Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Mystery Ship

The mammoth job of cataloguing all of Les Brown’s papers and photographs has brought forth some very interesting items. A lone, fairly poor quality photograph of a line drawing of a ship with three masts and thirteen gun placements could have been filed away with no further thought – except for an intriguing note written upside down on the paper. The note says “Kingston Norfolk Island Cooking-pot Uprising July 1846”. A stamp dated 1993 shows that the photo has come from the Launceston Reference Library collection. What was this drawing all about?

Janelle Blucher made contact with the Launceston Reference Library and found out that the drawing is on the back of an ink and watercolour image of the action of what we refer to today as the ‘cooking pot riot’. That image is reproduced in our museum as it is the only image that details the action of the riot. However what has never been known is the name of the artist, who it appears has used the reverse side of the paper to draw the ship onto. The Launceston Reference Library told Janelle that they began life as the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute in the 1860s and the drawing has been in their collection for as long as they can remember, but unfortunately they have no details on the artist.

Our Norfolk Island Cemetery tells the story of the riot through the headstone of Stephen Smith, the cook which reads that he was “…barbarously murdered by a body of prisoners whilst in the execution of his duties at the settlement cookhouse, leaving a wife and three children to lament his loss”. Murderers Mound lying outside the cemetery fence is of course the most vivid reminder of the event as the mass grave for twelve men executed for their part in the mutiny. Another five men were later hung whose bodies were buried elsewhere.

The riot was caused by the removal of the convicts billys and kettles, made by prisoner ‘mechanics’ and used by the convicts to cook their meals. The reaction of the prisoners on finding the pots confiscated was instantaneous. A group of prisoners stormed the barracks store to retrieve their cooking gear and in the ensuing chaos, three soldiers and Stephen Smith were killed. The mutiny lasted only twenty minutes until order was restored by soldiers with levelled muskets and fixed bayonets.

The mutiny was led by convict William Westwood, a bushranger known as ‘Jackey-Jackey’. Just before his hanging he made the following statement: " Sir the strong ties of earth will soon be wrenched and the burning fever of this life will soon be quenched and my grave will be heavens resting place for me William Westwood. Sir out of the Bitter cup of misery I have drunk from my sixteenth year 10 long years, and the sweetest draught is that which takes away the misery of living death - it is the friend that deceives no man, all will then be quiet, no tyrant will disturb my repose I hope -Wm. Westwood.".

Was the person who drew the picture of the riot there at the time, witnessing the murder and chaos and misery of the men as they were hung? Was this ship sitting out to sea at or was it from his imagination? Les Brown, no doubt, would have known the answer or would have had a pretty good idea at least. His papers and photographs continue to intrigue and we give on-going thanks to Paul Bowe for donating his collection of books, papers and photographs to the museum.