Posted by Dr Melanie Piddocke
The dedicated volunteers of the Winton and District Historical Society have taken some giant strides forward in their fire recovery process with several objects receiving advanced conservation treatment. These objects were selected for treatment due to the extent of the damage received and their significance. Most of the items had formed part of the recently installed WWI display.
Two candle sticks and a brass cross, both from St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Winton, had received extensive damage as a result of the fire. The cross, originally mounted on a wooden backing, commemorated the sacrifice of Rev. Hulton-Sams, who had served as minister at St. Paul’s Church before enlisting in WWI. Hulton-Sams was killed in July 1915 at Hooge while bringing water to the wounded. The fire had completely destroyed the wooden mounting and the intense heat had buckled and discoloured the surface of the brass. The cross was sent to metals conservator Peter Maxwell, who used specialist techniques to safely straighten the cross and remove the charring to the surface. A new wooden mount was made, and the result is impressive to say the least.
Two altar candlesticks commemorated the loss of George James Fellows at Messines Ridge on 7th June, 1917. Fellows’ eldest brother was minister of St. Paul’s at the time, and the candlesticks formed part of a commemorative area in the Church honouring those who had lost their lives in the service of their country. Although more structurally sound than the cross, the candlesticks had received extensive soot damage to their surface, which partially obscured the original inscription. The candlesticks had received some initial cleaning and stabilization during the MDO visit to Winton in July, but were in need of specialist treatment to restore them to their former glory.
Two textiles also formed part of objects selected for further conservation work. The first of these was a WWI uniform and kit bag which had belonged to Private James Martyr. Pte Martyr enlisted in 1916 and served in France before finally being returned to Australia in 1919, when he managed a sheep property near Winton. This uniform had received extensive damage from soot and debris, and was already fragile from earlier insect damage. It therefore needed particular care in the initial cleaning process undertaken to remove surface soot. It appeared that the uniform and kit bag had also become wet in the process of putting out the fire, which had caused the soot to become further ingrained in the fibres of the uniform. The uniform and kit bag were sent to Tess Evans of Heights Heritage Conservation, as the acidic nature of soot meant it was particularly important it was thoroughly removed to avoid any further deterioration. Tess first had the stabilize the fragile textiles before undertaking cleaning work.
Tess also worked on a WWII Japanese silk flag. Like the Martyr uniform, the flag had not only received soot damage but had also deteriorated with age in a way typical of silk. Not only has the soot damage now been treated, but the weak areas of the silk have been stabilized and the flag now makes a more attractive display item.
Finally, Winton and District Historical Society volunteer Fiona demonstrated her wood restoration skills and has achieved remarkable results with a wall telephone from the museum collection.
The museum welcomed 550 visitors over six weeks when they opened the remainder of their collection to the public in September and October. They are now taking a well earned break and are planning on opening again for Easter 2016. As MDOs, we are thrilled to see the results achieved by the conservators and the support shown by the public in visiting the museum. We are looking forward to working with them in 2016 as they continue to move forward.