The sad fate of HMAS Perth (I)

The shipwreck of HMAS <em>Perth</em> (I) lies in waters between Java and Sumatra, a victim of the Battle of Sunda Strait in 1942. A joint survey project between the museum and Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (Indonesia) has recorded the devastation caused by extensive illegal salvage. Image James Hunter, ANMM/Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional.

The shipwreck of HMAS Perth (I) lies in waters between Java and Sumatra, a victim of the Battle of Sunda Strait in 1942. A joint survey project between the museum and Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (Indonesia) has recorded the devastation caused by extensive illegal salvage. Image: James Hunter, ANMM/Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional.

[Perth] has been hammered and the once impressive six-inch A1 and A2 turrets are gone, the bow is flat and … the wreck is more hazardous than before – even for general swimming around, with lots of live ordnance, wire and overhanging metal.1

Death by a thousand cuts

The shipwreck of HMAS Perth (I) lies in waters between Java and Sumatra, a victim of the Battle of Sunda Strait in 1942. A joint survey project between the museum and Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (Indonesia) has recorded the devastation caused by extensive illegal salvage.

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Search and survival: Abraham Leeman and the Vergulde Draeck

The power of nature wrought wild on the high seas. Ships in a storm on a rocky coast, Jan Porcellis, 1614–18. Courtesy Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm.

The power of nature wrought wild on the high seas. Ships in a storm on a rocky coast, Jan Porcellis, 1614–18. Courtesy Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm.

Bad luck and bravery

Dutch explorers and traders in the 17th century knew to their cost the dangers of sailing near the Great South Land. A humble and tenacious sailor named Abraham Leeman experienced the worst that these treacherous coasts had to offer – not once but twice.

In the hours before dawn on 28 April 1656, a Dutch East India (VOC) ship called the Vergulde Draeck struck an uncharted reef on her way to Batavia (now Jakarta) and sank off the coast of what is now called Western Australia, but was then an enigmatic landmass scarcely known to Europeans – the fabled Great South Land. In an era when the calculation of longitude was fraught with difficulty and error, this was a tragic event yet not a shocking one. The VOC had lost some 168 ships in the previous decade to various misfortunes, and this latest wreck was further proof of the occupational hazards for those who made their living by the sea.

The disappearance of the Vergulde Draeck could have remained an unsolved mystery for Joan Maetsuycker, the newly appointed Governor General of Batavia, and yet another loss for him to explain to the company council back in Amsterdam. But on 7 June 1656 a small boat carrying seven starving, dehydrated and exhausted men arrived to tell an incredible tale. The leader of this bedraggled group is believed to have been Abraham Leeman, who had been the Vergulde Draeck’s under-steersman, or second officer.*

Leeman explained how the ship had been wrecked upon a reef and that he and his men had managed to sail a small open boat to Batavia, spending over a month at sea. What was more, they were not the only survivors. They had left 68 other men and women, including the ship’s captain, alive on a shore on the Southland.

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Preserving the Dart: a piece of working history from the Murray River

A very clear image of DART with its pile driving machinery set up for work, and moored beside the shoreline at Waikere on the Murray River in South Australia, in 1930. ARHV <a href"http://arhv.anmm.gov.au/en/objects/details/149688/dart?ctx=b346e9c3-7f7a-4113-98fe-e838cd2c5c95&idx=0">HV000221</a>.

A very clear image of Dart with its pile driving machinery set up for work, and moored beside the shoreline at Waikere on the Murray River in South Australia, in 1930. ARHV HV000221.

The traffic on the Murray River owes a big debt to the simple working vessels that serviced the infrastructure that made commercial operations possible. One of these crafts, the barge Dart, lies onshore at Goolwa, shaded and partially protected by the big Hindmarsh Bridge that spans the passage between the port of Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island. Dart is out of the water for a much-needed restoration. Recently I visited the Dart as in-kind support to inspect the Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV) listed barge and write up a Vessel Management Plan (VMP), thanks to a  Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS) grant.

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Two centuries of Chinese migration

John Shying on the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Image: ANMM.

John Shying on the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Image: ANMM.

It’s coming up to Lunar New Year and the so-called world’s largest annual human migration, as hundreds of millions of people (particularly China’s urban-based migrant workers) head home to spend the holiday with their families. It’s also coming up to a special milestone in Australia’s immigration history as it is 200 years since one of the first documented Chinese-born free settlers arrived in New South Wales.

Mak Sai Ying (later anglicised to John Pong Shying) arrived in Sydney on 27 February 1818, just 30 years after the First Fleet and several decades before the 1850s gold rushes, which would bring thousands of Chinese fortune seekers to Australia. John Shying has the distinction of being the first Chinese landowner and publican in Sydney, and also the grandfather of the first Chinese-Australian serviceman.

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A sailor’s heart

Photographer Samuel J Hood capturing the love of a sailor. ANMM collection <a href="http://collections.anmm.gov.au/en/objects/details/13305/man-and-woman-kissing-across-two-vessels?ctx=4531e83e-6228-4760-a471-0f1bf8c24f31&idx=0">00035634</a>.

Photographer Samuel J Hood capturing the love of a sailor. ANMM collection 00035634.

Valentine’s Day is not usually a day associated with sailors. Roses and chocolates are hard to find at sea and some would say romantic prose has no place on the decks of ships – particularly ships which do not come equipped with a cocktail bar and a pool.

For centuries, mothers warned their daughters about falling in love with a sailor. Tales of seafaring rogues and cads abound. As recorded countless times in songs and ballads, heartbreak was the only outcome for someone who caught the eye of a roving sailor. He was bound to desert the fair maiden, who would then usually die a tragic death caused by loneliness, grief or shame. Not really the stuff to make the heart swoon on Valentine’s Day. But do sailors really deserve this bad reputation? Is it true that no one can anyone really ever compete with a sailor’s real and greatest love, the sea?

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Promoting maritime heritage: applications open – MMAPSS Funding 2018-19

Maritime Archaeology Association of Western Australia (MAAWA) Shannon Reid recording underwater MMAPSS 2016-17. Image: MAAWA.

Maritime Archaeology Association of Western Australia (MAAWA) Shannon Reid recording underwater MMAPSS 2016-17. MMAPSS is an annual outreach program of grants and internships, offering funding of up to $15,000 for projects and up to $3,000 for internships, for not for profit organisations that actively care for and display and promote Australia’s maritime heritage. Image: MAAWA.

Are you part of a not for profit organisation which helps preserve Australia’s rich maritime heritage? What are your organisation’s priorities for the year ahead?

Applications are now open for the 2018–2019 round of the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS). MMAPSS is an annual outreach program of grants and internships jointly funded by the Australian Government and the museum. Funding is available, up to $15,000 for projects and up to $3,000 for internships, for not for profit organisations that actively care for and display and promote Australia’s maritime heritage.

Whether you are planning to tackle Conservation, Collection Management or Presentation and Public Programs, support is available. Maybe, as in the case of Lake Macquarie City Council, you plan to collaborate with other heritage organisations in your area to implement an interpretation program to raise the profile and engagement of your region’s unique maritime heritage? Good news: Joint applications are welcome!

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