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June 13, 2001
(Tourism, Culture and Recreation)

Province receives heritage treasures

Kevin Aylward, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, and Kelvin Parsons, MHA - Burgeo and La Poile, today announced the designation of two mariner's astrolabes as provincial heritage treasures. The astrolabes are referred to as Mushrow Astrolabes I and II in recognition of the discoverer, Wayne Mushrow.

"Astrolabes are very rare in the world, as only 84 are known to exist in the world and four in Canada, three of which are from our province," said Minister Aylward. "We are privileged to have these not only because of their rarity, but also because these are important icons of Newfoundland and Labrador's 17th century rich migratory fishing industry. By designating these astrolabes as provincial heritage treasures we are acknowledging their significance to the provincial collection of the Newfoundland Museum."

Astrolabes are navigational instruments normally made out of heavy metal such as brass or bronze and used throughout the 1500s and 1600s to measure latitude. By the end of the 17th century newer navigational instruments replaced this technology and those astrolabes that were left on land were likely melted down and the metals used for other purposes. Thus, those astrolabes that have been discovered have been primarily recovered from underwater archaeology sites.

The Mushrow astrolabes were found in the early 1980s by Wayne Mushrow on a shipwreck near Isle aux Morts. Mushrow Astrolabe I was previously given to government and today, Mushrow Astrolabe II was officially transferred to the provincial collection of the Newfoundland Museum. Mushrow Astrolabe I dates to 1628 and is likely Portuguese in origin while Mushrow Astrolabe II is dated to 1617 and is believed to be French in origin. The ship itself sank sometime after 1638 and although its identify is not known, based on the artifacts found on it during archaeological excavations it is thought to have been a French merchant or fishing vessel. The astrolabes and other artifacts found on the ship point to the early European migratory fishery in the province. Mr. Mushrow is being commended for delivering these artifacts to the province, which they are protected under the Provincial Historic Resources Act. 

"I am delighted to have Mushrow Astrolabe II in the district," said MHA Kelvin Parsons. "The first astrolable has rendered tremendous economic benefits to the south west coast economy, attracting visitors worldwide. Now, with the second astrolabe, we can expect more benefits for the tourist industry."

"Astrolabes have both a past and a future," added Minister Aylward. "We appreciate them for their role in the history of marine navigation and today recognize them as provincial heritage treasures. We are very grateful to Mr. Mushrow for transferring these to government to be held in trust for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Because of the uniqueness of these astrolabes, they will be a wonderful tourism and cultural attraction for the province." 

Ceremonies were held in the communities of Isle aux Morts and Channel-Port aux Basques to officially announce the designation of Mushrow Astrolabes I and II to the province's archaeology collection and to highlight the historical significance of these artifacts. 

Media contact:
Catherina Kennedy, Communications, Tourism, Culture and Recreation, (709)729-0928
Edwina Bateman, Communications, Justice, (709)729-6985

For more information contact:
Penny Houlden, Chief Curator, Newfoundland Museum, (709)729-2355


Astrolabes are navigational instruments used throughout the 1500s and 1600s to measure latitude. They were usually made out of a heavy metal, such as brass or bronze. There were several different styles, with many being Portuguese or Spanish in origin. 

The user suspended the astrolabe by its ring, and sighted along the moveable sighting rule (or alidade), until the sun, or sometimes the pole star, was aligned through the holes of both the upper and lower sighting vanes (or pinnules). The angle of the sun, or the star, above the horizon, or below the zenith, was read from the astrolabe scale, and the latitude was calculated from tables.

As of 2001 there are approximately 84 recorded astrolabes in the world, including the Mushrow Astrolabe I and II.

Only four are known to exist in Canada. Remarkably, three of them are from this province. The first one discovered is known as the Champlain Astrolabe, and is currently in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. The second and third one are the Mushrow Astrolabe I and II, and the fourth one discovered is from the San Juan wreck at Red Bay in Labrador.

By affording these two astrolabes the designation of provincial heritage treasures the Newfoundland and Labrador Government is recognizing the significance and rarity of the astrolabes in the Provincial Collection of the Newfoundland Museum. The astrolabes, rare in themselves, are also significant icons of Newfoundland and Labrador's European migratory fishery of the 17th century. 

Astrolabes were in wide spread use through the 16th and 17th centuries, but by the end of the seventeenth century newer navigational instruments had replaced this technology. As a result, those astrolabes that were left on land were likely melted down for re-use of their metal content for other purposes. As a result, the remaining examples have been primarily recovered from underwater archaeology sites.

Mushrow Astrolabe I
It was made in 1628 as indicated by the date stamped into the surface of the instrument. It was likely made by Joas Dyas a known astrolabe maker (Y. Dyas is also stamped on the front of the astrolabe) and is Portuguese in origin. 

There are four astrolabes known to have been made by Dyas:
1) From Spanish ship Atocha, dated 1614 NMM 60
2) From Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, dated 1619 NMM 40
3) From Isle aux Morts Shipwreck, dated 1628 NMM 44
4) From Neustra Senora del Rosario y Beun Jesus, which sank in 1622 NMM 67
The Mushrow Astrolabe I is in very good condition with the pointer or alidade still in working condition and the ring used to suspend the astrolabe intact.

Mushrow Astrolabe II
This was made in 1617 as indicated by its date stamp. The name stamped on the front is Adrian Holland who may have been the maker or may have been an owner. There is no record currently known on who Adrian Holland was. 

The Mushrow Astrolabe II may be French based on similarities to astrolabe NMM17 , a French astrolabe from 1632. As well, the alidade of this instrument indicates a French maker.

It has a gradation of 360 degrees and is wedged shaped in profile which is similar to the Champlain astrolabe at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The wedge shape is unusual for an astrolabe dated to 1617. The earliest known wedge shaped astrolabe is 1550 from Padre Island, NMM 28. Mushrow Astrolabe II is the latest known wedge shaped astrolabe 

The Mushrow Astrolabe II is in poorer condition than Astrolabe I due to corrosion and some broken pieces. The alidade no longer moves, but the surface could be cleaned well enough to distinguish its date and stamps and style of gradation markings. 

2001 06 13                                                    11:45 a.m. 

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