The Norfolk Island museums offer e visitors the unique multi-layered history of the island, which was first settled by Polynesian people, then in 1788 by the British, who made the island an infamous convict colony. Since 1856, the island has been home to the descendants of the Bounty mutineers.
There are four museums located in heritage buildings in Kingston and showcase Norfolk's past as well as the present living culture.
Kingston with heritage-listed buildings. Photo by Author.
Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area is one of 11 historic sites forming the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property.
In July 2010, the Australian Convict Sites was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List Collectively. The sites are representatives of the global phenomenon of the forced migration of convicts.
No. 10 Quality Row
The HMS Sirius Museum is located on the corner of the Compound, on Bounty Street in the former Protestant Chapel.
Sirius Museum. Photo by Author.
The building is known as the former Protestant Chapel as it was built in 1840 as a chapel for the convicts in the Second Settlement during the time of the reformist Commandant Alexander McConochie.
After the close of the settlement, the building fell into disrepair by the 1870s. In 1985, modifications were made and it became a Maritime Museum for the Norfolk Island Museum and continued with this use till 2004 when it was then used as a theatre. The HMS Sirius Museum was opened in January 2013.
The HMS Sirius Shipwreck has an outstanding national significance and it is considered the most devastating shipwreck in Australian history. The archaeological remains of the Sirius represent a tangible connection with the early migration of Europeans to Australia.
After six months of strenuous 15,000-mile journey, the First Fleet arrived from England to Australia. Commander Arthur Philip guided the First Fleet on board the HMS Sirius to Port Jackson on 26 January 178, one of the most important moments in Australia's history and it is celebrated each year as Australia Day.
Sirius's Commander Arthur Philip went on to become Australia's first colonial Governor.
The Sirius was the main form of defence for the colony and the primary supply line and communication with Great Britain and the rest of the world. Governor Philip sent the HMS Sirius and the HMS Supply to Norfolk Island with convicts and Royal Marines to explore Norfolk Island for farmland.
By February 1790, the shortage of supplies at Port Jackson was critical and the settlement was in danger of collapse and abandonment.
The new settlement under the leadership of Governor Arthur Phillip relied completely on provisions sent from around the globe, despite the Aboriginal communities feeding on the land for thousands of years.
Photo by Author.
The penal colony in Norfolk Island depended on the settlement in Port Jackson for provisions and food supplies. In 1788, Captain John Hunter on board the HMS Sirius went to Canton in China for much-needed supplies to take to Port Jackson and to Norfolk Island.
On 13 March 1789, both HMS Sirius and the smaller ship HMS Supply arrived at Norfolk Island, but the weather was so bad that it made the landing of the provisions and people impossible in Sydney Bay (current Kingston).
Both ships had to sail around to Cascade Bay and by the 15 March, all the people had been put ashore. The weather kept worsening and the ships had to sail away and returned after three days at Sydney Bay.
The ship supply managed to get completely unloaded and the Sirius was just starting to load the longboats when the strong wind started to push both boats towards the shore.
From the wreck. Photo by Author.
The ship supply, being smaller and free of cargo, was able to steer away but Sirius struck upon a reef of coral. There was no loss of life and as soon as Sirius ran aground, crew members threw supplies overboard, hoping some would make it to the shore.
One tonne anchor, carronades, cannonballs were recovered from the shipwreck. Photo by Author.
A rope was sent to shore fastened to a barrel thrown overboard from the Sirius. The people onshore people rescued everyone on board by fastening the rope to a pine tree to help the Sirius crew to get to shore.
Painting from the Commissariat Museum. Photo by Author.
A few convicts volunteered to rescue the livestock on the Sirius but they broke into the rum storage, got drunk and caused a fire on board, destroying much of the so desperately needed supplies.
Photo by Author.
The already starving community of Norfolk Island doubled overnight. The ship that was to help them was destroyed and there were more people to feed. In order to survive, the Norfolk Islanders started to hunt the migratory petrel birds nesting on Mount Pitt. About 200,000 birds were taken and eaten.
A few months later the birds were driven to extinction on the island. The birds took the name of "Providence petrel". The petrel number never recovered and they never returned to nest on Mount Pitt.
Sirius was then stripped barren because of the much-needed hardware on the colony. Timber, sails, masts, spars and cannons, personal items, tools and utensils. It was surprising that 200 years later a team of maritime archaeologists were able to find thousands of artefacts from the site of the wreck.
The museum displays a one-tonne anchor, carronades, cannonballs and delicate pieces from the Officer's Quarters.
Over 6,000 items have been recovered from the wreck site, which lies about 100 metres away on Slaughter Bay reef.
In 1973, an expedition recovered the anchor from the shipwreck. In 1985, a second expedition recovered a variety of artefacts including commons and personal items belonging to people on board.
Divers examine HMS Sirius. Photo fromhttps://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-25/first-fleet-wreckage/3599962?nw=0.
In the museum, the reasons why the Sirius was at Norfolk Island and the circumstance of the wrecking are fully explored in a 20-minute video "Search for the Sirius", which tells the fascinating story of the recovery of the objects during the 1980s'.
Items from the wreck. In particular, the first item on the right is a brass Furniture Fitting. From the museum: "A delicate cast brass furniture fitting represents a classical urn surrounded by an oval wreath of laurel leaves. The attachment on the reverse has corroded away, but is likely to have been a screw, enabling the fitting to be fastened as a mount to a piece of furniture or to the wall". Photo by Author.
From the museum: "Brass Sextant The sextant is the most convenient and accurate hand instrument for measuring angles, whether horizontal, vertical or inclined. By measuring the angular distance between the Moon and the Sun, or a fixed Star, early navigators were able to determine the longitude of a place. According to Admiralty instructions, ships' officers and the master were expected to provide their own navigation instruments, charts and nautical books. This piece could well have belonged to one of the officers". Photo by Author.
The journey of the First Fleet is celebrated in this museum. A touch-screen computer contains biographies of all who landed at Botany Bay in 1788 and a unique First Fleet Wall provides the opportunity to view the names of all those who made the journey.
Descendants can purchase and have mounted on the Wall a timber disc engraved with their ancestor's name and also sign a "Descendant's Book" containing a page for each First Fleeter.
The museum had a collection of books on sale.
Photo by Author.
Book on sale in the museum. Photo by Author.
In eighteenth-century Britain, the children were tried at the age of seven and some as young as nine were transported to the colonies. Their names may not be familiar, but one of these child convicts would become the first person hanged in Australia, Thomas Barrett. Another would be celebrated on our twenty-dollar note, Mary Reibey, a convict woman who arrived in Australia and later became an astute and successful businesswoman running her shipping and trading enterprises. A third convict, Thomas Rudd, would count a future prime minister as a descendant. Thomas Rudd was sent to Australia in 1801 for a seven-year sentence for stealing a bag of sugar.
Opening Hours, Tag Along Tours and Tickets.
HMS Sirius in a painting. Photo fromhttps://arthurphillipchapter.weebly.com/hms-sirius-flag-ship-of-the-first-fleet.html
Single Tickets: Adults: $10.00, this is for entry to anyone museum for a single visit.
School-age children visit the museums: Free.
Explore four museums at your leisure with the Museum Multi Pass for $35.00
It includes multiple entries to all four museums at any time during your stay, as well as two guided Tag-A-Long tours. These tours include a guided journey behind the scenes, to reveal additional stories from the museum collection and Norfolk's history. There's no need to book, simply turn up on the two mornings that suit you. All tours leave from the R.E.O. (Royal Engineers Office) Bookshop beside the Kingston Pierat 9:30am and take approximately an hour and a half.
Opening hours of the museums Monday to Saturday 11:00am to 3:00pm.
Tag along tour schedule:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Commissariat Store and No. 10 Quality Row
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: Sirius Museum and Pier Store
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