IMG_3676.JPG Hi there! My name is Darren and I've just started my PhD in history at the University of Sydney.

That's me on the right and if I'm looking a little daunted, it's for two main reasons. First, I'm still very much a selfie amateur. Second, I'm soon to embark on my first research journey into the archives in July.

In the months leading up to my research trip and on the trip itself, I'll be posting about my experiences on the History Matters blog: my planning, hopes, trials, and tribulations. Hopefully, I'll provide an insight into a postgraduate's first trip to the archives. I'll also try to share some good tips and useful resources. I've already received great advice from my supervisors and scholars elsewhere (including where to get the best coffee near the Paris archives ... very important detail for many of us postgrads!). Perhaps I'll even be able to interview an archivist or scholar along the way! I do promise good photos tho (hoping to have access to some splendid Persian manuscripts).

Before I tell you where I am going, let me tell you about my thesis. I'll be brief. In the 1530s, the first formal relations were established between France (king Francis I) and the Ottomans (sultan Suleyman), with the result of France's first embassy in Istanbul. I'm looking at the way the concept of 'the Turk' and Islam figured in the French imagination from 1530 to 1630, and how that diplomatic presence took shape. My current supervisors are Associate Professor Nicholas Eckstein and Dr Hélène Sirantoine.

My project means visiting the archives in Paris to access a range of primary sources. These include correspondence from the French diplomats and missions in Istanbul (and the broader Ottoman world), manuscripts brought back from the Orient, and printed news pamphlets about the Ottomans that were circulating in France at the time.

Many of these sources sit in collections at the Bibliothéque nationale de France. The BnF has an incredible online platform called Gallica, which hosts over four million digitised documents from across the centuries (as at 24 October 2016). Some of my sources have been digitised and are available on Gallica, but many haven't been and so I need to consult them on-site.

So, what's my itinerary?

As it turns out, I'm presenting my first international paper at the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean annual conference in July. It's held in Ghent this year, so I'll be spending some time in Belgium first. In Brussels, I hope to drop into the Pirenne Archives (Université libre de Bruxelles) for some research I'm doing on medieval historian Henri Pirenne (see my 2015 post about Pirenne). I'll then head to Bruges to visit the archives of the Adorno family, a medieval Brugeois family that travelled in the Islamic world and even built a chapel in Bruges modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. You can check them (and the chapel) out here.

After Belgium, I head to Paris. The BnF is a big institution with several sites. I'll be spending most of my time at the Richelieu and Arsenal sites, as well as the Department of Manuscripts. There has been a huge renovation work underway at Richelieu which is both exciting (it's a beautiful library) and concerning (renovations could throw up some challenges for my research). More on that renovation later because it's such an impressive library.

Anyway, that's it from me for the moment. Very soon I'll post about budgeting and planning, as well as introduce you to the Richelieu library.


In 1790, eleven Tahitian women and a baby girl departed Tahiti, on board HMAV Bounty, on a journey that would see them settle on the remote pacific Island of Pitcairn. Where they, the women, would ultimately become the dominant agents in the development and creation of a new Anglo-Pacific society and culture. Accompanying them were nine English mutineers, seeking a secure and remote hideaway from the inevitable British Naval search party, with a further six Polynesian men along for adventure and a new life.

By the turn of the century in 1800, all the men except for John Adams were dead along with two of the founding women. Accidental death and disease accounting for a few of the deaths, the majority though were the result of murder and massacre as the European and Polynesian men fought each other over land rights and the favour of the women. Thus, at the start of the new millennium on Pitcairn there was one man, ten women and a growing herd of young children, who needed caring for.

Cleary, you would conclude that the major responsibility for raising and sustaining these children was going to fall to the women. Or so you would think. But somehow or other this logical and obvious conclusion has been subsumed by a Eurocentric male tradition that objectifies the Pitcairn women and denies them agency in the story.

At last the full story of the women of Pitcairn is being revealed in a fresh contemporary way that utilises the material heritage and culture that these women brought with them to Pitcairn and the unique tapa cloths that these women manufactured, designed and decorated on the Island. Cloths and designs that linked their past sustained their present and informs the future.

In this fresh social interpretation, of history, it is the tapa that become our primary source of information. We know the tapa was made in the traditional way, a method that would shortly fall into abeyance on Tahiti, as the influence of the arriving Western missionaries curtailed its use. Obviously, the missionaries dictates would have no effect on Pitcairn. In addition to clothing the new community the cloth would provide: bedding, blankets, towels, nappies, bandages. The women worked together collectively, free to chat and plan, passing on their oral history, songs and cultural traditions to the younger women who in their turn would pass it on to their daughters. On Pitcairn, the women added new designs, inspired by their new surroundings and experimented with new dyes and colours extracted from the vegetation on the island.


Whilst these women may not have been able to grant and give formal interviews to enhance the historical record. What they did leave behind, their unique tapa cloths, continue to give us a unique insight into their world, their social structures, culture and gifting practices. They were not objects their tapas gave them a voice and are continuing witness to the important role that the Pitcairn women played in the formation of a unique hybrid Polynesian society.

In 1789 one of the most famous mutinies in western naval history occurred. A ship named The Bounty, captained by William Bligh, experienced a bloodless and effective mutiny, which ended with Bligh and his supporters deposited into a small dinghy.
The root of the mutiny lay deep, but one of the instigating factors was an extended six month layover at Tahiti, during which the men of the Bounty struck up many short lived friendships and indulged in many of the luxuries available to them. Afterwards Bligh could not reconcile the discipline of the British Navy with the freedom the crew had enjoyed in Tahiti, and was soon deposed.
Historians and artists have debated the morality of William Bligh and mutineer leader Christian Fletcher, but that isn’t the focus of this exhibition.
In fact the only reason to mention the Bounty at all is so that you might understand how these mutineers returned to Tahiti, and why they might have been able to use the authority of the ship and their connection with William Bligh to convince several Tahitian Women and men to come with them to Pitcairn Island, a then uninhabited place far from the grasp of the British Navy.
Many other works of history and fiction have documented the fates of these men, and the consequences that some were forced to meet and that others avoided.
There are far fewer accounts about the women who accompanied the mutineers, who bore their children, suffered their abuses and helped to nurture Pitcairn Island into its future form. And so it is our aim to examine their role in the founding of Pitcairn Island and the ways in which they shaped its’ development and evolution.
We will establish a basic timeline of events, so that you might better understand the facts of history as they stand, and be able to apply the general details of the narrative to the other exhibits. We will also examine the Tapa cloth in detail, and explore its place in Pitcairn Island and its significance in broader pacific history. You will also be able to listen to an interview given by contemporary residents of Pitcairn Island, and to hear from the women of Pitcairn themselves what it means to be a resident of the island.
And finally, we will give you a crash course in Historiography, and teach you how to apply narratives of history to physical objects rather than literary sources, so that you might better understand how to analyse history.
This won’t be the last word on the subject, and it is our hope that this is the first of many examinations on the Women of the Bounty. And through this exhibition we might understand better how women are portrayed in historical accounts, and how we might focus on them. From its beginning to the present day, Pitcairn Island wouldn’t be the same without the often opposing forces of European colonisation and Tahitian culture, and now we get to see this clash up close.

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Have you ever heard of breadfruit? Would you believe me if I told you that this species of fruit that grows in the Pacific was at the heart of colonialisation during the 18th century? Pitcairn is synonymous with mutiny, breadfruit, cultural reprisal, integration of culture and cultural hybridity. To tell a history of colonization, one must mention the role of breadfruit in accomplishing trade routes and networks of colonies in the South Pacific to the West Indies. The dispersal of breadfruit (a name derived from the Oceania fruits texture and described taste of being like ‘baked bread’!) is strictly correlated to human seafaring activities.

Colonization; the word itself invokes images of ships, immense cargos, rendezvous sailors, exotic islands and flourishing trade routes and networks. Colonization is racial and discriminatory in theory, and cruel in practice. The process involves the idea of settling amongst and cementing control over the lives, cultures and areas of land of indigenous peoples. The repercussions of colonialisation is far and outstanding. In history, trade and colonialisation go hand in hand. Also in this history, the silence of women is apparent.

The Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty is the catalyst in understanding and researching the impacts of colonization on native indigenous peoples in the South Pacific, especially Pitcairn. Pitcairn is an enigma to historicity, a pivotal marker in understanding the history of slavery and empire, and a crucial case study in exploring hybrid and mixed indigenous and western cultures. Pitcairn is a community of Anglo-Tahitian descendants from the 1787 voyage of the HMS Bounty to Tahiti required to collect and transport a cargo of breadfruit plants to the West Indies. Captained by Bligh and manned by history’s and pop-cultures most infamous Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers, the tale of the Bounty, a seemingly all man driven narrative, is veiled and empowered by the mutineer genre. This genre, can hinder one’s interpretation on the actions and roles of women, particularly the Tahitian women taken by the mutineers for resettlement at Pitcairn.

I know what you are thinking, why would women be important in telling this mutineer tale on breadfruit and colonization on Pitcairn specifically and more broadly the South Pacific? Essentially, the women are crucial in understanding the impact of colonization on mixed-cultures and in understanding the reprisal of traditional indigenous practice and customs on Pitcairn. These Tahitian women adapted their cultural practices in resettlement resulting in aesthetic innovations of tapa making (bark cloth), that are unique to the island of Pitcairn. As the telling of history can be male dominated the roles and actions of women can take a ‘back seat’ in history. This “back seat” in history ignores the role of these women in creating the foundations of settlement and new culture (I would say, ensuring survival as well); and the generations of female descendants (of these Polynesian women and Bounty mutineers) who have struggled to have an historical representation that is representative of the role of the female Polynesian community on Pitcairn and Norfolk.

To tell the early history of Pitcairn, the Bounty and breadfruit are drivers in this narrative. But to generations of female Anglo-Tahitian Bounty descendants, empowering the role of their foremothers through the language of technology and design are just as important. Thee historian can see markers of cultural movement, communication and legacy between the Polynesian Islands through the silent, yet intangibly loud archaeological record of the tapa.

Breadfruit panel: http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-135498865/view

For more detailed history on Pitcairn: http//www.government.pn/Pitcairnshistory.php

This year’s cohort for HSTY 3902 is small and dedicated. So far, we have been discussing a range of issues in the classroom about undertaking public or community history projects. These have included matters of respect and ethical engagement, representation and the nature of evidence. We’ve been lucky enough to have visits from former 3902 students Erin Blanchfield and Sarah Graham; Anna Clark (UTS); Sally Zwartz; and Michaela Cameron (University of Sydney).

Thinking about what we’ve learned and discussed thus far, students decided to write a blog entry in the form of a conversation, following a prompt I put up on our class website. The prompt was: what do you think are the most important skills to develop when engaging in a community or public history project? Here are the responses:

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In a stolen ship, after initiating a mutiny and returning to Tahiti, nine mutineers desperately searched for an island on which to forge an independent community, free from the repercussions of their deeds. Upon their arrival at Pitcairn, in 1790, they burned their ship. By removing their only form of transport, they completely isolated themselves on one of the world’s most remote islands, demonstrating a confidence (or perhaps sheer determination) that this venture would succeed. This is a story of treacherous betrayal, high-sea adventures and man’s quest to rule his own identity that has become part of the western popular imagination. However, as is often the case in history, there are forgotten protagonists within this story. With the mutineers, nine Polynesian men and twelve women from Tahiti sailed to Pitcairn. In particular, the story of the women, who outnumbered and outlived the men, is far more compelling.

After ten years of settlement, all but one mutineer, John Adams, and ten women survived. With them was a large collection of children whose were raised on the cusp on Polynesian and European traditions and values. Even before the number of men dwindled due to murder, alcohol and suicide, these women had agency. Through material culture and oral history, stories have emerged that paint these women as innovators, strategists and highly capable of seafaring adventures.

Like the men, not all the women were of single mind. Teehuteatuaonoa (‘Jenny’) was determined to return home to Tahiti. She finally managed to bargain her way back on a whaling ship in 1817 where she recounts stories of numerous murder plots that were thwarted and even concocted by the women themselves.

Another of the founding women, Mauatua (‘Isobella’), was highly skilled at tapa making, the practice of making cloth from bark. She could make a cloth as soft as muslin, a skill that reflected her high status. Her genealogy can be traced through the descendants as she passed on her skills. Due to the influences of missionaries, the cultural practice of tapa began to decline in Tahiti during this period and eventually disappeared. However, in Pitcairn, tapa making continued till the 1940s and is part of a current restoration of cultural heritage. Surviving artefacts show us that these women turned to their own cultural practices to help consolidate their new identities and social order.

This project is inspired by a small piece of tapa that is held in the Macleay Museum. This small piece of tapa has travelled nearly 8000kms from Pitcairn to its current resting place. Even now, physically getting to and from Pitcairn, takes a Herculean effort, yet the story of the Bounty and the settlement on Pitcairn has crossed the globe, becoming a part of the western popular imagination as well as the basis of identity for the descendants. This project is just a small effort to ensure that the forgotten and important story of the women travels just as far, if not further.


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