Community, History

Mystery museum find puzzles experts

Marlborough Heritage Trust regional collections manager Logan Coote with the mystery bottle. Photo: Matt Brown.

A mystery bottle packed away on a museum shelf for decades has baffled experts.

While cleaning out cupboards at the Edwin Fox museum in Picton during lockdown, Marlborough Heritage Trust regional collections manager Logan Coote came across treasure.

But instead of an ornate locked chest, this treasure came in a plastic, orange nail box.

An old bottle, thought to have come off the wreck of the Edwin Fox, has the museum staff scratching their heads.

“It looks like a 1780’s bottle,” Logan says.

“I posted pictures on a bottle collectors’ website and we think it’s probably American.

“We don’t know why it would be on the Edwin Fox.”

Logan says most of the treasures from the ship were small – discarded bric-a-brac that had fallen through cracks in the deck.

The bottle’s method of construction tipped off the archaeologist to its origins.

“It could be from an American whaling ship and got mixed up.

“It’s a mystery – but it’s nice to have.

“We’ll keep doing research.”

The “cheap” bottle, which probably held beer, is too large to have fallen through cracks.

“There were collectors in the Sounds that didn’t necessarily record where they found things,” Logan says.

“It’s not made particularly well, but it’s functional.”

He says it could have washed up on the beach – but documentation with the bottle says it’s from the Edwin Fox.

“It can take a bit of unravelling.”

The bottle wasn’t the only treasure found in the dusty cupboards hidden amongst decades-worth of meeting notes and accounts at the back of the Picton museum.

Porcelain from China and Japan, nuts used for food, pipe stems and prisoner of war art all saw the light of day for the first time since the 80’s.

“The miracle is it’s been looked after,” Logan says.

Marlborough Heritage Centre executive director Steve Austin says the ship is a national treasure.

“The Edwin Fox is unique in the world and the focus of two PHD studies,” he says.

“We do everything to preserve objects – how they’re interpreted changes over time.”

Steve says the past isn’t any less complicated than today – and without the material objects no research can be done.

Constructed in 1853 the Edwin Fox sailed through to the 1880’s.

It transported trade goods, soldiers, immigrants, and convicts.

“It had a real mixture of functions,” Steve says. “It was the roots of the global economy in Marlborough.”

Logan says treasure comes in unassuming packages.

“There’s enough to get excited about,” he says.

Steve says their goal is to keep the best artifacts safe.

Marlborough Museum and the Edwin Fox Museum are both open, with staff encouraging locals to come, learn about the history of the region and explore your own back yard.

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