Monday, May 30, 2011

Our Whaling Heritage

We recently received a donation from Di Adams of some whale oil in two old bottles - one a very 1960’s or 70’s style Schweppes Low Calorie Lemonade bottle complete with a plastic topped cork stopper! The oil had come from her father George ‘Mack’ Adams, who had worked in the early whaling industry, as had his brother Charles ‘Pat’ Adams. A number of years ago Pat wrote down his account of an accident that occurred in 1939 aboard the whale boat “Lanic”. His son Robert, ‘Punga’ Adams, kindly donated a copy to the museum. There are so many stories that come from Norfolk’s whaling past – and the museum has a number of objects on display to help with their telling. However reading Pat’s account of what it was actually like out there in the open sea in one of the New Bedford style whale boats really highlights the dangers faced and the skill of the Norfolk men in those early whaling days:

“It was late 1938 Whaling Season that I took the place of my Grandfather, John (Rigger) Adams, as a crew in the boat “Gwendoline”, built by the late Mr Tom (Pert) Quintal, named after Gwendoline Menzies, now Mrs Bert Bergagnin. The boat captained by Thornton (Bobo) Yager with his crew, Boatsteer, William (Mancy) Edwards, Augustine (Hares) Adams, Victor (Mate Bob) Edwards, Tom (Farmer) Quintal, Ernest (Bera) Quintal and myself Charlie (Pat) Adams. There were two other boats in the Company, Louis Battaile’s “Advance” and Nathan (Shunnah) Quintal’s “Lanic”.

1939. I had a full season and it was a wonderful experience which I will never forget. The day commenced at 8.00am. As soon as the boats are cleared of the jetty, the Captain or some other crew member would offer a prayer, asking for the safety of the boats and its crews – then again at lunch time Grace was always said.

Early one morning we were the first boat launched – about 500yds out from the Cascade Jetty, a school of whales came up alongside the boat – our Boatsteerer immediately harpoon a whale, and the boat was Fast .

It was one o’clock before the “Advance” and “Lanic” caught up with us, some of the experienced boatmen took a few of our places in the fast boat, Gus (Hares) and myself were transferred to the “Lanic”. It was soon noticed that the harpoon rope was wrapped around the whale’s tail, making it hard for those trying to kill the whale getting near enough to lance it. So we in the “Lanic” was given the job to try and get a harpoon into the whale – Gus (Hares) Adams was in the Captain’s position and Jimmy (Bill) Edwards Boatsteerer.

Suddenly the whale surfaced, hitting the “Lanic”, knocking Andrew (Peak) Evans into the water, and myself up into the Rope Tub. On sounding, the whale once again hit the “Lanic”, taking a V shape out of the boat where I was rowing, before I was knocked into the Rope Tub. Henry (Seymour) Buffett who was rowing the Midship Oar, the oar was broken when the whale hit it, Henry had ribs broken and he was badly injured, he was worried with the injury for the rest of his life. The “Lanic” was badly holed and Ernest (Reuben) Christian, Andrew (Peak) Evans and myself was given the task to sail the “Lanic” with Henry Buffett, injured, back to Cascade Jetty.

We were about seven miles off Steele’s Point, only able to use the jib sail, as we had to be careful to keep the water from entering the boat – luckily the sea was calm. We had the Distress flag, or Wave, up and those on the cliffs soon picked the Wave up, and knew we have had an accident. A few miles from shore Darky Douran, in his launch “Gordina” took us in tow and safely landed us at Cascades. Unfortunately the whale was lost after nine hours of hard work.

There were only two boats available for a week until the “Lanic” was repaired. There is a movie film of this Fast Boat and accident to the “Lanic”, taken by the late Jimmy Mitchell and his daughter, Pat Magri, may still have it.

After each whale is safely handed over to the Shore Crews, the boat crews and those on shore and on the cliff tops would sing the ‘Doxology’, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”. And when we are towing late in the evenings people would light fires on the cliffs to help pilot us to land. Thus the wonderful old Whaling Hymn “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” was always sung.

Sadly after the passing of my great friend and mate, Charles (Tene) Menzies, a few years ago, I think I am the last of the “Old Hand Harpoon Whalers”, boat crew.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

We've got a new Web Site!

Last year Stephen Clarke, son of Peter, and the Museum Trust agreed to spend some of the profits from The Trial of the Fifteen play, on upgrading our museum web site. The finished product has just gone live, and we are more than thrilled with the results.

The look of the site is the handiwork of local designer Haylee Fieldes, who also updated our logo, brochure and signage last year. She has given us a fresh, up-to-date and very user friendly site. The site and all our marketing materials have been designed to ‘fit’ with the “World Of Norfolk” branding. This has already brought us great results as sales of Museum Passes and tours have increased by 7% this financial year, despite a downturn in visitor numbers. With more and more visitors researching and booking their holidays on-line it is important that we have a good web presence. Details of all our venues, tickets and tours are explained and we hope that bookings will be made before visitors even arrive on Norfolk.

A feature of the site is to highlight a number of objects in the collection. Museums around the world are making their collections available on-line and this is our first, albeit small, attempt to get some of our stories onto the web site. Over time we will put new objects up and eventually hope to include a searchable feature of our entire database. The stories of our island are told through these objects, and we hope that people researching the island through the web site will get a taste of the richness of our history and local culture. 

Funding for this site was not available within our regular budget. It has only been made possible due to the generosity of the late Peter Clarke. He allowed us to perform the play The Trial of the Fifteen with no royalties paid. There is a special arrangement where the profits are to be used for projects that fall outside our regular operational costs. One of the pages on the site is a tribute to Peter Clarke appropriately thanking him for his generosity to the museum over many years. Peter’s son Stephen chose to continue with the same arrangement and we thank him for agreeing to have this project funded.

Please check out the site at: and let others know about the site as well. We welcome your feedback so please let us know what you think.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

New Menu at the REO Cafe and Bookshop

From this Monday come on down to the REO Café and Bookshop to taste some of our delicious new winter menu – hearty wetls for yorle’s pleasure! With a fun convict theme we are pleased to present “Ye olde traditional bill o’fare”. The new menu has Full Rations and Half Rations fare. 

If you’re feeling hungry you’ll definitely be tempted by our Full Rations selection which includes Pot Riot Casserole (in memory of the Cooking Pot Riot of 1846) – a hearty beef casserole slow-baked in rich gravy with crusty bread for dunking. The Kingston Chicken Pie is perhaps for the Officers and their wives? – a tasty chicken casserole set in a light pastry and served piping hot. Gluten free options include the Red Coat Salad – an olde English style salad based on beans with garden fresh vegetables. Or for those very cold days, you really can’t go past the thick West County Wynter Soup – to keep the cold out this soup is simmered long and slow for that full flavour and served with crusty bread.  

Carlie and Barb ready to take your order!
 If you’re after something lighter then our Half Rations will suffice. Ye Olde Sandwich courtesy of the Earl of Sandwich himself, is far too good for the convicts! A Chain-Gang Cornish Fritter is a gluten free option and a favourite for the men in the fields. Another gluten free option is the Norfolk Sullen’s Salad – a fresh local salad using local produce served with our favourite home-made condensed milk mayonnaise. And of course, who can pass by a bowl of Chypes – crispy fried potato chips served with Bloody Bridge Sauce! On top of all this you’ll find a great selection of daily specials which may include dishes such as 1788 Settler’s Pie (a delicious home-style cottage pie), Tahitian Fish, Savoury Eggs or Vegetarian Lentil Patties.

Of course there will be extra privileges for Ye Sweettooth including Devonshire Tea, Bread and Butter or Creamy Rice Pudding and Island Coconut Pie. A selection of Her Majesty’s favourite dainty home-made biscuits and slices are always a treat with a hot cuppa tea or coffee.

So there is no reason to delay – come on down to the REO Café and Bookshop for a fabulous, hearty and thoroughly entertaining meal! We are open 9.00am to 3.00pm Monday to Friday and often on Saturday’s as well.