Thursday, February 17, 2011

Our Harmonium Comes to Life

Jeanine Snell and I had a quite lovely and unexpected experience this week. We were asked by Lynette Leach, visiting with her husband Athol from Williamstown in Melbourne, if she could please play the harmonium on display upstairs in the Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery. The harmonium was brought to Norfolk Island by Pastor Alfred Phelps and his wife Mrs Phelps in 1884. They brought it here for the new Methodist Church which was soon to be located in the Old Military Barracks. The harmonium continued to be used by the Church after they relocated and up until the 1960’s when they replaced it with an electric organ.

Lynette Leach playing our Harmonium
 As so many harmoniums and organs today are electric, there are not too people who know how to play one using the foot peddles and manually operating the stops. Lynette told us that she learnt how to play from her father who had been a Church Minister. Lynette, also a Minister at the Williamstown Church of Christ in Melbourne, has played piano from age five. The harmonium is in working order and as she clearly knew how to play we were pleased to consent to her request. The Pier Store was then filled with the amazing sound of this beautiful harmonium, as Lynette played well known Church hymns as well as the Pitcairn Anthem, Gesthemane and Oakleigh. It was a very special and quite emotional experience hearing the harmonium being played and to hear those hymns by Driver Christian, George Hunn Nobbs and Gustav Adolph Quintal reverberating through the Pier Store. In a cabinet beside the harmonium sits the tuning fork owned by George Hunn Nobbs, which was then passed to Driver Christian and then Gustav Quintal. The playing was a powerful reminder of the strong musicality and musical legacy left by not only these men, but so many Pitcairn Islanders and past Norfolk Island generations.
Mrs Phelps

Pastor Phelps from the book "Gathering Jewels"
The story of the Phelps’ and their bringing of Methodism to Norfolk Island was not without controversy. Pastor Phelps was an American Methodist missionary and he and his wife arrived on the island specifically to start up a Church. They began meetings in the home of Parkin Christian and within a few months held their first gospel temperance meeting. However there was great opposition to the starting of a Methodist Church including protests by angry crowds. This resulted in Chief Magistrate Arthur Quintal taking the unprecedented action of swearing in special constables to keep the peace. He said “on account of the numerous uproars and outbreaks of violent deeds between the Church people and the Phelpites I was obliged to adopt severe measures to prevent it, by drawing a line of distinction between the parties with strict orders to refrain from using abusing language against each other”. The congregation grew and within two years they had converted the Old Military Barracks into a church. The opposition did not stop and in 1888 a petition signed by 55 adult male members of the community called (unsuccessfully) for the Phelps’ deportation. Pastor Phelps’ death a few years later and his wife’s return to America slowed things a little, however the Church continued with visiting preachers from New Zealand together with local laymen giving pastoral care until 1902.  In 1903 the Norfolk Island Methodist Church was attached to the Methodist Church in Australia with Rev. R. M. Laverty as Minister. In 1974 the Methodist Church in Australia became part of the newly formed Uniting Church in Australia.

The Harmonium is on permanent loan to the Museum from Alan and Maureen

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Bit of a Mystery

We received an intriguing request from June Ryves last week. Moving her cows into a paddock one morning she came across 4 small, hand shaped balls lying on the ground. Where had they come from? She moves her cows through this area most days and had never seen them before. The next questions were – what are they made of, who made them and for what purpose? Are these old or something someone had recently made?

 We thought we were able to answer the question of what they are made from – viewing the surface with a microscope camera Sue Brian thought that they are most likely coral. However others think that they may be whale bone, from a knuckle or foot bone. Pauline Reynolds-Barff saw them and wondered if they were Polynesian. In Tahiti similar shaped balls made from rock were used as weapons. While primarily round in shape each has some flatter sides, and Tihoti thought they looked as if they have been used as a sanding tool. Pauline took some photos of them and while showing Meralda Warren in Pitcairn, she thought they looked like ones on Pitcairn Island. However she is yet to confirm this and it could be that they are not related at all. Nat Grube and Yoyo were in the office and they saw them – Yoyo immediately said they were like ones they used on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Coral pieces are used there as a sanding implement, gradually forming into the shapes of the balls we have.

Can you help solve the mystery of the four coral balls? If you have any information about what they are likely to be and who would have made and used them, we would love to hear from you. Please give the Museum a call on 23788.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Norfolk Island Effect

An important yet little known part of our island’s history was presented to us this week. A very interested audience was treated to a fabulous presentation by Dr. Miller Goss on The Norfolk Island Effect. Miller is a radio astronomer who spent his career working at places such as the Parkes Radio Telescope, the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico (USA). He and his wife Libby still live in New Mexico.

The story of the ‘Effect’ takes us back to the dying stages of World War II in 1945. At that time Norfolk Island still played an important role due to its location, airstrip and the placement of the Radar Station at Mount Bates. Miller pointed out to us that there are very few places where you can gain a 360 degree view of the horizon, as you can on top of Mount Bates. The COL radar placed there was used to warn of aircraft in the area.
Dr. Miller Goss

One day late in March 1945 Royal New Zealand Air Force Flight Officer, Hepburn, who was in charge of the radar station, noticed increased radiation recordings at sunrise and sunset. We are lucky that Hepburn was alert to the fact that this was something to follow-up on and that he reported the discovery to RNZAF headquarters. From there the information was passed to Dr Elizabeth Alexander of the Radio Development Laboratory of the Dept. of Scientific and Industrial Research in Wellington. She began an immediate investigation. Within weeks similar recordings had been confirmed by other stations in New Zealand and she gave the name to the discovery as The Norfolk Island Effect. What had been detected were Type I solar bursts from an active sun. The news of this discovery had a major impact on science in New Zealand and especially Australia, leading to the Australians becoming a world power in radio astronomy within the next 5 years. The impetus of the Norfolk Island news was a major force in the re-birth of radio astronomy in the post war era.

The fact that today we generally know so little about the Norfolk Island Effect and the important historical role that the radar station at Mt. Bates played is surprising. The ruins of the radar are still there – and in fact Miller was surprised at the amount and intactness of some pieces, as most other stations of this type have all but disappeared. However, despite local attempts in years gone by, there is no sign or information that alerts us to what an important discovery was made at this place in 1945. The challenge of conserving what is left is also there. It is hoped that some re-dress of this may occur through attention brought by organisations such as the Museum and National Parks as well as interested community members.

Dr. Goss beside the remains of the COL Radar at Mount Bates
 Miller’s talk was made so interesting by the stories he told of the people involved in and that their backgrounds, connections and diligence were in no small part, the reason why the discovery was made. In particular he was able to really convey what a remarkable woman Dr. Elizabeth Alexander was. Educated at Cambridge at a time when women were not allowed to be full members of the university she went on to become one of the world’s first female radio astronomers – even though geology was her primary science. Her story of evacuation from Singapore in the days before it fell to the Japanese, her career in New Zealand and finally correspondence on the news of the Effect with colleagues in Sydney, were fascinating parts of Miller’s presentation.

Miller and Libby spent time in New Zealand prior to coming to Norfolk where Miller was able to talk with two of the men who worked at the Radar Station in 1945 and research more about Dr Elizabeth Alexander’s life. His enthusiasm for ensuring that the story of the Norfolk Island Effect is not lost to history was obvious. He left us enlightened on a small but very important part of the history of this island and charged with the task of making sure that the story and relics on Mount Bates do not get forgotten or lost to future generations.