Category Archives: Archaeology

Re-imagining Pandora

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.

In 1790, HMS Pandora sailed out of England with a clear mission: to find the HMS Bounty and its 25 mutineers. Pandora reached Tahiti in March 1791, and captured 14 of the mutineers, restraining them in the makeshift prison cell on the stern deck, ‘Pandora’s Box’. Leaving Tahiti in May 1791, Pandora spent the next several months searching for the remaining mutineers on other islands in the South-West Pacific, including Samoa, Tonga, Rotuma and Tokelau. On the eventual journey home to the United Kingdom in August, after failing to track down the nine other mutineers, Pandora ran aground and sank whilst attempting to traverse the Torres Strait.

The wreck remained undisturbed until 1977. Upon discovery of the shipwreck site, the Queensland Museum conducted several archaeological expeditions between 1979 and 1999. The extensive excavations unearthed a significant amount of the buried ship’s hull, as well as the well-preserved collection of artefacts now held by the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.

When Pandora sank, so did almost everything on board the vessel. The Queensland Museum team uncovered a large assemblage of artefacts that shed light on the everyday lifestyle on board the ship during its eventful journey, as well as a range of Polynesian artefacts that the crew had collected whilst on the islands.

Among these Polynesian objects were a collection of fishhooks and shanks made from mother of pearl shell. Research on the collection deduced that the shell shanks, in particular, were parts of fishing lures used for trolling bonito fish. When suspended in water during use, the lures resemble small fish moving in the water, and attract the predatory bonito. After over 180 years underwater, the other distinguishing features of the lures – the hook and plant fibres – disintegrated prior to discovery of the wreck. The shanks, therefore, cannot be linked to one particular area, as this kind of lure was not only common in French Polynesia, but in a variety of regions across Oceania. They came in a variety of forms, colours and sizes, depending where they were manufactured.

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MA7901 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.
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MA8098 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s
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MA8023.1 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland is the display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’. As part of the display, artist and anthropologist Tokainiua Devatine created an art installation inspired by the many pearl shell shanks from the Pandora wreck. In his artwork, Tokainiua aimed to represent the variation in the pearl shanks, displaying different sizes, colours and forms of the shell pieces in his interpretive artwork.

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Art installation created by artist Tokainiua Devatine, currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
People in French Polynesia still use bonito lures made from mother of pearl shells to catch bonito fish. Although, today metal hooks and synthetic fibres are used on the lures, instead of the natural fibres and shell or bone hooks used when the Pandora’s crew acquired the lures.

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E40896 Bonito lure. PhD student and curator Jasmin Guenther purchased this lure in French Polynesia in 2018.

Alongside the pearl shanks found on the Pandora wreck site were several pearl fishhooks. Fishhooks used in French Polynesia at the time of Pandora’s journey through Oceania also came in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their intended use and associated region. Locals would frequently include the hooks in trade and exchange practices, and European visitors to the islands avidly collected them in the 1700s.

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MA8006 Fish hook fragment. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Unlike the lures, pearl fishhooks are no longer used for recreational or commercial fishing today.

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E40888, E40889. Tahitian artist Hiro Ou Wen created these fishhooks in 2018 as reproductions of the traditional pearl fishhooks discovered at the Pandora shipwreck.

To learn more about the material culture of French Polynesia, and the connection between Pandora artefacts and contemporary art in Oceania today, visit the Museum of Tropical Queensland and experience the current display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

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.

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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.

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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

A compass gimbal from Mermaid

Written by Carl Tanner, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

The final part of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches.

The shipwreck

HMCS Mermaid was built at the Howrah Dry Docks on the Hooghly River in Calcutta, India, in 1816, by the shipwrights Thompson (Phipps 1840:108, 123). Built out of Indian teak, it was iron-fastened and clad in copper sheathing along the keel (Hosty 2009:17). Designed as a cutter, it was originally rigged as a one-masted ship, but was refitted later into an armed, two-masted schooner (Hosty 2009:17; ANSD 2017). The ship displaced 83-85 gross registered tons, was 17m in length, 5.48-5.6m in beam and had a draught of 2.7m (Hosty 2009:17; Phipps 1840:123; ANSD 2017).

Continue reading A compass gimbal from Mermaid

A porthole from Gothenburg

Written by Tia Eagleson, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

Part of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches.

 The shipwreck

The site of the Gothenburg wreck is in Flinders Passage, North QLD (Latitude: -19.37 Longitude: 148.06). Gothenburg was built in the UK in 1854 by Mr. John Scott Russel. The vessel, a twin-screw steamer, has numerous features in view at the site of the wreck which are indicative of the build of the ship. These consist of two compound single screw engines each with 60 individual horsepower, two decks and three masts and a female figurehead with an elliptical shaped stern. The dimensions of the ship were 59.92m in length, 8.6m in width and 3.23m in depth. Overall, the vessel weighed approximately 737 tonnes. This shipwreck is identified as number 2563 (Australian National Shipwreck Database; Central Queensland Herald 1931:13).

Continue reading A porthole from Gothenburg

Copper-alloy sheathing from Coolangatta

Written by Caroline Mercer, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

Part 3 of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches.

The shipwreck

Coolangatta was built by John Brinksell in 1843 in Shoalhaven, New South Wales (NSW) (Davidson 2014). It was commissioned and owned by Alexander Berry, who named the brigantine sailing vessel after his property in the area (Potts 2010). The boat’s life was largely spent transporting goods up and down the eastern coast of Australia, bringing materials such as coal to the north and most often returning to Sydney with a cargo of timber (Potts 2010). At the time of the wrecking of Coolangatta, it had recently delivered coal to Brisbane and was starting its return trip back to Sydney when it was wrecked. On 19 August 1846, Coolangatta was driven ashore during a gale as it attempted to enter the Tweed River (Davidson 2014). The ship was abandoned by the crew and Captain Steele, after it was stripped of any removable gear and rigging (Davidson 2014). A couple of months later there was an attempt to repair the vessel, with Brinksell being brought up from NSW to repair the damage on the port side (Davidson 2014). However, shortly after the wreck was lifted onto rollers, another gale forced it into a worse position and the keel broke, ending any hopes of repairing the ship (Potts 2010).

Continue reading Copper-alloy sheathing from Coolangatta

A sperm sewing machine oil bottle from Aarhus

Written by Tate Devantier-Thomas, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

This is part of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches. Continue reading A sperm sewing machine oil bottle from Aarhus

An earthenware bottle from Yongala

Written by Robyn Blucher, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

This is Part 1 of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches. Continue reading An earthenware bottle from Yongala