A Mystery Object in Moreton Bay

Last week, someone contacted me by email to ask for help to find out more about this object:

seal found under Hornibrook highway

seal found under Hornibrook Highway

He thought it might have some historical significance. I’ve no idea, but I wonder whether the hive mind of the Internet may be able to help identify it. It seems to be a seal stamp designed to impress sealing wax on the back of an envelope. But how old is it?

The object was found about 7 years ago, near the old Hornibrook Highway bridge that used to cross the Pine River and Hayes Inlet between Brisbane and the Redcliffe Peninsula. Bert found the thing in the sand at low tide, about 5 metres away from one of the bridge pilons, at the southern end in what is now the suburb of Brighton, though in the 1930s the whole area south of the Pine River was known as Sandgate.


The bridge was built by a private company, Hornibrook Highway Ltd, as a toll bridge, and named after the company director, M.R. HornibrookJohn Bradfield, the engineer who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was born in Sandgate and worked as a consultant on the Hornibrook bridge. It was an impressive engineering feat in its day, the longest bridge in the southern hemisphere. It was built during the 1930s depression.

During World War II, there was an air force base just south of the bridge, and after the war, the RAAF quarters were turned over to Eventide, a state owned aged care facility. I wrote about it here. Perhaps someone from either the RAAF or Eventide dropped the seal.

The Hornibrook bridge has since been replaced and pulled down, but for many years after it was decommissioned, it was a popular fishing spot, so it could have fallen out of a fisherman’s pocket at any time. There are cycle paths too, though it’s hard to imagine the MAMILS[Middle Ages Men in Lycra] we see around here finding room in their shorts for such a knobbly object. Perhaps we shouldn’t go there….

The real puzzle is the heraldic symbol on the seal. Do the three deer – bucks couchant – have any particular meaning? From a small and inadequate search of Google images, I have tracked down a lot of English pubs called Three Deer Heads, or similar, and found that 3 deers (standing, not sitting) is the heraldic symbol of Jesus College, Oxford.

Nothing else. The problem is that every man and his dog seems to have acquired a heraldic seal during the 19th century. By the time the Hornibrook Highway opened in 1935, sealed envelopes had long since replaced the use of sealing wax on correspondence, but people are still making and using seals to the present day, if eBay is to be believed.

Any clues?

Bert subsequently contacted me to thank you all for your help, and says he asked some people in the Geology Department at University of Queensland, who think think the stone is Carnelian or Jasper and the metal may be a copper alloy of some sort. He added:

 I’ve also done some research on the meaning of the symbols. “One who will not fight unless provoked” and “peace and harmony” (http://www.fleurdelis.com/symbolism.htm) were the meanings I could find, as well as its use “British armory, as well as in that of other countries” from http://www7b.biglobe.ne.jp/~bprince/hr/foxdavies/fdguide12.htm (around 3/4 down the page or just do a stag search on the page). 

Some further information on the symbol: the top stag is laying on what looks like earth/ground and has some sort of 3-leafed branch in it’s mouth. The 3 stags in the shield do not sit on earth or have anything in their mouths.
Another search for the meaning of the 3-leafed branch on http://www.fleurdelis.com/symbolism.htm found that it may be any of the following Ginseng (Passion, prosperity, permanence, health), Sage (Wisdom, long life, esteem), Bay Leaves (Poet or victor’s laurel) or the one found from http://www.irishsurnames.com/plants.htmTrefoil/Shamrock: (Perpetuity, longevity).
The animal on the metal section appears to be either a cockatrice, griffin or a pelican. I believe it may be a pelican because of its meaning.  http://www.sacred-texts.com/lcr/fsca/fsca41.htm


13 responses to “A Mystery Object in Moreton Bay

  1. the logo of Hertfordshire County Council features a single standing deer. I don’t know whether that helps. Presumably the link is Hertfordshire/ Hart? I never asked when I was there. This does look like somebody’s heraldic crest.

  2. Aha! I thought the new logo for Herts looked wrong! The old one was a single hart, couchant, over wavy blue and white stripes, but I don’t know that this gets us any further!

  3. It looks very cute. I have absolutely no idea but I’d be checking out with gift or printing/pen type or scrapbooking shops first to make sure that it’s not just a kind of lovely gimmicky toy that someone has made as a stamp for invitations etc.

  4. There’s this which is getting pretty close to what you have….I guess you need to find out what material it is made of….http://trashandtreasure.weebly.com/relics.html – scroll down to the brass crown wax seal stamp

  5. Hello Marion
    I would think it is almost certainly a seal for sealing letters, probably British in origin, maybe from one of the early settlers in your area?? It is a lovely object and looks to be in really good condition.
    and this website gives you an option for checking it out
    It would cost of course, but is very likely the place to get the information.

  6. it reminds me of a Clan symbol. Perhaps you can google Scottish clans.

  7. The way to blazon (describe the coat of arms depicted on the seal) is “three stags lodged” (i.e. resting). I can’t see any petra-sancta hatching (a system of marks used to indicate colours in heraldry), so it could be further blazoned as “argent three stags lodged proper”, or in wordy English, “three stags, in their natural colour [proper], resting [lodged] on a white background [argent]”. There is an Anderson arms of azure three stags lodged argent (the stags are white on a blue field), but if that was correct the field (background) should be scored with vertical lines to indicate a blue colour, which this isn’t, so some more research to do. Do you know if the photograph is reversed? (i.e. are the stags facing to the left or the right) The engraving on the seal surface will be reversed so that it comes out the right way when used – the default position for the stags would be facing to the left (so to the right in the seal). Is the casing made of metal?
    Heraldry is still very popular, as is its study, and the crafting and painting of coats of arms is a highly specialised skill. Canada is a major centre for heraldic arts and innovation at the moment. Thanks four a great post, I’m sure I’ll find an answer!

  8. Thank you all! What is clear is that you all know much more about heraldry than I do. Mr Baskerville – Bert sent me the photo and I’ve put it up as I found it, I don’t know if it was reversed, though I realize it will be a mirror image of the wax impression.

  9. Certainly LOOKS consistent with English late-Georgian to Victorian-era carnelian intaglio – but the stag symbolism (possible surnames) may be more Scottish? I’d run with Mr. Baskerville’s suggestion that it may be to do with Anderson family – or Davidsons – and there seem to have been a few possible Andersons in that area. And finding out what metal it’s made of would be a big help – local jeweller?? Other more distant possibilities are Philippine or Hong Kong, or even Serbian, origin (particularly with the shield shape, and the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ shape on the outer carving, for the Asian references…) – or asking the Nuttall family / ‘Fulton Hogan’ company. In any case, good find, Bert; and good luck to you, too, Marion, in ‘pinning it down’!

  10. Hey, forgot one suggestion I came up with – someone who should be up on their military and family history / crests – Ask Prince William while he’s here! 😉

  11. I have bought and sold many of these English fob seals. They were made in gold and sometimes in an amalgam metal called pinch beck.this may be pinch beck as it has tarnished in the sea, which gold doesn’t do. A dealer in antique jewellery would be able to identify year and maker if there are any punched marks still legible .

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