Detail of Cypriot Amphora, Abbey Museum, www.abbeymuseum.com.au

Cyprus: A Little Island with a Big History

If you visit the RD Milns Antiquities Museum at the University of Queensland campus at St Lucia from 4th June you will see a fascinating new exhibition which is about to open. Cyprus: An Island and A People investigates the complex and fascinating history of Cyprus in the ancient world and the role of archaeology in the making of modern Cyprus. This exhibition looks at the amazing story of Cyprus, a small but strategic island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Spanning over 10,000 years of history, the exhibition traces Cyprus from the Neolithic to the Medieval period through a range of spectacular objects.  The exhibition also explores the people of ancient and modern Cyprus and the roles played by archaeologists in shaping the island’s story.

The Abbey Museum has loaned a number of significant artefacts to the RD Milns Antiquities Museum. They include a large and very impressive White Painted amphora, dating to around 750 BC, exquisite Roman glassware, an early 15th century icon representing the Presentation of Christ in the …

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detail of a statue of Napoleon www.abbeymuseum.com.au

Napoleon’s Waterloo

This year marks significant anniversaries of past wars. April 25th saw many thousands of Australians rising early in the morning to attend services across the country to remember the many Diggers who lost their lives a hundred years ago at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula. No doubt throughout the coming year other events and exhibitions will continue to remind us of the significance and drama of the final year of the First World War.

2015 also marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo – the world changing event that saw Napoleon Bonaparte defeated at last by the Duke of Wellington. In June this year many Napoleonic re-enactors are heading to France to take part in a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo and the final downfall of France’s Emperor Napoleon.

On the first of May the Pine Rivers Heritage Museum – Old Petrie Town open a new exhibition entitled Napoleon’s Last GambleThis exhibition commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. This fascinating display …

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Fashion plate of 1807 April London Dress Detail from the Abbey Museum Collection

Fashion Plates and the “Women’s Weekly” of the 1800’s

Fashion Plates one of the Abbey Museum’s Hidden Treasures

At the Abbey Museum we have recently started moving our reserve collection into a new storage facility. As part of this much needed process we are also undertaking conservation and storage needs assessment of each object. This might sound like a long and boring exercise. At times it is indeed laborious, but at other times it can be very exciting. I get to see and work with some of the amazing artefacts that are not currently on display. My latest task was to go through and check the catalogue numbers on a series of historical fashion plates.

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Abbey Museum mystery Lion Sculpure detail

A Mystery Lion Sculpture – Calling all Super History Sleuths for help?

What Am I? Identify a mystery Lion Sculpture and win a family pass to the Medieval Festival

Like many museums, the Abbey Museum has a number of interesting and somewhat quirky artefacts that have never been identified. One of these is an amazing lifelike sculpture, probably of a lion. The lion sculpture was catalogued as a medieval aquamanile, by JSM Ward, who first acquired it for the Abbey Folk Park, New Barnet, England back in the 1930s, reputedly from London. If you are not familiar with the term, an aquamanile is a water container or ewer, frequently in the form of a mammal or bird and used in medieval times at table for washing hands, a most necessary courtesy before eating. However, our senior curator is certain it is not an aquamanile, as it is slipware painted and would not hold water. Because of its shape, Ward mistakenly thought it was an aquamanile which has a similar shape.

So for the Collection Management Team the big questions are:

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Senior Curator, Michael Strong with donor Bradley Barlow of the penny farthing bicycle

Penny-Farthing Bicycle a gift to the Abbey Museum

Penny-Farthing Bicycle on Display

Through the generosity of Mr Bradley Barlow and his wife, Jeni, the Abbey Museum is extremely fortunate to have been donated a penny-farthing bicycle dating to about the late 1870s. The gift also included a rare bicycle bell, a Lucas bicycle lock and a candle lamp.

Penny-farthings are an extreme type of early bicycle.  They were popular, particularly with men, until the advent of the modern safety bicycle in the 1880s. Their production preceded the advent of the cart and allowed the first cheap mechanical locomotion after the French ‘boneshaker’ (basically a frame on wheels propelled by being pushed along with the feet). Although penny-farthings stimulated the sport of cycling, they were dangerous to ride (as Bradley can testify), with numerous accounts of injuries and even death from ‘coming a cropper’ or ‘taking a header’. Riders coasting down hills often took their feet off the pedals and put them over the tops of the handlebars, so they would be pitched off feet-first instead of head-first.

Although commonly referred to as  penny-farthings, because of comparison with a …

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metal spatula in Abbey Museum Collection

The Mystery of the Small Metal Spatula

When the Abbey Museum’s Collection was in its infancy, its founder, John S M Ward, bought a number of objects of interest from S. G. Fenton. He was a known reputable dealer in archaeological and ethnographic artefacts and owned an auction house in London. Items were sourced by Fenton from many countries. He traded between 1894 and 1927 under the names of Fenton & Sons, Messrs Fenton Ltd, Fenton & Co, S G Fenton Ltd, and Messrs Fenton Ltd and Fenton & Sons Ltd. During this time his premises were based at Holywell Street, Leicester Square and New Oxford Street in London.

Apparently Fenton often formed a relationship with known seekers of artefacts, with Fenton himself often doing personal deals. The British Museum as well as other UK and international museums acquired various items during this time, as did individual collectors.

At some point, Fenton sold a small decorated metal spatula to Ward. The object was labelled as a bronze spatula for giving the Viaticum used by the Knights of St John. This object …

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Post card of Conway castle in the Abbey Museum Collection

Why Postcards?

Throughout his entire life the Reverend JSM Ward, founder of the collection at the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology, was driven by a desire to understand the evolution of humankind. He amassed some 90,000 objects which provide brief glimpses into the lives of cultures and civilizations long past. While most of his collection were objects used by people, Ward also brought together a contemporary collection of postcards. Luckily for us postcards are easily transportable, deftly stored and mostly have little value and therefore are unlikely to be on top of an asset list. Postcards often remain with collectors longer than more valuable objects might in times of financial hardship.

Ward’s postcard collection includes images of archaeological and historical sites, tourist attractions, spiritually meaningful places and culturally distinctive snapshots of people, events and lifestyles from about the late 1800s until his death in 1949. While they are positioned mostly outside the usual collection policy of the Museum, we have included these as part of the Ward memorabilia section. For many months now, I have been assiduously sorting them and slowly …

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Tiny Satsuma Vase at the Abbey Museum

Lost and Found – The Tale of the Tiny Satsuma Vase

Many of you will know the Abbey Museum collection has quite an interesting history. A story that starts in England in the late 1800’s when a young English boy started to collect Roman coins and pottery taking them to the esteemed British Museum for identification. This young lad was John Sebastian Marlow Ward, a boy with a passion for history and understanding people of the past. In 1934 his collection had grown and he opened the Abbey Folk Park, the first social history museum in England. Ward amassed some 90,000 objects that covered the story of humankind over 500,000 years of world history.

Sadly the Second World War brought the closure of Ward’s Folk Park and in 1946 Ward and a small community he had formed, left England with only a small percentage of the original collection.  One of the artefacts to set sail from England with Ward was a beautiful miniature Satsuma vase. Like many of his collection, it travelled to Cyprus where it languished for 9 years, before it was taken first to Sri Lanka (at that time …

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Gun Powder Plot detail

Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

The story of Guy Fawkes and the so-called Gun Powder Plot

The notorious Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of Roman Catholic revolutionaries in England in the early 17th century. In 1605, this group planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill James I of England, his family and most of the Protestant aristocracy during the State opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605. However, the plot was discovered and Guy Fawkes was captured. On 31st January, Fawkes and a number of others implicated in the conspiracy were tried in Westminster Hall. After being found guilty, they were taken to Old Palace Yard in Westminster and St Paul’s Yard, where they were hung, drawn and quartered. Fawkes, however, managed to avoid the worst of this cruel execution by jumping from the scaffold where he was supposed to be hanged, breaking his neck before he could be drawn and quartered.

In the Abbey Museum you will find a copy of the Queen Anne Prayer Book, one of only seven known. This rare book contains a prayer of …

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Medieval Music Manuscript at the Abbey Museum

Medieval Manuscripts Reveal More History

As visitors wander through the Abbey Museum they come across the entrance to a side gallery. Dimly lit, a figure of an old monk sitting in the corner, silently scribing a biblical text, beckons the visitors in. As they near the doorway case lights flicker on to reveal a treasure room of medieval manuscripts. The oldest manuscripts include an antiphon fragment dating from the 1100 AD. It contains a musical response and text for the third nocturne of matins.

One of my favourite medieval manuscripts to share with visitors is a folio from a Book of Hours. Dated to 1450 AD, it is written in ink on vellum and illuminated in paint and gold leaf. What is so compelling about this piece is a tiny illustration of a bird feeding her chicks in the nest which is incorporated into one of the illuminated capital letters. There is also an example of the rules from a monastic order from Italy that dates to 1500 AD, and a …

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