one that has historically been told in stark terms of violence, cruelty and personal mental turmoil. However a quiet challenge to that view has begun to emerge through the work of historians and another of Morisset’s descendants and cousin of Jan’s, Margaret Thompson. She argues that “there is much evidence to suggest that he was no harsher than others and that his conduct was consistent with the attitudes of his time”. She cites his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography by Vivienne Parsons who wrote: “[M]orisset does not appear to have been considered unnecessarily harsh by his contemporaries. Both Macquarie and Bigge approved of his methods, as did later governors, and the Sydney Gazette, 28 November 1827, praised him for being upright and conscientious, and not frightened by daring offenders, while ironically lauding him as an opponent of capital punishment”.

Jan Lowe and (inset) her ancestor J.T. Morisset
We know that he most likely suffered a mental breakdown during his time on Norfolk Island and spent time too ill to take charge of the settlement, relying on his deputy Captain Foster Fyans and men such as Captain Charles Sturt to keep control of the convicts. The tenor and harsh rule of these two men during that time, which includes a notorious mutiny attempt, has never been written about with the same ferocity as Morisset. There were a number of mutiny attempts and uprisings that occurred during his term as Commandant, but the question of whether these were as a direct result of Morisset’s harsher rule in comparison to other Commandant’s and conditions in other penal settlements of the day is still being debated. He had served his superiors well in postings before arriving on Norfolk Island particularly at Newcastle and Bathurst, which have then also been cited as evidence of his “zest for rigid discipline”. Other strong men and his superior’s of the day such as Governor’s Brisbane, Darling and Burke were all pleased with his work.

On a personal side Morisset was clearly a family man. Prior to his arrival no women had been allowed into the settlement after December 1825 when Sir Ralph Darling, the Governor in NSW declared that all women, bond or free, should leave the island. “I laid it down, as a rule on my arrival here, that women should not be sent to that settlement…”. James Morisset was the first to insist that his family accompany him and they all arrived in 1829. The sense of vulnerability and fear that he felt for his wife and four young daughters living in such violent circumstances appears to have played a part in his mental decline.

Perhaps also the physical appearance of Morisset has played a part in him becoming historically cast as the villain. During the Peninsula Wars he was badly wounded by a sabre cut to the face, from which he barely survived and carried a facial disfigurement for the rest of his life. The only known portrait of him is from before this time and he appears as quite slight and fresh-faced with no hint of the cruel temperament of his reputation. Certainly Morisset ruled with severity, but no matter what we believe about Morisset’s rule on Norfolk, it is clear that reducing his time to simplistic statements of horrors reduces a more complex and nuanced person, history and story. It may serve our purposes to continue to represent his term to that only of a “mentally-ill sadist”, but can we now continue to truthfully do so as more detail and analysis of his time is revealed?

Norfolk Island of course has had two Morisset men play a part in the affairs of the island. Commandant Morisset’s grandson Victor Sellheim Morisset came to Norfolk Island in 1928 and served as Administrator until his death from a severe heart attack in 1929. He is buried in the Norfolk Island cemetery.

For Jan Lowe visiting Norfolk today, there must be many strong feelings about the role her ancestors played in the affairs of this island. Hopefully this has not stopped her enjoying the beauty, wonders and overall complex yet fascinating history of this island!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pitcairn Tapa

In 2011 Meralda Warren visited Norfolk Island and our museum was delighted to present an exhibition of her handmade and painted tapa. The Museum Trust purchased one of her works titled “The Keepers of the Sea” which has recently been framed and is now hanging in the Pier Store Museum. It hangs alongside a tapa pounder most likely brought to Norfolk in 1856, and an historical piece of tapa made on Pitcairn in 1841. The story of the near loss of the skill of tapa making on Pitcairn Island is told through these artefacts and in particular Meralda’s tapa art work.

The Polynesian women who went with the mutineers to eventually settle on Pitcairn Island and become the island’s foremothers, would have taken their tapa pounders and cloth with them. These items held great importance to the women as they provided the only means of making cloth for themselves and their families. By the time the Pitcairners arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856 the women were clothed in full-length cotton dresses and the men in pants and shirts. We know that the women were still making barkcloth in the weeks before they left Pitcairn and also brought beaters with them to Norfolk, however tapa making and the wearing of tapa clothing does not appear to have continued on Norfolk. With the return of two groups to Pitcairn in 1858 and 1863, tapa making did continue on Pitcairn however the influence of the Seventh Day Missionaries during the 1930’s saw it cease.

Meralda Warren scraping the outer bark
 Meralda Warren born and still living on Pitcairn Island today, describes herself as “a 7th generation descendant of the Tahitian mamas and the Bounty mutineers”.  One day in 2007, feeling a challenge that was too strong to resist, she went into her backyard and gathered the bark from a mulberry tree (aute). This act began a journey that resulted in the lost art, and a part of the islander’s heritage, being revived. Together with her mother Mavis they experimented with all they could remember from the last time they saw the women making tapa. Over the next few years they worked out how to harvest the aute plant using a sea shell to strip the outer bark from the inner fibrous paper mulberry, soak it in citrus juice and beat it into a piece of cloth. Once dried they seal the piece with arrowroot cooked to the right consistency. Through trial and error they worked out how to create various dyes from the Doodwi and Nano trees. 

"The Keepers of Sea" by Meralda Warren
Meralda now teaches the craft to the island’s children and an exhibition of their work was recently held on Pitcairn. Other descendants and artists, Pauline Reynolds, Sue Pearson and Jean Clarkson joined Meralda in the quest to restore the lost art. Pauline has undertaken detailed research into surviving tapas now held around the world and produced the book “Pitcairn Tapa: ‘Ahu no Hitiaurevareva” (on sale at the Pier Store museum). Together they also formed a group called the ‘Ahu Sistas’, with the aim of ensuring historic Pitcairn tapa designs are safe from exploitation and that the traditions of ahu making are not lost.

Meralda’s modern tapa work now hangs alongside a framed piece of historic tapa cloth and letter (donated to the museum by Chloe Nicholas). The letter written by Mrs W. Jeffery in 1893 describes how the tapa piece was made in 1841 on Pitcairn, its voyage to Norfolk Island, gifting to Mrs Jeffery and fact that these pieces were scarcely seen. The tapa beater on display had been attributed to the Melanesian Mission, however investigations by Pauline Reynolds reveal it as being consistent with Pitcairn and eastern-Polynesian beaters. It appears most likely that it was brought to Norfolk Island in 1856.

Together these artefacts and art works tell us of an important part of our heritage handed down from our Tahitian foremothers. We came so close to losing it, but thanks to the determination of Meralda and a small group of dedicated women it has been saved. That is a good news story.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Historic Shipwrecks and their Material

On the Commonwealth Department of Environment’s website there is an amazing database that our Norfolk Island Museum will be contributing to. It is the Australian National Shipwreck Data Base (ANSDB) and the link to it is

The database includes all known shipwrecks in Australian waters with images to shipwrecks, the ability to link shipwrecks to relics recovered from shipwreck sites, site environment information for divers and site managers and a history field with the ability to attach documents that include names of passengers and crew. Also included in the ANSDB is an integrated management system to facilitate online permit applications and notifications.

The information in the ANSDB has been collected by each of the State and Territory historic shipwreck agencies or supplied by collecting institutions holding historic shipwreck objects. Currently, not all data fields are populated. The current Norfolk Island shipwreck information is pretty sparse for every wreck except the Sirius, so we are making a concerted effort to gather information to add to the database.

The Renaki wrecked on the reef in 1943
Information collected on each shipwreck includes the wrecking event, location, voyage details, dimensions, construction, vessel registration, management, site environment, history, associated relic information and images. For example, in 1943 the Renaki was grounded on the reef at Kingston beside the pier. The entry for the Renaki in the ANSDB includes the wreck date and brief wrecking circumstances (“dragged anchor and went on top of reef”), technical information about the ship and the location including GPS points. However the history of the Renaki, the full details of the wrecking event and aftermath are not captured and there are no images uploaded. It is this sort of detail that we hope to include over the next 12 months including a “statement of significance” for each wreck identifying its social, historical, technical, aesthetic and scientific or research values.

 We have some interesting stories from the Renaki which was a New Zealand schooner acquired by the New Zealand Government. Confusion over her spelling, as she has sometimes been spelt as Ronaki, makes researching her difficult at times. The ANSDB currently states “No artefacts to display”, however we have artefacts in our collection that will be included in the database. An amusing story surrounds seven of these which are empty bofors anti-aircraft shells. The story is that while the cargo was being salvaged from the Renaki the soldiers purposely dropped a crate of empty shells into the sea, to be later retrieved and passed around as souvenirs. Workshop personnel polished them and made steel top dummies for them! After they had winched her close in to the reef and unloaded all her supplies by making a temporary sand road to get trucks close by her, the Renaki was cut up and much of her was dumped over the cliff near Bloody Bridge.

Salvaging the cargo
There are currently 16 shipwrecks from Norfolk Island listed on the ANSDB. We would like to not only add to the information on those 16 shipwrecks, but also include others that may not technically yet be “historic” in terms of the 75 year definition under the Historic Shipwrecks Act. Some already listed are not over 75 years, such as the Ho Ho wrecked here in 1957. The Isis wrecked here in 1962 is another that we would like to include. We would welcome any support that you can give us in terms of information on wrecks, photographs, information on artefacts in your possession etc. The more material we can gather the more will be uploaded and then available for all to share and learn from. The ANSDB is a great resource and site – check it out!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is the story of this object?

One of the delights of working at the Norfolk Island Museum is that we get to immerse ourselves in Norfolk’s never-ending stories that range from the time of Polynesian settlement, through two penal settlements and of course since the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders in 1856. At the Museum we also have our displays and collection of artefacts that help to us to understand and tell those stories. However our stories are never really complete – new information and objects continue to come forward and we know that at the museum we need the help of our local community to tell us about the objects they have that are ‘part of the story’.

 Danny Forsyth has recently helped us to do just that! He brought in a stone object that was discovered under his house back in the late 1990’s. It looks to be a stone pestle or pounder – the same sort of object as we have on display and on loan from the Museum of Tropical Queensland that was recovered from the wreck of the Pandora, possibly belonging to mutineer Peter Haywood and collected by him in Tahiti. As Danny’s object looks to be old the first thought we had was that it could have been a pounder from the Polynesian settlement on Norfolk. We have never seen a similar type of pounder found on Norfolk from this period – which would make this an extremely important object and help with more of the story from this period of time. We were obviously thrilled to have been shown it.

There are many questions that this object raises. Firstly, pestles are not usually made of sandstone – but perhaps it was used for mashing rather than pounding so it didn’t need to be made of a harder substance such as coral or basalt? We also need to establish if it is made of the local calcaronite, and if it is not from here – then where? The shape is unusual and not typically Polynesian. It has a rather flat top to it and the base kicks out right at the bottom – both of which are uncommon in Polynesian pestles. However a search through the Te Papa Museum on-line collection in Wellington shows a very similar shaped pestle from the Cook Islands with a flat top – is it linked to this region? A search of Melanesian shaped pestles may rule out if it was perhaps brought to the island by a scholar from the Mission. Another idea is that it may have been made locally by one of the early Pitcairn Islanders. A small indentation at the top of the neck could have been a scratch mark? Atholl Anderson who led the 1990’s Polynesian excavations at Emily Bay has seen photos of it and is unsure about its Polynesian origins but is checking with his colleagues at the Australian National University.

We would love to know if any other similar shaped objects have been found across the island. We would really appreciate the opportunity to have a look at any further pieces to help us not only make sense of Danny’s object, but to potentially expand our knowledge of the Polynesian settlement on Norfolk Island. Danny’s pestle will be on display at the Commissariat Store Museum in the Polynesian cabinet if you would like to come and have a look. If you have found a similar type of object please consider giving me a call on 23788 so we could see it, take a photo and do some more research. You never know, together with Danny you might be providing an important new chapter to one of our Island’s stories.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kitty Christian and Frederick Howard

I had one of those ‘goosebump’ moments a few weeks ago on taking a phone call from Roslyn Howard in Sydney. Roslyn asked if we would be interested in receiving copies of a number of letters sent to her husband’s great, great grandfather Frederick Howard in June and December of 1856 by two young Pitcairn Island girls newly arrived on Norfolk Island.

Frederick Howard was a Second Master on board HMS Herald which was at Norfolk Island when the Pitcairners arrived on the Morayshire. Between 1852 and 1861 HMS 'Herald', under the command of Captain Henry Mangles Denham, undertook an important series of hydrographic surveys amongst the island groups of the South Pacific and in the waters adjacent to Australia. Frederick Howard joined the 'Herald' in 1852 as Master's Assistant, was appointed acting Second Master in 1853 and then Master in 1860. Many on Norfolk Island will be familiar with Howard’s journal writings of his visit to Norfolk where he captures in great detail descriptions of the Pitcairners and their first days on Norfolk.

Frederick Howard
 In his journal Howard details spending time with both Catherine ‘Kitty’ Christian and Louisa ‘Victoria’ Quintall who, at 16 years of age, had both clearly formed a strong attachment to the young Howard. In letters sent to his sister Emily in London he tells her: “Miss Kitty, following the custom of her country, sent me a note and some of her hair which was scented with cocoa nut oil, rather an offensive smell to English noses but to which I have got accustomed. As I am going to send you the said note as a specimen I may as well tell you it is a little piece of deceit and is not written by Miss Christian or even signed by her for I have seen some specimens of her writing which do not at all accord with the writing of this note. I afterwards found out it came from John Adams, who is about the most polished among them, and who I believe would have made a first rate lawyer had he been brought up in England”.

That “said note” has now been sent to us by Roslyn and the originals will later be donated to the Norfolk Island Museum. In fact there are five letters, one from Victoria and the others from Kitty. One is undated, one June 24th 1856, then December 22 1856 and on the last visit of the Herald, October 8th and October 19th 1857. Howard also wrote in his journal about both girls following a tiring trip across the island where he offered to carry anyone back “(I) was quite dismayed on asking to find that the respective weights of the 2 girls I was walking with, named Victoria Quintall & Catherine Christian was 136 & 146 lbs and they were each only 16 years of age…”. Perhaps both girls had a crush on Howard but their affections were clearly not returned!

In the undated letter titled “Norfolk Island Thursday Morning”, Kitty says “My Daer Mr Howard, I am so sorry that you did not come on shore this morning that can hardly tell what to say to you. But I must not give way to grief. For I have been in a stupor ever since Monday….”. On the 24th June 1856 Victoria wrote “My dear Howard, I cannot thing (sic) of letting the Herald sail without sending these few lines to think (sic) you for the useful present you have sent me by Thursday Christian…”.

When the Herald returned in December Kitty writes “My Dearest Howard, I was beyond measure delighted this morning to here that the Herald is again off this island but alas for mortal joys how soon were my brightest hopes, my fondest anticipations of joys, doomed to a miserable blasting disappointment_ I had hoped to give (if nothing more) a hearty shake of the hands and a modest kiss if my dear Howard yet consider the above mentioned tokens of friendship as worth having all I can say is, you are a loser as far as that goes, for you shall now receive them through the medium of a second person…”

Kitty tells Howard about the state of affairs on the island: “Well then to begin we have lately sown a quantity of potatoes, which we obtained from the Lord Bishop of New Zealand and Governor General – they grew luxuriantly and then again came the most trying of all our misfortunes in one short week. The crops were all destroyed the maize is growing beautifully and one little sweet potato that we can find, all else is blank…”.

By October 1857 Kitty is signing her letters Catherine. Obviously a friendship between Kitty and Howard continued and she thanks him for a gift and letter that arrived on board the Iris. She tells more of the state of the island affairs: “We are troubled with the influenza since the Iris left for New Zealand but not dangerously…We had Lady Selwyn wife of Bishop Selwyn now residing among us, she attends the school and instructs in grammar, geography so much to our advantage, and the Bishop took one of my brothers and four others with him and we are expecting him here daily”. 

Kitty Christian went on to become Catherine Evans, marrying George Evans in 1858 and having 6 children before passing away at the young age of 55 years. Victoria Quintal (Louisa Victoria Rose) married Edward Buffett in 1858, had five children and died at age 53.

Frederick Howard became a Captain, also dying at a young age of 59 years. Now thanks to Roslyn and her husband (also) Frederick Howard, these precious letters will soon be available for all on Norfolk Island to see. Roslyn told me the letters “…were kept with a great many of the letters he wrote to his sister Emily in England. At some point she has handed them on to his family. They were then given over to my father -in - law who went to the 2nd WW and after that was a very busy business man and so these precious letters remained in Capt Fred's old sea chest in plastic bags in an old garage until we came along and began to unfold them”. How lucky we are that Roslyn decided to give us a call to tell us about them!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Wreck of the Khandeish on Pitcairn Island

Back in March this year we met with visitor Barry Guttridge (pictured) visiting with his Cameron Park Probus Group. Barry most kindly provided us with a copy of a letter written by his great, great, grandfather’s brother, Arthur Moreland White. In 1875 Arthur was a 22 year old Second Mate in the merchant navy on board the British ship the Khandeish when it was shipwrecked off the coast of Oeno Island, one of the Pitcairns Islands. Arthur’s letter was written to his sister Laura Phoebe White while on board the Ennerdale, the vessel that eventually took them back to San Francisco after spending 6 weeks marooned on Pitcairn Island. The letter provides a wonderful insight into life on Pitcairn including the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and, in particular, the musicality of the islanders.

After describing the luck of the crew to make it to their longboats immediately following the shipwrecking, and after 3 days sailing to find Pitcairn, he describes their welcome by the islanders: “indeed such kindness as we received on that island would put miserably to shame our own Countrymen at home”.

Over their six week stay the sailors became involved with the work of the island. White describes that his usual day included “to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, and go up the mountain and get a load of wood, come down again with the Barrow, and after breakfast go up and plant yams or, Oval potatoes, or Indian Corn or else go fishing down the Rocks. We very seldom had any dinner on the island indeed there was such quantities of fruit growing that we did not want any. The oranges especially grow so thick, that they are a regular nuisance and fall down and we could not consume half of them, tho’ I think we used to go through about 1,000 per day among us. There are also Cocoa-nuts, Bread-Fruit plantations, Jack-Fruits, guavas, Rose-apples and many other fruits in abundance, tho I think the Cocoanut is the most indispensable Tree on the Island as they make Oil to burn and cook with, food for Fowls out of the refuse, thatch for their houses, and Brooms fro the Leaves and the wood for their building purposes”.

Further on White describes the inhabitants of the island: “There are 73 inhabitants at present on the island. Simon Young is looked up to and respected as the chief man among them; he is about 56 years old and has had 14 children, one of them was killed with Bishop Patterson on one of the South Sea Islands. He conducts the Service in Church on Sundays and teaches singing and also keeps school every day for the younger people from 10 till 2, he is the most unaffected, pious, simple man I ever came across. He has 3 grown up daughters viz Rossalind, Mary Ann and Johanna; they are all very pretty, with beautiful hair.

It is Rosey that composed the Poetry I am sending, she is a very clever Girl and has the sweetest voice I have ever heard, in fact all the people on the Island are splendid singers, they are all taught and sing in parts according to their voices, they have a singing School at Simon Young’s House every Sunday night for sacred Music. And such melody I never heard before in my life. They do not sing anything but sacred music. They have an accordion, two fiddles, and a Concertina on the island, and some of them can play them very well….”

“…The Islanders are just like goats, they go anywhere, they all go barefooted. I never had a pair of boots while I was there, except on Sundays, and they were lent to me, as I did not save any from the wreck….There are plenty of fowls, pigs, sand goats, on the island, also a few sheep. There are no cows, as the do not require them, they make excellent butter and milk out of the cocoanut…On Sundays they have a Sunday School from 7 till 9 in the morning, Church begins at ½ past 10, they use the English Church Service, and read a sermon afterwards. The Church is like one of their houses, but better furnish’d and is used for a School on Weekdays. Church again in the afternoon and at ½ past 2, and after Church School again till about 5. They then get supper, and after Supper the singing School till about 10. I wish you could have heard them singing. It was like being in Heaven, I never heard anything like it before. The Women dress vey simply “in white generally” with their hair in nets…The men are very good carpenters on the Island and I think can do anything they lay their hands to”.

When the time came to leave the Island White records the sorrow they all felt: ”…[Our last night] was a sorrowful night for all of us, as the people on the island had become like Brothers and Sisters and even dearer still to some of us. I never felt leaving home even as I felt leaving that loved Rock for it is no world “it is paradise” on earth, and I believe the people live as pure lives as it is possible for poor humanity to lead…I went in the last boat and then such crying and weeping as there was on the Boat they made a Baby of me ‘altho I am not much given to that sort of thing. I believe it is the first time any one cared for me”.

After arriving in San Francisco the Captain, Officers and crew of the Khandish told of their time on Pitcairn and of the needs of the islanders. Rosalind Amelia Young records in her book “The Mutiny of the Bounty and Story of Pitcairn Island 1790-1894  by a Native Daughter”, that “the generous citizens of San Francisco responded with such heartiness that contributions kept pouring in, and every useful and necessary article that was thought of,—cooking utensils, tinware of almost every description, cups, plates, spoons, etc., etc., wooden pails and tin pails,—testified to their large-hearted liberality. Clothing made and unmade, buttons, pins, needles, etc., almost enough to stock a respectable haberdasher's shop, were contributed to the immense stock of goods collected in response to the call of charity and benevolence. A good supply of flour, a luxury to the islanders, was sent by Captain Skelly of the Khandish, as his contribution to the general stock. As a crowning gift to the whole, a beautifully-toned organ, of the Mason & Hamlin Organ Company, was sent”.

Another of the crew of the Khandish Peter Butler, returned to Pitcairn and married the poetry writer “Rosey” - Rossalind Eliza Young. Our sincere thanks to Barry for the copy of this fabulous letter written by his common ancestor, Arthur Moreland White.

Picture This!

The Theme of History Week for 2014 is ‘Picture This’. The Week is on in 3 weeks time, running from September 7 to 14. The History Council of NSW explains the theme as follows:  “Driving humanity; reflecting change; imagining reality. In the image conscious 21st Century photographs shape the world. How has the development of the visual changed, informed and sculpted society? How do historians use art and photography to inform their research? Who were the original mad men of the advertising industry? Who were our image makers? People have long manipulated their images and all cultures have created their view of the world through visual representations. History Week 2013 will bring the past into view through the frame of images”.

We’d love to know about any photographs that you have that describe some part of the Norfolk Island story and help to bring ‘our past into view’. If possible we’d love to take a scan of any special images so as to be able to keep a digital copy in the museum collection. In this case with permission from the owner, the scanned photographs would be catalogued into our collection with the name of the owner as the donor and any future use of the images would be credited to the owner. In a way, allowing us to keep a scanned copy of your photos is like taking out insurance against any future loss or damage to the original. Please give me a call on 23788 or call in to the Pier Store on week days if you have any images you’d like to let us scan.

There is a rich photographic record of Norfolk Island from across the years. The beauty of this island has inspired local and visiting photographers since the camera was invented continuing to today, with our talented local photographers capturing our natural stunning environment. We have fabulous images of the buildings and people over time. The 8 metre montage of photos taken by Rev. Bice from the Melanesian Mission on display at the Commissariat Store Museum is an incredible record of the Kingston gaol area in 1867. A quick search on Trove calls up nearly 2,500 Norfolk Island images held in collections across Australia.

In the coming weeks we’ll be highlighting some of the amazing photos in our collection. For today, we have two photos that tell some of the story of the issuing of liquor on the island. The first is of Victor Edwards coming out of the Liquor Bond in about the late 1940’s to early 1950’s, which was then located in the current Administrator’s Office building. From 1857 liquor was strictly supervised. In Governor Denison’s 39 Laws and Regulations Clause No. 35 read “No beer, wine, or spirituous liquor of any kind shall be landed upon the island except such as may be wanted for medical purposes, and this will be placed among the other medical stores in charge of the Chaplain, to be issued at his discretion…”. An original permit issued to Mrs Colenso at the Melanesian Mission in 1898 on display at the Pier Store allows her to keep two bottles of brandy and two bottles of Woolf’s Schnapps!

From 1900 the law stated: “Persons applying for a permit to keep beer, wine or spirituous liquors will be required to produce a certificate from the Government Medical Officer, stating that the beer, wine, or spirituous liquors are required for medicinal purposes”. Clearly then from the photo, Mr Edwards must have been ill! Of course any restriction on alcohol will result in home brew being made, or as known on Norfolk Island, sup. Homebrew was made with anything that could ferment especially surplus fruit and even vegetables. It is said that the term ‘sup’ (soup) came from one enterprising lady who put an excess of parsnips to good use producing a very potent brew. From this time onwards sly grog was known as ‘sup’ and it was not unheard of for ‘sup’ to be served in a tea cup in mixed company.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

'Bounty' Food Pounder

At the end of last year we reported that to celebrate the Museums 25th birthday this year we had secured the loan of a penu, or food pounder, from the Museum of Tropical Queensland and it is currently displayed in the Pier Store Museum. The connection between this late 18th Century object and Norfolk Island lies in the story of the ‘other’ Bounty mutineers who decided to stay in Tahiti when Christian and his crew sailed off to eventually find Pitcairn Island.

 Those fourteen mutineers were captured in Tahiti after Captain Edward had been sent by the British Admiralty to find the Bounty ‘pirates’ and bring them home for trial and punishment.  Sailing on the Pandora, Captain Edwards arrived at Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Within twenty-four hours eight of the mutineers had given themselves up leaving another six men at large (another two had been killed earlier in a feud). Armed parties were sent out to hunt them down and in a matter of days they were found.

On board the Pandora the mutineers were placed under arrest and shut in a specially built wooden box on the deck, measuring 11 by 18 feet (3.3 x 5.4 metres) and known as Pandora’s Box. This was unusually harsh treatment of prisoners at sea but Captain Edwards had a reputation amongst naval officers for brutality. On the return voyage to England the Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Thirty four men drowned including four mutineers, one of whom was unable to escape from the wooden box.

The pounder was recovered from the wreck site of the Pandora and is thought to have been confiscated from either of the mutineers Peter Heywood or George Stewart. Stewart was one of those drowned in the wrecking. All the survivors finally reached Timor in open boats, ironically following the route taken by Bligh in the longboats. When they arrived back in England the mutineers were imprisoned to await trial. Four were pardoned following written evidence by Bligh that they only remained on board the Bounty because there was no more room in the longboat. The remaining six were sentenced to death. Of them, Peter Haywood and William Morrison were pardoned and William Musprat was released on a technicality. Finally three Bounty mutineers, Thomas Ellison, Thomas Burkitt and John Millwood, were executed by hanging in October 1792.

In Tahiti the pounder is known as a ‘penu’, or in English a ‘pestle’.  It was used to mash taro which is cooked and then fermented to become a starchy food staple called ‘poi’. It was also used to pound breadfruit and bananas. Now this beautiful object provides a link between our islands mutineer forefathers and those others on board the Bounty at the time of the mutiny. It is displayed at the Pier Store and looks across the Bounty cannon to the display panel on the Pandora’s voyage – if only it could speak! The pounder is on display until the end of the year; make sure you don’t miss seeing it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls...

It has been wonderful to have our expert cemetery tour guide Mary Cooper back with us, if even for a short time. Mary developed our “For Whom the Bell Tolls…” cemetery tour and over the past few years has continued her research into the stories behind the graves in our amazing Norfolk Island cemetery. Over an hour and a half, the stories of each person build to provide a vivid overall picture of the islands settlements. We receive a lot of feedback about this tour that tells us it really ‘works’ – in content and delivery thanks to Mary’s passion, enthusiasm and hard work. It is easy to wander through the cemetery and ‘get a feel’ for it yourself, however a whole new appreciation can be gained with knowledge learnt about the graves through the tour. Two of the graves that we often visit are for men who died in the same accident.

Right down behind the back fence to the beach there are two large tombstones lying side by side. One is for Captain John Best and the other for John McLean who both perished along with a young soldier, when their boat was upturned while returning from a day of hunting rabbits at Phillip Island. However a letter to the “Australasian Chronicle” of Tuesday 17 March 1840 tells us that their drowning deaths were not the only ones that occurred that week and that an unusual rising of the sea was to blame:

To the Editor of the Australasian Chronicle
Sir – The Angel of Death has swept off four victims in an instant during this week. A prisoner, by name Atkinson, formerly clerk to Rev. Mr. Sharpe, and lately a constable at Government House, was drowned while fishing, - some men who saw him sink swam immediately to his relief, but in vain. His remains were found the next day, a mere skeleton – two arms and a leg gone, the bowels and flesh eaten away by sharks. This day, a boat returning from Phillip Island was upset and literally dashed to atoms, by a succession of tremendous rowlers, that came on suddenly and rather unexpected. The Hon. Captain Best, though a good swimmer and not four minutes in the water, was taken out lifeless. Surgeon Gaurie, 80th Regiment, instantly applied every measure to resuscitate animation; but the Captain must have been suffocated by a frock buttoned round his neck, which enveloped his head when upset by an awful wave. There was no water in his chest or lungs. Mr McLean clung to an oar, and was carried towards the blow hole, where no human being could get to his assistance. He remained on the oar at least half an hour before he sunk to rise no more. His body was found uninjured on Tuesday morning. Corporal McLoughlin, a worthy young soldier of the 50th, was lost on the upsetting of the boat; he was washed ashore the next morning. All were interred with due and melancholy honours.

At the same time our respected Commandant was ill of a bad fever, and not in a fit state to have this sad news communicated to him for more than a fortnight. Captain Few fulfilled the duties of Commandant during this time, and gave full satisfaction, till the arrival of Captain Maconochie.

The sea rose and subsided in about half an hour, when the destroying angel came on the wings of the wind on his errand of death. This sad an awful catastrophe has made a deep and I trust salutary impression on the minds of all, both free and bond. You may hear many exclaim, “May the Almighty prepare us for death – may he never cut us off unprepared, by such a sudden death”
An Eye-Witness
Norfolk Island, Feb 15, 1840.

The Cemetery Tour runs every Tuesday and Friday 11.30am to 1.00pm. Cost is $20 or, if you have a Museum Pass $15.00. It is not to be missed and booking can be made at any of the museum venues, the Tourist Bureau or Baunti Escapes.

Monday, July 1, 2013

H.M.S. Sirius Museum Officially Open

Lisle Snell MLA Chief Misinter and His Honour The Administrator Neil Pope
With the joint cutting of a cake by His Honour the Administrator Neil Pope and Lisle Snell Chief Minister, Norfolk’s newest museum was officially opened last Friday night. The H.M.S. Sirius Museum located in the former Protestant Chapel at Kingston celebrates and displays the artefacts and significance of the flagship of the First Fleet, wrecked on the reef at Slaughter Bay in 1790. Around 70 people witnessed the opening of this major new asset to the island that presents an important part of our heritage and history.

It was apt that the opening occur by both the Chief Minister and the Administrator as funding for the project was a 50-50 contribution that began with a successful application to the Commonwealths Your Community Heritage Program which was then matched by the Norfolk Island Government. The need to re-house the collection had been clear for the previous 8 years as artefacts had deteriorated in the environment of the Pier Store. The project spent 95% of its budget on local builders, suppliers and contractors and is a proud statement of the skill and expertise available within our local population.
Probably one of the single best decisions we made was asking graphic designer Haylee Fieldes to design our interpretation panels. Using her brother Matt’s wave photographs as a backdrop she has given us a fresh and contemporary look that gives the space a real WOW factor. Armed with Haylee’s work we then needed to get the images printed, onto panels and onto the walls. Thanks to Rob Nesbit’s investment in his 2899 Gallery we were able to print and mount the large scale prints on-island ready for adhering onto the timber backs. Charles and Kim at Christian-Bailey Agencies spent a lot of time nutting out supplies and getting everything onto the island just in time to fit our tight schedule. 

 There were a number of months spent preparing the building at the start of the project. After gaining EPBC approval to undertake internal building works, Gavin Snell at the Works Depot extended the old kitchen and pulled down the walls of a second room. Michael Porter and his All Star team then painted leaving us with sparkling new white walls. Wayne Pendleton was next, sanding back and re-surfacing the floor. Other suppliers and those involved were Norfolk Electrical, O’Hara Plasterers, People Peaples, Island Plumbing and Gas, Norfolk Island Building Supplies, The Trading Post and Timber on the Move.

Janelle Blucher and Lisa Richards
Amongst other things, Brentt Jones was responsible for building new cabinets which then received Perspex tops thanks to John and the guys at JCB cabinets. Steve Cochrane built other cabinets and also the frames for the window covers with material from The Upholstery Shop. Brentt and Basil Vercoe pulled out the historic setting of the Trial of the Fifteen at the start of the project. Greg and Pete Horrocks moved cabinets and replica hull pieces around and we hired space at Five Pines to cope with the coming and going of cabinets, stage settings and replica hull pieces. Once our replica hull had been put in place it was brought to life with the amazing painting skills of Noelene Nobbs, who also worked with us on the production line of assembling the interpretive panels.

Doug Creek, Works Supervisor
Lesley Warren and Nicky Beadman
Without a doubt the most daunting aspect of this project was actually moving the artefacts themselves. The potential risk of damage occurring while moving these incredibly precious, but very big and heavy artefacts was high. With thanks to the Museum of Tropical Queensland, they agreed that Display Officer Phillip Smith be here for the move bringing his many years experience moving ‘hard to move’ objects. However these objects would simply not have been able to be moved without Franklin Randall who has been involved in every move of the anchor since its recovery from the sea floor in 1973. Together with Caine Henderson and his Dial A Digger crew of Winton Steven, Pumpkin and Brett Berganin and also Brentt Jones – they moved the entire collection within one day. It was an absolute privilege to watch them work and a great sense of pride to know that the skill to undertake such a job exists in our Norfolk men.
One of the things we purposely set out to do in the museum was to celebrate the approximately 1,500 people of the First Fleet and achieved this via a First Fleet Wall. Darren Bates took on the mammoth job of creating an individually inscribed plaque for each person that could then be sponsored and mounted by a descendant. Descendants can also sign our Descendant’s Books that provides a page for each person and an accumulation of signatures. Finally a touch-screen computer was set up by Linda ‘Chips’ Halcombe providing the opportunity to call up each person and read their biography.

Don and Sue Brian
The months of the re-housing project went smoothly due to the absolute support and hard work of all museum staff including Janelle Blucher, the cast of the Trial of the Fifteen and Director Rose Evans, Jeanine Snell, Andrea Greenwood, Mary Cooper, Helen Sampson, Rachael McConnell, Sallie Davie, Rebecca Hayes, Di Garner, Betty Matthews, Colleen White, Barb Elvey and Nat Grube. Volunteer Sue Brian worked nearly 4 days a week, every week with us on this project and then at night with Don!

We hope that the new H.M.S. Sirius museum will bring greater focus to Norfolk’s role from 1788 in the establishment of the new colony and what was to become Australia. We have the tangible evidence of that time on display - the most significant array of First Fleet cultural heritage held anywhere in the world. We have the potential to specifically bring more visitors to this island to visit this museum and celebrate the First Fleet and the role of the Sirius as the flagship.  

Please come and see our new museum any time between 11.00am and 3.00pm Monday to Saturday. We’d love to show you through!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Heart of a Beast" book signing

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of meeting Brisbane author Josephine De Moor when she came to the island and signed copies of her new book “Heart of a Beast” which is set on Norfolk Island during the Second Settlement.  Josephine’s book brings the best that historical romance has to offer as while it is a gripping tale of jealousy, love and revenge it never compromises on historical accuracy. The name of the book was inspired by a quote from convict Robert Douglas, said to be one of the ring leaders of the 1834 mutiny on Norfolk: “Let a man’s heart be what it will when he comes here, his Man’s heart is taken from him, and he is given the heart of a Beast”.

There are so many aspects to Norfolk Island that spark creativity amongst artists and writers - whether it be the beauty of the island, the power of the stories of our history, the remnants of stone buildings, or hearing a conversation spoken in Norf’k amongst locals. Through her numerous visits to Norfolk Josephine has clearly been inspired by our history and captivated in particular with the brutal Second Settlement. Australian fiction with its convict past has been an all consuming passion for her since early childhood leading to volunteering at the Queensland Genealogical Society and thus helping many families discover their origins. Now the ruins of Kingston have inspired Josephine to find her own characters and give them life through her fabulous book.

The story is a sweeping romance and will especially appeal to those who enjoy the combination of historical fact with the fiction of a great love story.  The book’s back cover gives the best description of the story line: “In 1847 the love for a woman and a debt of honour threatens to destroy two men in the harsh penal colony of Norfolk Island. Driven by intense jealousy and guilt, Lieutenant Edmund Thornton sets out to destroy convicted felon, Michael Hanlon, both of whom share a love for Sarah Henshall. Her unexpected arrival on the island sets into motion a series of tragic events”.  

Josephine signed books at No. 10 Quality Row which was very apt as this is where much of the action of her novel takes place. Many visitors and locals really enjoyed meeting Josie whose warm and friendly personality meant many good conversations were had. For visitors and locals alike, this is a book that will inspire a new feeling when walking through Kingston and around the island, bringing part of our darkest convict history to life. How lovely to be able to have your own copy personally signed by the author! There are still some signed copies available for purchase at the Pier Store Museum.