Wednesday, April 04, 2007


A little after midnight last night, there was some excitement at "Devon", with Bernie and our friends Tom and David all holding phones to their ears, as we all held our breath. They were bidding on a desk which was being auctioned on the other side of the world, in the town of Itchen Stoke near Winchester, England. Finally the cry came "We got it!" as the price rose to their agreed maximum, and they were, incredibly, now the only ones in the race!
The story begins with an email circulating the island on Saturday, from a gentleman in England who was putting the desk up for auction. It was from the estate of his mother-in-law, who died last year. The desk had once belonged to Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, the first Bishop of Melanesia, and had been made for him from Norfolk and New Zealand timbers, for his study here on Norfolk Island, when the Melanesian Mission had its headquarters here in the latter part of the 19th century.

The owner was anxious that the desk should go to an appropriate home, hence the advice about the upcoming auction.

When we heard about it, we decided it should definitely come home to Norfolk Island. Time was of the essence, and we hastily contacted the firm of auctioneers, with emails flying back and forth, I think the auctioneers were a little surprised that we apparently had an old photo of the desk, probably taken before 1871, when the Bishop was martyred in the Solomons.

John Coleridge Patteson had been a prominent figure in trying to stop the "blackbirding" going on at this time, whereby young island boys were enticed or forced to travel away from their island homes to provide cheap labour in places likw Queensland. Ironically, Patteson met his death when he was ironically mistaken for a "blackbirder" on the island of Nukapu, from where five boys had recently been taken. St Barnabas' Chapel on Norfolk Island was built as a memorial to him, fulfilling a long-held dream he had spoken about previously.

Patteson had left the desk to his cousin in England, the well-known Victorian novelist Charlotte Yonge. Because of this connection, as well as the Patteson connection, the auctioneers warned us that there was a great deal of interest in the item in England and in Australasia, which would no doubt push the price up well beyond the pre-auction estimate of 800-1000 pounds for a desk of that size, style and vintage. Regrettably, in spite of the owner's intentions, it would probably go to the highest bidder.

The owner has told us when we contacted him, that the desk was given to his mother-in-law about 45 years ago by a patient whom she had nursed, but he knew little else. However, the provenance was well-documented by the following.

An old fragmented hand written note to the centre drawer lining records;

‘‘….entirely by his own carpenter who worked building fathers house in 1866, went down with Bp Patteson to N.I., and has been with ….. off and on ever since. The top and parts of the drawers are of yew and mottled Kauri. The sides are made from a log of Cedar which John Adams found on Philip Island. The top was inlaid by my fathers old Captain, Champion who now …… on Norfolk Island and who took infinite pains with it.
In a different hand
Made in Norfolk.
Received May 188.. from the Bishop of Melanesia. Chl Jonge. (signed in her hand)

This is one of the photos of the desk sent to us by the firm of auctioneers.

We are told it is 2 - 3 times heavier than a normal desk of this size! But it will be so good to see it come home, to a building that is on the same site as the original Bishop's house here on Norfolk Island.

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