7am. Boarded John Lau's boat, "Stephanie" bound for the southern tip of New Ireland, home of the French/Italian colony of 1880 - 1882. Took my kwell tablet and held on tight.
John likes speed and he has a fishing boat that behaves like a missile. 150 metres from shore he gunned the 1500hp twin engines and we were almost tossed out the back (stern - boat terms now that we're heading into St George's Channel).
Port Breton, our destination (not called that now - or ever by the locals), lay two hours away. New Ireland was just a hazy undulating line on the horizon. I almost succumbed to the lumpy, thumping ride but the kwells did the job and we were greeted by a pod of thirty spinner dolphin performing a welcome dance for us as we approached Lombon, the community of two thousand who live on the island at the entrance to the bay.
First impressions: tiny inlet; hardly worthy of the title "port"; dense jungle tumbling from steep slopes to the shoreline; no sign of arable land or a likely site for 300 settlers. What were they thinking? We seemed to be surrounded by a range of preferable options on East New Britain and north of this point on New Ireland. Even on Lambom Island which we now approached. John sounded our horn as we glided past the settlement, trying to attract someone who might be able to assist us; someone to act as our guides for the day. Immediately two canoes appeared from the sandy beach and approached us.
John invited three men on board and after an explanation of our needs, their spokesman, Digel, offered to accompany us. He proceeded to guide us to nearby English Cove (the south arm of a twin cove inlet) where he negotiated a powered "banana boat" and crew for us. Minutes later we stepped ashore at Irish Cove, the main site of the colony.
We were joined by the traditional owner of Irish Cove and a retired teacher from English Cove who confounded all presumptions about traditional village life by sharing with us his knowledge of national politics, history and the local environment. Remember we were in a remote location accessible only by boat and four hours (by banana boat) from the nearest shop or service.
What did we find? A collection of 19th century bricks intended for the promised church; a foreshore skirted by a rough retaining wall (the Italians were dry stone wall masons) ; a fresh water spring which had been given a stone treatment to create a shallow resevoir; a clearing containing a scattering of bricks in a format suggesting a couple of buildings had occupied the space; a large cast iron cylinder - probably part of a grinding mill for grain and the odd ceramic shard, a remnant of a water container or similar.
For the next two hours we were given a tour of the site. TBC