History & Technology

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History & Technology

Research and collections that document Victoria's history since European settlement, including community and domestic life, cultural diversity, technological change and innovation, and major historical events.

Cork Colosseum x-ray

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
17 April 2014
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An x-ray machine usually employed for mammography examined an unconventional patient earlier this year: a model of the Colosseum made from cork around 1800. Thanks to generous assistance from Lake Imaging in North Melbourne, object conservator Sarah Babister now has a view inside one of our most curious objects.

Four people discuss photograph Conservators Sarah and Dani show radiographers Jeff and Ghazia a photo of the Colosseum model.
Source: Museum Victoria

cork Colosseum model The facade of the Colosseum model. (HT 24386)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Radiographer Ghazia adjusted the settings of the mammography machine to accomodate this unusual material—cork is much less dense than human tissue—and produced wonderfully clear and informative images of several pieces of the Colosseum.

Woman with x-ray machine Ghazia placing a piece of the Colosseum on the mammography machine.
Source: Museum Victoria

Woman with computer Ghazia adjusting the levels of the x-ray to best show the hidden structure within the cork Colosseum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We think that our Colosseum was built by English model-maker Richard Du Bourg (or Dubourg), but in the absence of a signature, Sarah is looking for characteristic materials and construction techniques that could confirm its maker. Further research by historian (and the museum’s Head of Humanities) Richard Gillespie and genealogist Neil Gill is fleshing out the intriguing story of Du Bourg and his models; Richard recently visited similar objects in overseas collections for comparison. Sarah and Richard will present a talk about the model and its story next month as a part of the History, Cultures and Collections seminar series.

From 1775 to 1819, Du Bourg’s models of classical ruins were the height of fashion and his a well-known London exhibition. “He’s a fascinating character,” says Sarah. Notoriously, his working model of Vesuvius destroyed an entire exhibition when its eruption set fire to all the other models on display. “He lived until he was in his early 90s and even though he’d been very famous he was living in poverty.”

Sarah explains that cork models “were really popular at a certain time and were kept as tools to teach students. Then they fell out of fashion and a lot of them were disposed of.” This may explain Du Bourg’s impoverished old age, and is the reason why the museum has this model at all – in 1929 it was sent from the Science Museum in London to the Industrial and Technological Museum in Melbourne.

cork Colosseum detail Sarah holding a large piece of the Colosseum model.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The model is over a metre wide and in poor condition. The base it sits on is cracked and the gesso applied to the perimeter is flaking, and several sections of wall have broken off. These broken sections are a mixed blessing, since without them there could be no x-rays, which reveal the lead pencil marking lines, and pins and nails used to hold the pieces of cork together. This information may help confirm whether Du Bourg made the model, but will also help Sarah reattach the broken pieces.

X-ray image of a piece of the cork Colosseum X-ray image of a piece of the cork Colosseum. The metal pins, and decorative carvings covered in lead paint, appear white.
Image: Lake Imaging
Source: Museum Victoria
 

“Most of the pieces are there so the model would be virtually complete with the exception of a few small columns which might need to be replicated,” she says. “I’d love to put it back together so it can be viewed how it should be viewed because it’s such an amazing object. The level of detail in the carving is wonderful, and cork lends itself so well to representing that ruinous state.”

To learn what the x-rays revealed, come along to Richard and Sarah's free seminar on 14 May, titled For the Nobility, Gentry & Curious in General: Richard Du Bourg’s Classical Exhibition, 1775-1819.

Links:

Cork Colosseum model on Collections Online

From LaserDisc to high-res Hasselblad

Author
by John Broomfield
Publish date
4 April 2014
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John manages the museum's Media Production and Copyright Department.

Recently a group of aero engines, usually stored high in the storage racks at Scienceworks, was lowered to allow visitors a closer look. This allowed me to photograph them for Collections Online and revisit a job I did at the museum some 20 years ago.

aero engine, side view New photograph of an Austro-Daimler Beardmore aero engine, circa 1914. The design was used by combatant nations on opposing sides during the First World War. (ST 17925).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The first time I photographed the aero engines, I was an Image Capture Officer and Museum Victoria was one of the first institutions to link electronic images of collection objects to a database. I say electronic because these images were analogue, not digital. This period represented the transition between traditional silver-based photography and digital photography as we know it today.

Back then, we captured the objects using a video camera (Super VHS), then transferred video stills onto a WORM (Write Once Read Many) drive LaserDisc. These discs were then sent to the USA to be pressed into LaserDiscs that could be played in domestic machines. The players were attached to computers and search results displayed collection images on a separate monitor.

Although this technique was cutting edge at the time, the starting resolution was only 560x480 pixels, or in today’s terms 0.27 megapixel (a new iPhone has an 8 megapixel camera). Analogue signals suffer deterioration or generational loss each time they are migrated to a new format and our involved multiple transfers – from videotape, to WORM drive and then onto LaserDisc. You can see why some of our legacy images are not quite to the standard we expect today.

grainy photo of aero engine Old LaserDisc image of a Benz IVa circa 1918 230 horsepower aero engine. (ST 034859).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fast forward to 2014: digital photography has evolved to the point where, at the high end, the resolution surpasses what was possible with film-based photography. The equipment I used this time was a Hasselblad H5D, capable of 50 megapixel resolution, which is almost 200 times the resolution of the video/laserdisc system employed first time around.

aero engine, side view 2014 photograph of the same Benz 230 horsepower aero engine. (ST 034859).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Detail of an aero engine Zoom in on the Austro-Daimler Beardmore aero engine photograph. The high resolution captures tiny details like individual stamps on the cylinders. (ST 17925).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Photographing the aero engines presented some interesting lighting challenges. There wasn’t a lot of room to place stands for studio lighting or maneuver the heavy engines with a pallet jack. A large skylight overhead meant I would be struggling to control the natural light coming in from above.

inside collection store The photo setup showing the aero engine on a pallet, the skylight, and the foam reflectors.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The solution was to adopt the skylight as my main light source and use a series of lightweight foam reflectors to bounce the light back onto the engines. I found something appealing in adopting 18th century studio lighting methods in conjunction with modern digital camera equipment. That must be the museum worker in the photographer coming through…

Great Melbourne Telescope volunteers

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
13 March 2014
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Each Wednesday, a dozen or so engineering and astronomy buffs head to a museum workshop to restore one of Marvellous Melbourne's grandest marvels. The Great Melbourne Telescope (GMT), scorched by the Mount Stromlo fires in 2003, is being resurrected thanks to an estimated 10,000 hours of volunteer work (so far). This group recently received a Certificate of Appreciation in the 2013 Arts Portfolio Leadership Awards.

GMT restoration team Mathew Churchward reading out the Arts Portfolio Award commendation to the Wednesday restoration workshop team.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The workdays have "a bit of a men's shed feel about them," says Senior Curator Matthew Churchward. He coordinates the project alongside Curator of Engineering Matilda Vaughan. The combined knowledge in the room – all members of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, many with experience in engineering, electronics, astronomy and optics – means this piece of 19th-century technology is in expert hands.

Three men with computer L-R: Barry Cleland, John Cavedon, new volunteer Norm and Stephen Bentley working on technical drawings of GMT parts.
Source: Museum Victoria

Building telescopes is a common pastime for amateur astronomers; volunteer Barry Adcock has a home-built a 14-inch diameter telescope for his backyard dome observatory, plus another telescope that allows him to view the stars from inside his house. For many, stargazing is a habit they picked up when very young. Scottish-born Jim Pollock recalls a lunar eclipse in 1949 during which the moon was bright blue after forest fires in Canada. "In the atmosphere, tiny particles of pinene, the oil from the pine trees, scattered red light beautifully and just let the blue light through." Another volunteer, Barry Clelland, remembers looking up as a kid from his backyard in the suburbs and thinking, "that's half the universe there. You could see the Milky Way in Heidelberg back then."

On this day, a sub-group is working on the mirror polishing and grinding machine, a beautiful hulking contraption with a cast iron frame and gears and shafts. The GMT's half-ton speculum metal mirrors tarnished over time, so every few years they were removed and reconditioned with this machine. "We're still trying to work out exactly how it was driven," says Matthew. The mirror sits on a rotating table and as it moves, the polishing head also rotates, "so it doesn't get a flat spot in any part of the mirror. It keeps moving as it's rubbing." Or, like "patting your head and rubbing your tummy," jokes volunteer David Linke. The team hopes to have the polishing machine working within the next year as a hint of what's to come with the telescope itself.

David Linke with the mirror polishing machine. David Linke with the mirror polishing machine.
Source: Musuem Victoria
 

In the workshop, parts of GMT are laid out on pallets and benches. With a grin, David says, "it's a big jigsaw puzzle, isn't it?" Above it all, for equal parts reference and reverence, hangs a large-scale historical picture of the GMT in operation.

Museum workshop A view of the workshop with the GMT’s lattice tube in the foreground. On the back wall hangs the large historical photograph of the GMT at the Melbourne Observatory.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most of the large parts of the GMT were recovered after the 2003 Mt Stromlo fires. "Oh golly, it was a dirty job to get everything out of that cube," recounts David. "The aluminium had melted from the dome and filled up the screw holes so you couldn't see where things were undone." Many months of work saw the GMT dismantled and its surviving parts audited. Fortunately, the GMT had an unofficial champion in Barry Clark, who has been involved with the Melbourne Observatory since 1955. At that time, decommissioned equipment went into storage and was at risk of being lost. Says Matthew, "Barry's been instrumental in recovering bits and pieces that were hidden under the floor. He's discovered some key bits of equipment that went right back to the very earliest observatory at Williamstown."

Detail of the dismantled cube of the GMT. Detail of the dismantled cube of the GMT.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Lengthy reverse-engineering is recreating the missing parts. "We go out there with a ruler and pencil and paper, take measurements and sketch it up roughly," says Campbell Johns. The measurements are made in imperial units to match Irish manufacturer Thomas Grubb's original specifications, before conversion to metric for fabrication. Some of the team with technical drawing expertise convert the workshop sketches into digital CAD files. There's a lot of cross-checking with old photographs, drawings and the extant parts.

"We don't even know if there was ever a full set of working drawings," says Matthew. "It appears they did the basic layout and started building it before they had the detailed design. You can see evidence in the way parts were modified during the construction process, like spots flattened out of a casting to make a seat for another component." A volunteer adds, "Pretty amazing given in those days there were no angle grinders or power drills or oxy welders. It was all done with cold chisels."

Three men with computers L-R: Barry Clark, Barry Adcock and Mal Poulton working on optics design specifications for the GMT.
Source: Museum Victoria

So why are these men devoting their spare time to this project? It's evident from the way they talk about the GMT that they admire its history and innovation. In addition to its astronomical achievements, including the first observations of southern nebulae, the ingenious nature of its design bewitches them. It had two axes and counterweights that allowed just one person to move the beautifully balanced telescope. In its lifetime there were larger scopes, but none so nimble. Matthew's view is that it's an opportunity of a lifetime for amateur enthusiasts to build such a large telescope; few individuals would have the resources to do so alone. Other volunteers nominate restoring an important part of Melbourne's history as their prime incentive – they want to see it back in its old home.

Indeed, the end goal is to return the working telescope to the Melbourne Observatory for public viewings. Its original configuration restored, there may be new electronic additions to allow digital photography or remote operation via the web. As Matthew says "It could be very inspiring for astronomy in Victoria."

Links:

The Great Melbourne Telescope website contains the story of the telescope, and updates about its restoration through the ASV's Phoenix newsletter

Follow the GMT project on twitter: @GMT21stC

Great Melbourne Telescope on Collections Online

One-sixty

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
9 March 2014
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Comments (1)

Harry Telford bought Phar Lap at auction for 160 guineas, back when Big Red was known only as "Good Walker, Great Shoulder, Very Strong Made Colt".

horse auction catalogue The page from the Annual New Zealand Thoroughbred Yearling Sales on 24 Jan 1928, with hand-written notes about Harry Telford's purchase. (HT 8465)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There were 160 tradesmen working in the Engineering Workshops of the Kodak factory complex in Coburg.

Photo of Kodak workshop Men operating machinery in the Kodak Engineering Workshop, Coburg, circa 1963. (MM 95964)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Harry Johns drove his famous boxing troupe around in a bright red, customised International AR 160 Series truck.

Harry Johns' boxing truck Harry Johns' boxing troupe truck. (SH 961969)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This centuries-old English penny in our Numismatics Collection was given the registration number NU 160.

Edward 1 penny Penny, Edward I, England, 1280-1281 (NU 160)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

And today, Museum Victoria is 160 years old! On 9 March 1854, the Assay Office in La Trobe Street opened to the public. Surveyor-General Andrew Clarke arranged for two rooms on the first floor of the Assay Office to be aside for the new Museum of Natural History and its collections.

This letter from the Public Records Office of Victoria records the formal permission granted the newborn museum by Assay Master Dr Edward Davy. (We assume Clarke had taken the liberty of moving a few specimens in before the official word arrived.)

Letter from Assay Master Dr Edward Davy Copy of letter to Surveyor-General Andrew Clark from Assay Master Dr Edward Davy, 1854.
Source: PROV

Transcript:
Government Assay Office
Melbourne 28th Apr 1854
Sir,
In reply to your letter of 22nd inst enquiring what accommodation can be given at the Assay Office for receiving Specimens which may, from time to time, be forwarded to the intended Museum of Natural History, I have the honor to state that there are at present, two rooms on the first floor of the building disposable for the purpose referred to.
I have the honor to be, Sir, Your most Obdt Servant,
E. Davy
Assay Master

 

Now we just need to figure out how to fit 160 candles on a birthday cake... I think we're going to need two cakes.

Boy with two cakes Boy with two cakes on his third birthday, Prahran, 1942. (MM 110629)
Source: Museum Victoria

Visitor responses to Inside

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
10 February 2014
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From 29 August 2013 to 27 January 2014, Melbourne Museum hosted Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions. This travelling exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in the wake of the Australian Government's 2009 national apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants.

Visitor comment Comment left by visitor Sebastian that reads, "No child should suffer as much as this. "
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Some half a million children spent time in institutional care during the 20th century and while some feel that they were treated well, others experienced terrible suffering, neglect, and in the worst cases, abuse. This exhibition is presented through personal accounts of people who grew up in care. Sometimes harrowing, often distressing, Inside's purpose is to acknowledge stories that have long been suppressed or ignored.

An area of the exhibition was set aside with slips of paper and an invitation to visitors to record their reflections. Hundreds of visitors filled out a slip of paper and pinned it up, compiling a very intimate account of how they felt about the exhibition. Many of the comments are extremely personal and we thank visitors for sharing their experiences in such an open and honest way.

The excerpts and examples in this post show the range of responses from former residents of Children's Homes, their friends and families, and from people who had no previous connection to this awful part of our country's history.

My father lived in foster care. I still remember the stories of how he was beaten. It's so painful looking at these things. Caterina,19
1930s-1950s St Augustine's Geelong was my father's home from 5 weeks old. Messed him up for life, but he managed to be a wonderful husband, father and mate. Darren, 49
So sad, so ANGRY. Such abuse shapes your life and requires great courage, support and time to work through. Monique, 34
For my Grandfather, placed in the Ballarat Orphanage at age 3 in 1923. We never heard your full story as you didn't want to talk about it. This exhibition has given us an idea of what your life would have been like. May you rest in peace. xx Shaye, 37
Keep the truth shining and justice for all, I was 12 year old when I was put into a home for no reason at all like many girls. I will hold my head up / no shame. Suzanne, 45

Comment Comment left by visitor Claire at the Inside exhibition. It reads, "Words fail me. What I would give to be able to right all the wrongs."
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The homes are still with us today, happy for the ones who have been able to move on. Heather, 70
It was tough there but I turned out all right. Don, 74
I was seven when I was told I had nine other brothers and sisters and I had my first birthday party when I turned 17. Alf, 62
This is an authentic exhibition that reveals a very dark side of Australia's 20th century social history. The personal stories of abuse make me weak. But I do not perceive the story told to be wholly balanced. Mark Scott (MD of the ABC) was a child migrant and internee at Fairbridge, NSW. A few resilient souls did rise above the indifferent care at orphanages and achieved success. Tell that story too please. David, 59
It was foster care for me… 10 long years of moving from house to house. At Christmas time three houses in one week. The memories of a gift bring tears to my eyes. A simple Beatles poster from strangers. These people had taken time to find out what I liked – meant the world to me. Never abused but never loved, roof over my head but not a home, always alone but for the memory of that Beatles poster. That memory brings me warmth. That Christmas I was known. Juliette, 36
I am so sorry for ever saying 'it's in the past, get over it,' 'I didn't do it, why should I pay!’ - I now understand my ignorance to these horrific occurrences. My compassion is at large thanks to this display. Anon age 18

Visitor comment Comment left visitor Michael to Inside. It reads, "They stole our dignity"
Source: Museum Victoria
 

If you missed Inside but would like to know more, the NMA Inside website contains many of the exhibition's stories and objects. Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions travels next to the Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle from 14 March to 29 June 2014 and to the Queensland Museum, Brisbane from 9 August to 16 November 2014.

Address to a haggis?

Author
by Meg
Publish date
25 January 2014
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Comments (3)

As we rise on the morning of January 26th to celebrate our national day, Australia Day, on the opposite side of the globe another proud national celebration will also be getting underway – the Burns Night Supper in bonnie Scotland.

Robbie, or Rabbie, Burns (1759 – 1796) was a Scottish bard (poet) and one of the nation’s most celebrated figures, and each year Scots both at home and abroad commemorate his life and work on the evening of his birthday on January 25th.

Robert Burns Robert Burns
Image: Alexander Nasmyth (artist)
Source: Scottish National Portrait Gallery
 

Burns Night Suppers are usually organised and hosted by Burns Clubs, and in their most formal incarnations they have taken on a prescribed form – the evening begins with the piping in of the guests, who when seated then share in a reading of the Selkirk Grace, a prayer of thanks for the forthcoming meal. The prayer reads, in Scots:

"Some hae meat and cannae eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit."

Haggis at a Burns Supper Haggis at a Burns Supper
Image: Kim Traynor
Source: Kim Traynor
 

The piping then resumes to welcome the haggis which arrives in a procession accompanied by the chef, the piper and the reader nominated to address the haggis. Once settled on the table, the reader delivers the Address to the haggis, a poem composed by Burns in 1786 in honour of the dish. The address is followed by a toast to the haggis, and finally the “great chieftain o’ the pudding-race” is served alongside its traditional companions “neeps” and “tatties” (turnips and potatoes) with a dash of whisky sauce (often just neat whisky), and the feast begins.

Haggis, neeps and tatties Haggis, neeps and tatties
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Meg Lomax
 

Other examples of Burns’ works are read throughout the evening, and the celebration traditionally draws to a close with a rousing rendition of Burns’ famous song Auld Lang Syne.

Appreciation for Burns’ words remains a strong feature of Scottish ex-patriot communities across the world and the Scottish community in Victoria is no exception – in January 2014, the Robert Burns Club of Melbourne will continue the tradition by hosting its 64th annual Burns Supper. And for those luck folk who identify as Scottish Australians, the haggis feast of the night before might be followed up with the (not too dissimilar) national dish of Australia the next day – the good old Aussie meat pie.

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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