Well, that’s a pickle!

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories

Sometimes when working with the collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, you see an object that just makes you stop in your tracks. The object featured today is one that really made me stop and think. So what is it?

A bottle of pickled onions. Exciting, I know!

This bottle was manufactured by Nuttall & Co in Lancashire, England between 1873 and 1887. It was then transferred onto the Scottish Prince, where it would become part of the cargo travelling with passengers on the vessel from the United Kingdom to Australia in the late 19th century.

MA3148 pickled onions A

On the 2nd of February, 1887, the Scottish Prince was making the final stage of its journey under the command of William Little, sailing into Moreton Bay, Queensland. William Little left the ship that night, with a less-experienced Second Mate in charge of the vessel. Just before midnight, the Scottish Prince ran aground at the southern end of Stradbroke Island.

More than 60 years later in 1955, the ‘Under Water Research Group of Queensland’ discovered the wreck. The site was explored and, in many cases, pillaged by divers collecting souvenirs and scrap metal.

This bottle of pickled onions was uncovered from the Scottish Prince wreck in 1974, by Mr Elliott. He collected it before the implementation of the Historic Shipwreck Act in 1976, which enacted new regulations that protect historic shipwrecks in Commonwealth waters, and maintain their use for educational, recreational and scientific purposes. In 1993, an historic shipwreck amnesty was established which encouraged divers and other private collectors to declare their artefacts from shipwrecks older than 75 years, without charges being laid, in order for the Commonwealth to document and create a more complete understanding of the existing artefacts and heritage of Australian Maritime history.

Pickled onions 3

Elliott declared this object at the time of the amnesty, and in 2017, donated the bottle of pickled onions to Museum of Tropical Queensland, where it became a valued addition to the Museum’s Maritime collection.

The bottle – with the lid still intact, and the onions inside still preserved – has lasted throughout its tumultuous history with almost no damage! Another interesting element is that the lid was made with a lead seal, which would have heavily contaminated the contents of the bottle had they ever been consumed. So no, even if we wanted to crack the bottle open, we couldn’t eat these pickled onions anymore! Created in the late 19th century in the United Kingdom, and then remaining – untouched and undamaged – underwater for almost 70 years in Australian waters, this object has lived a very interesting life, and seen things we can only imagine.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland