North Queensland Museum Development Officer, Ewen McPhee, has continued to work with the Norfolk Island Museum on a project detailing the material culture from Pitcairn Island.
With the permanent population on Pitcairn Island decreasing, the Norfolk Island Museum decided to start documenting the material culture that is held in the Pitcairn Island communities on Norfolk Island and in New Zealand (Auckland and Wellington). The Norfolk Island Museum was also interested in looking at collections that were held in other museums to ensure their own collection policy, research and interpretation planning was well informed and appropriate.
Janelle Blucher,Team Leader of Heritage Management, at the Norfolk Island Museum applied to the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust for funding to undertake this project. This funding was successful and in February 2016, Ewen joined Janelle on Norfolk Island to start the project.
Initially the aim was to try and identify objects that arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856 when the entire population of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk Island. This trip was undertaken on the vessel Morayshire and has been well documented in historical accounts. Janelle and Ewen were particularly interested to find out which objects the Pitcairn Islanders deemed important enough to bring with them on this initial voyage from Pitcairn Island.
Community recording days were held at the Norfolk Island Museum where people were encouraged to bring in their objects and retell their family histories and stories. Janelle and Ewen developed a standard recording sheet that in time will inform a database of community collections that will be maintained by the museum.
The response on Norfolk Island was very positive with Pitcairn Island descendants and other members of the community, including collectors, bringing in their objects to the Museum. Janelle and Ewen were able to photograph, record and document information about the families and the objects over a number of days. They were also invited into private homes where they viewed many larger items such as Boston whalers rocking chairs, photograph albums, paintings and souvenirs. Objects that Norfolk Island community members brought into the museum included yollo stones, baskets, hats, wooden carvings, a signed cricket bat, painted Hatti leaves, photographs, letters, bibles, turtle shell hair combs, and dolls.
Ewen and Janelle then traveled to New Zealand to the cities of Auckland and Wellington where they continued the community recording. In Auckland they were shown contemporary weaving of baskets, hats and mobile phone covers, along with tapa and print making items. More yollo stones appeared, along with a whalebone picker used to thatch house roofs with, wooden souvenir boxes, Hattie leaves, painted coconuts, woven fans, baskets and a top hat. Ewen and Janelle also visited the Auckland Museum where they were shown the collection of over 11000 stone tools that were acquired by the Museum. All of these items, held in the archaeology collection, pre date the arrival of the HMS Bounty on Pitcairn Island but nevertheless add to the body of knowledge surrounding the occupation of Pitcairn Island. In Wellington, Janelle and Ewen made contact with Pitcairn Islanders and their descendants as well as visiting the Alexander Turnbull Library and Te Papa Museum to view their Pitcairn Island collections.
Possibly one of the most prized objects brought out from Pitcairn since 1856 is made from stone, a vesicular or aerated basalt stone, fashioned into a functional Polynesian style domestic item known as a ‘yollo’ stone or a food grater. Measuring approximately thirty by twenty centimetres this rectangular shaped stone is scored across its surface and used to grate or ‘yollo’ breadfruit, banana and yams. This food preparation tool made from Pitcairn Island’s basalt is still used by some, and is highly valued by island families on Norfolk and also by Pitcairn families now living in New Zealand.
The Te Papa collection revealed an exquisite whalebone tapa beater, a wooden candle holder with an inscription of the Bounty story, painted clam shells, a wooden magic box, contemporary tapa, and other souvenir trade items.
Also in Wellington, Janelle and Ewen met with the donor of a collection of glass plate negatives taken in 1928 and now in the Alexander Turnbull library. These photographs clearly show what life was like on Pitcairn Island in 1928 and are an important snapshot in time for further family history and documentary work. The Library also contained an 1814 account by Royal Navy Lieutenant Willis on approaching Pitcairn Island complete with a narrative and paintings. Other objects included newspaper cuttings, photographs, and souvenirs.
Janelle and her team at the Norfolk Island Museum are continuing to collect information and developing the database. The Norfolk Island Museum facebook page has been used to connect with the Pitcairn community and shows more photographs from the project.