The History of Mawson House

The large historic house opposite the MiniBar on Taylors Road, commonly known as ‘Mawson House’, is currently under renovation.  It is owned by Troy Irvine who is also owner of A-Frame Chalets @ Mokutu.  He thought the story of the house and the interesting artefacts found so far was a story worth sharing.  Here it is.

Mawson House Norfolk Island

Mawson House Norfolk Island

The house was in recent history owned by Wilfred Arthur (Art) Mawson – the very same man who restored Branka House and built the Mawson Units in the hospital grounds for ageing (but mobile) patients.

Mawson House is built on land originally owned by Matthew Quintal’s son Arthur Quintal, born on Pitcairn Island in 1795, and who died on Norfolk Island in 1873.

The land was then transferred to Arthur’s son Cornelius Quintal.  Known as Pa Cornish, Cornelius Quintal was born on Pitcairn in 1841. After arriving on Norfolk he worked for the Melanesian Mission, but later went to sea as a whaler, and was considered one of the finest whalers to come out of Norfolk Island.  Pa Cornish lived in the house and was the leader of the Methodist church on the island.

Dwight Allen, an American Whaler who arrived on Norfolk in February 1866, apparently built the house for Cornelius (or at least extended it in the late 1800’s).  I have been told it was in exchange for the land where the current Post office is sited.

Carved-boneInterestingly a large part of the house was built out of recycled material including wood and stone from the convict buildings at Kingston and Longridge. At the time timber was very expensive and time consuming to cut, as every piece needed to be cut by hand.  So much of the materials from convict buildings were utilised, and this is best seen underneath the convict floorboards and in the ceiling, with many of the pieces of timber showing mortise joints that are characteristic of convict times.

We have also found a huge quantity of bone, with a couple of carved pieces pictured being a deer among trees.

Susan Quintal writing slatePossibly the most interesting find so far has been a writing slate with ‘Susan Quintal’ scratched into the top of it. Susan was Cornelius’ daughter who was born in 1874. These slates would have been brought to the island in large quantities by the Melanesian Mission and provided a perfect reusable surface to practice writing as they could be easily wiped clean with a wet rag.

We have over the last few weeks been working on the foundations and overall, the sandstone foundations that remain have lasted very well. The building still has one of its original chimneys, which has just been uncovered under the wall in the bedroom and is made up of some nice large blocks of cut stone. Supporting the mantle stone were two convict window bars that had expanded so much with rust they had lifted the whole chimney.

Good luck shoes!We found another window bar from beside another chimney foundation under the floor at the other end the house, which was apparently the kitchen chimney.  Around its foundations were more than 10 very old children, women’s and men’s leather shoes. I was reading online that shoes and items of clothing were commonly put into cavities of a house as a superstition for luck, which would possibly explain why there are so many there.  This is obviously a very lucky house!

The work continues on the house and we expect to find a few more interesting items. If anyone has any old images of the house or information from those who lived there, I would be grateful to hear from you.

Troy (Ph: Int+ 6723 51512)

1 Responce in The History of Mawson House
Troy says:

Hi Rosemary,

Dwight Allen built/renovated this house but he lived close by. Unfortunately his house is now gone and only the old well remains. The post office and customs building now sits on on the location of his house. If you are ever on island get in touch with me and I will show you through the house. Best Troy

August 4, 2014 at 8:35 am