Sunday, August 31, 2014

The First Maori Map

Norfolk Island’s history is really quite amazing. There are so many ‘firsts’ and unique stories that emerge from this little rock, 3 miles by 5 miles, and thousands of kilometers from the mainland. One of the least known ‘firsts’ is that the first time Maori lived in a European community and the first known map made by Maori both occured on Norfolk Island! This was when Tuki and Huru, two men from the upper North Island spent nine months on the island in 1793.

Tuki's Map drawn on Norfolk Island
The reason they were on Norfolk is entwined with the reasons the British settled Norfolk Island so quickly in 1788. On discovering the island in 1774 Captain Cook recorded two items potentially very useful to Britain: the flax plant (Phormium tenax) which could be made into sail cloth and the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) for use as ship’s masts. Access to timber and marine supplies from Norfolk Island, New Zealand and NSW became a key reason for the choice of NSW as the location for a new colony by the Pitt Government in Britain.  A Pacific boat building base could be established that would support the expansion of naval and East India Company interests in East Asia and overcome recent losses of resources from Baltic ports and North America following the War of Independence. Plans were therefore made to settle uninhabited and resource rich Norfolk Island prior to the First Fleet leaving England.

The first Commandant of the Settlement, Lieutenant Philip Gidley King tried hard to fulfill his orders to process the flax plant. When all attempts proved fruitless he resorted to an extreme measure, sailing to New Zealand to ‘acquire’ (in reality kidnap) Maori and bring them to the Island to instruct in the processing method. Unfortunately for King, those men, Tuki the son of a priest and Huru the son of a chief, quickly let him know that as it was women’s work they knew little of flax processing. However during the stay their relationship with King became a positive one based on genuine mutual respect and they lived in Government House with King, his wife and young children.  

The men appeared to enjoy a true social exchange. King recorded Maori vocabulary and customs in his journal. Tuki drew the earliest known map by a Maori of his homeland, first in the sand then transferred to paper (now in the UK National Archives). The map is a testament to the quality of communication that occurred between the men as it uniquely records social, mythical and political features in the landscape. When King personally accompanied Tuki and Huru home on the Britannia he was presented with gifts of thanksgiving for their safe return, including two Basalt patu, now on display in our museum in the Commissariat Store. King was never to learn that the reason the Norfolk flax species could not be processed was due to the local variant having little fibre content.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cartoons and Souvenirs from WWII

Upstairs in the Pier Store Museum is a small display on WWII. Alongside a strip of the Marsden matting used to make the airstrip (and now found around the island in many front fences and pig sty’s) are a series of watercolour cartoons painted by Sergeant John Gerald Allen, stationed here with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, also known as the 36th Battalion. The 36th Battalion designated as ‘N Force’ was made up of 1,488 personnel dispatched to protect the airfield.  They were stationed here between 1942 and 1944 and as a result, Norfolk’s war history is in many ways more closely tied to New Zealand than Australia.

 Due to eyesight problems Sgt Allen was classified grade 2 – fit only for home service. He appealed for an overseas posting and was allowed to join the 36th Battalion as a radar technician and worked at the Mount Bates radar station. Clearly Sgt Allen possessed not only artistic talents but a great sense of humour as evidenced in his regular contributions to the monthly newsletter called “Nformation”. His cartoon collection titled “Ordnance Oddities” depicts the lighter side of life for the Battalion while stationed on Norfolk. They include an image of a soldier with his arm around an attractive young woman while he writes home “Dear Mother, the main sport on Norfolk is “fishing””. The collection of empty bottles shown in “Spirit of Norfolk” is added to in “More spirits of Norfolk” where a soldier clearly under the weather watches as his chest appears to grow convict legs and walk away! “Deep in the Heart of Norfolk” shows a soldier asleep on the beach surrounded by palm trees.

The cartoons were donated to the Museum by Sgt Allen’s wife Peggy and son John, along with a war souvenir Sgt Allen took home with him. The souvenir (also on display) is a heavy naval machine gun shell with projectile (explosive removed), mounted on a piece of varnished wood. It has two 303 rounds mounted in a cross with a New Zealand army badge mounted over the crossed bullets. Sgt Allen told his family that he and some mates were walking in the Gaol area at Kingston when they “bumped into a door” and found a mound of the shells “there for the taking”. They took as many shells as they wanted and pulled them apart for the brass casings.

They tried a number of methods to remove the powder at the bottom. Once, they burnt it out by placing a kerosene soaked rag up the shell for a wick, put it in a kerosene tin and lit it. Following a tremendous bang and screams, they found that the shell casing had blasted right through the bottom of the tin and landed 100 metres away in a Norfolk Pine. It had narrowly missed the head of a Sergeant who accused them of “trying to do me in”.
The shell was actually for use in a Nordenfelt gun with a 4 ft long barrel, typical of those used on Russian torpedo boats around the 1890’s. They were used here in a gun used by the Islanders working in the whaling industry.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Lost Little Boy...

This post is written by Museum Guide Racheal McConnell.

If you have ever been down to the "Mission" valley and taken in the surrounds it can almost pass as a rustic scene straight from a Jane Austin novel, even after more than a century this peaceful valley still maintains an English rural feel. It is in this setting 120 years ago this month that the tiny body of John Selwyn Malegi was laid to rest in the Mission cemetery. However, John's story begins long before he was even born….

In 1867 Norfolk Island became the training centre and College of the Melanesian Mission, contrary to what certain modern authors portray, these Melanesians came from wide and far, willingly and openly, some with whole families, some already betrothed, and all young and excited by this 'new' education and way of life.
Fanny and little John
A few thousand miles from Norfolk Island sits a group of Islands called the Santa Cruz group, part of the Solomon Islands the name bares testimony to those Spaniards who discovered them in the great scramble for the Pacific. These Islands had a fearsome and unpredictable reputation, for years these Islands became the hunting grounds for raiders, smugglers, head hunters and "black birders" of all races and background, looking to kidnap cheap labour to sell to cane farmers and plantation owners. This resulted in the Islanders becoming very weary of foreign ships and carrying out "revenge" killings such as the martyrdom of the Bishop of Melanesia John C. Patterson himself in 1871, killed in revenge on Nakapu, Santa Cruz. The Mission fiercely fought the Blackbirders and slave trade and doubled the efforts to gain a foothold amongst this most hostile group of Islands.

Nelua lies only 20 miles from Nakapu, it is here that John's Story really begins. John Malegi's parents were both from Nelua, and in 1893 Fanny Malegi arrived on Norfolk Island with her son little Johnnie. This was not Fanny's first time on Norfolk. She had trained here earlier on as a teacher, helper and worker. She and her husband returned to Nelua and set up a school, curious youngsters flocked to it in defiance of the "barbaric" old customs; this created a hostile and dangerous situation for John’s parents. As a result Fanny’s husband was killed and her school destroyed, bravely Fanny held her ground, but in the end for the sake of her only son she returned to the safety of Norfolk Island.

Julia Farr, god-daughter and cousin of Bishop Patterson was a nurse/worker at the Mission and it is to her we give thanks for this account.  As a nurse Julia had to attend to "Little Johnnies" feet everyday.  Johnnie suffered from a tropical foot disease that prevented him from walking and he spent most of his time "scuttling about on his haunches" or being carried about by everyone, everywhere. This created a deep friendship between Fanny and Julia and Johnnie became everyone’s 'pet' or as Julia says "so full of pretty ways… always calling to skul (kiss) me" or calling Julia and the girls for a walk or a play.  Fanny assisted Julia in many daily rounds, the ladies worked hard and the tasks required were often thankless and praise was rarely given, from chaperoning, arrowroot making, and firewood collecting to all night nursing and having to hold classes first thing the next day.

At 11 am on the 21st of August Julia and Fanny noticed Johnnie was 'maro' sulky. The girls sat round laughing at Johnnie’s grave little face trying to get a laugh or a smile; instead he quietly buried his head against Julia, whom only that morning had played happily with him. The matriarchal, dominant yet liberal Elizabeth Colenso agreed with Julia that something was indeed wrong. Dr Metcalfe was called and feared Johnnie had "Congestion of the lungs". Mrs Colenso ordered he be placed in a hot bath and dosed regularly with Aconite. Torn between duty and love Julia had to dash off and attend to another very ill, dying boy Isaac Tuba, as well as attend her other duties. She returned at 9 to find Johnnie convulsing and vomiting violently. All through the night the nurses and the Dr tried everything Victorian medicine could offer; Mustard plasters, Linseed poultices and a lot of patience and prayer. Fanny never left his side. By 2:20 am the next morning Johnnies pulse became feeble and his temperature dropped. Julia at once placed him on a stretcher with hot bottles around him but then she writes "15 minutes later the 'wild' eyes took a natural look, the teeth unclenched and with one small sigh he 'fell asleep' so very literally no one believed it”, she goes on "it looked more like life than death and again and again we looked for signs" The frantic search for life was shattered by the broken cries of Fanny "we Paso.. We Paso" he's gone…he's gone. Fanny sat crumpled holding her boy, stroking him and talking to his lifeless body in Santa Cruz, Julia records this terrible scene; "…her grief is terrible, not noisy just heartbreaking" Eventually they dressed his body in a white night dress with a cross of pure white azaleas across his tiny folded hands. As dawn broke not a dry eye was left that day on the Mission. He was laid to rest on a cold, sunny afternoon at 2p.m on 22nd August 1894. Poor Fanny who had lost her only son, decided to return home to Nelua. We only get one last glimpse of Fanny, she writes to Julia a year later in June showing how this brave woman continued on despite losing everything She writes " the enemy wish to kill us but I do not fear them... I have not forgotten John and everyday I remember and cry for him, maybe I will not forget till death."

When the Mission left in 1920, Johnnies history all but disappeared along side it. We don’t hear from Fanny again and it is assumed she is buried on Nelua, oceans from the body of her beloved John. Now after 120 years exactly this Friday 22nd August we can re-unite mother and son in our minds and remember those that lived, loved and died here so far away from their homes.
The day after Johnnie was laid to rest Isaac Tuba lost his fight with Bright’s disease, as he was being buried along side Johnnie the same hymn floated from that scenic valley to the tops of the pine trees: "O' Lords stay now thine hand, death itself is just a relief- a beginning not an end."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Very 'Sirius' Anniversary

The 19th of March next year will be the 225th anniversary of the wrecking of HMS Sirius on the reef at Norfolk Island. Her wrecking was undoubtedly the most serious event to occur during the early life of both the Port Jackson and Norfolk Island settlements and this important anniversary is one that we intent to mark. To do so we have teamed up with The Travel Centre to organise for a week of events that will include a luncheon on the 19th March under a marquee at Munna’s, timed to mark the Noon time wrecking.

However the most exciting news around this week is that the special guest presenters for these events are Graham Henderson and Myra Stanbury. Many locals know both Graham and Myra as they were the key personnel involved in the four 1980’s expeditions to recover the Sirius artefacts, now displayed in our HMS Sirius Museum. Graham led each expedition and Myra was the Registrar. Graham is recently retired from the Western Australian Maritime Museum where he was the Foundation Director, and Myra still works there as a Senior Curator. They are co-authors of ‘The Sirius: Past and Present”, a comprehensive book on the Sirius’ history and archaeology. Together they are two of Australia’s most eminent maritime archaeologists and we are very excited that they have agreed to be on-island for this special event.
Graham Henderson
 In addition to presentations on the anniversary day of the wrecking, Graeme and Myra will speak at the Welcome dinner, an HMS Sirius Research Presentation and other maritime themed events. No doubt we will hear many stories from the four expeditions they worked on between 1983 and 1988 which resulted in the raising of approximately 3,000 artefacts including a 1.7 tonne anchor, carronades, ballast, cannon balls, scientific equipment and fine pieces from the Officer’s Cabin. There were many locals who also took part in the dives and expeditions so the week will no doubt have a reunion event planned. We would appreciate any help that you can provide in spreading the word about the week to those involved, please call in to the Pier Store or phone us on 23788 if you’d like information sent on to contacts on the mainland.

Myra Stanbury
This week will of course not only be of interest to those with a maritime interest, but those who ancestry goes back to the First Fleet. Directly involved were those on the Sirius and also the Supply. At the time of her wrecking the Sirius was on a desperate mission sailing to Canton, China to purchase supplies as the Port Jackson population was on the verge of starvation and existing on half rations. On the first leg of the journey she was accompanied by the Supply to transport 116 convict men, 67 convict women, 27 children and 65 marines to Norfolk – thereby offloading their ‘feeding burden’ from NSW to the Norfolk Island settlement. It was while both ships were unloading supplies at Kingston that the wrecking occurred.

However as it impacted on everyone in the Colony at that time, this event will be of interest to descendants of those on the two ships, the existing population on Norfolk Island and also all those in Port Jackson. This was psychologically ‘their’ ship – the flagship of their First Fleet voyage, their lifeline back to mother England and the ship they put all reliance on. As Governor Arthur Phillip said when news of the wrecking reached him in Port Jackson: “You never saw such dismay as the news of the wreck occasioned amongst us all; for, to use a sea term, we looked upon her as our sheet anchor”.

We’d love any help you can give us to publicise this important event and the week of planned activities organised to mark it. Details can be found on The Travel Centre’s web site at or call us on 23788 for further information.