Valerie Browne Lester, author and relation of Clarence Bicknell, is in the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera researching her biography of Clarence Bicknell. This is one of her dispatches from the front line.
A series of large plastic boxes and a bookcase contain Marcus Bicknell's fine collection of works by and about Clarence Bicknell, photographs, and other memorabilia. The strangest item is a leather strap which from which hang the silver medallion of the Societas Sancti Spiritus (the brotherhood to which Clarence belonged when he was at Stoke-on-Tern) and two green pendants. Is it a keychain? Is it a watchchain?
The note written by Margaret Berry that accompanies the strap declares that Clarence brought the jade pendants back from Ceylon, but there's something funny about this. The stones are typical Maori pendants, made from New Zealand greenstone. I double-checked with a New Zealand friend about this and here is what he said: "No question at all, at least not in regard to the one on the left; it's a classic shape (a slightly stylized war-club in fact). The one on the right isn't familiar to me, but the pendant style and colour of the stone is. Even though I don't recognize the shape, I wouldn't have hesitated to call it greenstone rather than jade."
The pendants are, thus far, the first chip of hard evidence that points to Clarence's legendary trip to the Antipodes. Time and again, those who write about Clarence, including Marcus's uncle Peter Bicknell, mention his trip to New Zealand but do not provide any proof. If he did indeed go there, he must have gone at some point during his year of travels, his lost year, the hiatus between his time in Stoke-on-Trent and his arrival in Bordighera in 1878.
Another tiny clue about a visit by Clarence to the Antipodes surfaced the other day in a letter that Marcus received from Dr. Peter McQuillan of the School of Geography & Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania. McQuillan says: "I stumbled upon your excellent website on Clarence Bicknell in my attempts to discover something of how his name became attached to one of the most common and conspicuous ants in south eastern Australia: Iridomyrmex bicknelli. . . Do you have any evidence that he may have visited Tasmania? Because this is where the original ant specimens were apparently collected, and it is a common ant to this day in the vicinity of the port at Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania."
The mind boggles but is not stunned with surprise, at the thought of a large Tasmanian ant named after Clarence Bicknell!
Back to the keychain. The other evening in Bordighera when I was having dinner at the home of the amazingly kind Dr. Bruna Da Paoli, who works in the Museo Bicknell, I happened to notice an item on a small table in her entryway. I took a photo, and I think you'll agree that Bruna's key strap bears a remarkable resemblance to the photo at the top of this page.
Added by Marcus Bicknell 11 September 2017: the following email from Dougal Austin, an expert in this field in New Zealand, confirms that the pendants are from New Zealdn not Ceylon. But we still have no evidence, in 2017, that Clarence went to new Zealand.
"Tēnā koe Marcus, Thank you for your inquiry. The two jade pendants take the shape of typical Māori artefacts: the patu (hand held weapon) and the kapeu (bent ear pendant). The kapeu may have been an actual ear pendant, whereas the patu has been reduced significantly in size in order to make a pendant. The gold attachment at the top of the patu pendant is interesting, the combination of gold and pounamu ‘New Zealand Jade’ pointing to late 19th-early 20th century origin. I consider both have probably been made by European settler lapidary workshops in the late 19-ealy 20th century, probably mainly for the tourist market, though Māori also sometimes bought and used pendants such as these too. Traditional working of pounamu by Māori had ceased in most areas by 1900AD, so they acquired copies of cultural artefacts from Pākehā or European settler retailers at that time. The stone is very probably pounamu, commonly called greenstone in New Zealand, and geologically known as nephrite jade. The vivid green of the kapeu pendant is very typical of New Zealand nephrite, though we also get darker colours such as has been used for the patu. I hope this is helpful.
Heoi anō – Yours Sincerely
Dougal Austin - Kāti Māmoe,Kāi TahuCurator, Taonga Tūturu 19-20th Century
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