Urnes Stave Church in Norway

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Urnes Stave Church in Norway is probably the most remarkable medieval structure I have ever visited. It is aided in this status by the truly incredible surroundings.

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IMG_2139It is, however, its completeness as a 12th century wooden structure inside and out, and especially the carvings, which make it truly remarkable.

This is the first of what will be a series of posts on the history of Iceland, Denmark and Norway. I’m beginning with Urnes because of its uniqueness and because it is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Urnes sits on eastern edge of the Luster Fjord. It was built around 1150. There had been churches on the site before, parts of which have been reused in the church you can see today. It is the oldest stave church in Norway and is so distinctive and so influential that its style has come to be known as Urnes Style when it is used in other buildings.

The name stave church comes from the large vertical load bearing posts which form the basis of the structure of the church. Essentially it is composed of a vertical rectangular frame. You can see a cross-section of Borgund stave church below, which gives you the idea of the interior structure necessary for a stave church (Borgund is a lot bigger than Urnes though)

IMG_2089There were once over 1000 stave churches in Norway, but now only 28 remain. Most were built between 1130 and 1350 though a few are later. The black death affected the construction of new buildings after the mid 14th century. The reason they survived, even though they are wooden, is because the wood is coated regularly in pitch to protect it from the weather (this is still done at Urnes). In the case of Urnes it has a stone foundation, which stops it rotting from the ground up. The previous church on the site was a post hole church, the holes have been found in archaeological investigations.

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Stave churches are not all the same, they are built along different lines and with different styles. For example you can see Ringebu Stave Church below

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Urnes is one of the smallest, but it is also the most lavishly decorated.

The carvings are truly incredible. They are an amalgam of Celtic, Viking and early Christian design. Some are extremely reminiscent visually of early illuminated manuscripts like the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells.

IMG_2105IMG_2106The carving above is the side door which is no longer used, but would most likely have originally been the main entrance. You can see a stylised lion in the carvings on the left. These carvings most likely come from the exterior of the earlier church and were reused in the current church. You can see the interior of the door below.

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Other exterior carvings from the earlier church include the post you can see below.

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The main entrance to the church is on the west end and you can see more medieval carving on the capitals and it is thought that the ironwork on the door might be original as well.

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When you look at the photos of the church from the front you will noticed that there is an odd flap open.

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This flap, along with some other panels, are usually closed to protect the delicate carvings beneath. I was lucky enough that when I visited it was open for a conference group and, while it is very weathered, it is still beautiful and thought to be medieval. IMG_2101

The timber the church is constructed of is largely pine with elements of hardwood. The turret on the church is not original, in 1702 it replaced an earlier one from 1680. The roof was also tiled at one point. The current shingles date to the 20th century when the church underwent careful restoration, when much of the protective cladding was also added.

IMG_2141IMG_2143Leaving aside the exterior of the church for the moment, the interior is just as if not more impressive.

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You can see that the floor in the nave is lower than the rest of the church, this was because there was an open space under the floor which was used for burials. It was discontinued in favour of the external cemetery in the 19th century at least partly because of the smell.

The ceiling is 17th century, originally it would have been open like the underside of a boat. The original windows would have been small and porthole like. As you can probably tell the interior has been changed quite a bit over the centuries, but there are still a lot of medieval elements. My favourites are the carved capitals on the columns which then rise up into romanesque wooden arches. These were quite possibly based on contemporary stone churches of the time and are certainly similar to stone churches I have seen in England and Ireland.

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Remarkably some of the medieval fittings have also survived: including the figure of Christ on the Cross with Mary and John which dates to the end of the 12th century

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A medieval candelabra

IMG_2126and the chandelier which hangs from the ceiling

IMG_2136The gallery you can see part of above the chandelier, and above the chancel in the earlier photo, was added later and sadly involved cutting some of the original columns and capitals.

The highly decorated altar and pulpit dates to the 1690s, the chancel was extended out in the early 1600s.

IMG_2127IMG_2131The paintings and figures you can see on the walls are also 17th century.

Originally there wouldn’t have been fixed pews, they were introduced after the reformation and the ones in Urnes are 17th century. The boxed pew you can see in the photo below was for women being brought into the church to be cleansed after childbirth.

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Urnes was probably built for the wealthy local Ornes family, but it was also a church used by the locals. It is an amalgam of styles as the needs of the church’s community changed. It is a testimony to the quality of construction that it is still standing today.

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In 1720 it was sold to local priest Christopher Munthe and it remained privately owned until the parish bought it in 1850. By 1881 it wasn’t needed any longer because the parish was reorganised and it was to given to the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. The parish retained the burial rights in the churchyard and the right to hold services twice a year. This practice continues and Urnes is used by the local community for special occasions. In 1979 UNESCO included Urnes on its World Heritage Register

It met the three main criteria easily with UNESCO saying

Criterion (i): The Urnes Stave Church is an outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture. It brings together traces of Celtic art, Viking traditions and Romanesque spatial structures. The outstanding quality of the carved décor of Urnes is a unique artistic achievement.

Criterion (ii): The stave churches are representative of the highly developed tradition of wooden buildings that extended through the Western European cultural sphere during the Middle Ages. Urnes is one of the oldest of the Norwegian stave churches and an exceptional example of craftsmanship. It also reveals the development from earlier techniques and therefore contributes to the understanding of the development of this specific tradition.

Criterion (iii) : Urnes Stave Church is an ancient  wooden building and is outstanding due to the large-scale reuse of both decorative and constructive elements originating from a stave church built about one century earlier. It is an outstanding example of the use of wood to express the language of Romanesque stone architecture.

Urnes is truly astounding and for such a little church it certainly holds a lot of history.

 

References

Site visit 2018

Urnes Stave Church brochures

Urnes Stave Church Booklet

UNESCO Listing: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/58/

The photos are all mine.

The Gothic Bank and Its Museum

This post is the first in a series I’m hoping to write about small museums and libraries, their histories and collections. They will predominantly be in Melbourne and surrounds, but I’ll add the odd international one too. These sorts of posts give me the excuse to explore my city and my state. To find new ways to look at the places I’ve probably driven or walked past hundreds of times and to explore the fascinating small pieces of history that they hold.

I am beginning with the Gothic Bank in Melbourne and the banking museum that is underneath the building.

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The banking museum itself is under the gothic bank in a space that was used for many years by Australia Post. It was first opened in May 1985. It was part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of a Royal Charter which was granted to the Bank of Australasia, which was one of the banks from which ANZ originates. The museum was significantly refurbished in 2007, when ANZ redesigned the layout of the exhibits and updated the content.

While I was unable to take any pictures inside the museum it is a fascinating little institution. It tells the story of banking in Australia, beginning with the indigenous economy and going right up until the 21st century. I actually learnt a lot that I didn’t know.

For example:

From 1817 until 1910 Australian banks issued the bank notes. In 1910 the Commonwealth took over with the introduction of the Australian Note Act.

In World War I close to half the staff of the Union and Australian banks volunteered. Women were employed to fill the vacancies but they weren’t allowed to handle cash or deal with the customers.

The museum is open from 10-4 (traditional bankers hours) on weekdays and entry is free.

Now while the museum itself is interesting it is the building that it stands in that for me was more fascinating. As a medievalist living in Melbourne, I don’t get many chances to see medieval architecture and while the bank and its interior is Victorian Gothic, rather than the real thing, it is still very lovely.

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The bank was a collaboration between banker Sir George Verdon and architect William Wardell. Verdon was appointed General Manager of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank (which is now part of ANZ) in 1872. In 1881 he invited 3 architects to submit designs for a new headquarters in Australia. Wardell was successful. Work began in 1883 and the final cost was just over 77 000 pounds.

I especially like the attention to detail

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IMG_1932All buildings should have at least one gargoyle.

As magnificent as the exterior is, it is the interior that really shines

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IMG_1953The columns and brackets are cast iron which were made in a foundry in Carlton. They were covered with canvas, fixed with white lead and cement and had five coats of oil paint. The ceiling was hand painted and gilded. In the centre of each panel are the shields and arms of England, Scotland and Australia as well as the arms of the bank and the arms of the main cities in which it operated.

The sky light is a later addition and the banking room was expanded in the 1920s to include the entrance to the former stock exchange building.

The gothic bank does not stand alone. The stock exchange building was added in 1891 with architect William Pitt winning a design competition in 1888. The vestibule of the stock exchange, most of the actual work went on upstairs, is an impressive 20m by 15m. It contains six Harcourt granite columns which weigh between 16 and 20 tonnes. They are capped by white Tasmanian marble. They were transported all the way from Bendigo by teams of 30 horses. It is unsurprisingly known as the cathedral room.

IMG_1939The details on the walls are truly impressive

IMG_1943The beautiful tiled floor is not original but it was based on the original colours and patterns.

IMG_1940There is also a magnificent stained glass window. Up the very top you can see a miner ‘panning off’ which is meant to represent the origins of the wealth of Victoria. The central figure is a woman representing ‘labour’. The window also depicts the coats of arms of both Britain and Australia and symbols of the four divisions of the globe.

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There is also other decorative stained glass work.

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The other building constructed at the same time as the stock exchange is the Melbourne Safe Deposit. It was also designed by William Pitt and was completed by 1890. It is six stories above the ground, but there is a vault beneath it which holds 3000 safes. The floor was concrete which was laid directly onto rock. The walls were 1m thick. The actual strong room was raised off the floor and was built of wrought iron boiler plate and it was lined with un-drillable steel. The whole thing weighed nearly 200 tons. It was the first safe deposit building in Australia. It is still in use today. It is not open to the public sadly, but it is pretty incredible from the outside.

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In 1989 ANZ found itself with three significant and beautiful gothic buildings. More than 20 million was committed to restoring the old buildings and a linking atrium was built.

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At the same time a modern ANZ headquarters was being built and it retains elements of the gothic style to mirror the original buildings and to bring them all in together as one complex. IMG_1957

The gothic bank and its museum are a truly beautiful and fascinating building that are well worth a visit. I’m just pleased that this is the sort of thing I can go at look at in Melbourne. Exploring these sorts of buildings is why it can be so incredible to really look at your own city, to find the places that you’ve never noticed. To find the small corners of history that each city holds.

References:

Site visit 2018

ANZ’s Gothic Bank: A commitment to preservation (booklet)

The photos are mine.

Barrenjoey Lighthouse

Barrenjoey Lighthouse stands on the Barrenjoey Peninsula at Palm Beach, an hour’s drive north of Sydney. The lighthouse is at the entrance to Pittwater, Broken Bay and the Hawkesbury river giving it truly magnificent views.

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The lighthouse is built of local sandstone and the current structure dates to 1879-1881.

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The lighthouse can be reached either by a gentle track, but there are also smugglers steps. These were not used by smugglers but were used by the customs house at the bottom of the Peninsula to climb up and look for smugglers.

IMG_0440Barrenjoey was not the first light station in this position. The first light station was only oil lamps on two wooden towers and stood between 1865 and 1881. The current structure was built by Isaac Banks with a team of Scottish labourers and designed by government architect James Barnet. Barnet was responsible for many buildings in Sydney and he deliberately designed the slightly curved rail around the top of the lighthouse for aesthetic reasons. The rails are original, and they produce quite a vertiginous effect when standing next to them.

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The lighthouse stands at 29 m and is 113 m above sea level. The visibility of its lamp is 38 km and it currently runs a Fresnel Stationary lens with a 100 W 24 volt quartz-iodine tungsten lamp. You can see the lens and the lamp in the photos below.

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Originally the lighthouse ran on a kerosene lamp and thus three lighthouse keepers were needed to make sure that it kept burning. They worked in shifts of four hours and they were not allowed to have a bed up in the lighthouse (only a chair) in case they fell asleep. The interior and the exterior of the lighthouse is still in beautiful condition.

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Only married men were allowed to be lighthouse keepers and there were two houses on the peninsula. The biggest and the closest to the lighthouse housed the head lighthouse keeper and his family and the two assistant lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the other.

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In 1932 the light became acetylene, it was automated and the lighthouse keepers were removed. In 1972 the light was changed to electric. The electric light was a 1000 w 120V quartz-halogen tungsten lamp. You can see it below.

IMG_0502A lighthouse needs to be identifiable from sea and today Barrenjoey operates 4 flashes separated by a 2 second interval every 30 seconds.

Originally, as the Fresnel lamp in the lighthouse is stationary, Barrenjoey used coloured glass (red) over the lamp, but this greatly reduced the intensity of the light. When the acetylene lamp was introduced in 1932 it was able to flash and the coloured glass could be removed.

Barrenjoey had a number of lighthouse keepers over the years but only one is buried there.

IMG_0541George Mulhall was born in c.1811 in Australia and both his parents were convicts from Ireland. George was appointed lighthouse keeper in 1868 and his son who was George Jr became assistant keeper. This was before the construction of the current lighthouse and the keepers lived off the Peninsula on what is now the third tee of the Palm Beach Golf Course. When the lighthouse began operating in 1881 George was the principal lighthouse keeper. There were stories that George died from being struck by a bolt of lightning and burnt to cinders, but his dead certificate describes him as having died from a stroke in 1885. His wife Mary who died in 1886 is buried with George. It is a truly beautiful spot to be buried.

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Barrenjoey Lighthouse is very much still an important part of navigation for ships coming up and down NSW’s coast. It is also a stunning place to visit, the views alone are worth it.

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References:

Site visit 2017.

All the photos are mine.

Rural Buildings: St Thomas’, Bunyip Victoria

Bunyip is a small town in Victoria about 84km from Melbourne. The name comes from a creature of aboriginal myth. A bunyip like creature was said to live beneath the waters of the swampland below Bunyip and prey on humans who ventured into the water after nightfall.  The area that Bunyip now stands on is the land of the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation and it was very much inhabited when Europeans settled there and claimed it.

When the Europeans arrived they changed the surrounding land, including draining the swamp. While the area was surveyed and the name first used in the 1850s it wasn’t until the 1860s that the present iteration of the town was surveyed and established. The railway arrived in 1877, it remains today.

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View down the hill at Bunyip.

This is the first of an ongoing series of posts I’m going to do on rural buildings, churches, halls etc in Australia.

The foundation of St Thomas’ Church was laid in 1902

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St Thomas’ is a Church of England church and an excellent example of a turn of the century Arts and Crafts church. It’s built of weatherboard and was designed by Frederick Klingender and has remained in near original condition.

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The total cost of the building was over 377 pounds and when it was opened by Rev Bishop Pain on the 29th of December 1902 approximately 400 people attended the service and 14 baptisms were registered.

Alterations to the church were needed in 1919 because of white ant damage and an entrance gate to the church ground was erected in 1943. The lych gate you can see in the photos below was erected much more recently and is modelled on the original church porch. IMG_9078IMG_9077

The Sunday School building was erected in 1906 to meet the increasing demand of pupils attending. IMG_9099

The interior of the church continues the Arts and Crafts style, and is augmented by a number of lovely stain glass windows.

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IMG_9089The stain glass window dedicated to St Thomas also carried a dedication for the A’Beckett family on its base

IMG_9087The A’Becketts were a prominent district family and the font is also dedicated to one of their number.

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St Thomas’ is a beautifully preserved example of a rural Victorian church and is still an important part of life in Bunyip.

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References:

Site visit 2016

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/30126/download-report

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/78302/20081023-0000/www.cardinia.vic.gov.au/Files/Cardiniaaboriginalstudy.pdf

http://www.victorianplaces.com.au/bunyip

St Thomas’ Church information brochure.

A Tale of Two Lighthouses

I’ve always liked lighthouses, I like their solidness, their proximity to the coast and their utility whilst still being beautiful. Growing up on the coast there were two that were constant fixtures in my life, Cape Schanck Lighthouse and Griffiths Island Lighthouse in Port Fairy.

You can see both below

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Cape Schanck

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Port Fairy

Cape Schanck is part of the Mornington Peninsula just south of Melbourne in Victoria. Port Fairy lighthouse is on Griffiths Island at the head of the entrance to the Moyne River in Port Fairy, which is in western Victoria. I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and have been visiting Port Fairy my whole life. So I couldn’t fail to notice the similarities between the two lighthouses.

There are clear visual similarities between the two structures and they were actually built at almost the same time as well. Cape Schanck was constructed between 1857 and 1859, along with the other buildings of its lightstation, by the Victorian Public Works Department. Port Fairy was built by the Victorian Public Works Department in 1859, it was originally painted red. Cape Schanck stands at 21 m and Port Fairy at 11m. Cape Schanck was built of limestone and Port Fairy of bluestone with a basalt base.

Both lighthouses are now automated, but their original lamps, which would have run on oil, were both constructed by the Birmingham company Chance Bros. The original clockwork mechanism survives at Cape Schanck. Cape Schanck’s beam reaches nearly 30 miles into Bass Strait and Port Fairy’s reaches 12 miles. They are both Fresnel lamps. The other key similarity is that both lighthouses have internal stone spiral staircases, two of only 3 surviving pre 1863 lighthouses to do so.

You can see the spiral staircase in the Port Fairy lighthouse in the video below. (the music is the Wellington Sea Shanty Society and is called Great Open Sea, it’s licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Port Fairy is, unusually for a lighthouse, built at sea level, as you can see below.

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Where as Cape Schanck stands on an 80 m cliff

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The two lighthouses were built in a time when lighthouses were key to travel and commerce in the fledgling colony. Cape Schanck was built as part of a sea road of 3 lighthouses patrolling Bass Strait. The other two were Cape Whickham and Cape Otway see below.

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Port Fairy was built to mark the entrance to the Moyne River and Port Fairy harbour, which at the time was a thriving port. See below

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They have both been in continual operation since the 1850s, though they are both now automated. They are fantastic examples of the remoteness of Victorian lighthouses and their lighthouse keepers.

Cape Schanck stands on an isolated peninsula, which is now a national park, and commands its part of Bass Strait.

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IMG_0156Port Fairy’s Griffiths Island is now connected to the mainland by a causeway, IMG_9161But in the 1800s the island was only accessible by boat and it was often dangerously rough so was cut off completely from the mainland. It was extremely isolated. The island was originally 3 islands, Rabbit (on which the light house stands), Goat and Griffiths. They have joined together as one island, partly from coastal erosion and partly from the construction that surround the islands. They serve to protect the entrance to Port Fairy. Rabbit island would have been extremely remote in the 1800s.

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Nothing survives of the lighthouse station at Port Fairy apart from the stand of Norfolk pines, which you can see in the photo above, which were planted by the lighthouse keeper as a windbreak. The quarters were demolished after the Harbour Master was relocated in 1956. The last lighthouse keeper who lived on the island was there from 1929-1954.

At Cape Schanck a number of buildings survived, as well as some later additions. There were lighthouse keepers living on site until 2016, though they had little to do with the running of the light and more to do with running the tourist accommodation that is also on site. The site is now run by Parks Victoria. The original Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage from 1859 can be seen below.

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While both lighthouses had a different specific purpose they both stood as a bastions against the wildness of the sea and protected ships, in an era when shipping was, apart from gold, the lifeblood of the growing colony. In the future I hope to look at more of Victoria’s lighthouses, but I thought this was a good place to start.

 

References:

Port Fairy

http://www.lighthouses.org.au/lights/Vic/Griffiths%20Island/Griffiths%20Island%20Lighthouse.htm#History

http://www.visitportfairy-moyneshire.com.au/activitiesattractions/coastal/466-port-fairy-lighthouse

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/2711/download-report

Numerous site visits over the years.

Cape Schank

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/8661

http://capeschancklightstation.com.au/history-of-cape-schanck-victoria/

http://www.lighthouses.org.au/lights/Vic/Cape%20Schanck/Cape%20Schank%20Light.htm

http://mpnews.com.au/2016/05/02/keepers-farewell-light-on-the-hill/

Numerous site visits over the years.

 

The photos are all mine.

Fort Denison

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It’s easy to see Fort Denison as a funny looking little island in the Sydney Harbour, but it has a fascinating history.

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When the Europeans arrived in what is now called Sydney Harbour Fort Denison looked approximately like this.

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It stood  at an elevation of about 75 feet.

For the local indigenous people the island was known as Muttewai. When the First Fleet landed the local indigenous population, the Eora, Guringai and Daruk nations, were forced inland away from traditional grounds and killed, by European diseases such as small pox, in the wars trying to protect their land from Europeans settlers and quite intentionally by Europeans. For more information click here.

I believe it is worth discussing the indigenous history of the area because, even though it doesn’t invalidate the interesting later history of Fort Denison itself, it is essential to acknowledge and understand that the European history of Fort Denison wasn’t built on a nice clean blank slate. [1]

Fort Denison itself wasn’t called Fort Denison by the European settlers to begin with. It was originally known as Pinchgut Island. Pinchgut is a nautical term meaning a narrow passage, but it was also used because the convicts they marooned there as punishment, before a gaol was built, had very little food so they always had ‘pinched guts’.  In the early 1800s a gibbet was also erected on the island to display a convict called Francis Morgan in chains. It was named Fort Denison after the current Governor of New South Wales in 1857.

The island of Fort Denison was levelled in the 1840s, partly with the idea of making it a defensive site and partly to mine the sandstone which was used to help construct Bennelong Point, which the Opera House now sits on. One of the reasons for the levelling of the island to make it a defensive position was the completely unexpected arrival of two American men of war in December 1839. They arrived over night and the locals completely failed to notice their arrival until the morning. The commander of the American ships was quoted as saying

“If [we had been] enemies, it would have been in our power before daylight to have fired all the Shipping and store houses, laid the town under contribution and departed unhurt.”

Developing the island to be a fortification was one of the reactions to this nasty shock. The top was blasted, but the majority of the work was carried out by convicts with pickaxes. By 1842 it was almost completely levelled. No decisions, however,  regarding the island’s use as a defensive structure were made and it was left levelled for a number of years.

The settlers in Sydney Harbour were always frightened of attack and coastal defences were erected, but when the Crimean War broke out in the 1850s there was serious and widespread fear of a Russian attack on Sydney. It was decided definitively that a defensive fort should be built on the island. The fort was built by paid labour with 8000 tonnes of sandstone brought over for the construction of the Martello Tower, gun batteries and barracks. The Martello Tower is the only one in Australia and one of the last of its type of Martello Tower in the world. The walls in the base of the tower are four metres thick.

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Martello Towers are a very particular type of structure and this one, the whole fort was ready for habitation by 1857, is actually one of the later examples of its kind. Martello Towers were built to a specific plan based on a tower on Mortella Point in Corsica, which held off two British warships for two days in 1794. The British were so impressed by the design that they copied it and it was replicated across the empire. Martello Towers were designed to protect the men within from cannon fire and to have cannon on the top and inside to fire back. For more information on Martello Towers click here. In the case of the Fort Denison Martello Tower, it would have originally have had a cannon on the top, but it was removed much later. You can see roughly where the cannon would have stood below.

img_9685The three cannons inside the upstairs room remain because it is impossible remove them. img_9677img_9673They were winched into place and then the roof was finished over them. As you can see from the keystone it was completed in 1857.img_9669

From the top of the tower, just below where the original cannon would have stood, you can see the power that the view from the tower would have commanded. The bell in the photo is the fog bell.

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The tower is also built to withstand cannon fire. You can see the linking keystones in the the photo below. They are made from granite and are embedded in the softer large blocks of sandstone that make up the rest of the tower, to link them together and to hold the tower in one piece in the face of a strike from a cannon.

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The tower also contains the powder storage room, where you can still see the rings left in the floor by the powder barrels, as well as another storage room next door. When men were collecting the powder for the guns they had to take their shoes off as their hobnail boots could cause sparks and set the gun powder off.

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The tower also has musket loupes in the wall as well as the cannon that were mounted around the base of the tower in the battery. You can see a loupe below as well as the view through one of the recesses in which a cannon would have stood in. It is believed that a shot from a cannon in this position could have reached the headland you can see in the photo.

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As well as the guns in the tower there were some very impressive guns in the bastion area of the Fort which can be seen on the left at the end of the photo below. The flag is a navigational aid.

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The semi circular bastion was added as the fort was built and it housed 2 cast iron ten inch shell guns each weighing 4 420 kg, like the guns in the battery these guns were mounted on movable carriages. One covered the shipping channel and one pointed south towards the harbour.

The Fort was built in response to what was seen as a serious threat and the nine massive 32 pounder guns could have destroyed wooden sailing ships. The development of armour plated steam ships and the improvement of the guns on said ships, however,  rendered the Fort obsolete by the 1870s. Fort Denison has never been in a real military battle, although there have been military units quartered there for many years. In the 19th century the Royal Artillery used the Fort for artillery practice as did the NSW Volunteer Artillery. Since the 1890s the main use has been as a light and tide station, and tides as still measured from there today. By 1936 the military units had moved out and a caretaker had moved in. You can see some of the history of the Fort and some of the work of the caretaker in the videos below from 1936. The videos are from the National Film and Sound Archive and can be found here.

The caretakers were not only single men living alone on the island. The first lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wren, and his family arrived in 1869. In the 1950s the island was occupied by Osmund Jarvis, his wife Jessie and their children. They used to show people around the fort and Jessie would make tea and scones for visitors. They grew vegetables and kept animals and were largely self sufficient, though they did bring in supplies from the mainland. You can see a fruit tree in the photo below, which is a relic from when the island was lived on. The longest serving caretaker was Cliff Morris who lived on the Fort for 25 years with his wife and two daughters. The final caretaker, Norman Dow and his family of five, left in 1992.

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In the second video from 1936 you can see the caretaker loading the small cannon that was fired at 1pm from 1906 until 1942 to allow ships to calibrate their chronometers. However the practice was discontinued in 1942 because of World War II, the sound was frightening understandably nervous Sydneysiders. The tradition was reinstated in 1986 and the modern firing can be seen the video below. I apologise for the wonkyness of the footage. I was trying to hold my phone still and cover my ears, as instructed, at the same time.

The firing of the 1 pm cannon might have been discontinued during World War II, but some more modern fire power was installed on the Fort. In the photo below you can see the remains of the concrete block in the bastion area of the fort. In 1942 a 3 inch 20 hundred weight anti aircraft gun was installed here to defend from Japanese attack. It could be lowered to fire at ships if necessary.

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Fort Denison is now an important tourist attraction, the barracks is used as a lovely and informative museum as well as being part of a restaurant with the most incredible views.

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It is a place with a fascinating and complicated past, and is well worth a visit. If you do go I would highly recommend doing the guided tour. As well as supporting the national parks service who run the island, it is also the only way you’ll get inside the Martello Tower, which is absolutely worth it. Apart from anything else, the whole place is in the most beautiful location.

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References:

Site visit 2016 and Sydney visit 2006.

The Fort Denison Museum on Fort Denison.

http://www.fortdenison.com.au/

http://aso.gov.au/titles/newsreels/australia-today-fort-denison-p/clip2/#

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/Fort-Denison

http://www.geograph.org.uk/article/Martello-Towers

http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/defending_colonial_sydney

The photos are all mine.

[1] Significantly more qualified people have written much better and in more detail about the atrocities committed towards the indigenous population of Australia. I would recommend anyone who wants a broader overview of exactly what was destroyed to read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe.

St Mary of the Angels Basilica Geelong

I found this church by accident on a recent trip to Geelong and it’s a really lovely example of Victorian Gothic.

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Geelong is in Victoria Australia about an hour out of Melbourne. It was founded in 1838 when it was laid out and officially proclaimed. Its existence is due to the need for a depot for all the squatters who were pouring into Victoria. The first land sales were held in 1839 with the Wollpack Inn opened in the same year.

The current Basilica stands on what was known as Church Hill and commands the highpoint of Geelong.

The church that can be seen today has humble origins. To begin with Catholics in Geelong, or Corio as it was often known, did not even have a priest. Father Bonaventure Geoghegan became the first priest for the St Benedict’s District, of which Geelong was part, in 1839.

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Father Bonaventure Geoghegan

http://goo.gl/XbtQJJ

Geoghegan was born in Dublin and celebrated his first Mass in an open roofed building in Melbourne on May 19 1839. He baptised the children who had been born in the four years of Melbourne’s existence. He was the only priest to care for Catholics in the whole of the existing area of Victoria. As this was such a significant task Geoghegan was given an assistant, curate Richard Walsh. Then after 12 months, when Walsh was moved to Norfolk Island, Michael Ryan was assigned. He was described by Vicar General Murphy from Sydney as “a very well disposed young man although at times a little hasty & inclined to have too much of his own way.”

It was Ryan who was assigned officially to Geelong in September 1841. Two days after his arrival, on the 8th of September 1841, Ryan celebrated what would have been the first Mass in Geelong. Under Ryan’s watch a foundation stone was laid for the beginnings of a church for the Catholics, but it wasn’t to be for Ryan and Geelong as Ryan was recalled to Sydney in October. Even without Ryan there Geoghegan continued with the plans for a church for Geelong. However progress was slow especially because it wasn’t until 1842 that Geelong again had the benefit of the resident priest. On April 13 Father Michael Stephens celebrated the first catholic marriage in Geelong. Later in 1842 the first catholic chapel was finally completed. It was a modest building made of paling about 30 feet by 20 feet and covered by a shingle roof. A far cry from the current church.

By 1846 the need for a new church had become very apparent. The census of that year showed 1003 catholics in the County of Grant which the small church serviced. The priest at the time, Richard Walsh again, set out on a campaign for the building of a permanent church. After fundraising and other efforts the foundation stone was laid on the 19th of August 1856 by Father Geoghegan.This church was opened on October 6th 1847  it was called St Mary’s and was later described…

“It was a  pretty little church built of very bad Barrabool stone. It soon began to show signs of decay, and the weather side had to get three coats of thick paint in ’53 to preserve it from the effects of frost and rain”

By 1854 the capacity of St Mary’s was very strained,the census of that year showed 3797 catholics in Geelong, and it was resolved that a new church was needed.

The first stone of the present church was laid by the Most Reverend James Alipius Goold 1st Bishop of Melbourne on the 15th of June 1854.

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Most Reverend James Alipius Goold

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goold-james-alipius-3633

The nave was completed and  opened for worship, again by Bishop Goold,  on the 4th of February 1872. IMG_1299

The Nave

Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne,  consecrated the completed church including spire, on the 16th of June 1937.

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Statue of Daniel Mannix outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.

Even before the spire was completed the church was eliciting extravagant praise.

“It exhibits an edifice of colossal cathedral proportions, such as one might expect to find in the episcopal city of some ancient Catholic continental nation, but which excites astonishment when associated with an antipodean town of yesterday… Even in this incomplete condition, the building is the most conspicuous, commodious and elegant ecclesiastical edifice in the town.”

The church was based on the 13th century gothic style. The central tower rose to a height of 100 feet above the ground and was capped with 8 crocketed pinnacles. These formed the base of the spire which rose another 98 feet into the air before terminating with a 12 foot high cross. The top of the cross was 210 feet above ground. The spire was built from inside without the use of external scaffolding.

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Ceiling below the spire.

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The Spire, you can see the cross up the top.

The total length of the church was 220 feet, the distance between the transepts was 126 feet and the nave with side aisles was 14 feet 6 inches wide. The high altar was made of Verona marble. IMG_1298

The high altar, although this is modified from the original version.

Although it was without doubt a magnificent building the church ran into problems in the 1960s as it was already beginning to age. The foundations on the western end had to be underpinned to stop subsidence and 560 stone crockets had to be removed from the spire because they kept breaking off, damaging the slate roof, causing leaks and threatening anyone walking too close to the church. Major restoration work was also undertaken in the 1980s.

In 2004 the 150th anniversary of the church was celebrated and at the anniversary Mass Archbishop Dennis Hart of Melbourne announced that the Vatican had designated St Mary’s as a Minor Basilica. One of only five in Australia.

These are the conditions for the granting of Minor Basilica status according to The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“1. A church for which the title of basilica is proposed must have been dedicated to God by a liturgical rite and must stand out as a center of active and pastoral liturgy, especially through celebrations of the Most Holy Eucharist, of penance, and of the other sacraments, which celebrations set an example for others on account of their preparation and realization according to liturgical norms and with the active participation of the people of God.

2. To further the possibility of truly carrying out worthy and exemplary celebrations, the aforesaid church should be of an appropriate size and with a sufficiently large sanctuary. The various elements required for the liturgical celebration (altar, ambo [lectern], celebrant’s chair) must be placed according to the requirements of the restored liturgy (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 288-318).

3. The church may enjoy a certain renown throughout the diocese, for example, because it has been constructed and dedicated to God on the occasion of some particular historical and religious event, or because the body or significant relics of a saint are reserved in it, or because some sacred image is there venerated in a special way.

The historical value or importance of the church and the worthiness of its art are also be considered.

4. So that, as the liturgical year progresses, the celebrations of the various seasons may be carried out in a praiseworthy manner, a fitting number of priests is necessary; they are to be assigned to the liturgical and pastoral care of the church, especially for the celebration of the Eucharist and penance (there should also be an appropriate number of confessors who at stated hours are available to the faithful).

In addition, a sufficient number of ministers is required as well as an adequate schola cantorum, which is to encourage the participation of the faithful with sacred music and singing.”

So the awarding of this title to St Mary’s is very much an acknowledgement of its importance both to the history of Victoria and to the people of Geelong.

It is a really beautiful church. Even if you are completely non religious as I am, the majesty of St Mary’s must be appreciated.

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St Mary’s from the front.

References

Ian Wynd. St Mary of the Angels Basilica. ISBN: 9780975840702

Unless otherwise stated by links the photos are mine.

Hook Lighthouse

Hook  Lighthouse on the Hook Head Peninsula is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world. It stands as a testament to the both the danger of the seas around the Hook Head Peninsula and the importance of the travel route that passes its tip.

Hook Head Peninsula is at the tip of South East Ireland and is possibly the origin of the saying ‘by hook or by crook’. Tradition has it that when Cromwell was invading Ireland he said he’d take it by hook or by crook, meaning by Hook Head Peninsula or Crooke in County Waterford. Whether this is true or not is very much debatable, but it is a nice story regardless.

The lighthouse itself was probably originally begun in the early 1200s on the orders of William Marshal. Marshal came to visit the lands in Ireland that came to him by right of his wife Isabel de Clare in 1200-1201. They were caught in a terrible storm crossing the Irish Sea and Marshal vowed to God that if they survived he would found an abbey. The ship didn’t sink and Marshal kept his word. As thanks to God for their survival he founded Tintern Abbey, which also stands on Hook Head Peninsula. It’s known as Tintern of the Vow as well as Tintern Parva, meaning small in Latin. It can be seen below.
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It is a daughter house of Tintern Abbey in wales, which also stood on Marshal land. It can be seen below.

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Hook Head Lighthouse was possibly begun around c. 1210 as a landmark and to guide ships up to Marshal’s newly built port at New Ross. The River Barrow in New Ross can be seen below.

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The light would have been coal fired and quite simple. You can see what it looks like now in the photos below, as well as the view from around the lighthouse. The particular black and white striping is unique to the Hook lighthouse so it can be clearly identified by ships.

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The walls of the lighthouse are between 2-4 m thick and there are currently three main rooms.

The coal storage room from when the light was a fire

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The secondary lighthouse keepers room and the chief light house keeper’s room. When the lighthouse was originally built it was run by monks and this room would probably have been used as a prayer space.

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Above the fireplaces in the chief lighthouse keeper’s room you can see some brown coloured stains. These are the ox blood that was used in the plaster. The heat of fires has brought it to the surface. It is possible that some of the plaster was original. It was made with straw and horsehair and ox blood to tie it together.

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Tradition has it that there was some form of light on this position before Marshal had his constructed. In c. 500-1000 CE St Dubhan founded a monastery in roughly this position and the monks used to light a beacon fire to warn ships.

The first historical record of the light is in the 1240s when the monks from Churchtown were installed as lighthouse keepers. It can be presumed that they continued as such until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. By the 17th century the light was untended, but numerous shipwrecks and complaints led to its restoration in the 1670s with the first glass lens to protect the coal fire.

In the late 1600s the lighthouse came into the possession of the Loftus family and they leased it to the authorities in 1706.

Following repeated complaints the coal fired light was replaced by an oil burning lamp in 1791.

In the 1860s the lighthouse keepers moved out of the tower and into separate dwellings

In 1871 new gas lights were installed, powered by gas which was manufactured in the gas yard. Paraffin oil subsequently became the source of power.

In 1911 a clockwork mechanism was installed so the light became a flashing one rather than a fixed beam. It had to be wound every 25 minutes.

The light became electric in 1972

In 1996 the lighthouse was automated ending 800 years of lighthouse keepers.

The current light is not open to the public, but a slightly earlier version can be seen in the coal store. It is made by Aga.

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Hook lighthouse has a fascinating history and the building itself is truly beautiful. What you can’t quite see in the photos is how tactile the walls of the lighthouse are. It curves in a way the photos just don’t translate.

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I’ve been to Hook Head twice.

Once in horrible weather.

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And once in lovely weather

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But whatever the weather it is a spectacular building, a spectacular setting and as one of the oldest operational  lighthouses in the world a real historical treasure. Not to mention it was probably begun by William Marshal, one of my favourite historical people. If you ever get the chance it is an amazing place to visit.

References: Notes from two site visits, 2012 and 2015 and http://hookheritage.ie/index.php/the-lighthouse/timeline/

The photos are all mine.

Clonmines Medieval Town

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One of the more interesting medieval sites that not that much is known about. Clonmines is the remains of an abandoned town with the ruins of two churches, three tower houses and an Augustinian Priory. The town was a port that may have been connected with New Ross in the early 1200s. It was an important town. In the 1300s justice was dispensed from there and the road between Wexford and Clonmines was considered a main road. Unfortunately the town was abandoned in the 1600s when its harbour silted up, but there were Augustinians there still into the 1700s. Clonmines also maintained a political presence into the 1800s with the final MPs leaving in 1801.   
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Clonmines today is on private land so access isn’t possible, but the view across the river is staggering.

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For more information

http://www.bannowhistory.ie/journal-2-bannow-historical-society/