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.