MV Blog

DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Nov 2010 (11)

Twycross the big spender

Author
by Charlotte Smith
Publish date
30 November 2010
Comments
Comments (2)

This guest post is by Charlotte Smith, Senior Curator, Public & Institutional Life, who is in Paris researching the John Twycross 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition Building Collection for an upcoming book. This collection comprises 175 exquisite decorative arts objects purchased by wealthy wool merchant John Twycross at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.

Detail from the plan of the French Court Detail from the plan of the French Court at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I thought my finds last Friday at the Archives Nationales de Paris were pretty impressive – floor plans of the French courts, showing where each exhibitor was located, with a key – but today things got even better. I uncovered a document titled Section des Beaux-Arts. Oeuvres vendues a Melbourne [translation: Fine Art Section. Artworks sold in Melbourne]. The document is a list of 47 artworks. It describes the artist, title of work, purchaser and purchase price. What is really exciting for my research is John Twycross is mentioned eight times!

A record of purchases from the French Court. A record of purchases from the French Court. Twycross is listed third from the top.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

He spent £806, the equivalent to a little over $63,000 today. While we don't have these paintings in the Twycross Collection, knowing more of what John purchased at the exhibition is really exciting, and adds to our understanding of the scope of the collection he amassed at the 1880 Exhibition.

Accompanying documents describe how artworks could be purchased from the French Court; one had to go to the French Consulate office on Collins Street between 10 and 4 on weekdays, where a clerk was always 'ready to give the prices asked for such paintings by the artists'.

Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower in Paris was built for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. This was one in a series of World's Fairs that included the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. The tradition of World's Fairs took off after the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links

The Twycross Collection

The 1880 and 1888 International Exhibitions

Royal Exhibition Builidng: Site of two World Fairs

"A huge and interesting problem"

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
25 November 2010
Comments
Comments (0)

What happens after archaeologists dig up thousands of pieces of historical material? Where do they go next? And who will care for them in years to come?

These questions were central to a recent symposium at Melbourne Museum. Jointly sponsored by Museum Victoria, La Trobe University and the Australian Research Council (ARC), the symposium was organised by Dr Charlotte Smith, a senior curator at Museum Victoria. The symposium, called Developing sustainable, strategic collection management approaches for Archaeological Assemblages, invited local and international guests to discuss the problem shared by institutions around the world – what to do with boxes and boxes of artefacts.

Archaeological assemblage in storage Rows and rows of archaeological material in storage at Museum Victoria.
Image: Veegan McMasters
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Charlotte’s curatorial duties include oversight of the Commonwealth Block assemblage, which is the world’s largest 19th century urban assemblage. It comprises 508,000 individual fragments that were excavated from the site bordered by Lonsdale, Exhibition, Little Lonsdale and Spring Streets in Melbourne. It was painstakingly documented and has phenomenal research and exhibition potential, but this is not always the case. Some assemblages excavated in the 1980s arrived at the museum with such scant records that we don't even know where they were dug up.

box of artefacts Some archaeolgocial material is poorly documented; we don’t even know where this particular box of artefacts came from.
Image: Veegan McMasters
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The idea of sustainability, explained Charlotte, refers to cultural and social sustainability. “It’s making sure we hand on to future generations collections that are manageable.” When it comes to the idea of significance, the perspective of archaeologists and museums are slightly different. “When a museum develops a collection, you can limit your collecting from the start. But in archaeology you can’t make those kinds of decisions because the whole of the record is important and you can’t predict how big it will be.”

Speakers at the archaeological assemblage symposium Speakers at the archaeological assemblage symposium. L-R: Tim Murray, Nick Merriman, Charlotte Smith, Maryanne McCubbin and Terry Childs.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

By training museum workers in archaeology and vice versa, both groups better understand the perspective of the other. Museum Victoria has a great working relationship with local archaeologists, but not every institution has access to such experts. Until recently, archaeologists rarely received training in collection management and Charlotte talked about the importance for people to have skills in both areas.

Charlotte is very pleased with the outcomes of the symposium about what she describes as “a huge and interesting problem.” The symposium participants were pragmatic in their approach and agreed that better planning at the dig stage of a project, including on-site significance assessment, would help keep these large, important historical assemblages manageable for future generations.

Links

Unearthing Little Lon

Casselden Place on Collections Online

Snail of a surprise

Author
by Jessie
Publish date
23 November 2010
Comments
Comments (4)

A couple of weeks ago, an ex staff member of the museum dropped off some interesting snails that could work well in Bugs Alive!, our display of invertebrates at the museum. Amongst the collection was a moderate sized land snail that looked remarkably like a Giant African Land Snail.

Giant African Land Snails are one of the biggest potential agricultural pests for Australia. In the 1970s they entered Australia and were found in Queensland. Australia managed to eradicate them from the environment this time, but the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) continue to be vigilant to stop them from getting across our border again. Although they originate from Africa they are now a pest species all over the world. Close to home they are found on Pacific islands where they have overrun some of the local land snails leading them to become endangered (as well as introducing carnivorous snails to eat the Giant African Land Snail but they enjoyed the taste of the local snails more – but that is another story...).

  Pygmipanda automata This moderate size land snail looked far too much like a Giant African Land Snail to not have checked out by the experts.
Image: Adnan Moussalli
Source: Museum Victoria
 

My story stems from the fact that on my desk turned up this interesting looking snail. I was immediately alerted to action to get this snail checked out. I left the Live Exhibits department and ventured up to Sciences where I spoke to Adnan, the resident snail expert of the museum. He was not only interested in this snail but also the bundle of other snails that came along with the package – including carnivorous snails who had eaten their house mates and a Snug – what looks like a cross between a snail and a slug.

Carnivorous Snail Hard to believe - but there are snails around that are carnivores. This snail came to us in en enclosure with two empty snail shells - it had a feast in transit.
Image: Adnan Moussalli
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Snug This amazing group of animals, which we have fondly called Snugs, have been kept in captivity by Live Exhibits for a number of years.
Image: Adnan Moussalli
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It did not take Adnan long to coax the snail out of its shell and confirm that it was just a very interesting local snail called Pygmipanda automata. It has now become a resident of the Melbourne Museum and we can use it for public programs and display. Australia is full of amazing snails that are so rarely seen by many people. Their tendency to venture out when it is dark and wet when we are all tucked up in bed means they are rarely spotted.  

Time-lapse at the REB

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
23 November 2010
Comments
Comments (1)

After months of work to excavate artefacts, dig an enormous hole, pour a rainwater tank that will hold over a million litres of water and cover it up again, the very last stage of the World Heritage, World Futures project is underway. We've been recording time-lapse footage for most of the project. This video shows work on the donut-shaped driveway on two days in November.

The workers and machinery look tinier than usual with of a bit of tweaking to create a tilt-shift effect. It's a simple trick that changes which area looks sharp and which area looks blurry, and suddenly it looks like a miniature world.

I can't wait to see that area planted out! It's been covered by asphalt car park for decades, then hidden behind purple construction hoardings more recently. 

A song for Phar Lap

Author
by Nicole D
Publish date
23 November 2010
Comments
Comments (5)

At Discovery Centres we don't just receive enquiries that seek information from the museum. We also have intriguing information passed onto us by members of the public that helps with our research and further fills out the background stories surrounding our collections.

This is one such gem, a poem about Phar Lap entitled Phar Lap comes home, which we received from a lovely lady in Bendigo whose brother sent it to her over 50 years ago. She was hoping it would be of interest to us and that we might be able to use it:

Where the thoroughbred immortals
Graze in pastures evergreen,
And the steeds of song and story
Feel the touch of hands unseen.
There’s a whining [whinny] in the distance
and a pawing at the gate
As the big stout hearted Phar Lap
Joins the legion of the great.

Where the horses famed are ranging
Over acres rich and fine
And the coats of turfdom’s monarchs
In the brilliant sunlight shine
There’s a snorting in the shadows
And a pricking up of ears
Another racing stalwart
On the borderline appears.

In the thoroughbred Valhalla
Where the bravest hearted go
And there aren’t any seasons
When the blue grass doesn’t grow
Where’s there no fierce grind of training
And no further stakes to win
There’s a stirring in the paddock
As another canters in.

In the paradise of horse flesh
Where the gamest of the game
Frolic through an endless summer
Done with glory and with fame
Where no barriers spring upwards
And no turmoil fills the air
Carbine, Redleap and Brovo
Turn and see the “Red Flash” there.

Up beyond the eyes of mortals
Where there is no muddy track
Where there are no gruelling stretch runs
And no added weight to pack
Where the kings of far flung ovals
Play and scamper as they will
There’s a neighing as the great hearted
Phar Lap gallops on the hill.

Where there are no culls or “cast offs”
And no spineless “also rans”
Where the horses have a record
Treasured by the racing fans
There’s a pawing and a neighing
Where the lion hearted roam
And a whining [whinnying] of welcome
Phar Lap “big Red” has come home.

'The Record Breaker, Phar Lap, Greatest of all Race Horses', New Century Press, 1932, by Jack Spinty
'The Record Breaker, Phar Lap, Greatest of all Race Horses', New Century Press, 1932, by Jack Spinty
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Many poems were written about Big Red after his death, including a number in the Museum Victoria Phar Lap Collection. But a quick internet search revealed only a couple examples of this particular poem online, which have slightly different details. One person commented on the Cyberhorse Forum that it was published in the New York Sun after Phar Lap's death but, even after searching historic Australian newspapers online via Trove, I still didn't come up with any further information. As more resources are digitised we might find out more about this and perhaps even who wrote it. Can anyone out there shed any further light on the poem?

World Toilet Day

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
19 November 2010
Comments
Comments (1)

World Toilet Day, held on 19 November each year, serves to point out that nearly half the world's population doesn't have access to proper sanitation. It's not the world's most glamorous issue, but it is an important one - globally, more people die from disease caused by poor sanitation than from any other cause.

There are several toilets of note in Museum Victoria collections. We're not shy about poo at MV, since the Spotwood Pumping Station at Scienceworks was once responsible for moving all of Melbourne's sewage out of the city. One particular toilet at the Pumping Station was installed in 1939 for the exclusive use of Lucey Alford, the first female scientist to work there. Her job was to determine if corrosion in the concrete pipes was caused by bacteria and her research was important to the proper functioning of the system.

Toilet Toilet - Fowler Ware, MMBW Spotswood Sewerage Pumping Station, circa 1939 (HT 2486)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Before Spotswood Pumping Station and sewage treatment at Werribee were established in the 1890s, sewage disposal was a much dirtier job. The stink of cesspits and open sewers earned our city the moniker of 'Smellbourne' in the mid-1800s. Typhoid outbreaks killed hundreds of residents. With no internal plumbing, Melburnians used chamber pots or the 'dunny' at the back of the yard, which was emptied by nightsoil collectors. (You can still see many of these old dunnies from the laneways that run behind older houses in the inner city.) 'Nightsoil' - the coy term for human waste - was dumped in pits or depots in the outskirts of the young city, including the area that would become Carlton Gardens.

chamber pot fragment A fragment of a simple whiteware chamber pot from the Little Lon archaeological assemblage. (LL 068610)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

'Dunny' Toilet & Chicken Coop, Backyard, Glenroy, 1960 'Dunny' toilet and chicken coop in a suburban backyard, Glenroy, 1960 (MM 110571)
Image: John Cuff
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So today as you 'spend a penny', as my grandmother would say, spare a thought for those who don't have the convenience and hygiene of clean, safe, indoor toilets.

Links

World Toilet Day

Melbourne Water education resource - Lucey Alford

MV News: Royal Exhibition Building archaeology

Kingston Historical Website - Night Soil

About this blog

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

Categories