Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Very Speical Loan

Next year the Norfolk Island Museum celebrates its 25th Anniversary. During the last few months we have been thinking about a range of things that we can do to celebrate this achievement, including displaying objects that will have special significance and meaning to the Norfolk Island community. We are very pleased to announce that a loan has been made with the Museum of Tropical Queensland for a quite special object that will be displayed throughout 2013.

The object is a Tahitian food pounder or pestle, or, as it was known in Tahiti, a penu. It was recovered from the wreck site of the Pandora and is thought to have been confiscated from one of the ‘other’ mutineers on the Bounty who did not sail on to Pitcairn Island with Fletcher Christian and the rest of the mutineers. The men it has been associated with are mutineers Peter Heywood and George Stewart who were taken into custody in Tahiti.
L-R: David Buffett, Lisa Richards, Phillip Smith

Heywood and Stewart along with another fourteen mutineers were captured in Tahiti after Captain Edward had been sent by the British Admiralty to find the Bounty ‘pirates’ and bring them home for trial and punishment.  The Pandora arrived at Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Within twenty-four hours eight of the mutineers had given themselves up leaving another six men at large (another two had been killed earlier in a feud). Armed parties were sent out to hunt them down and in a matter of days they were found.

On board the Pandora the mutineers were placed under arrest and shut in a specially built wooden box on the deck, measuring 11 by 18 feet (3.3 x 5.4 metres) and known as Pandora’s Box. This was unusually harsh treatment of prisoners at sea but Captain Edwards had a reputation amongst naval officers for brutality.

On the return voyage to England the Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Thirty four men drowned including four mutineers, one of whom was unable to escape from the wooden box. George Stewart was amongst those that drowned.

The survivors of the shipwreck, including ten mutineers, finally reached Timor in open boats following the route taken by Bligh in the longboats. When they arrived back in England the captives were imprisoned to await trial for mutiny. Four of the mutineers were pardoned following written evidence by Bligh that they only remained on board the Bounty because there was no more room in the longboat. The remaining six were sentenced to death. Peter Haywood and William Morrison were pardoned. William Musprat was released on a technicality but three mutineers Thomas Ellison, Thomas Burkitt and John Millwood were hanged in October 1792.

The simple and beautiful pounder that will be on display in the Pier Store was used to mash, amongst other things taro, which is cooked and then fermented to become a starchy food staple called poi. It would also have been used to pound breadfruit and bananas.

Phillip Smith from the Museum of Tropical Queensland very kindly brought the pounder to Norfolk with him when he travelled here to work on the HMS Sirius collection re-housing project. Prior to departing last weekend he presented it to the Norfolk Island Museum in the presence of the Chief Minister, and Minister for the Museum, Mr David Buffett.

We are very thankful to the Museum of Tropical Queensland for their support in helping us secure this loan. It is not yet on display as the finishing touches to a display case take place however it will be within the next few weeks and will be found on the ground floor of the Pier Store Museum. As a result of the removal of the HMS Sirius collection from the Pier Store, both floors of the building now display the Bounty story and artefacts together with the stories of Pitcairn Island and Norfolk Island. It is a museum that celebrates the history, stories and culture of the people of Norfolk Island. We hope that many people will enjoy viewing the pounder with its special connection to Norfolk’s foremothers and fathers.

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