Monday, December 14, 2015

The Coffin Shed

James Montford “Monty” Christian was a Radio Signaller with the New Zealand Army.  His family history records that Monty was stationed throughout the Pacific during World War II.  It is during his time on Norfolk Island, in the Pier Store, that Monty is impressed with a supernatural experience. 

This Christian family can trace their ancestry to John Christian, born in 1776, married to Marjery (nee Gell) of the Isle of Man.  They haven’t identified an immediate connection to ‘our’ Christian family, however it is most likely there is a cousin connection there somewhere.  Monty’s nephew John and his wife Sharyn Christian from Paraparaumu on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand paid us a visit at the museum and showed us the papers documenting his family’s history.  In amongst this information is Monty’s Norfolk story.

He says, “I would be stationed in the Coffin Shed on night shift watching for the approach of the enemy – the Japanese warships”.

The Coffin Shed he refers to is The Pier Store, located at the end of Kingston Pier.  The Pier Store was built in 1825 as a Commissariat Store (Government Store) it has had a variety of names and purpose over the years.   
The building has been continuously used since 1825.  After the Pitcairn Islanders settled here it became a customs store on the ground floor and part of the upper floor was used as a coffin room.  Later it was used as a store for lighterage equipment, old crank mill machinery and pallets of beer until it became part of the Norfolk Island Museum in 1988.

This is the poem that Monty wrote whilst on night shift in the Coffin Shed, December 1941.

While on duty I’m quietly sitting
Ghostly forms around me are flitting
Up and down and all around the coffin room

And then sometimes when I’m nodding
I can hear their footsteps plodding
Ghostly faces peering at me from the gloom
All around me forms are lying
Some are groaning some are sighing
And some are crashing around me on the floor

Oh I long for my fears to banish
As they come and then they vanish
Treading lightly to the gloom beyond the door

Oh feel I want assistance
As I see them in the distance
Dancing lightly on the shadows by the fire
And their ghostly eyes are gloating
As their forms come gently floating
Rising upwards to the roof and even higher

And the time was quickly slipping
I could hear their footsteps tripping
All around the room with ne’er a pause
And my hand was on the trigger
As I saw a ghostly figure
Saying loud in accents clear I’m Rufus Dawes
And my heart neigh stopped beating
At this unexpected meeting
When around the chimney corner I saw
Scores of convicts now departed
So very soon I started
Gently tripping very quickly through the door

So I’ll wait till day is dawning
An in the early morning
I be leaving all these ghastly forms to you
And the guard that’s here tomorrow
Will all find to their sorrow
That the things that I’ve been telling them are true

Obviously Monty was familiar with the classic convict novel ‘For the Term of His Natural Life’ written by Marcus Clarke.  The character Rufus Dawes was the pseudonym name taken on by Richard Devine, to protect his mother’s infidelity secret.

James 'Monty' Christian and Sharyn Christian

John and Sharyn Christian are pictured on the Pier Store veranda.  Thanks for sharing this poem with us.  I think you’ll find a number of us on Norfolk today can relate to Monty’s ghoulish fear in the Pier Store.  

Janelle Blucher                         

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