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

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