Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bounty Cannon Conservation

If you happened to see a cannon travelling on the back of a truck through Burnt Pine the other day, don’t worry we are not readying ourselves for enemy invasion! The cannon is the Bounty cannon, and it was being taken to the Works Depot in readiness for conservation treatments about to begin in the next few weeks. It usually sits in the Pier Store Museum, one of the most important objects on display in our Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery.

Moving a half tonne cannon is not an easy proposition, particularly as it sits upstairs in the Pier Store. Once again we were able to call on the expertise (and muscle!) of the KAVHA Works team to move it for us. As you can see by our photos the first step involved six strong men lifting it onto a prepared crate, which was sitting on top of a forklift, just outside the small side door. The forklift was then lowered to ground level and the cannon was transferred onto the back of a truck and driven up to the Depot. Thanks to David Magri and the KAVHA team for their support in undertaking this delicate operation.

This cannon is one of four, four pounder cannons aboard the Bounty when she arrived at Pitcairn Island. It is a standard design Naval gun and was put onto the Bounty when she was refitted from May 1787, prior to sailing for Tenerife on 23rd December 1787. It would have been mounted on a wooden carriage. It is known from the diary of George Hunn Nobbs that this cannon and one other were raised in 1845. One was used to salute ships visiting Pitcairn until 1853 when an accidental firing killed the island’s Magistrate. There is no record as to wether this is the cannon that fired the fatal shot.

The cannon was brought to Norfolk in 1856 when the entire population of Pitcairn Island left to relocate to Norfolk Island. On Norfolk it stood for many years outside the Military Hospital in Kingston. In the mid 1970s it was included in conservation work carried out by the Western Australian Maritime Museum, and travelled to Perth for that treatment. After it was returned to Norfolk it was included in the newly established Maritime Museum when it opened in 1988.

One of our photos shows the cannon being unloaded from the back of a Hercules when it was returned from Western Australia in 1978. Many thanks to Di Adams for the photo – it shows her father Mack and his cousin Billie Pumpa unloading her.

The cannon is now in need of further conservation treatment. A 2006 report by Jon Carpenter and Richard Garcia from the Western Australian Museum says it “is showing signs of corrosion activity beneath its surface coating. The coating will have to be removed in order to re-treat the canon”. In addition, there is significant corrosion and delamination of the bore, which is uncoated. The conservation work has been funded by the National Library of Australia through the Community Heritage Grants scheme.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

NICS Kindy Class at the Museum

NICS Kindy Class Learn All About Museums

Believe it or not, but learning about Museums starts as a five year old in Kindy these days. Earlier last month I received a call from teachers Tanya Delaney and Michelle Hayes at Norfolk island Central School, to ask if I could talk to their Kindy classes about museums. I was most impressed with the depth they explored the subject, which began with making a 'me museum', where the kids collected and displayed three artefacts that were significant to them. They each had to explain to the class the significance of their artefacts. They’d also been looking at how things change over time - in particular school, kitchen, and laundry equipment, and school uniforms.

Tanya and Michelle asked me to discuss things like, what is a museum, what kinds of things you see at a museum and why people go to museums. We also covered what an artefact and exhibit is and why we display things. We have the most beautiful class of kids in Kindy and they were great fun to talk to. While I was a little unsure of how five years olds would understand museum concepts (do they even know how to read yet?) or if they’d find the topic boring (some adults might!), I found enquiring minds, kids who had already learnt how to listen and were fully engaged with the subject. We had a great hour talking and looking at a few objects from the Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery.

The class visited three museums here on Norfolk – the Bounty Folk Museum, Pitcairn Settlers Village and our Pier Store Museum. After all this they finished the term by making a 'class museum' - with artefacts from the 'olden days' brought in from home. I was lucky enough to attend this event along with their parents and really enjoyed having the objects stories told to me by each of the kids. This was a great way to finish off a comprehensive teaching of “what is a museum”.

It is great that at five years old these kids have been taught all about looking at objects and to appreciate things that may be old. They have also found that Museums can be places that they love to visit and while enjoying themselves, are also learning. It may also mean that they really pester mum and dad to visit our museums here on Norfolk and also those they may pass when away. Now that’s great learning!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Farewell Peter Clarke

For the past ten years the Norfolk Island Museum has twice weekly presented to visitors the play "The Trial of the Fifteen". Written by Peter Clarke the play very successfully presents the layers of Norfolk's history in an entertaining one hour performance. Peter wrote the play for the Museum however accepted no payment, or royalties for its performance. Over the past ten years the Museum has benefited from the profits of the play, with over $100,000 being available for projects outside our normal expenditure.

Very sadly, Peter passed away in Nelson NSW recently.

Therefore it was a great privilege to be involved with the wake for Peter held last Saturday at the Ferny Lane Theatre. Special thanks to the cast of “The Trial of the Fifteen” for a wonderful performance of Peter’s play and for setting up the staging. David Buffet presented the eulogy which together with speeches by Peter’s son Stephen and Charisse’s son Desmond Fisher, left us with no doubt that Peter was a prolific creative talent with a great passion for Norfolk Island.

This was also summed up through the screening of a song that Peter wrote with Stephen, and performed by Stephen. Called “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” it included visuals of scenes from around the island and words that describe the beauty and uniqueness of the people and landscape. Peter certainly was a strong advocate for the island, using his writing skills for our benefit.

It was also wonderful to meet Stephen who will be ‘taking over the reins’ of the play. He later visited us at the Museum and it was good to be able to show him the Museum Theatre and the historic court room setting that the play is usually performed in. Stephen has told us he will be back on the island regularly and we really look forward to working with him.

Our photo is of Stephen when he visited us at the Museum.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Over the past few weeks Janelle Blucher has been working on many of the leg-irons in our collection, removing corrosion and applying new coatings. They will be added to those on display in the Commissariat Store significantly increasing their display. On one level, handling these objects is the practical and professional activity of carrying out a check of each piece, identifying work to be done, methodically carrying it out and recording each activity. Metal objects in our collection are always subject to corrosion, particularly given our location so close to the sea, so there is no end to the conservation of these objects.

However, on another level, it is a very sad and emotional experience handling these leg-irons. We know academically of the brutality of the Second Settlement however there is nothing like picking up a heavy leg iron complete with chains, to really make you think about the poor souls whose lot it was to wear them. These men worked in leg-irons in the most difficult of circumstances - while quarrying stone from Nepean Island, working the crankmill and undertaking all sorts of buildings works. Chain gangs would leave the Prisoners Barracks each morning heading out to work across Kingston. Just walking in the leg-irons was difficult so you can imagine the pain and labour required to carry out a days work in them.

Leg-irons were riveted on to convicts ankles and stayed in place for months or years. They were made of cast iron and many were connected by a 1 foot chain, to prevent prisoners from running away. Because they were permanently worn, special canvas pants were made for the convicts which had their sides split the whole way up, with buttons and holes used to hold them together, and which could be unbuttoned for removal. The chain on the irons comes from behind the ankles so that if you were to run in them the chain pulled tight and as the iron twisted it would give the ankle a nasty jerk

In the book “The Uncensored Story Of Martin Cash” by J.D And B.T. Emberg, the convict Martin Cash recounts being placed in leg-irons by the order of the notorious Commandant John Price.

“I had scarcely been an hour on the stone heap when John Price and his secretary visited the works, and on passing, he turned his eyes upon me but did not utter a word. On returning, however, he halted on coming to where I was at work and observed that I was not the man they talk so much about in Van Diemans Land. He delivered his words in a low, contemptuous tone, and when he had finished I looked up and replied in the same tone as near as I could, that if he would give me one of the pistols which he wore at his belt, I’d run him into the sea. He made no reply, but returned directly to the gaol and gave Heley orders to provide the heaviest pair of irons on the Island and put them upon me when I returned to dinner. Of course, I was ignorant of this, but at the dinner hour, when reaching the gaol, I found a blacksmith with his hammer and anvil in readiness; and in the space of a few minutes I had on the largest pair of irons I ever saw, the basil which had encircled each limb being thicker than a man’s arm and the links of the chain of nearly equal proportions, and although I was then as strong and vigorous as most men, I experienced the greatest difficulty in moving my feet from the ground, and being obliged to wear them in bed I felt as if my feet were riveted to the boards.

At work I did not feel so much inconvenienced for, being then in a sitting position I could rest the irons on the ground. After having worn the leg irons eleven days, Mr Price paid me another visit, appearing on this occasion to be much altered in his manner towards me. He enquired how long I had been wearing the irons, and on being informed he said, “Well, Martin, you must wear them for fourteen days, and then you can have your ‘trumpeters’ again”. Three days after I was relieved of my heavy encumbrances, on which I found some difficulty in preserving my equilibrium, feeling, when walking, as if I should lose my balance and topple over. Fourteen days after, I was divested of my ‘trumpeter’ irons also, and a lighter pair substituted”.

The new display of leg-irons at the Commissariat Store is not there as a ghoulish entertainment for visitors. Hopefully these objects will help us reflect on the real misery people lived through in such brutal times and re-mind us of our common humanity.