Monday, August 31, 2015

MMAPSS Success

We are delighted to have received notification from the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS) of our successful grant application to undertake the ‘HMS Sirius Collection Condition Assessment 2015’ project. 
Established in 1995 MMAPSS provides funding to support Australia’s maritime heritage. It is jointly funded by the Australian Government and the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM).  The Norfolk Island Museum has been extremely fortunate to have been the recipient of numerous grants over the years; grants that have assisted us in caring for the HMS Sirius Collection and funded the research, conservation, care and display of various aspects of Norfolk Island’s maritime heritage.

This year’s project provides for a conservator from the ANMM to visit Norfolk Island to conduct an assessment of the condition of the HMS Sirius Collection, the proposed date for the visit is February 2016.  In 2012 the collection was relocated from the Pier Store Museum into a dedicated HMS Sirius Museum, this is in the old Protestant Chapel or the Prince Phillip Youth Centre as some of us will remember.  This dedicated museum offers better environmental conditions than the Pier Store.  The collection is continuously monitored by the museum staff and preventive conservation is applied to ensure it remains stable in the new environment. 
However, it is seven years since a qualified conservator has undertaken a whole of collection condition assessment.  In this time not only the collection on display has been exposed to movement and a fluctuating environment, but the collection in storage has been rehoused into micro-environments.  This amount of changing activity to the collection now requires an assessment to record its condition. It is hoped the assessment will record the collection is in a good condition due to the environmental improvements over this time.  
Sirius artefacts raised from the seabed

Janelle Blucher

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Volunteers come at the right price. They are priceless!

It has been an extremely busy and productive past couple of weeks at the museum as we have benefited from the valuable skills and time offered by two wonderful volunteers.  Sue and Don Brian are not strangers to Norfolk; they left the island eighteen months ago after living here for five years.  Don taught science and chemistry at NICS and Sue volunteered her time to the museum four days a week for the most of that time, Sue had to have Wednesdays off from the museum so she could attend to weaving with the guys at the Golden Orb, and if she wasn’t at either of those places, you could find her volunteering for the National Park.  Outside of these times they were involved in many other charitable activities supporting the island. 
What they have achieved for the museum these past two weeks is just remarkable.   

Sue developed a template that enables us to upload multiple entries into our database in one single upload.  This is no mean feat considering there are more than eighty fields and multiple layers of classifications necessary for the cataloguing.   This template has enabled us to finally upload the Les Brown Collection of over 1,000 files, plus books and images into our database.  This week Sue has uploaded more than 2,000 entries into our database.    Sue’s previous volunteer work with the museum was mainly in the field of conservation, with a science background, she was perfect for the job, this week she has been able to provide instruction in conservation techniques to Gaye Evans, who has recently joined us at the museum.
Don originally planned for a one week holiday and extended to two.  He was kept busy for the first week digitising our entire collection of cassette tape recordings.  This digitising work is done in ‘real time’, outsourcing for this project would have cost hundreds.  Amongst this collection of cassette tapes is a recent donation by Chris Nobbs including nineteen oral history interviews he conducted during the 1980s and ‘90s, now we can hear those voices and listen to those stories.
Both Sue and Don have been enthusiastic researchers of everything ‘Norfolk’ even after they left the island, Don has taken on many interesting research projects himself and Sue has recently focused her research time on the shipwrecks of Norfolk, this research can now be seen on the Australian National Shipwreck Database, you can access it at
The final day of their ‘holiday’ on Norfolk was taken up with performing the next step in the conservation of the artefacts recently recovered from the works in the Blacksmith’s Compound.  More than one hundred ferrous objects were brushed and then placed back into fresh solutions of 2% sodium hydroxide; this part of the conservation process is to remove the corrosion causing chloride from the objects.  Sue’s work on the cataloguing template will be greatly appreciated again when it comes time to record these items into our database. 
These are the major projects accomplished during their two weeks on island, there were many other tasks completed along the way.  Sue and Don, your generosity and achievements are immeasurable, a huge thank-you to you both from a truly grateful Norfolk Island Museum.  Come back soon ..okay!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Carronade’s Tampion

Earlier this year we announced that a tampion (or tompion) had been brought back to the island after being at the Department of Materials Conservation at the Western Australian Museum for twenty two years undergoing conservation.  This tampion had been discovered in one of the HMS Sirius carronades when it was recovered from the wreck site.   We are delighted to finally have this object on display in our HMS Sirius Museum in a special cabinet constructed by K.C. Industries.

Myra Stanbury, now an 'Honorary Research Associate' at the Western Australian Museum, was the Registrar during the expeditions to recover the Sirius material from the reef.  She travelled to Norfolk in March this year as a guest presenter for the ‘225th Anniversary of the wrecking of the HMS Sirius’, bringing with her the tampion.  She said “In the process of conserving the second carronade recovered from the Sirius wreck site a disc-shaped, lathe-turned wooden tampion (or tompion) was found in the muzzle of the gun. 

Made of maple (Acer sp.), the plug was designed to prevent the penetration of sea water into the bore of the muzzle-loading gun which could cause rust to develop and render the gun unserviceable. Sometimes the tampions were carefully sealed with tallow or putty to make them watertight. This appears to have been the method employed on the Sirius carronade as a ‘waxy-oily’ layer of material was removed from the machine-turned inner surface of the tampion before it was placed in a treatment solution to remove some of the reactive iron corrosion products.Attached to the inner side of the tampion was a lanyard consisting of two 34-cm lengths of twisted twine. This was spliced to a ball of string wadding that fitted snugly within the 131 mm bore of the gun. When loaded with a clean round shot to fit the gun the ball of wadding in the muzzle would prevent the displacement of the tampion by the impact of the round shot as it rolled back and forth in the barrel with every roll of the ship. In this way, sometimes helped by the addition of olive oil or other suitable lubricant into the chamber of the gun, the bore was kept in good condition while at sea”.

This tampion is a very significant object. Not only is it a very rare example of a complete tampion of this period, it is now displayed beside the carronade it was recovered from, and the carronade itself is rare for its early short barreled design –  and it is on display within several hundred metres of the site of its recovery.  Come to the HMS Sirius Museum and take a look for yourself, remember entry is free for residents.   (Our image shows the tampion on display.)

And last but not least, I want to say a huge thank you to two amazing people who have volunteered their time at the museum last week.  Some of you may know David and Michelle Cullen being regular visitors to the island, they have been working hard in the Guard House completing a huge task of sorting papers, creating files and entering data.  I think we’ve exhausted the island’s supply of manila folders.  Thank you, thank you …. and see you again next year.

Janelle Blucher

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Touching History


This is exactly what 8th generation First Fleeter descendant Andre Forrester did in our museum this week, touched a tangible connection to the history of his forefather.

‘Do not touch’ is a general rule in our museums, particularly when it comes to metal, the moisture, oils and salts on your skin transfer to the object encouraging corrosion.  However, this particular metal object has a sign beside it which reads ‘please touch’.   This object is a ballast block recovered from the wreck of the HMS Sirius during the ‘2002 Sirius Expedition’ the fifth and the last maritime archaeological expedition conducted on the wreck site of this flagship of the First Fleet.  

This iron ballast block has a long conservation story. For many years it has been immersed in a caustic solution undergoing an electrolytic reduction process to remove the chlorides from the metal.  This took multiple changes of more than 120 litres of solution, rinsing and maneuvering of a block weighing in at approximately 100 kg, hundreds of chloride readings and plenty of patience.  Then it was necessary to remove the remaining accretions cemented onto the block, and finally it was ready for applications of rust converters and waxing.  It is these applications and layers of wax that is providing the protective coating that enables it to be ‘touched’.   To list the names of the people that have supported the Norfolk Island Museum with the conservation of this object over so many years, are too many.  However, we’d like to say thanks to Shane McCoy from the Administration Works Depot for his recent work on the final stages and preparation for display.

This is a wonderful addition to our HMS Sirius Museum, housing the most extensive collection of cultural material from the First Fleet.  The First Fleet consisted of eleven ships, nine of these were privately owned and two British naval ships, carrying over 1400 people they left Portsmouth in May 1787 to arrive at Port Jackson in January 1788, these people are the founders of modern Australia.

Andre’s ancestor Robert Forrester was a convict in the First Fleet, making his voyage to Australia on one of the privately owned ships, the Scarborough.  Originally sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for stealing six guineas in gold with a couple of other characters, his sentence was later reprieved to 7 years transportation.  Robert came to live on Norfolk Island between the years of 1791 and 1793 holding a grant of 12 acres at Mount Pitt Path in Queenborough.  Robert Forrester’s descendants have come back to Norfolk to make it their home.  It was an honour to ask Robert Forrester’s descendant Andre to be the first First Fleeter descendant to ‘touch’ this link to his history.

Janelle Blucher