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…
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.