28 July, 2023
Treasures on display
SEVERAL treasures from Flagstaff Hill’s rich collection of objects will be on public display for the first time following a major capital works program.
The former assistant lighthouse keepers’ quarters within the bluestone Lighthouse Keepers Cottage has been transformed into a contemporary exhibition space with new lighting, movable cabinetry and picture rails.
Following the upgrade, the three-room exhibition space currently has displays on the history of the Lighthouse Keepers Cottage, development of Flagstaff Hill site, the Warrnambool Garrison and a section commemorating a number of ‘unsung heroes’.
The renovation was made possible by a grant from the Regional Collections Access Program.
“Warrnambool is home to Australia’s best collection of shipwreck artefacts, many of which are in storage,” Warrnambool mayor Cr Debbie Arnott said.
“This upgrade will allow for more of these remarkable items to be displayed on a rotating basis while sharing the often-incredible stories that accompany them.
“If it’s been a little while since your last visit, this is the perfect opportunity to reacquaint yourself with Flagstaff Hill and be among the first to see some of the artefacts and photos on display for the first time.”
Among them is a medal of bravery presented by president of the United States of America James Garfield to Nelson Johnson in 1881.
Johnson and his crewmates helped to rescue survivors of the wrecked US-built ship Eric the Red in 1880, with president Garfield expressing his gratitude not only to Johnson and his crew for their bravery, but to the City of Warrnambool for its hospitality and the care and support extended to the survivors.
This is the first time the medal has been on display at Flagstaff Hill. Flagstaff Hill collections curator Justin Croft said that because the exhibitions in the former assistant lighthouse keepers’ quarters (Shipwreck Museum) had been left largely untouched since the 1970s and 1980s, the capital works led to their own discoveries.
“Because it was undisturbed for so long, we exposed things such as original fireplaces behind the in-built cabinets that we had no idea were there,” Mr Croft said.
“This area previously held shipwreck objects and pieces regarding the mystery of the Mahogany Ship, and this display was largely as it was when it was first installed.
“There wasn’t any flexibility in the arrangement of the exhibition cabinets, and due to the cabinets not being able to be opened, we could not appropriately care for the significant objects on display. This space definitely was in need of a refresh.”
According to Mr Croft, some of the objects on display have been redeployed to other areas of the maritime museum, with the majority being temporarily rested for conservation needs.
“I’m really excited by the exhibitions we have put together in the new space, enabling more public access to Flagstaff Hill’s significant collection,” he said
“So as well as creating a better museum space, it has also been great to be able to add to the story of the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, and enhance its heritage values, which was moved to Flagstaff Hill from Middle Island in 1872 along with the lighthouse, chart room and out-buildings.”
In recognition of two significant assistant lighthouse keepers who have lived in the building, the space will now be known as the Alexander Farncombe Gallery.
“John Alexander was the first assistant lighthouse keeper from 1859 to 1861 when the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage was located on Middle Island,” Mr Croft said.
“Andrew Farncombe assumed the role of assistant lighthouse keeper from 1864 to 1874. He played a significant role in overseeing the relocation of the lighthouse complex to its present site on Flagstaff Hill.”
The new exhibition space was officially opened on Wednesday night and will be open to the public from today (Friday).
The Regional Collections Access Program is administered through Regional Arts Victoria, in partnership with Creative Victoria, Australian Museums and Galleries Association Victoria, Public Galleries Association of Victoria and the National Gallery of Victoria.