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Big Tim History - LONGBOAT TALES 3

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Writing about longboats and ships is (for me at least) quite fun and nostalgic.  Sadly Pitcairn doesn’t have the ready supply of cargo ships and tankers that they used to get.  That’s why writing about it hearkens back to a time that I personally feel should not be forgotten, so future generations can get a glimpse of what life was like fer uwas sullun back den.  You may think I am in a contemplative and nostalgic mood, and you’re right.  It’s one of those weeks.  On with the stories…


I may as well just start on from last week with stories from Number 3.  On one occasion, they had visited a ship where the steward of the vessel was stingy and belligerent, and was not willing to do any trading.  Naturally, this left a bad impression with the crew of the longboat.  As they were leaving the ship, Gifford (seriously, his name crops up a lot in these boat stories) asked Renk (Reynold Warren), “see ha man in white gut hem stripe orn his shoulder (in other words the aforementioned steward)?”  Renk replied “you mean da use fer bout a weckle (weckle = food)?” Gifford replied “da’s the one!”  Renk did that smile of his and stated, “waell, da we ought to tek him up in hem apple, un cut et down orn top!”  Of course, most Pitcairners and Norfolk Islanders would know what he meant, but for those who don’t know, Renk was basically saying that the steward should get a tree (rose apple) cut down on him.  The reason I put this little story in is because statements like this should be preserved, even after people like Renk and Gifford have passed away.


Now that we have seen a ‘bad’ steward, now let’s get to a ‘good’ steward.  Once when the ship Halifax Star visited, Tonick (Anderson Warren) really wanted some nuts for trade, and when he sought out the steward, the steward happily told him that he will give him a whole bunch for free.  Tonick, however, being a fair-minded gentleman, insisted on paying.  The steward would not hear of it, and the banter went back and forth until the steward smiled broadly, saying something along the lines of “I will give you these nuts for free or not at all.”  Tonick reluctantly, but at the same time quite happily conceded and got his nuts.


As there are different impressions of different ships, here are two others.  During the early 1970’s, there was a Dutch vessel that stopped.  As my father said about it, trade aboard was terrible, so “we se in a boat fer whistle blow!”  But on the other hand there was the Reiderstein in the early 1970’s that stopped at Pitcairn and when the Pitcairner’s came out they found that places had already been prepared for them in the dining room to eat with the passengers.  It was vessels like the Reiderstein that left a lasting impression on the island for their kindness and generosity, which the people of Pitcairn appreciated and when possible, they repaid in kind.  This mutual gesture has been repeated, such as when the ship Santos Star approached, with the captain asking ahead if Pitcairn had any chocolate to trade.  Now this is pretty much a unique request, since Pitcairn ain’t known for its chocolate trade.  But people pooled together and got chocolate that they had traded for on previous ships and the ship stopped for forty-five minutes with good trade.  It departed with everyone quite happy from the visit, especially the chocolate-supplied captain.


Finally there is the visit of the Bethioua on December 3rd, 1976.  It was a brand new tanker with a full cargo of fuel.  The captain contacted Pitcairn beforehand and asked for permission for the ship to stop.  Of course, permission was readily granted, and the Bethioua  stopped at the island for the entire day.  The visit was prosperous enough, but the grateful captain then arranged for sixty drums of petrol to be given to the people of Pitcairn as thanks for such a wonderful visit.  Even today my father speaks very fondly of this captain.


That’s it for this week, some tales of positive and not-so-positive visits from ships.  I’ll cook up something different for next week.

Photo 01:  One of the Longboats from the 1970’s working alongside a ship.  Photo by Terry Young.


Photo 02:  The last Pitcairn-built Longboat preserved in Adamstown.  Photo by Terry Young.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

I have an interest in Bounty relics.  Many of these items pop up every so often (usually in the form of copper, nails, or cannonballs), while some have pretty much “been around” openly for quite a while (the anchor, cannons, swivels, ballasts, manuscripts...I wish).  Then you have relics that are not from the Bounty or are suspect in origin, and I will discuss one of each of those in this week’s article.  Please note that when I talk of the “dubious” item (the bell), it is my opinion brought about by what I know.


Bounty had a few anchors of varying sizes, and as we all know, one of the bowers was raised in the 1950’s, preserved and mounted in the main square in Adamstown where it sits today.  What of the rest?  Well of the other large bowers, they were cut when the Bounty departed Tahiti under the mutineers (both times).  Now one of these was believed to have been found in the 1930’s and raised.  It remained in Tahiti for a short time before it found its way into the Auckland War Memorial Museum where it remained until the 1990’s when it was indefinitely loaned to the Auckland Maritime Museum where it stands today (I’m quite sure it’s still there, but it’s been a while since I’ve been inside).  Around the year 2000 I worked for a few months there as a volunteer and had access to the anchor.  My initial excitement fell flat when I saw it was different from the one on Pitcairn.  Comparing it to measurements and pictures I had of the Pitcairn one, I came to the conclusion that it couldn’t be off the Bounty.  Some years later I asked Dr. Nigel Erskine and he confirmed it, stating that the design came from the early 1800’s.  I did pass this on to the museum, but when I was last there (about ten years ago), they still had a sign stating that it was the Bounty’s.  Verdict:  Not a genuine Bounty artefact.


This next artefact I’ve written about before elsewhere (I really need to go through and see what topics I’ve covered for “Norfolk Online” and make sure I don’t double-up).  On Pitcairn, in a private collection there is a rather large bell that is missing its crown.  It must have been quite impressive in its prime, but as a child I remember seeing it inverted and used as a flower pot.  And yes, some said it was from the Bounty.  Of course, even as a kid this always had me excited...the bell of the Bounty...its voice!  But there was one dampener, and that was what some in my family said of its history.  They said it was a gift from a navy ship in the late 1800’s!  Though still unsure, I measured it and took extensive photos in 2003.  A source who reviewed this information was of the opinion that it was probably of Spanish/South American make.  Eventually I found something in the archives which tipped my opinion in favour of the non-Bounty stance.  What follows is my pieced-together history of the bell:  In April, 1881 the HMS Thetis visited Pitcairn, and her commander, Captain Stevens gifted a bell he had obtained in Coquimbo, Chile.  The gift was appreciated and was mounted in the square and used for many years.  It was said to be very loud and could be heard anywhere on the island.  In the 20th century sometime, one of the island men who saw a ship on the horizon “he go down un club ha bell!  He da rough he brekk off ha top un ma-owloo et, senden ha bell to hell” (those were the words of my grandmother)  In other words, he rang it so hard it broke off the top.  It remained as a gradually forgotten ornament until the current owners took it and made it into a pot plant and is now on display at their house.  Verdict:  In all seriousness it is a fascinating artefact in and of itself, but in my opinion the evidence weights against it being from the Bounty.  Perhaps the real one exists somewhere on the island, buried and forgotten...or maybe it lies buried in the growth in Bounty Bay.


Well, that is it for this week.  For some reason I feel like building a model of the Bounty...

PHOTO 01:  The genuine Bounty anchor on Pitcairn today.

PHOTO 02:  The dubious Bounty Bell.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Some years ago I wrote this article for another publication, and while delving into my John Tay for the last three weeks I came across it and decided to rewrite it for Norfolk.  Anyway, I love building scale models (as I may have mentioned once or twice during these articles).  I started off building ships, but have since primarily focused on airplanes and such.  I have bungled a lot of times in the pursuit of my craft (pretty much like my writing).  Many years ago while building one of my little warships I accidentally shoved a hobby knife through my thumb, and yes it was extremely painful and left a nice scar on it even today.  Well this week I’ll talk about a model subject that actually crosses over with Pitcairn...guess what?  It’s not a Bounty.


In 2011 I saw this “new” kit of a Supermarine Walrus (a British amphibious plane from the World War II era) by the model company Airfix. Since it was going cheap I leapt at the chance to get my hands on it (usually I collect the Luftwaffe, but I do branch out every now and then).  The box art was of a Walrus being chased by a couple of Mitsubishi Zeros between two islands.  At the time I didn’t look too closely, but me and the wife stopped by a magazine shop on the way home and I found the monthly Airfix magazine with the artwork on the cover (it was also the centrefold).  Picking it up I noticed of the islands looked VERY familiar.  So I looked closely, recognizing the landscape, houses, trees...and it struck me.  It was Pitcairn Island, only flipped horizontally.  Then I remembered something about the history of Pitcairn and it all came together.


On August 4th, 1937 the HMS Leander visited Pitcairn and the other three of the Pitcairn group.  Aboard was a Supermarine Walrus that was launched over all four of the islands and photos were taken (getting copies of those photos are on my to-do list).  As an aside, my Great Aunt who is still alive and living in Auckland now, was a little girl at the time and she and her father were tending the gardens up near Gannets Ridge when the Walrus roared past.  For the Pitcairners it would have been fascinating, since back then it would have been the first plane to fly over the islands (during the war a German Arado 196 flew over Henderson and perhaps Pitcairn).  It definitely had an impact on her because she remembers it so clearly, even describing the weather and mentioning small details on the plane itself (she said it did a low pass...awesome!).  I have since showed her the pictures from the Airfix box and she nodded and recognized Pitcairn, but she said that the Walrus was fairly accurate looking but it was the wrong colour.  You see, in reality it was a silvery colour and not camouflaged.  It was fascinating listening to her talk about the plane and her memories of the Leander’s visit.  The event was also memorable enough for a postage stamp to be made to commemorate the event.


As for the plane itself, soon after leaving Pitcairn it crashed in Wellington harbour with no loss of life due to the landing gear still being down when it landed, and the wreck was hauled aboard the Leander, deemed a total loss and pretty much scrapped.  The model I received was deceptive, since the box was new, but the model itself came from a mould made in 1958 and hence the reason it was so cheap.  Drat, now I want to find a proper Walrus model!


So I am wondering if it was just a fluke that Pitcairn was on the box of the reboxed Walrus?  Neither option given in the build represents the Leander’s Walrus (both dating from 1945 and beyond).  I have emailed the artist but received no reply so I can only speculate.  But I do have a piece of Pitcairn in my model collection that is not the Bounty.




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