Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Blacksmith's Shop

Douglas Hobbs, Senior Archaeologist

“I think we’ve found something” was the comment heard in the Blacksmith’s Compound in Kingston last Saturday morning which created a scene of excitement.  The floor in this compound, currently used by the KAVHA works team, is being stabilised to prevent flooding and improve drainage.  Scraping away just fifteen centimetres of the surface dirt revealed two pits containing charcoal, leg irons, horse shoes, chain links, nails, wall fasteners and obvious ‘smithy’ waste or slag.

The first pit showing artefacts uncovered
 Built in 1846 the original buildings and yard were surrounded by a stone wall with an entrance gate in the north wall.  The smiths were housed in a stone structure against the south wall of the yard; there were four blacksmith forges and one nailors forge.  Other shops or work sheds were built against the side walls, all of these original buildings fell into disrepair during the 1880’s.  Both pits discovered last weekend were located towards the southern wall of the compound indicating they may have been associated with the blacksmiths forges.  They were somewhat conical in shape, less than one metre in diameter with a depth of approximately twenty centimetres defined by sand, dirt and crushed calcaranite bedding.

Norfolk Island Museum Tagalong Tour witness the discovery

 Most smiths burned charcoal in their forges because it was easy to light, burned hotter and cleaner than wood and was readily available, particularly on Norfolk Island.  A method for producing charcoal involved a pit kiln process where wood was slowly burned in a shallow pit covered with soil.  As these pits were full of charcoal, maybe they were used for making the charcoal to fuel the forges.  Much speculation and suggestions were offered to determine what these pits were actually used for, even our museum tour made a diversion to the site to join in the discussion.  One suggestion was they were the smithy’s waste pits, this begs the question of why was there such a substantial amount of intact and complete objects located in them.  Senior Archaeological Consultant, Douglas Hobbs is on island to oversee the works, Doug has over 43 years of experience in discoveries and archaeological research. Leave it to the expert to answer those questions for us!

The immediate concern for the Norfolk Island Museum is to stabilise the one hundred or so objects recovered from these pits.  Once removed from their anaerobic salty dirty environment after more than 150 years, instant deterioration begins to occur.  A desiccated or dry environment is the first aid for these objects until we are ready to take on the job of cleaning, brushing and rinsing.  Once you begin this process you can’t stop.  The objects then require immersion in an alkaline solution to draw out the chlorides.  This process can take months involving solution changes and chloride readings.  Once these readings deem the object free from salt they will be rinsed to remove the alkaline residue and slowly dewatered.  The final stages include application of a rust convertor followed by a sealant to act as an environment barrier.  Then this fantastic addition to our collection will be ready for interpretation, display and research.

Just to finish off, it is interesting to read a diary entry of Thomas Samuel Stewart, Commissariat Storekeeper and caretaker on the island during the time between the penal settlement in 1855 and the arrival of the Pitcairners in 1856 as it relates to some of these recent finds in the Blacksmith’s compound.

July 4 Wednesday – And Farrell employed casting turf to cover a small kiln of Wood that was being built when the ships arrived with the news that all the Engineer property left on the Island was to be handed to the Commissariat.  I spoke to Mr Walker previous to his leaving I think about a fortnight, on the propriety of having some Horse Shoes made, in readiness in case of need – and he, very considerately, ordered Constable Kelly that was the Horse Shoe maker on the Island at the time to make a few sets.  I saw Kelly a few days before the ships sailed and enquired of him.  If he had mad the Horse Shoes? (I knowing he had been told off for this duty.) He told me he had made more that he thought would be required.  But all that I have found is a few old worn out shoes lying in [the] shed at the Black Smith’s shop.  What the man could have been doing for the time he should have been making these shoes, is what I cannot tell, but I am afraid, it must have been for the want of fuel.  And as there is not a bit to fit a shoe on a horse, and Field has used all that is able to be put on, unless altered, I must endeavour to burn off this kiln, and have set Farrell to this work

Stewart follows this with later entries stating that he acted as the blacksmith when there was no other on the island.  These diary entries really highlight the importance of this skill on the island during that time.  

Janelle Blucher

From one Rock to another ...

 The Morayshire off Norfolk Island 8 June 1856

The Morayshire arrived at Norfolk Island amid squalls of rain and strong winds, on board were the exhausted and seasick Pitcairners having travelled some five thousand kilometres from one island home to another. Coming ashore after five weeks at sea, with mixed emotions, wet and unsettled, they were met by Thomas Samuel Stewart, the Commissariat Storekeeper, his wife Isabella and Captain Denham of the HMS Herald.  Mr and Mrs Stewart and a small group of people had remained on the island since the closure of the penal settlement in 1855.  Captain Denham of the HMS Herald had been sent to Norfolk Island to assist with their arrival.

Because of the conditions a wait of two days was required before they could come ashore. Viewed from the ship, the island’s general appearance disappointed them as George Hunn Nobbs records: “…very much disappointed with its appearance from the present point of view…Every face wore an expression of disappointment…No doubt other parts have a better appearance, but this side certainly bears no comparison with our Rock in the West”.  No doubt tiredness and exhaustion sullied their view, and what would have been more, an overwhelming realisation that Pitcairn their home, their ‘rock of the west”, was now in the past.  Adding to this view, the Kingston area was almost denuded of trees, when on shore Nobbs states “There is scarcely a tree in sight from the settlement, except some dozen or two of pines planted near the Government House”.

Come this time, the Reverend George Hunn Nobbs, their leader and pastor for more than 25 years, had to convince the people that to quit Pitcairn was not only necessary as the island was too small for their growing population, but also that it would be for their ultimate benefit.  He avowed “Her Majesty’s most gracious offer, to wit, Norfolk Island and all that appertains thereto, for ourselves and families…Such an unqualified offer of so beautiful a spot on Norfolk Island, is easier to imagine than realise; but is a Bona Fide reality to us.”

Sarah Nobbs, grand daughter of Fletcher Christian and Mauatua, was married to the Reverend George Hunn Nobbs, she writes:
“After a passage of five weeks we arrived here, and landed on Sunday June 8th, amid squalls of rain, which thoroughly drenched us: but Capt. Denham who was here, had fires prepared and tea ready for us, so that we soon got as comfortable as we could possibly be, in to us such a bewildering place. Everything was so strange; the immense houses, the herds of cattle grazing, and in the distance the gigantic Norfolk pines filled us for the moment with amazement. I was conducted by Mr Stewar[t] to the Government House, and seated by a good fire in the drawing room (I have learned that name since), which was the first fire I had ever seen in a dwelling house, and an excellent addition to my previous ideas of domestic comfort…”.

This day of arrival at Norfolk Island was Sunday, 8th June 1856. That same evening the Pitcairners held their usual Sunday service in the large upper room of the old military barracks, where the Norfolk Island Government’s Assembly Chamber and Committee Room is today.  They gave thanks to God for their preservation and asked for guidance in this new era they had just entered upon.

The arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders to Norfolk Island is celebrated every year as Anniversary Day, often referred to as Bounty Day. In the early years after their arrival the day was commemorated with a simple church service. Over the years it has evolved to a full day’s celebration beginning with a march from Kingston Pier to the Cemetery.

The first march began with only the men with surnames of the Bounty mutineers dressed in sailor suits. The women joined in soon after and then the ‘All comers’ - those with the surname Nobbs, Buffett or Evans. In later years those who have married into island families march as well.

Up until the late 1930s a wooden structure was erected on the cricket ground in Quality Row to represent the Quarter-deck of the Bounty. The Union Jack was flown and the Bounty cannon installed on the deck was fired, often with the help of fire crackers. God Save the Queen and Rule Britannia were sung with gusto.

Revived in the 1950s after an absence of marching during WWII, the march came to include a re-enactment of the landing at Kingston Pier, a march to the cenotaph and along Quality Row to the cemetery. Here, the Islanders recite ‘John Adams Prayer and while singing ‘In the Sweet Bye and Bye’ children lay wreaths on the graves of their ancestors. The Lord’s Prayer is read and the Pitcairn Anthem is sung.  Since 1947 a morning tea at Government house concluded the morning’s activities.

A large community picnic is the next event for the day. While today it is held in the Compound it has been held against the gaol wall overlooking the Common, in the grounds of the New and Old Military Barracks, in Pound Paddock and the old and current Rawson Hall (the wet weather option). The singing of Grace always precedes the picnic. Tables are laden with traditional island food including roast meats, pilhi, mudda, hihi pie, fish, sweet tatey and sweet island pies, usually served with cream, otherwise known as ‘Norfolk gravy’.  Lunch may be followed by a cricket match between the islanders and the all comers.  The day concludes with the Bounty Ball in Rawson Hall. Then all dem tired lettle sullen are taken home to bed. 

Happy Anniversary Day from all ucklun at the museum down a town.  8 June 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

HMS Sirius Website and the Australian Historic Shipwreck Data Base

HMS Sirius Website and the Australian Historic Shipwreck Data Base
Our HMS Sirius website has a new look, actually it has just been updated to have the same ‘new look’ that you can see presented in our HMS Sirius museum.  Once again we are thankful for the wonderful talents of designer, artist, girl of many talents, Haylee Fieldes.
The Home page states the HMS Sirius is Australia’s most important shipwreck. In 1787 she was the lead ship for the First Fleet of eleven ships setting out from Britain on the voyage to establish the first settlement in Australia. They landed at Botany Bay on the 18th January 1788 and soon after established the settlement at Port Jackson.

Within a few weeks of their arrival at Botany Bay, a small group of convicts under the command of Philip Gidley King had set sail to establish another settlement at Norfolk Island, a rocky outcrop 1,500 kilometres north east of Port Jackson. 

It was on this small isolated island that HMS Sirius was lost on March 19, 1790. Her shipwrecking caused great distress to both settlements clinging to life, never far from starvation.

The story of the life and wrecking of HMS Sirius is only one half of her tale. The other is the story that she left lying for close to 200 years on the seafloor, on the reef at Norfolk Island. The recovery of her artefacts over the past 25 years in particular, have revealed much to us. We now have more answers to the story of the circumstances of British settlement in Australia, the Sirius’ construction as a Baltic trader, and the perilous state of the fledgling settlements when she was lost.

Today, the HMS Sirius artefacts are mostly all housed in the Norfolk Island Museum. They comprise the most significant display of First Fleet cultural heritage held anywhere in Australia or its territories. 
The website is user friendly with easy to follow drop down tabs, guiding you further to reveal the story of the HMS Sirius, the recovery of her artefacts, the legal instruments that protect the wreck site, the artefacts, a gallery of images, our bookshop and a page for news items. Maybe you have some Sirius news we could feature on this page?
The HMS Sirius story is also featured on the Australian Government Department of Environment website  Click on the topic, heritage and historic shipwrecks tabs to take you to the Australian national shipwreck database (ANSDB).  We are in the progress of populating this database to include not just the HMS Sirius story, but all known shipwrecks around Norfolk Island. Features of the ANSDB include fields of information about the vessels, images, links to shipwreck relics recovered from 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 this website is a system to facilitate the registration of shipwreck material. The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 requires all owners of shipwreck material older than 75 years to register their objects.  Registration simply records the details of your shipwreck material and in no way interferes with your ownership. Please contact us at the Norfolk Island Museum to register your objects. Or if you have any information, historical or contemporary images that you wish to contribute towards any of these websites.
Visit our HMS Sirius website at
Janelle Blucher

Farewell Lisa Richards & International Museum Day

May 2015

Farewell to Lisa Richards, Director / Curator
Last week….. we said farewell to Lisa Richards, Director/Curator of the Norfolk Island Museum, this role she has fulfilled for the past 7 years.  Her energy, enthusiasm, professionalism, creativity, humour and friendship will be missed by all of us at the museum.  Her leadership has not only developed a museum to be proud of but has also established stronger community relationships.  She is an absolute dynamo to work with!

International Museum Day
This week…. Monday 18 May is International Museum Day. The theme is ‘Museums for a sustainable society’.  The International Council of Museums (ICOM) states that “it highlights the role of museums in raising public awareness about the need for a society that is less wasteful, more cooperative and that uses resources in a way that respects living systems”. 
Sustainability in museums is not only about economics and practicing efficient use of resources but also about safeguarding cultural heritage.  “Museum work, through education and exhibitions for example, should strive to create a sustainable society.” says ICOM President, Prof. Dr Hans-Martin Hinz.  
The Norfolk Island Museum promotes and protects our cultural heritage, past, present and future, tangible and intangible.  We encourage strong community relationship as mentioned above and invite you to visit your museum!  Entry is always free for locals.  Open from 11am – 3pm
What’s in our museums?
Commissariat Store (in the ground floor of All Saints Church)
Fascinating stories emerge from this collection of archaeological remains found in Kingston.  Explore Polynesian hearthstone, glass beads and pottery from the First Settlement and whips and leg irons from the Second Settlement.  Our convict past is alive here.

No. 10 Quality Row
Now a museum, this house was built in 1844 for Thomas Seller, Foreman of Works, during the height of the brutal Second Settlement.  It gives a vivid feel for life for the civil officers in charge of convicts. In 1856 it became the home of Isaac and Miriam Christian and their fifteen children, in later years it was the home of Charles ‘Potts’ Buffett.  Potts, as he is known held a number of positions including Deputy Administrator of NI and Administrator of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. He was awarded an O.B.E in 1981 and M.B.E. in 1987.

HMS Sirius Museum (old Youth Centre or Protestant Chapel)
Wrecked on our reef in 1790, the flagship of the First Fleet HMS Sirius is now Australia’s most important shipwreck.  Her artefacts are displayed together with the story of her loss and recovery.  A First Fleet Wall and Descendant’s Book are located here.

Pier Store
The legendary mutiny on board the Bounty has been portrayed in no less than five Hollywood movies but the true story is to be found here along with major Bounty artefacts.  Life on Pitcairn Island and the re-settlement to Norfolk in 1856 are also told.  Our rich local culture, including Norf’k language, is featured in this museum.   

The R.E.O.  sells books and souvenirs, it is also the venue for our short term displays, currently “Without Hesitation: Norfolk Islander’s and World War I”.  Visit The R.E.O. to see this display, on Monday  we’ll put on the kettle from about 11.30am, tea and coffee is on us, no paper cups, we promise.
When was the last time you visited the museum? 
Make this Monday, Museum-day!