Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk Island Museums’

Norfolk Island Museums #4, June 26th 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 28, 2018

The Sirius Museum is the smallest of the Norfolk Island Museums, and really, there’s not much to see, but it’s the most poignant.

Sirius shipwreck signage 3 (excerpt)

‘What will become of us God only knows’… was surely what the unlettered among the ‘500 souls’ were also thinking when they found themselves stranded on Norfolk Island after HMS Sirius was wrecked on the reef.

L to R HMS Supply & HMS Sirius

At the entrance to the museum there are scale models of the HMS Sirius and its much smaller companion, the HMS Supply. While the Supply was the smallest (and fastest) ship in the fleet of 11 vessels bound for Botany Bay to establish a penal colony there, the Sirius was the flagship. Armed with 14 cannon, 6 carronades and 8 swivel guns, its length on deck was 118 ft (almost 36 m) and it had a tonnage of 512 tons. Almost as soon as he arrived at Port Jackson in January, Governor Arthur Phillip despatched the Sirius to take control of Norfolk Island and set it up for commercial development of its timber and flax. After the other ships in the fleet returned to England, the Sirius was to become the Sydney settlement’s insurance against starvation and their only link to the rest of the world.

replica of HMS Sirius

The Norfolk Island Pine turned out to be too soft for masts and spars, and the flax was the wrong species for cordage and sailcloth, but the small settlement at Kingston became an essential source of food supplies for the Sydney settlement because the soil and climate was more benign. The original 15 convicts and seven free men under the leadership of Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King were soon supplemented by more convicts and soldiers to reduce pressure on provisions for the colony at Sydney. So though the Sirius was actually en route to China to buy some much needed tools and other hardware and was only intending to drop off more convicts and personnel en route, the fatal voyage was not the only one between the two settlements.

The Supply landed first and unloaded, moving out of the way so that the Sirius could dock. But when the weather worsened, it was the more nimble Supply that could manoeuvre to safety, while the Sirius came to grief on the reef before unloading.

cannonballs

HMS Sirius anchor

Disastrous as it was, the loss of the Sirius could have been worse. Signage tells of the ingenious methods used over two days to winch those on board to safety and to salvage provisions and weaponry. Signage also relates the escapade of convicts Dring and Branagan who discovered the grog supply on board, got drunk, and set fire to the ship. Another convict unnamed in the signage swam out, put out the fire and returned the two convicts to justice – which could easily have been the gallows but they were spared that (though not severe punishment).

The ship finally broke up two years after wrecking.

ship’s bow

What the signage doesn’t explain (or if it did, I missed it), is what the Supply was doing after it had manoeuvred to safety on the day of the disaster. I think she must have continued on to Batavia where she was bound and then returned to Sydney woth fresh supplies without calling in at Norfolk Island. (But why didn’t she hang about a bit, to be sure that Sirius survived the hazardous landing on that fateful day? I bet their respective captains had a ‘bit of a tense chat’ when they were reunited, because Hunter and the crew were marooned on Norfolk for eleven months before the Supply eventually returned. In the interim martial law had been declared and it was in this period that the ‘Providence Petrel’ was almost hunted to extinction in an effort to feed the stranded population. It was not until the following March that King and 22 of the crew returned to Sydney on the Supply and only then did Governor Phillip find out about the disaster.

What must it have felt like, each time their sole remaining ship the Supply set sail out harbour on Norfolk and at Sydney? Everyone must have been well aware that if disaster befell her too, then they were wholly alone until a new ship arrived from England…

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Posted in Museums, Norfolk Island 2018 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Norfolk Museums #3, June 26th 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 28, 2018

Pier store museum

The tourist brochure about the Pier Store Museum has this to say:

The legendary mutiny on board the Bounty has been portrayed in no less than five Hollywood movies, but the true story is to be found here along with major Bounty artefacts.  Life on Pitcairn Island and the resettlement to Norfolk in 1856 are also told.  Today’s rich local culture, including Norf’k language, is revealed in this museum.

Which is to say that it’s a bit of a mish-mash, neither chronologically nor thematically coherent. Still, there’s some interesting stuff.

Journey of the longboat

There’s a scale model of the Bounty and its cannon, and a wonderful painting of the Journey of the Longboat, showing the fragility of the craft into which Bligh and his supporters were despatched by the mutineers.  How he ever got them safely to land (with just a sextant hurled to him from the ship) is a miracle, and one injustice which the museum seeks to rectify is Bligh’s reputation.  Signage tells us that he was actually quite enlightened for the times, that deaths onboard were rare, and that contrary to the dramatic scenes in the movies, he didn’t keelhaul anybody.  The amateur historian in me isn’t exactly sceptical, but I’m mindful that he’s the one who got back to England with a legacy to protect, and that when the mutineers landed on Pitcairn, all the Bounty’s logs were burned along with the ship to avoid detection.

There are also some miscellaneous bits and pieces, not authentic enough for the 2nd settlement period of the House Museum, but interesting in their own right.

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In marked contrast to the prominence given to WW2 history on New Caledonia where they have a whole museum dedicated to it, there’s only a little bit of signage about Norfolk Island in WW2. Due to its strategic position in the South Pacific, the island was used as a staging post for aircraft, a base for submarine patrols and as a refuge for aircraft in distress.  Perhaps because it was manned by Kiwis and not by a huge influx of US servicemen WW2 didn’t have the same social impact on Norfolk Island as it did on New Caledonia, where the racial mix today is evidence of fraternisation to say the least.  But as at New Caledonia the infrastructure built to service military needs was a great benefit to Norfolk Island although the signage gives very little credit to this.  Indeed, the only decent roads today are the ones built back then, and the 20-bed hospital was built then too.  (I keep getting reminders that there’s no money for community infrastructure in a tax-haven.) The biggest benefit was the building of the airstrip, which linked Norfolk Island to the world by air, enabling the growth of tourism and facilitating imports of fresh produce not available on the island.

WW2

There is also, inevitably, more about governance than any tourist wants to know…

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Norfolk Island Museums #2 June 16th, 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 28, 2018

I’m catching up on touristy things that we did two days ago because we spent yesterday doing more energetic explorations and when we got back to the cottage there was a really good book that I just had to finish reading.  (See anzlitlovers.com/We Are Not Most People.  I’m drafting this offline, so I haven’t got the URL)

So…

No 10 Quality Row is called the House Museum, because it’s been restored and refurbished as an authentic 2nd Settlement house for one of the officers.  (The 2nd settlement lasted from 1825-1855).  No 10 was built in 1844 as a residence for the (very busy) Foreman of Works, Thomas Seller.  He lived here with his manservant William Jenkins while supervising the building of the other residences, but before the house was built he lived in a wattle-and-daub hut.

Seller, a free settler who arrived in Sydney in 1833) had a wife and two children, but he came here to Norfolk Island in 1839 without them.  Having read some accounts of how women were distressed by the treatment of convicts in the penal colony on Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania), I can guess why she stayed in Sydney with the children.  I’m not at all convinced by the signage’s claim that by the time the Orfords family took up residence,  life was so far removed from the hardships and cruelty occurring just down the road that ladies sitting on the verandah to do their needlework were oblivious to it all.

One of Seller’s pastimes was painting, and his ‘Kingston from Flagstaff Hill’ is still hanging in the bedroom.  The other interesting feature is the trapdoor between the beds.  What was that for, I wonder?

During the Third Settlement, heralded by the arrival of the community from Pitcairn Island in 1856, the house was home to Isaac Young and his wife and 15 children. (Goodness only knows where they put them all!) They lived in the house till the early 1880s, and then a Methodist minister called Phelps moved in.  They called it the Faith Home of Norfolk Island, and converted 100 C of E believers to Methodism.  It reverted to C of E custodianship after that until the murky politics of Norfolk Island governance intervened. Since (despite the best efforts of assorted tour guides) I am sooooo not interested in that, (and neither are other tourists who say they are also sick of it) – suffice to say that this house and all the other buildings on this world heritage site now belong to the Commonwealth Government of Australia.  (And presumably, the restorations were done under their auspices.)

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Posted in Historic buildings, Museums, Norfolk Island 2018 | Tagged: | 4 Comments »