Traders, Travellers, Ships and Sugar

The McLean Museum in Greenock opened in the 1870s, funded by a wealthy local timber merchant from whom the museum takes its name. It was built adjacent to the James Watt Library which had been opened as a monument to the Greenock born engineer and inventor in the 1830s. With the formation of the local philosophical society in 1861, it became increasingly clear that a purpose built museum building was needed for a growing collection. At that time Greenock, which is on the west coast of Scotland along the Firth of Clyde from Glasgow, was a thriving port. It was a centre for trade and export with people using the port to travel in and out of Scotland, as well as being a significant industrial hub. The early collections at the McLean were largely built through associations with wealthy merchants and traders, particularly those born in the Greenock area who had left their home to travel the world but who always considered Greenock home. Knowing there were important collections at the McLean and keen to find out more about them, Chantal and I went to Greenock for the day to meet with Val Boa (Curator) and George Woods (Assistant Curator). George and Val were great hosts and shared their invaluable in-depth knowledge of the museum and it’s collections with us.

View of the World Cultures displays in the upper gallery at the McLean Museum, Greenock.

View of the World Cultures displays in the upper gallery at the McLean Museum, Greenock.


Of all the world cultures material at the McLean, the largest proportion is geographically from Oceania and much of this material is Melanesian. We were delighted to discover on our visit that the McLean have arguably the best collection of New Ireland material in Scotland. These artefacts were donated by Captain David Swan, a Greenock born man who served with the local shipping company Gulf Line for around 25 years in which time he made many journeys across the western Pacific. He was in command of the ship Gulf of Genoa in the 1890s and given that he donated the New Ireland material in 1894 it seems likely he collected it when he was voyaged to New Ireland in 1893/1893 on that ship. The collection includes Malangan decorated with coloured cotton cloth which would have been traded into the island, known as tradecloth, and feathers. Swan also collected body ornaments.
Malangan
Two examples of malagan from New Ireland donated by Captain Swan to the McLean Museum in 1894.

Two examples of malagan from New Ireland donated by Captain Swan to the McLean Museum in 1894.


Chantal Knowles and George Woods discussing some of the malagan pieces in the McLean Museum collection

Chantal Knowles and George Woods discussing some of the malagan pieces in the McLean Museum collection


We were interested to see a collection at the McLean from David M. Ballantine who was Treasurer and Controller of Customs in the British colonial administration in New Guinea. Ballantine, who was also born in Greenock, served under Sir William Macgregor who I introduced in a previous blog – MacGregor donated an important and extensive collection to University of Aberdeen Museums. Ballantine’s material was given to the McLean by his mother Jessie in 1911, two years after his death. It includes neck ornaments, stone headed clubs and other items from South East New Guinea.
One of two ornaments which would be worn held in the mouth when fighting, collected in British New Guinea in the 1890s by David Ballantine, and donated to the McLean by his mother Jessie in 1911. They are made of wood and decorated with abrus seeds, shells and boar tusks. This one has an attachment of barkcloth and red feathers.

One of two ornaments which would be worn held in the mouth when fighting, collected in British New Guinea in the 1890s by David Ballantine, and donated to the McLean by his mother Jessie in 1911. They are made of wood and decorated with abrus seeds, shells and boar tusks. This one has an attachment of barkcloth and red feathers.


The second of the mouth ornaments.

The second of the mouth ornaments.


The Mclean also has some material from Vanuatu from the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, and a small collection of objects from the Solomon Islands. There are several Fijian artefacts, donated by Thomas Steel, an industrial chemist and naturalist who worked at a sugar refinery at Nausori, Fiji. Greenock was a significant location for the sugar industry. Refining began there in in the 1760s. By the end of the 19th century, around 400 ships a year were transporting sugar from Caribbean holdings to Greenock for processing. The most famous company with an active refinery in the town was Tate & Lyle.

Before leaving the McLean we saw this impressive double hulled canoe model with pearl shell inlay and finely woven sails, donated to the 1870s.

Boat model with pearl shell inlay from Manihiki in the Cook Islands donated to the McLean Museum, Greenock in the 1870s.

Boat model with pearl shell inlay from Manihiki in the Cook Islands donated to the McLean Museum, Greenock in the 1870s.


It had been attributed to Polynesia and we were able to be more specific as there is a similar model at NMS which is on display in the Facing the Sea gallery. Details of this type of canoe are published in ‘Canoes of Oceania’ (Haddon & Hornell) and they are from Manihiki in the Cook Islands, Polynesia.

The museum still engages in contemporary collecting, the recent acquisition from the Pacific being material from Papua New Guinea. A large number of the Oceania collections at the McLean Museum are now available to search online and George told us that they are working towards getting the remaining objects digitised. You can access the online database here:
http://mcleanmuseum.pastperfect-online.com/36003cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks
– Eve

An Island Adventure

Sign in Gaelic welcoming visitors to Great Cumbrae

Sign in Gaelic welcoming visitors to Great Cumbrae


We recently visited The Museum of the Cumbraes in the Garrison building in Millport on the island of Great Cumbrae to see their collection from Papua New Guinea. For the project team this was the first time we had visited an island. Sadly we weren’t going as far as the Pacific but we were pleased to find palm trees (technically New Zealand cabbage or ti kouka – EH) in the garden outside the museum…
Museum of the Cumbraes in Millport, Great Cumbrae

Museum of the Cumbraes in Millport, Great Cumbrae


On the ferry from Largs to the island of Great Cumbrae (L-R: Chantal Knowles, Eve Haddow)

On the ferry from Largs to the island of Great Cumbrae (L-R: Chantal Knowles, Eve Haddow)


We visited the museum specifically to look at the collection made by Andrew Goldie. A Millport man, he followed his father into the trade as a nurseryman and in the 1860s left Millport town, on the island of Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde on Scotland’s west coast to spend ten years in Auckland, New Zealand importing plants for the gardens of New Zealand settlers. At the end of the ten years he returned home but soon gained a contract with a garden nursery business in London to travel through the South Pacific and supply the firm with bulbs, plants and seeds. Although a knowledgeable gardener, giving him some expertise in Natural History, Goldie was a Victorian ‘plant hunter’ seeking exotic species for the fashionable gardens of Britain.

In 1877 Goldie travelled to Brisbane where he expected to catch a mission vessel to Vanuatu to begin his search for plants, unfortunately he arrived too late to board and on the toss of a coin changed his plans and headed for New Guinea. Goldie spent the next few years exploring, trading and developing businesses. He acquired land, discovered new species of plants and birds, and named the Goldie River after himself. Over the years he became very much a part of New Guinea life and an important contact for missionaries, museums and colonial officials. He set up a trade store and acquired a sizeable piece of land in the capital Port Moresby and became a well-known figure in New Guinea and Brisbane.

Over the years Goldie’s business grew, he invested in various companies and built relationships with museums supplying Natural History specimens to the Australian Museum, Sydney and later Queensland Museum, Brisbane among others. He also supplied dealers and taxidermists worldwide. On our return to National Museums Scotland we were able to discover through our records that one such dealer E. Gerrard and Sons, London based taxidermists, supplied the museum with 103 items attributed to Goldie. How many other Goldie collections may there be?

These 4 lime spatulas from Papua New Guinea are some of a number of objects at National Museums Scotland we have discovered to have been collected by Andrew Goldie

These 4 lime spatulas from Papua New Guinea are some of a number of objects at National Museums Scotland we have discovered to have been collected by Andrew Goldie


The small but significant collection of Goldie material in the Museum of the Cumbraes has been published in the Queensland Museum reports (see http://www.network.qm.qld.gov.au/About+Us/Publications/Memoirs+of+the+Queensland+Museum/MQM-C+Vol+6#.UvqluPbn1VQ ) and can also be seen on-line (http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/people/key-people/collectors-explorers/andrew-goldie.aspx). It is supplemented with some associated archival material including Goldie’s journal documenting his first voyage to New Zealand, Goldie’s memoirs, the premature announcement of his death in the local paper, a few personal letters, and a photograph of his New Guinea display at the International Exhibition, Sydney. All this makes an interesting and valuable collection and highlights include the shield and hornbill ornament that are on permanent display. The collection didn’t arrive in the museum until the late 1970s having resided in the home of the Goldie family all those years. Whilst clearing the building prior to sale the Goldie family unearthed the objects and donated them to the museum.
There is a permanent display at the Museum in Millport of material from Papua New Guinea donated by Andrew Goldie

There is a permanent display at the Museum in Millport of material from Papua New Guinea donated by Andrew Goldie


At the time the museum curator was assured that nothing remained in the house, however, in the last few months a further collection of bamboo pipes and stone-headed clubs were brought in having been found in the attic. The pipes and clubs add breadth to the collection already in the museum and one of the pipes is decorated by, most likely, a European, depicts stylised ships, men in elaborate dress and fanciful creatures and animals. It is difficult to ascertain who the artist might be – a bored sailor or Goldie himself?
Close up of part of a tobacco pipe which has been in the attic above the old Goldie family home. It was discovered with several other pipes and stone headed clubs last year. We believe this pipe was decorated by a European, possibly a sailor?

Close up of part of a tobacco pipe which has been in the attic above the old Goldie family home. It was discovered with several other pipes and stone headed clubs last year. We believe this pipe was decorated by a European, possibly a sailor?


There are probably other artefacts in Millport and there were certainly a greater number in the past. On our visit Museum Officer Mark Strachan introduced us to Sandy, one of the museum’s volunteers. A retired television and radio shop owner, Sandy remembered fitting the Goldie’s TV aerial in their attic and removing boomerangs and spears to take up on the hills to try out. Sandy also remembered ‘a catamaran’ boat model – most likely a model outrigger canoe – which may yet turn up. So the collection in Millport is Goldie’s mementoes, those souvenirs he brought home with him to Scotland not long before his death. The objects with which he could describe the places, people and things he had seen to his family and friends.
 Mark Strachan, Museum Officer for North Ayrshire Council. Mark is responsible for the Goldie collection and hosted our visit to the museum in Millport

Mark Strachan, Museum Officer for North Ayrshire Council. Mark is responsible for the Goldie collection and hosted our visit to the museum in Millport


Goldie and his collections are well documented but just like the NMS collection we are sure there are more items to discover. For the project it is interesting to connect Goldie’s collections with Custom Officer Ballantyne’s collection in Greenock and Governor McGregor’s collection in Aberdeen giving a sense of Scottish – New Guinea collections and the interactions and interrelations between traders, missionaries and government officers in the early years of the colony.
– Chantal

Widening the search

Last year Eve and I spent intensive periods at each of the partner museums. We were hosted by each institution and project partner member and gained a greater understanding of the collections, their documentation systems and archives as well as having the opportunity for the intensive study of the artefacts themselves.

The standout moment for me was at Perth Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG) when combing the bookcases I discovered an anonymous notebook about the Royal Scottish Museum (now National Museums Scotland). This notebook was packed full of descriptions of the galleries, supplemented by drawings of key objects. The date of the notebook strongly suggested that the unnamed author was a curator at PMAG who had been sent on a ‘field trip’ to Edinburgh to examine the collections and displays. He (as we assume from the staff lists of the time) paid particular attention to object mounts and case furniture and it seems likely this was due to the imminent opening of the new PMAG building and the redisplay of material within.

Front cover of the notebook  from 1933 found  in Perth Museum & Art Gallery which records the Pacific displays at the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (now National Museums Scotland).

Front cover of the notebook from 1933 found in Perth Museum & Art Gallery which records the Pacific displays at the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (now National Museums Scotland).


one of the pages of the notebook found  in Perth Museum & Art Gallery detailing part of the Pacific displays at the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (now National Museums Scotland). The notes and drawings were made by a curator from Perth in 1933.

one of the pages of the notebook found in Perth Museum & Art Gallery detailing part of the Pacific displays at the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (now National Museums Scotland). The notes and drawings were made by a curator from Perth in 1933.

Not only are many of the objects roughly sketched but there is a description of how objects are grouped and how broad themes or regions were introduced using maps and text. As NMS has only one picture of the ethnographic collections on display during that time frame, and it was taken decades earlier c.1895, this provides a detailed description nearly 30 years later. There were several other galleries that had Pacific collections on display but we have no photographic record of them at all. Although a picture can be built up from annual reports, displays were rarely described in detail. Luckily for this project the notebook focuses on the Oceania collections (with some information on the North American and Asian collections) reflecting the bias in PMAG’s non-European material at that time.

The ethnography gallery in the West Wing of the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, c.1895

The ethnography gallery in the West Wing of the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, c.1895

Finally the notebook has a short summary of the documentation systems at NMS, which reads like notes taken from a discussion with a member of staff. This explanation of our use of accession registers, card catalogues and other lists revealed the reason behind certain idiosyncrasies in our documentation sources that I have been puzzling over for many years.

It describes the Card Index which is sorted by region as being associated exclusively with those objects on display and not including items in store. At that time the vast majority of the collections were on display so this explanation accounts for the fact that the card index, although extensive, has never been comprehensive. This use of the Card Index changed in later years (probably the original purpose was forgotten) as the density of objects on display was reduced and gradually some of the missing cards were added. But it is nonetheless useful to understand its early history.

More importantly the notebook provides a written explanation as to the purpose of two volumes known as the ‘Ex-registers’. Objects numbered with a prefix‘X’ were not officially part of the collections but were on display. I had assumed ‘X’ was shorthand for exchange as many objects in the registers had been disposed of and some of them to collectors or dealers. Colleagues in the Science and Technology department also hold X-registers and they had explained that they used them to provide numbers for objects used in displays but not needed in the collections (eg. a lump of coal at the end of a case on coal production in Scotland). This made sense; it provided an audit trail but not a commitment to keeping the object in perpetuity. However, the Art and Ethnography ‘X-register’ contained certain objects of such importance and rarity, such as the stunning Austral Islands headdress below, that it seemed strange to deem it not part of the collections. These headdresses are rare – only 9 are known and even in the early twentieth century they would already be about 100 years old. For years it had perplexed me as to why my predecessors had not understood its value to the permanent collections. Perhaps the answer is in the notebook:

Also a book is kept for specimens that have no data or the data has been lost, and if the data be found it is removed from this book, and entered where it should be. This is called an ‘Ex’ Book.

This explanation entirely concords with the probable provenance for this object. That it was in the University Collection (that was transferred to the museum at its inception in 1854) but the contents of which had remained packed and crated until the 1880s, meaning that much of the associated information was lost. The ‘Ex’ registers are the same format and written in the same hand as the ‘UC’ collection register suggesting that this was part of the sorting process in the late nineteenth century.

The notebook provided me with a reasoning to look through the various archival sources for the University museum to find out if I could work out when it had come into the museum. The university collection archives comprise, a register of specimens and weekly and daily report books. In February 1824, in Weekly Report Book II, is the following entry:

A large box containing three large caps or headdresses ornamented with feathers, one marked “chief’s cap from Rurutu.
The feathers of the headdresses have been partly destroyed by mice, one of which was found dead in the box’

From here I was able to check the register and day books. Unfortunately no further information is given. The headdresses are said to have come in a shipment from ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ or Tasmania. Part of the colony of New South Wales, then under the governance of Sir Thomas Brisbane, it seems likely, though not conclusive, that these three headdresses are associated with Brisbane.

Headdress from the Austral Islands in the collection at National Museums Scotland, A.1966.390 (formerly X.552). This headdress can now be positively associated with the University of Edinburgh Collection and an 1824 date.

Headdress from the Austral Islands in the collection at National Museums Scotland, A.1966.390 (formerly X.552). This headdress can now be positively associated with the University of Edinburgh Collection and an 1824 date.

Through a greater understanding of our documentation we now have 3 headdresses (one, A.UC.439A of which was gifted to the Otago Museum in 1939) that were collected together, in Australia, either from ships, traders or curiosity dealers at sometime before February 1824. This puts these headdresses at being made before this date and concords with the history of the other pieces in museums in the UK.
– Chantal