Two decorated swords

One of our international loans for the section of Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition at Arbeia Roman Fort is a complete sword blade with inlaid decoration. This was chosen to be a companion piece to our own (incomplete) blade, which is also decorated.

 

Roman decorated sword
An inlaid wreath decorating the iron blade of the sword.

The sword on loan from Carnuntum, Austria, has a wreath (symbol of victory) on one side and a palm leaf (symbol of peace) on the other. Ours has an eagle (symbol of the power of Rome) holding a palm leaf in its beak, standing between two standards (symbols of the army).

The figures were cut from a sheet of copper alloy and inlaid in the iron blade, with details picked out with lines and dots; you can see where leaves making up the wreath have fallen out of the recesses in the iron, and the use of two different coloured metals.

Decorated Roman sword

Roman sword decorated with an eagle between standards. Accession number TWCMS : T2516.

The decoration on this type of sword is always right up near to the hilt, and is positioned to be the right way up when the sword is held with the point up. The decoration is, however, quite restrained: the eagle is only 26mm high and Mars only 45mm.

Decorated Roman sword

Roman sword decorated with a figure of the god Mars. Accession number TWCMS : T2516.

 

Exploring Moana at the GNM: Hancock

One of my guilty pleasures in life is watching Disney films.  When the new offering Moana was released recently, I enjoyed whiling away a rainy Sunday afternoon watching the adventures of characters who lived far, far away and many centuries in the past.  The basic plot of the story involves a young Polynesian girl, Moana Waialiki, venturing out onto the ocean to restore the heart of the goddess Te Fiti in order to save her island, which is slowly dying.  This mystical heart took the form of a greenstone amulet, and it had been stolen  1000 years earlier by Maui, a demi–god.  Along with her charmingly daft chicken HeiHei, Moana sets sail to find Maui and recruit him to assist her in returning the heart.

By the end of the film, my curatorial interest was piqued.  How authentic was the story being told? Was it based on real Polynesian history?  I decided to do a little bit of research into Polynesian culture, and as the ethnographic collections at the GNM: Hancock are particularly rich in material from the Pacific Islands, I knew there would be some fascinating objects that would bring the stories and legends to life.

Map showing the vast area of Polynesia, with Hawaii in the north, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the south east, and New Zealand in the south west. Polynesia consists of over 1,000 islands.

Map showing the vast area of Polynesia, with Hawaii in the north, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the south east, and New Zealand in the south west. Polynesia consists of over 1,000 islands.

One of the main themes of Moana is about seafaring and navigation.  In the movie, Moana’s island people never venture beyond the reef into the open ocean, and yet she discovers that at some point in time, her ancestors were great seafarers. This highlights a key period of Polynesian history.  It’s now known that western Polynesia was colonised  about 3,500 years ago, but the islands of central and eastern Polynesia were not settled until about 1,500-500 years ago.  This means that after arriving on islands such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, Polynesians took a break of almost 2000 years before voyaging onwards.  This time in history is known as “The Long Pause”, and no-one is sure why this happened, or what made the Polynesians begin their seafaring expeditions again.  In Moana, The Long Pause comes to end when a fleet of canoes set forth across the ocean, the islanders having been inspired by the heroine’s journey and achievements.  The story of this oceanic navigation and migration is an amazing one and fundamental to Polynesia’s history.  This relationship with the sea and importance of sea going vessels is reflected in the many  Polynesian canoe parts and model boats in our collections at the GNM.

NEWHM : C573, model canoe with outrigger, Niue . Part of a bequest from the late Julia Boyd, a keen collector of natural history and ethnographic artefacts.

NEWHM : C573, model canoe with outrigger, Niue . Part of a bequest from the late Julia Boyd, a keen collector of natural history and ethnographic artefacts.

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NEWHM : C650, wooden model of a canoe, Hawaii.

NEWHM : C650, wooden model of a canoe, Hawaii.

NEWHM : C589, Maori canoe paddle, New Zealand. Acquired in 1769, possibly on James Cook’s first circumnavigation of the globe.

NEWHM : C589, Maori canoe paddle, New Zealand. Acquired in 1769, possibly on James Cook’s first circumnavigation of the globe.

Disney’s take on the demi-god Maui is another noteworthy aspect.  Maui is indeed a prominent character within Polynesian legends, but the portrayal of him in the film has come in for serious criticism.  Maui was traditionally a lithe teenager on the verge of manhood, but the film shows him as an enormous man.  While some critics have pointed out that this version of Maui perpetuates the image of Polynesians being overweight, his appearance is not the only thing that’s different.   In Polynesian culture, Maui was always accompanied by the goddess Hina who featured as his sister, wife or mother in various stories.   In Polynesian lore, the association of a powerful goddess with a god creates symmetry and harmony– indeed, it was Hina who enabled Maui to accomplish many of his legendary feats.  In Moana, Hina has been omitted completely.   Maui’s famous fish hook however, has been included.  This magical tool allows Maui to accomplish all kinds of amazing feats, including in one famous Polynesian legend, the creation of the Hawaiian islands.

In Moana, the heart of Te Fiti is represented as a greenstone amulet.  The use of greenstone for such an important amulet is very appropriate.  “Greenstone” is the generic name given to nephrite jade, a beautiful rocky mineral that is only found on the South island of New Zealand.  The Maori name for this material is pounamu, and it plays a very important role in Maori culture as it is considered a taonga, or treasure.  The most prized taonga are those with a history going back generations  as these are believed to have their own mana (effectiveness, prestige, power– often of a supernatural variety).  Typical pounama taonga are more likely to be tools such as adzes and knives (as opposed to hearts of goddesses) and we are lucky enough to have several greenstone objects in the GNM: Hancock collections.  One of the most striking items is an adze blade.  It’s thought that this blade may have been produced in the 18th century, and it was found when it was turned up by a plough near the site of an old Maori pah– a fortified placeQuite possibly this was  once a valued taonga.

NEWHM : C617, Nephrite adze blade, New Zealand

NEWHM : C617, Nephrite adze blade, New Zealand

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Before Moana jumps into her boat to venture out in the open ocean, there’s many a scene showing island life and what can be seen repeatedly, in various forms, are displays of barkcloth.  Known as tapa, Pacific islanders have made this cloth from the bark of trees for millennia. It could be used for many different things such as room dividers and wall hangings, marking sacred spaces, and also as clothing where it was seen as a “second skin”- a wrapping that reinforced and contained the self, and bounded the flow of sacred energy.  These barkcloths are renowned for their exquisite decorations, as many show dazzling motifs, patterns and vibrant colours.  In Moana’s village, tapa can be seen many times– the credits in the film even scroll over a piece.  When Europeans first began to encounter this form of art in the 18th century, they were highly impressed by it and began to collect it in large quantities and ship it back to Europe.  These pieces of barkcloth are now in museums and private collections all over the world, including the GNM: Hancock.  We have a vast array of barkcloth samples of all sizes, and our pieces on display in the World Cultures gallery show beautiful designs and colours.

NEWHM : C603, barkcloth with floral motif, Samoa. The letters painted on the edge read “Simeauli F. i. Pago Pago” which means made by Simeauli of Samoa.

NEWHM : C603, barkcloth with floral motif, Samoa. The letters painted on the edge read “Simeauli F. i. Pago Pago” which means made by Simeauli of Samoa.

 

NEWHM : C702, Panel of striped barkcloth, Hawaii. This piece has been made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, broussonetia papyrifera.

NEWHM : C702, Panel of striped barkcloth, Hawaii. This piece has been made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, broussonetia papyrifera.

Lastly, a note about the “coconut people” in the film, who were called the Kakamora.  Moana came into contact with these pirates on the high seas, and they were depicted as mean little coconuts (complete with arms and legs).  These little characters were very intriguing.  Could it be possible that they were a simple, cartoonish depiction of the mighty Kiribati warrior?   The Kiribati Islands, while technically a part of Micronesia, are dispersed over 1.35 million square miles and so many of the atolls and islands of Kiribati can actually be found deep within Polynesia.  As all of our visitors to the World Cultures gallery will know, Kiribati is famous for producing amazing armour made out of coconut fibre.

NEWHM : C730-733, Coconut fibre armour, Kiribati

NEWHM : C730-733, Coconut fibre armour, Kiribati

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Kiribati is mainly formed out of low lying coral atolls, meaning that few raw materials were historically available.  Coconut plants, however, were plentiful and were thought to possess special protective powers, so armour was woven together from coconut fibres.  Could the idea of Moana’s little coconut pirates have originated from these coconut clad warriors from Kiribati ? Well, that’s my theory.

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On a side note, while exploring the ethnographic collections  to try and explain about Moana’s coconut people, I came across  a couple of objects that initially led me to think that they had been more of a literal depiction than I previously thought…

NEWHM : F027-28, human heads carved from coconuts, Jamaica

NEWHM : F027-28, human heads carved from coconuts, Jamaica

But alas, this jovial duo originated from Jamaica, over 5,000 miles away from Polynesia.  I’m sure they have their own story.  Maybe one day we’ll see a Disney film about it…

 

 

Women in pictures – a few photos from TWAM’s online collection, Part II

As a volunteer at Discovery Museum, I’ve been helping with some work in the TWAM online photo collection, and along the way I’ve found some great photos I’d like to share with you featuring women.  Part I of this guest blog looked at the period before the First World War.  In Part II, I’d like to show you just a few photos illustrating how women’s lives were affected by the Great War.

Jarrow Ladies Fire Brigade, 1916

Jarrow Ladies Fire Brigade, 1916

First World War Tram Conductress Mrs Poole

First World War Tram Conductress
Mrs Poole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is well known that, during the First World War, so many working-age men were called up that women had to be recruited to fill many roles in traditionally male environments for the duration of the conflict.  Some roles were paid and others voluntary.  Women could now find themselves in action on the Home Front as a member of the local fire brigade, a postal worker or a tram conductress, as in the photos above.

For many young women in our area, war service came in the form of munitions work.

Young munitions workers of 43 Shop, Scotswood, 1917

Young munitions workers of 43 Shop, Scotswood, 1917

With a high concentration of industrial works along our rivers, the Tyne, Wear and Tees saw many young women enter the engineering firms to ‘do their bit’, like the munitions workers above.  While many young women worked on the assembly lines, one woman, Rachel Parsons (1885 – 1956), stepped into a management role in one of our most prominent firms.  Daughter of industrialist Charles Parsons and leading suffragette Katharine Parsons, Rachel Pasons grew up in a science-orientated household and was one of the first women to study Mechanical Science at Cambridge.  When her brother joined the Army in World War One, she took his place on the Board of Directors of Parsons’ Marine Steam Turbine Company Works in Heaton, taking charge of the new female workforce.  She also worked for the Ministry of Munitions in the area of training for women workers.  After the war she went on to campaign for equal access to technical schools and colleges and for equal employment rights for women.  Her life is described in more detail in David Wright’s fascinating TWAM guest blog of 2014.

1918 ladies football team

1918 ladies football team

This final photo is one of my favourite finds.  With many young women thrown together in the novel environment of the munitions and engineering firms, the First World War brought opportunities for new social experiences too.  As the existing men’s football teams disbanded with their members called up to fight, female teams began to form, mostly made up of girls now working on the engineering production lines, and women’s football matches became a popular spectator event.  In the North East, 1917-18 saw the establishment of a league known as the Munitionettes Cup which was set up as a competition between women’s teams from industrial sites from the Tyne, Wear and Tees.  As well as being for sport, the league was regarded as a contribution to the war effort and all games were charity fundraising events, often playing to big crowds.  The strongest team by far was Blyth Spartans Munition Girls, with their star striker Bella Reay, who won the Cup in 1918.

This is the only photo of a WW1 ladies team I have found in TWAM’s collections so far – dated 1918 but with no team name given, we have no idea who these women were, whether they were a workplace team or simply a group of friends.  We’d love to be able to put a name to them – can anyone help?

Janette Bell

 

If you’d like to see more photos from our collection, many can be viewed online using TWAM’s collections search engine.  To find more pictures of people, try typing ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ into the Theme box and see what comes up!

Women in pictures – a few photos from TWAM’s online collection, Part I

As a volunteer at Discovery Museum I’ve been helping with some work in the TWAM online photo collection.  In the course of my ‘virtual exploration’ I’ve found some great photos I’d like to share with you featuring women.  Of course, women have done many jobs over the years and I couldn’t hope to include them all, even if we had a photo for each one, so with apologies to all the occupations I haven’t captured here, the following are just a few snapshots (quite literally) giving a tiny glimpse into the diverse contribution of women in our region over the years.  Part I focuses mainly on the period before the First World War.

Herring girls on the quayside

Herring girls on the quayside

Although we usually associate the fishing industry with men, there were many women working in supporting roles, leaving behind evocative images like the one above.  It’s quite a romantic image, but not a very romantic existence.  In the summer season these teams of ‘herring girls’ would have made a striking sight on fish quays up and down the east coast.  The herring preserving industry was at its peak in the late 19th and early 20th century and North Shields was one port where the trade thrived.  While local boats and local women were part of the activity, this was a national industry.  Each year huge shoals of the ‘silver darlings’ could be found moving down the north east coast of Britain from Shetland and the Hebrides all the way to East Anglia.  And each year the fleets of herring drifters followed the shoals from town to town to profit from this bounty.  Down the coast, following the boats by rail, came the herring girls, who worked on the fish quays gutting the herring and packing them with salt in barrels.  Many of these women, some as young as 15, came from Scotland.  They worked on the quayside in teams of three, two to gut and one to pack, working non-stop in all weathers until the catch was complete.  A hard life, but it wasn’t all bad – ‘following the herring’ did give women a chance to travel, and a bit of an adventure with friends.

Cullercoats fishwives going door-to-door, c. 1880-1900

Cullercoats fishwives going door-to-door, c. 1880-1900

 

Continuing the fishing theme, a well-known sight around the streets of coastal towns even in the early decades of the 20th century would have been the fishwives in their long skirts and shawls, who went door-to-door hawking fish from large baskets.  One of the regions’ most famous fishwives was Dolly Peel, 1782 – 1857. 

The renowned Dolly Peel

The renowned Dolly Peel

Officially ‘Dorothy’ but known as Dolly, Mrs Peel is a famous South Shields character, a resourceful fishwife who was also a smuggler and a poet.  Stories about her emphasise her strength and bravery – she once fended off a navy press gang which was pursuing her husband, single-handedly holding them at bay while he tried to escape before eventually being captured.  In the early years of the 19th century Mrs Peel’s husband took part in sea battles as a pressed sailor in both the Napoleonic war and the American War of Independence.

At some point in this saga Dolly is reputed to have stowed away to accompany him, and worked below decks helping the surgeon with the wounded during battle.  As if all this wasn’t enough, Mrs Peel was also famed as a poet for her ability to make up rhymes on topical subjects.  A statue of her, representing the resilience of local women, stands on River Drive in South Shields.

Outdoor jobs like these must have been some of the toughest types of work; more often women who sought work would find it in domestic or shop work, teaching, nursing and sometimes in manufacturing environments.

Shop assistants at Carricks Dairy, North Street, Jarrow, 1914

Shop assistants at Carricks Dairy, North Street, Jarrow, 1914

 

For most women, life included marriage and children – no easy ride when childbirth carried serious risks and all housework had to be done the hard way without mechanical aids.  But even this shared experience had different faces depending on your financial situation – a family portrait of a middle class family before the First World War (c 1910-1914) contrasts sharply with this group of women and children in a poor area of South Shields even two decades later in the 1930s.

Family portrait of a middle class family, c. 1910-1914

Family portrait of a middle class family, c. 1910-1914

South Shields, 1930s

South Shields, 1930s

 

 

Catherine Cookson as a young woman

Catherine Cookson as a young woman

 

Housing, diet, health, education, life expectancy for yourself and your family; life for the poor has always been a struggle.  Someone who knew this first hand was Catherine Cookson (1906 – 1998), who drew on the neighbourhoods and characters of her childhood to write novels which made her an international favourite.

Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock and later moved to East Jarrow.  As young Katie McMullen she grew up in poverty, suffering what in those days was seen as the terrible stigma of illegitimacy.  From her childhood she used making up stories, and later writing, as an escape.  She was determined to better herself, worked hard, and as a young adult moved to Hastings leaving the north east and its painful memories firmly behind her.  Here she met her husband Tom Cookson.  It was only after suffering a breakdown in the 1940s that Cookson began writing seriously, and drew on all her early experiences to create what would eventually become over 100 novels loved worldwide.  Her books recreate the poor South Tyneside communities of her childhood and are filled with strong female leading characters.

The second part of this blog will look at the impact of the First World War, which brought women new challenges, new opportunities….and a new football league.

Janette Bell

 

If you’d like to see more photos from our collection, many can be viewed online using TWAM’s collections search engine.  To find more pictures of people, try typing ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ into the Theme box and see what comes up!

Beware the servants

As readers of murder mysteries well know, when a body is found in a large country house it’s usually the butler that did it. While this is just a crime fiction cliché, research that I recently carried out at North Shields Library suggests that wealthy Edwardians would’ve been well advised to keep a close eye on their servants.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been popping into the local studies library to look through old copies of the Shields Daily News. My purpose was to uncover the stories behind one of our most exciting documents – a photograph album of criminals brought before the North Shields Police Court between 1902 and 1916 (TWAM ref. DX1388/1). This album contains over a thousand mugshots and as I researched them a number of interesting themes began to emerge. One of these was the appearance of a distinctive group of people – young female domestic servants.

These girls usually stood out by their appearance – it was very noticeable that they were smartly dressed, wearing hats rather than shawls. Another common factor was their youth with all those identified so far aged between 16 and 19 years. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they were all arrested for stealing from their employers.

One of the saddest cases is that of Dora Agnes Stephenson, aged just 16 when she was arrested in January 1906.

Dora Agnes Sanderson, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1906

At North Shields Police Court on 30 January she pleaded guilty to stealing a brooch, a blouse and a cloth bag belonging to her employer Robert Wardhaugh of Chirton Hill Top Farm. Newspaper reports don’t give an explanation for the theft but it appears to have been out of character. A report in the Shields Daily News of 23 January reveals that she was so distressed by events that she “swallowed some embrocation … and the stomach pump had to be used”. Her family appears to have been supportive and her father was able to supply the magistrates with good character references from previous employers. As a result she was spared jail. Instead her father was bound over in a sum of £5 to bring his daughter back to court if required within the following twelve months.

This case is quite similar to a number of others, including that of Ethel Penman, a 19 year old domestic servant from Jarrow.

Ethel Penman, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1906

Ethel Penman, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1906

The Shields Daily News for 16 July 1906 reveals that she was charged with stealing a lady’s feather stole and a pair of leather straps, valued at 16s, from her employer, Margaret Hamilton of 18 Latimer Street, Tynemouth. The newspaper report of the court proceedings states:

“Formally charged, the accused said this was her first offence and it would be her last. The mother of the prisoner said her daughter had not been previously guilty of theft … Accused promised not to misbehave herself in future and upon this understanding the mother was bound over in the sum of £5 to bring her daughter up to receive judgement if called upon within six months”.

There seems to be a pattern of young domestic servants stealing clothes and jewellery from their employers. The temptations of being surrounded by these expensive possessions were just too great for some and perhaps their youthful inexperience gave them false hope that they would get away with it.

Our final case, relates to one of the most interesting mugshots in our collection.

Maud Garmey, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1905

Maud Garmey, domestic servant, arrested for theft, 1905

The girl in this picture is Maud Garmey, a 17 year old from Jarrow, who was working as a domestic servant at the Tyne Hotel in Clive Street, North Shields. She was arrested on 8 November 1905 for stealing three bed sheets, a pillow case and various other household articles valued at a total of £1 4s 2d. The Shields Daily News for 15 November 1905 reports:

“Jane Elizabeth Robson, a single woman, residing on the Ranter’s Bank, stated that on the 7th inst. the accused came to her house and asked to be taken in. She acceded to her request. Prisoner had with her a lot of things which witness afterwards handed over to the police. Inspector Thornton said he arrested prisoner and charged her with the theft.

She replied: “Yes, I took them”. Chief Constable Huish stated that he had had an interview with the relatives of the accused, who resided in Jarrow. They thought she should be sent to a home and with the assistance of the Police Court Missionary (Mr Macpherson), a home had been found for her. He asked the magistrates to deal with her under the First Offenders’ Act and bind her over to come up for judgement if called upon within twelve months on her promising to go into the home. Accused gave her consent and the magistrates bound her over.”

This case is slightly different from the others. The items stolen were household items – sheets, pillow cases and the like – rather than personal ones. Her expression is also rather different from that of Dora Stephenson or Edith Penman, who both give a sense of sadness at being arrested. Maud Garmey’s mugshot on the other hand is intriguing because she seems quite nonchalant and unaffected. It appears that her family were not as supportive as in the other two cases. Rather than taking care of her themselves they were trying to get her admitted to a ‘home’. It’s not absolutely clear what sort of home this was but it seems that her parents felt her behaviour was either an embarrassment or simply beyond their control.

I hope that further research will reveal more about the enigmatic Maud Garmey and the other criminals featured in our album of North Shields mugshots. Their stories tell us a lot about the Edwardian period and give us a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people as well as a glimpse into the murky Tyneside underworld. If you’d like to see more of our mugshots then why not take a look at our Flickr pages https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/sets/, where you’ll find over 200 of them, together with a wide variety of other fascinating images.