Sunday, October 30, 2011
On Tuesday 25th October, on the 225th anniversary of her commissioning, the shipwreck site of HMS Sirius, here on the reef at Norfolk Island, was added to the National and Commonwealth Heritage Lists. This confirms the site as one comprising heritage values of great significance and value to the Australian Nation.
In 1787 the Sirius 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. Norfolk Island was then established as the second colony within the next few months. As the lead ship the Sirius was captained by John Hunter and carried Arthur Phillip the first Governor for the new colony. Her wrecking here was a devastating event for the fledgling communities. Of all the eleven ships of the First Fleet, we only know of the final resting place of the Sirius, the circumstances of the others being unknown. The image by George Raper of “The Melancholy Loss of HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island March 19 1790” (National Library of Australia), captures her stranded on the reef.
The signing by Minister for Environment Tony Burke, formally adding the site to the Heritage lists occurred in a ceremony jointly conducted (thanks to modern technology) at the Norfolk Island Central School and the Australian National Maritime Museum. A video link up saw students from NICS together with students from Parramatta asking and answering questions about the Sirius and her wrecking prior to the official signing. Our Chief Minister David Buffett spoke about the friendships and benefits that have resulted from her wrecking here on Norfolk Island. Minister Burke said the Sirius tells an important part of Australia's story, "It is a critical part of the colony of New South Wales. It's a critical part of Norfolk Island and put together, it's a part of the heritage of the nation we all call home."
The site as it is listed covers all the areas that artefacts were found during the four official expeditions that occurred during the 1980s and the last one in 2002. Over 3,000 artefacts were recovered which are now exhibited and cared for by the Norfolk Island Museum. A number of objects are on loan to the Australian National Maritime Museum, including one of her anchors.
The video “Search for the Sirius” is shown at the Pier Store Museum where the artefacts are exhibited. This tells the story of the official expeditions and is well worth viewing. We also have a number of books for sale that tell the story of the life, wrecking and recovery of the Sirius artefacts. These are available at the REO Café and Bookshop and the Pier Store museum. Our web site launched in 2009 tells the complete story of the Sirius and can be found at www.hmssirius.com.au
On this small island so far from the major cities on the mainland our museum is responsible for, and displays the artefacts from Australia’s most important shipwreck. Alongside the Sirius collection, we have of course, the KAVHA collection – an array of over 6,000 artefacts that have come from the archaeological digs in World Heritage Listed KAVHA. Our own Norfolk Island collection includes artefacts from the Bounty (such as the cannon, kettle and plate), Pitcairn Island, the Melanesian Mission on Norfolk, the Resolution and other aspects of daily life on Norfolk since 1856. These are collections that visitors will travel to Norfolk Island specifically to see. We are indeed privileged to work with them on a daily basis and have them entrusted to our care.