Category Archives: museums

The British Museum – a fleeting visit.

Why fleeting you might ask? Well in a nutshell, the visit occured a couple of years ago during a whirlwind trip to London with the family and after a protracted visit to the Natural History Museum followed by getting distracted by a well known sci-fi shop I was left with a mere two and half hours to see the Museum…As some of you are well aware this is not nearly enough time and so it was, a fleeting visit.  The following are a few of the photos I took along with brief explanations.

One of the first gallerys I made my way to was the early Medieval gallery – I had long wanted to see the artefacts from Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, the famous Anglo-saxon ship burial.  Sutton Hoo is located near Woodbridge in Suffolk and is the remains of a 6th and 7th century AD cemetary.  Mound 1 was excavated in 1939 providing the world with a fascinating glimpse of the artistic ability of our Anglo-saxon forebears. The artefacts were richer and more intricate than any other found before.

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The most famous face of Anglo-saxon England – the helmet was in in a bad way when excavated and the above shows only the few remaining pieces which could be salvaged.

 

Not far from the Sutton Hoo treasure is the Lewis Chessmen.  These fascinating wee carvings were discovered in 1831 in Uig on the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides).  They are 12th century in date and carved from walrus ivory; it is believed they were originally made in Trondheim in Norway – at the time the Outer Hebrides were ruled by Norway.  A number of years ago, a travelling exhibition on the Vikings came to the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.  Two of the Lewis Chessmen accompanied the exhibition and it was this that inspired me to write “A Viking Moon”.

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The Lewis Chessmen

Staying with the Vikings we have the Cuerdale Hoard from Lancashire.  The display at the museum is only part an enormous hoard of silver found in a lead chest beside the River Ribble.  The hoard itself consisted of 7500 coins and 1200 pieces of silver bullion, weighing in at forty kilograms.  The coins come from a variety of sources – mainly the eastern Viking kingdoms of England but also from King Alfred’s Wessex, Byzantium, Scandinavia, Islamic and Carolingian sources.  The Ribble Valley was an important Viking route between the Irish Sea and York and this may have some bearing on why the hoard was found here.

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Part of the Cuerdale Hoard

Staying in the early Medieval my next photo is of the Burghead Bull.  The town of Burghead in Moray, Scotland occupies part of what was once a Pictish promontory fort of great importance.  The Burghead Bulls were discovered in the late nineteenth century when much of the fort was destroyed to make way for more houses.  Originally there were thirty panels carrying carved images of bulls, now however, only six remain – one of which is held at the British Museum.  They are dated to 5th century AD and it has been suggested they formed a frieze set into the ramparts of the fort and possibly represent a warrior cult which celebrated strength and aggression.  Regardless of what the bull represents it is a fabulous piece of Pictish art.

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Burghead Bull

Travelling back in time I moved onto the Roman and Iron Age galleries (this was a flying visit, I had just recieved a text from an impatient husband…)

In the Roman gallery I took a moment to admire a stone sarcophagus found in London in 1853 within what was described as an extensive Roman cemetary outside the city wall to the east.  It is dated to the early 4th century AD.

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An early 4th century AD Roman stone sarcophagus.

Moving along swiftly I found myself in the British Iron Age and here I had to stop and admire the mirrors.  Of all the artefacts from this period these are my favorite (and no its not because I have vain streak…).  I have long held the belief that mirrors were more than a toilette item for these were never true mirrors that the modern person might be familiar with.  Their surfaces were often burnished bronze and would at best reflect a fuzzy image.  Instead I would suggest that the surface of a mirror acted in a similar way to the reflective surface of lake, pond or well providing access to the otherworld – a liminal space/place.  Such places are well documented as being special, the vast numbersof artefacts found deposited into watery places at this time speaks for itself.  Furthermore, it is surely no coincidence that later myths and stories use a mirror as a storytelling device (think Snow White).

 

Then of course something shiny caught my eye, first the Snettisham Torc and then the twisted gold torcs from the Ipswich Hoard.   The Snettisham Torc was discovered in 1950 near the village of Snettisham in Norfolk.  It is made up of a kilo of gold mixed with silver, there are 64 threads and each thread is 1.9mm wide, eight threads were pulled together and twisted then all were twisted again to make the torc.  The terminal ends are hollow and were cast from a mould.  The torc is dated to between 150BC and 50BC.  The Ipswich Hoard was the second hoard to be found in the area, the first being Anglo-saxon in date.  This particular hoard was discovered during the construction of a housing estate in 1968 by a digger driver and consisted of six twisted gold torcs.  These torcs had less silver in them which has led the musuem to date their manufacture to around 75BC.

 

Finally I wound my way through the Egyptian gallery and down the stairs to meet up with the family who were marvelling at the large statues from the ancient world.  The following is a selection of the photos from this part of the museum.

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There was so much else to see but I simply ran out of time and as we were flying out the next day any other sight seeing would have to wait until another visit – although I have heard recently that there are plans afoot for a downloadable VR experience for those who can’t visit in person.

Below are a few links which relate to the above photos.

The British Museum

Sutton Hoo – The National Trust

The Lewis Chessmen

The Snettisham Torc

List of Iron Age Hoards in Britain

The St Kevern Mirror

 

The Mercury Bay Museum

Whenever I go somewhere new my first stop (after a leg stretch and a coffee) is usually to the local museum.  I have a deep fondness for museums and the people who put their heart and soul into their creation and upkeep.  The Mercury Bay Museum was one of those musuems where the peoples love of their town and surroundings was evident.

Our first visit to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula was in the winter and unfortunately the musuem was closed however we had much better luck on our second visit.  Situated on The Esplanade just opposite the wharf, this small but well thought out musuem tells the history of the area beginning with Kupe who gave the local area the name Te Whitianga nui a Kupe or The Big Crossing Place of Kupe.

Originally the site of the museum was an urupa or cemetary for  the local Maori iwi called Ngati Hei up until the 1870s.  But when European curio hunters violated the tapu of the site members of the Ngati Hei removed the remains of their people and reinterred them safely elsewhere.  The Maori history of the area represents only a small part of the musuem and was my one criticism of this otherwise outstanding museum.  The displays of Maori artefacts were not clearly labelled and the display was largely restricted to the walls of the walkway as you entered and could be easily overlooked – personally I think the museum designers may have missed a beat in down playing the 800 years or so of Maori history.

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Examples of Tahanga basalt stone tools (and other random stone tools) – this material was traded far and wide – the lack of information on this dispay was disappointing, only personal knowledge helped be identify what the objects were.
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Poster on the wall about the Tahanga basalt quarry at Opito
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A display of Maori digging sticks.

The Museum is very child friendly – my daughter in particular enjoyed dressing up as Captain Cook who visited the area in 1769 on the HMS Endeavour.  It was he who gave the area its European name of Mercury Bay after taking his longitude and latitude from the viewing of the transit of the sun across the planet Mercury.

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Time to dress up…

As you head further into the museum there is a significant display on the wreck of The Buffalo which gave the local beach its name (Buffalo Beach), the Kauri room and shanty shack – Kauri were an important part of the economy in the 1800s, either as logs or from the fossilied resin/gum – a 1950s school room, a 1960s bach, a smithy, two rooms displaying birds of the area and displays regarding the importance of the fishing industry (commercially and recreationally) and agriculture to the area.  A butter churn display harks back to the days when the museum was once a dairy factory producing butter from cream from all over the Mercury Bay area.  The musuem also holds an extensive collection of photos covering the life and times of Mercury Bay and its residents.

A Second Visit to the Mercury Bay Museum – February 2022

It had been a while since we had visited the Coromandel and even longer since we had been to Whitianga, so after many months of not venturing far from home we decided to have a short weekend break away.

I had heard that the Museum was in the throes of upgrading and improving many of its exhibits. A visit was needed to see for myself the work that was being done. Although the main bones of the museum are still intact and there is still work to be done, it was obvious the direction the museum was taking. Early Maori and their subsequent interaction with James Cook and his crew when he arrived in the bay was the focus for the front section of the museum.

The rest of the museum was divided into distinct sections, the story of the Buffalo now had it’s own dedicated space, along with the story of the Kauri forests and the wildlife (past and present) of the area. Farming and fishing – the two main industries of the Coromandel – also had obvious and dedicated areas. Within each space there were opportunities for visitors to engage with the exhibits such as the ‘excavation’ of remains from the Buffalo or the watching the process of a milking pump.

All in all it was another enjoyable visit to the Mercury Bay Museum – I look forward to visiting again when all the work has been completed. The following are a few photos of this most recent visit.

A good use of space under the ramp leading down into the museum connecting the panels on early Maori to the time of Cook’s visit to the bay.
An audio visual presentation of Captain Cooks visit to the area alongside sections of his journals.
The brand new section on the past milling/logging and long term protection of the kauri forest.
An information board on the different types of fishing methods – good to see that traditional methods have been integrated as part of the story.
Everyone’s favourite – the moa…
There is a tendency for museums to over stuff the displays when it comes to rural life in the past – it is often hard to absorb information when there is so much clamoring for your attention. The above display was easily digestible with just the right amount of information to hold a visitors attention.
A small but perfect display on the Women’s Institute.
www.mercurybaymuseum.co.nz

A Day Trip to Kawau Island

Blue sea, blue sky, warm sunshine and a gentle breeze.  It was a perfect day for a trip to the beautiful island of Kawau in the Hauraki Gulf .

Kawau Island is roughly 8 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide, its highest point is Mt Grey at 182metres above sea level.  Kawau is the Maori word for cormorant and although these birds may appear plentiful today it is undoubted that in times past they would have been far greater in number.  For those wishing to experience island life access is by the service known as the Mail Run. The ferry to the island leaves from the seaside hamlet of Sandspit, just north of Warkworth and about an hour from Auckland. Full of day trippers slathered in sunscreen it visits the various wharves dotted along the sheltered side of the island delivering the mail, groceries and other goods.  For the visitor it is a good introduction to an island which has only two short private roads and where the majority of properties rely on access to the sea.  Neighbours visit neighbour either on foot or by boat and kayak.

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School House Bay – there is no longer a school on the island. The few school age children go to school on the mainland.

Island History

Prior to the Europeans Kawau was often fought over by local Maori.  During the 18th century a ‘pirate’ like group of Maori lived on the island – there are at least three known pa sites (two on Bon Accord Harbour and one in the north of the island).  According to tradition the Kawau Maori would attack other Maori travelling around the island, something which was not tolerated for long.  Eventually, other local iwi (tribes) from the mainland banded together and attacked the Maori of Kawau.  Those on the island were completely massacred and tradition says a large feast ensued at Bostaquet Bay.  A tapu was placed on Kawau making it no-go area for Maori – the tapu is still in place.

The next important phase of the history of the island began in 1842 with the discovery of copper and manganese.  Miners were brought in from Wales and Cornwall to work the mines and smelting works.  The population of the island at this time was approximately 300.

The remains of the smelting works can be seen in Bon Accord Harbour just along from the present day yacht club.  On a small point between Dispute Cove and South Cove there is also the ruins of pumphouse constructed to alleviate flooding issues.  The pumphouse would not look out of place in Cornwall.  In 1844/45 the mine produced some 7000 pounds of Copper which represented a third of Auckland’s exports for that year.  Unfortunately issues with flooding, shipping and infighting resulted in the mines being closed down in 1855.

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In 1862 Sir George Grey, then the Governor of New Zealand paid 3,700 pounds for Kawau Island and turned it into a private retreat.  He turned the former mine managers house into the imposing mansion you see today and imported many exotic plants and wildlife to the island.  In 1888 Sir Grey sold Kawau and Mansion house had several owners and in 1910 it became a guest house and a popular retreat for Aucklanders.  The last private owner sold the house in 1967 to the Government for inclusion in the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park.

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Mansion House, Mansion House Bay – the ferry drops people off here to swim, picnic and walk island paths.

However it was not until the late 1970s was a plan put together to preserve the historical character of the island and thus the house.  Today 10% of the island is in public ownership as the Kawau Island Historic Reserve (and includes Mansion House and Bay) which is administered by the NZ Department of Conservation.   One of the many ongoing issues faced by the island is the damage done to the native flora and fauna by Sir Grey’s introduced species, namely the wallabies and possums.  Both animals have been responsible for the destruction of much of the native bush.  However, slowly but surely the tide is turning and now there are kiwi, bellbirds, tui, kereru and more returning to the island.  Kawau Island is in fact home to two thirds of the entire population of the North Island weka.

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One of the many weka who frequent the picnic benches…

 

Kawau Island 2022

It was another sunny day and the ferry ride out to Kawau was as always a lovely way to spend the day. Unlike the previous visit, several years earlier, Mansion House was open to visitors. An opportunity not to be missed. 

The following photos are of the interior of the house, in the main room there is a display of ethnographic and Maori items loaned to the Mansion House from the Auckland Museum. 

 

Life has been a little strange in the last two years but spending time on the sea and on Kawau was the much needed balm to soothe those frayed edges. Its peace and tranquility (even with peacocks) allowed the mind and soul to reset itself and I for one came home feeling refreshed and ready for whatever else might come my way.

It is a highly recommended day trip…