Last week’s marine debris survey at Bauer Bay turned up something that wasn’t dumped from the sea. A fragment of clay pipe bowl, bearing a very clear maker’s stamp, appears to be a remnant of the sealer days, when men worked long hours with one of these continuously in their mouths.
The stamp reads ‘Ben Nevis Cutty'. Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles (a fact established in 1870) and a cutty is a short-stemmed pipe.
Some Internet research has indicated that Ben Nevis was a brand of pipe made in the village of Knockcroghery, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, which was a major pipe-making centre until it was destroyed during the Irish War of Independence in June, 1921. As this coincided with the decline of pipe-smoking, due to the increasing popularity of cigarettes, the industry was never re-established.
So it is likely that our pipe bowl was originally used by one of the men working the sealer sites of the west coast of the island, sometime between 1870 and 1921. In fact, these dates fit very well with known sealing ventures to the west coast and Bauer Bay area in 1878–9 under Captain Donald Sinclair, and the abandonment of seal and penguin oil harvesting on Macquarie Island in 1919–20 by the industrialist Joseph Hatch, after his licence to undertake such operations was cancelled.
The cessation of these operations was in large part due to pressure brought to bear on the Tasmanian Government by Sir Douglas Mawson and members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, who wished to see animal life on Macquarie Island preserved and protected. This later led to Macquarie Island’s very early establishment as a wildlife sanctuary in 1933 and is a fascinating early example of the conflict between environmental and economic interests, something we all read about regularly now.
So our small pipe bowl is a great reminder of the history of this island, and how that relates to its present. The pipe will be catalogued and remain on the island, and hopefully will be displayed to visitors in the small museum that is planned for the future.
Melanie Van Twest