EARLY MUSEUM CONTRIBUTOR: JOSEPH GREACEN BLACK
By Dr Monty Soutar February 2006
Two obituary notices in the past five months prompted some interest at the Tairawhiti Museum. The first, in September, was for David Black 79 years of Muriwai and the second just 4 weeks ago was for Nancy Black who was 97. Were these relatives of Greacen Black whose collected pieces are among our museum’s earliest deposits? A few phone calls soon revealed the connection. Nancy was the wife of Bob—a grandson, and David was another grandson—in 1954 his father, Major Dick Black, deposited the J. G. Black collection with the museum just after it was established.
Born in Northern Ireland, Greacen’s family came via Australia to Christchurch, where in 1865 his father set up a general store. The teenager dabbled in storekeeping on the West Coast gold fields before marrying Mary McKay. The couple raised 8 children in their Christchurch home where for thirty years Greacen grew and exported coxford seed and dairy products. A passionate yachtsman during his time at Akaroa he sailed in many local regattas.
In 1905 the family moved here to Gisborne where they bought a house in Graham Road, naming it Glencarrig. The Blacks also bought farms at Arakihi (Tolaga Bay), Pakowhai (Muriwai) and a property at Hexton, which they sold soon after. Greacen also bought a station in the outback of Queensland, which he called Wainui. His sons ran the properties while he devoted his time to travelling and studying.
But to return to Greacen. All his life he amassed collections, many Maori and Pacific Island artifacts, interesting curios from his travels and books of the early explorers and sailors, including Captain Cook. Gisborne in the 1930’s had no museum so after his death some of these items were deposited in the Napier Museum.
One item of interest, now sitting in obscurity behind our museum, is a cannon he obtained during a trip to Australia in 1919. It had been retrieved from the sea near Cooktown, Queensland and was believed to have come from Cook’s Endeavour when she ran aground on the Barrier reef in 1770.
On behalf of the local philosophical society, Greacen presented the cannon to the ‘Town of Gisborne’ and it was placed at the foot of the Cook Memorial at Kaiti. Research by the historian J.A. MacKay later suggested that all of Cook’s cannons were made of gunmetal, and not iron. This prompted a removal of the cannon from the memorial to the back of the museum where it is labeled ‘Not Cook’s Cannon’. More recently it has been proposed that the cannon, an obsolete type by the 1760's, could have been used as ballast in the Endeavour. Thanks to Gordon Jackman (great-grandson) for information.
The registration number for this greenstone cloak pin is 54/1, making it the very first item recorded in the museum’s register. The year was 1954 when the museum was part of the Gisborne Arts Society.
Greacen Joseph Black (1850—1932)
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