Monday, February 27, 2012

Conservation of the Try Pot

Janelle Blucher has been very busy over the past week getting stuck into conservation work on one of the try pots upstairs in the Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery. The work is included in a Post 1856 Maritime Project funded by a grant from the Maritime Museums of Australia program Support Scheme (MMAPSS). This project will overhaul our whaling and Resolution stories on display in the Pitcairn/Norfolk Gallery in the Pier Store.

The pot’s later life was connected to Norfolk’s whaling days as it was used during the 1880s to render down whale blubber for oil. During the 19th Century the conversion of blubber to oil, or try-out work, was done in round bodied, large mouthed iron cauldrons of 150 to 250 gallons capacity. The cauldron was placed on either an iron or brick base forming a small furnace into which was added a fire box. Once heated, sections of whale blubber and meat were placed into the pots and rendered down, this practice continued until the pot was full of oil. The oil was then extracted from the try pot and placed in cooling tanks or kegs. The method employed on the island during the 19th Century was often crude, with no attempt at refining or grading the oil. This caused overseas consignees to complain of uneven quality and bad colour.

While we now describe the pot as a try pot, using its more modern purpose to describe it, it was originally a boiler used during the Second Settlement. The pot bears the marks B ↑ O and the date 1846. The BO stands for Board of Ordinance and the arrow is of course, the broad arrow marking government ownership. Cooks used the pot to prepare meals for the convicts, with the fat from boiling meat floating to the surface. British naval traditions were that each mess of six men had their food (salted meat or dumplings) boiled in a bag tied with an identifying tag. A man from each mess was delegated to collect and serve up the food to his group.

During the past few weeks Janelle has been using mostly manual methods to remove corrosion – hand brushing with a wire brush. The pot has quite a large crack in the base making it very difficult to work with and it’s unable to be moved for fear of the crack enlarging. There’s not a lot of room between the floor and the bottom of the pot resting on wooden chocks, so Janelle has had to quite creative developing methods to get into the hard to get at places! She has applied a corrosion converter to the inside and will do the same to the outside next week. As there are some areas she literally can’t get at right underneath the pot, she will wait to be satisfied with the state of the metal before she decides wether it needs a protective coating or not.

Monday, February 20, 2012

70th Anniversary of Norfolk Island Airstrip

Christmas Day this year will mark the 70th Anniversary of the first ‘unofficial’ landing of an RNZAF plane on the Norfolk Island airstrip. The plane delivered food and Christmas parcels to the Kiwi forces stationed here during the war and no doubt took some of the limelight from the first official landing of two Hudson bombers on the 28th December. Three more planes landed the following day. The drama, and excitement, of war was well and truly upon the island. Throughout the duration of the war, an average of 200 planes a month staged through Norfolk, bringing sixteen different types of aircraft.

While today it is almost impossible to imagine coming here any other way than by air, up until 1942 the only option was by ship. No enemy invasion occurred on Norfolk during the war. However the impact to the island was possibly far greater than any previous event, leaving profound changes that are still with us today. The airstrip opened up the island to the outside world like never before.

It was Japan’s entry into the war in 1940 that dramatically changed the island’s war time role. To begin, a small Australian detachment of fifty-seven men was dispatched to reinforce the local detachment and prevent sabotage of the cable station at Anson Bay. This was where the cable from New Zealand joined the Pacific Cable, linking Australia and Canada via Fiji.

However it was Norfolk’s unique and strategic position in the South Pacific that brought her fully into the war. The US Navy & South Pacific Commander, Vice-Admiral RL Ghormley decided that an airstrip would be ideally located here. It would be a staging depot for land-based aircraft moving over the waters between New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia and the Solomons; a base for anti-submarine patrols, and refuge for aircraft in distress. With an airstrip, Norfolk would have a role as a centre for maritime reconnaissance and surveillance.

The site was chosen on the south western side of the island. In total 171 ha of land was compulsorily acquired, representing one eighth of the island’s total area - a vast amount of land to be given by Islanders for the furtherance of the war effort. Aside from the removal of many family homes, the “Tree of Knowledge”, a large tree where local notices were historically posted was also removed, along with one mile of historic 30 metre high convict planted pines known as “The Pine Avenue”. With the enormous impact to so many families, it is hard to imagine the land being able to be acquired in any other circumstances than war.  

A New Zealand company, the 36th Battalion designated as ‘N Force’, made up of 1,488 personnel was dispatched to protect the airfield. N Force also comprised the 215 Composite Anti-aircraft Battery, 152nd Heavy Battery and a mobile field troop. They were stationed here between 1942 and 1944 and as a result, Norfolk’s war history is closely tied to New Zealand.

The overall effect on Norfolk was enormous. The local population at times was outnumbered by 3:1 from military personnel, with a peak of 2,000 servicemen in the first half of 1943. This brought the island population to its highest ever, impacting on the availability of fresh food. Roads were widened and re-built. A 20 bed hospital was constructed. Islanders’ homes and the Old Military Barracks at Kingston were converted for war-time use. A disused sawmill was put back into operation producing 65,000 superficial feet of timber per month (ultimately leading to a significant loss of timber reserves). And a radar station was built at Mount Bates by the RNZAF in May 1943 serving to save both lives and aircraft.

The photo is of the first official landing and is from the Road Transport Authority. There are plans to mark the 70th anniversary at the end of the year with exhibitions and displays and other events. The story of the making of the strip, its war time use and post war impact on the island is a big story. As the details emerge we’ll keep you posted.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Short Land Pattern Musket

The International Clay Target Championships are being held this week on Norfolk Island and the shooters may enjoy reading about a very special musket on display in the Pier Store Museum. We have a replica brown bess musket, officially known as a Short Land Pattern Musket on display with our HMS Sirius collection. During the Sirius expeditions recovering artefacts from the wreck site of HMS Sirius Flagship of the First Fleet, a number of brass fittings from this type of musket were found. The replica helps with understanding exactly where they came from on the gun. Myra Stanbury includes the following information the Short Pattern musket in the illustrated catalogue of Sirius artefacts. 

At the time that the Sirius set sail from England, Short Land Pattern flintlock muskets were standard issue for troops, although in practice both Long and Short Land muskets may have been supplied. The Land Pattern series of muskets had been introduced c1730 and served as the basic pattern for British service muskets until the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793. The Short Pattern was officially sanctioned in 1768 and by 1790 had become the standard infantry musket of the British Army.

The overall length of the musket was 581/8 in (1.5m), the barrel length 42 in (1.06m), and the calibre 0.78 in (19.8mm). Brass furniture for firearms was manufactured by brass founders in London or Birmingham according to patterns issued by the Board of Ordinance. The finished components would be sent either to the board’s contractors or directly to the central depot, the Tower of London. From there, sets of components were distributed to a relatively small number of London gun makers known as ‘rough stockers and setters up’ who smoothed and finished the rough wooden stock blanks and assembled the weapons. The First Fleet took along 200 Short Land muskets and twelve sergeants’ carbines, probably Grenadier Sergeants’ Carbines with bayonets, for the marines.

Three brass ramrod pipes, two trigger guards, two butt plates and a wrist eschutcheon were all recovered from the wreck site. Our replica was made in the USA and took several months to arrive due to strict controls on the carriage of weapons aboard aircraft. It is a beautiful piece that shooters and non-shooters alike can appreciate. It helps us to perhaps picture a marine or soldier in 1790, standing on the deck of the Sirius and loosing their musket overboard at that terrible time of impact as the wrecking occurred.