Sunday, March 29, 2015

John Buffett's Spy-Glass

An object that will have very special resonance to so many on Norfolk Island has been donated to the museum this week by Beverley Buffett. Beverley donated a telescope, handed down through the family to her late husband Peter, and understood to have come from Pitcairn Island with John Buffett when the Pitcairners arrived here in 1856. John Buffett came to live on Pitcairn Island in 1825 when the whaling ship he was with stopped at the island and in response to the ageing John Adams’ request for help with the teaching of the children he elected to stay.
Lisa Richards and Beverley Buffett
On Pitcairn, Buffett married Dorothy Young daughter of Edward Young and Mauatua (widow of Fletcher Christian) and they had five sons, including John Jnr whose line Beverley’s late husband Peter descended from. Peter’s great grandparents were Joseph Allen Mcleave and Kathleen Laura Nobbs; grandparents Peter ‘Pa Peet’ and Emily Evans and parents Arthur ‘Totus’ Benjamin and Mary Gordon. Peter, who passed away in 1991, and Beverely have three daughters Jeanette, Rebecca and Emily.

While Myra Stanbury and Kalle Kasi from the Western Australian Maritime Museum were visiting the island last week they looked at the telescope and confirmed that its age is most likely about 175 years, being very similar to examples they have seen made around 1840. The telescope is generally in good condition, with just one section missing that connects the end piece to the main body of the telescope. Its cover is made of canvas and there are no makers marks.

John Buffett's telescope
Albert Buffett alerted us to a recording in the Pitcairn Island Register on the 24th of January in 1853 of the sighting and arrival of H.M. Steam Sloop Virgao “after eagerly looking at the sail through the spy glass..” It is possible that the ‘spy glass’ referred to is the one that Beverley has donated. From the 1840’s through to the early 1850’s the Register records that over 300 ships called at Pitcairn as the island had become a regular stopping off place for whaling and other ships. Presumably from one of these ships John Buffett secured his ‘spy glass’.

The telescope is an important addition to the museum collection and its display will considerably add to our capacity to tell the story of the life of our fore-fathers and mothers on Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands. This is an object of important significance, associated directly with John Buffett. We are so thankful to Beverley for its donation.

No Ordinary Week!

Tampion removed from HMS Sirius carronade

With the museum being the home of the HMS Sirius collection and last Thursday being the 225th anniversary of her wrecking, this week was never going to be anything other than extra-ordinary! Planning for this day began well over a year ago and teaming up with the Norfolk Island Travel Centre (NITC) meant that Graeme Henderson and Myra Stanbury could be invited to join us from Western Australia as special guest presenters and a full week of events planned. The NITC brilliantly organised a very special week for the First Fleet descendants and others who travelled especially to mark this special anniversary. Visitor numbers exceeded expectations with over 200 people sitting down to lunch and presentations at the waterfront on the anniversary day. 

Myra Stanbury, Kandy Henderson, Graeme Henderson, Kalle Kasi
Graeme Henderson and Myra Stanbury were of course key personnel from the 1980s maritime archaeological expeditions to recover the Sirius’ artefacts that are now on display in the museum. Graeme led the expeditions and Myra was the Registrar. Their presentations underscored the importance of the Sirius (Graeme’s final presentation was titled: Australia’s most important shipwreck) and the story of the undertaking of the 1980s expeditions and their findings. In her final presentation Myra estimated that 50% of the people involved in the expeditions were local Norfolk Islanders. This week brought together the story of the ship and her wrecking, with the stories of the people who travelled on her final voyage or one of the other ships of the First Fleet, as so many of our visitors this week were their descendants.

The relationship the Norfolk Island Museum has had with the Western Australian Maritime Museum (WAMM) has continued from the time of the expeditions. In particular this has been via communication and support with the on-going conservation of the collection. A number of objects went to the Department of Materials Conservation at the Western Australian Museum for conservation and gradually returned to the island when their treatments were completed. Myra and her colleague from WAMM who also travelled to Norfolk for the week, Kalle Kasi brought with them one of the final objects that has been in treatment over the past 22 years. It was an absolute highlight for us to receive the tampion (or tompion) that had been found inside one of the carronades and display it for this week.
Drawing: Myra Stanbury

Myra has said about the tampion: “In the process of conserving the second carronade recovered from the Sirius wreck site a disc-shaped, lathe-turned wooden tampion (or tompion) was found in the muzzle of the gun. Made of maple (Acer sp.), the plug was designed to prevent the penetration of sea water into the bore of the muzzle-loading gun which could cause rust to develop and render the gun unserviceable. Sometimes the tampions were carefully sealed with tallow or putty to make them watertight. This appears to have been the method employed on the Sirius carronade as a ‘waxy-oily’ layer of material was removed from the machine-turned inner surface of the tampion before it was placed in a treatment solution to remove some of the reactive iron corrosion products.

Myra and Janelle Blucher
Attached to the inner side of the tampion was a lanyard consisting of two 34-cm lengths of twisted twine. This was spliced to a ball of string wadding that fitted snugly within the 131 mm bore of the gun. When loaded with a clean round shot to fit the gun the ball of wadding in the muzzle would prevent the displacement of the tampion by the impact of the round shot as it rolled back and forth in the barrel with every roll of the ship. In this way, sometimes helped by the addition of olive oil or other suitable lubricant into the chamber of the gun, the bore was kept in good condition while at sea”. 

Kalle, Myra and Janelle unpacking the tampion
The tampion is a very special object. Not only is it a very rare example of a complete tampion of this period, it will be displayed beside the carronade it was recovered from – which is on display within several hundreds of metres of the site where it was when the Sirius was wrecked. 

We have had an extraordinarily busy week at the museum. My sincere thanks to the team of Administration workers employed as our Museum Attendants who have worked so hard to ensure that all our visitors had an extraordinary experience on Norfolk Island this week. 

 Photo of the tampion being put on purpose made stand
 Photo of connecting the hemp wading rope

 Photo of maple plug

Thursday, March 12, 2015

HMS Sirius, Mosman and NICS

Close to 200 visitors are arriving on Norfolk over this weekend to join in the events planned to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the wrecking of HMS Sirius at Slaughter Bay on the 19th March 1790. As the flagship of the First Fleet, the Sirius is arguably Australia’s most important shipwreck and her artefacts the only cultural heritage material we have of the First Fleet. At the museum we are very excited in particular to be welcoming back to the island as special guest speakers, Graeme Henderson and Myra Stanbury both from Western Australia. Graeme led all the 1980s expeditions to recover the Sirius’ artefacts and Myra was the Registrar for these and the 2002 expedition. Now retired, Graeme was the founding Director of the Western Australian Maritime Museum, where Myra still works.  

The Sister Community Agreement between the Municipality of Mosman and Norfolk Island
In addition to the presentations and an official public event to be held at the Sirius monument site on the morning of Thursday the 19th March by the Office of the Administrator, our Norfolk Island Central School (NICS) children are involved in marking this important historical event in a number of ways.

A video conference will be occurring on the 19th between Year 7 NICS kids and Mosman Primary school children. Mosman is located on the lower north shore in Sydney and shares a special relationship with Norfolk Island centred on our shared Sirius histories, which was formalised in 1989 with the signing of a Sister Community Relationship Agreement. Since then there have been a number of exchanges between our two locations. In 1990 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Sirius wrecking, Norfolk Island received a beautiful gift from the people of Mosman of a bas-relief sculpture of the Sirius made by Dr. Alex Sandor Kolozsy that stands in the compound at the back of the Sirius museum.

A handsomely inscribed certificate (photo seen here) confirming the friendship agreement, signed by the then Mayor of Mosman Mr Barry O’Keefe and the then President of the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island Mr David Buffett, hangs in the Legislative Assembly offices. It reads:

Bas relief sculpture by Dr. Alex Sandor Kolozsy
Whereas Mosman and Norfolk Island share a strand of the early history of Australia through their association with His Majesty’s Ship Sirius, which following its return from the Cape of Good Hope with food supplies for the fledgling colony of New South Wales, was careened for repairs and refit between 19 June and 7 November, 1789 in a “convenient retired cove” on the north side of the Harbour which became known as Careening Cove and is now Mosman Bay, and which ran aground on the Reef in Sydney Bay, Norfolk Island on 19 March, 1790 and was wrecked whilst carrying personnel and provisions to the Island.
And whereas the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island and the Mayor and Aldermen of the Municipality of Mosman have expressed a desire to strengthen the links between peoples of the two communities.
And whereas the Mayor and Alderman of the Municipality of Mosman in Council assembled on the eighth day of August in the year of our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Eighty Nine resolved to enter into a Sister Community Relationship with the people of Norfolk Island.
And whereas the President and Members of the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island have also agreed to enter into such a Relationship.
Now these presents confirm the establishment of a Sister Community Relationship between the Municipality of Mosman and Norfolk Island to promote greater awareness of our links and to foster understanding, goodwill and exchanges in diverse fields, including culture, education, sport and tourism between Mosman and Norfolk Island.

Our NICS students have been busy preparing the stories they want to share with Mosman Primary including the wrecking event and what is happening on the island for the commemoration. By using video link-up the kids from Mosman and Norfolk Island can engage directly with each other, fostering the sort of understanding and goodwill that the Agreement envisaged.

Other NICS students have also been busy taking footage of themselves around the island to be sent to the ABC TV show BTN (Behind the News) and made into a ‘Rookie Reporter’ segment, bringing the news of the wrecking anniversary and also life generally on Norfolk to all mainland schools across Australia. BTN is watched daily by students in schools around the country. This is a fantastic opportunity to educate many, many children across Australia of the importance of the Sirius to the Nation. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for our students to proudly showcase their island and unique island life. 

Yet more NICS students, this time the youngest ones, will be displaying art work inspired by the wrecking of the Sirius in the windows of the vacant shop at Leeside Arcade. Make sure you call by during the week to admire their work! Our thanks to Carole and Dan Yager for allowing use of the shop.

And lastly, a NICS primary choir will be entertaining our visitors attending the anniversary day luncheon and presentations by Graeme and Myra which will occur under a marquee behind Slaughter Bay. The students have been rehearsing a song they will present alongside colonial era singer Paul Bonner-Jones. Sincere thanks to NICS Principal Michelle Nicholson and teachers Tanya Delaney, Kate Lindstrom and Mark Hall for embracing this important anniversary and involving our students in so many ways.

The wrecking of the Sirius was ‘the’ major disaster of the earliest years of the new colony. Norfolk Island’s place at the very heart of the start of what was to become Australia has the opportunity to be more widely told and acknowledged through the events happening on the island this week.  It’s going to be a great week to be on Norfolk Island!

For more information on the Sirius see the Museum’s dedicated web site at