Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Museum Acquisition - convict made chest of drawers

The Norfolk Island Museum Trust recently purchased a convict made chest of drawers that had been locally put up for tender. Made of Norfolk Island Pine it is stamped BO ↑ CD. The BO is for the Board of Ordnance and CD Commissariat Department. The broad arrow was used as an identification of British government property. As the museum is located in the basement of the Commissariat - it has made its way ‘home’ to the building it would have been issued from!

The Museum Trust were able to make this purchase as a result of accumulated profits from the Trial of the Fifteen play and the arrangement made by the late Peter Clarke, the author of the play, on how they could be expended. Peter’s son Stephen now holds the rights to the play and each year he agrees with the Trust on a program of expenditure. This year that included the purchase of acquisitions for the museum collection. It is so gratifying to see such a direct link between the efforts of the Museum to Produce, our Actors to perform, visitors purchasing tickets each week - and our collection.

Its purchase complements a few other pieces of furniture that also show similar markings including two convict settles or bench seats.  Most likely these were made for the verandahs of the houses and buildings for the Officers.  One of the settles has graffiti on it from an officer of the 99th Regiment stationed here during the 2nd Settlement.  The other piece is a cedar table that is actually part of a sectional table and may date from as early as 1825. While we don’t know the date that the chest of drawers was made, we will be researching its design to see if we can identify the most likely period. 

 Broad arrows are on many of the items in the museum collection. Being found in possession of marked objects without good cause was a serious offence. The symbol has been documented back to the 16th century to mark Royal property, and was occasionally referred to as a ‘Royal cipher’. An 1806 proclamation stated that:

“The Board having been pleased to direct that in future all descriptions of Ordnance Stores should be marked with the broad arrow as soon as they shall have been received as fit for His Majesty’s Service; all Storekeepers and Deputy Storekeepers and others are desired to cause this order to be accordingly attended to, in the Department under their direction, reporting to the Board in all cases when articles are received to which this mark cannot be applied”. [28th July 1806. Quoted from the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps website]

As a result the broad-arrow mark appears on everything from furniture to cooking pots and cutlery, packing crates and barrels, construction materials from timber to bricks and tools – and convict clothing. However an object that has a broad arrow on it doesn’t necessarily mean it has an association with convicts.

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