One of the things I find most interesting about Australia’s immigration history is how political events and uprisings on the other side of the world can have a flow-on effect and shape our own history. Take for example the October Revolution in Russia, which occurred 100 years ago today on 7 November 1917 (or 25 October in the old Julian calendar) and would lead to the exodus of the refugees known as White Russians or white émigrés.
I have recently finished reading Umbertina by Helen Barolini (1979), a classic novel about migration and identity as explored through the lives of three generations of Italian-American women. In the 1870s the title character, a Calabrian goatherd, commissions an intricate woven bedspread for her wedding to Serafino Longobardi. With its traditional design of grapes, fig leaves and ivy, ‘the bedspread was the one thing she would bring to her new home [in New York] and she wanted it beautiful and strong, to last forever’ (p 44). Circumstances force Umbertina to sell her treasured matrimonial bedspread, and decades later it ends up on display at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum with the label, ‘Origin: Calabria. Owner unknown’ (p 407). It’s a powerful reflection on the loss of cultural heritage and provenance, and the silence that characterises so many women’s stories and migrant collections.
In our own museum’s immigration collection are two intriguing watercolour albums that were created by traveller and amateur cartoonist, Mrs M E Cherry, in the 1930s. Together they contain more than 100 vibrant illustrations that capture Mrs Cherry’s voyage from London to Adelaide on Ormonde in 1931–1932, and her travels in the South Pacific and the south of France in 1932–1939.
Fifty years ago today, on 5 October 1967, the Australian and Turkish governments signed a bilateral agreement to provide assisted passage to Turkish migrants, to help build Australia’s population and expand the workforce. The Australia-Turkey Migration Agreement – Australia’s inaugural agreement with a nation beyond Western Europe – enabled the first major Muslim community to settle in the country. This represented a significant step in the gradual dismantling of the White Australia policy.
Around 19,000 assisted Turkish migrants arrived in Australia between 1968 and 1974. Many, like couple Halit and Şükran Adasal, came with the intention of working hard and saving enough money to return to Turkey. But within three years of their arrival, Şükran had given birth to two daughters, Hale and Funda, and Australia became the family’s home. Hale registered Halit and Şükran Adasal on the museum’s Welcome Wall to honour ‘my parents who left all that they knew for a better life with hope and courage. Their migration planted the seeds of their family roots in Australia for future generations of our family.’
One of the museum’s most-requested paintings for public viewing is a dramatic watercolour by Sydney landscape artist Samuel Elyard (1817–1910) titled Burning of the Barque India (c 1841). Recently we arranged a viewing for cousins Catherine Bell and John Grant. Their great-great-grandparents John Scott Grant and Ann Grant (née Kilpatrick) were survivors of the ill-fated migrant ship, which caught fire and sank in the South Atlantic Ocean on 19 July 1841.
Last week we unveiled a new large-scale embroidered work by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse at the museum. Known as the Batavia tapestry (2017), it illustrates the tragic story of the wreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) flagship Batavia in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Western Australia, on 4 June 1629 and the sorry fate of the ship’s company.
This week a very special piece of pewter is coming to the museum … the Hartog plate, on loan from the Rijksmuseum to mark 400 years since Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog made the first recorded European landing on the west coast of Australia in October 1616. As a testimony of his visit, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate that is recognised as the oldest European artefact found on Australian soil.
Last Thursday night saw the launch of the museum’s latest roof projection, A chance encounter, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog’s landing on the west coast of Australia in the VOC ship Eendracht. To mark his landfall on 25 October 1616, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate in Shark Bay, Western Australia, which provides tangible evidence of one of the earliest European encounters with Australia.
Four hundred years ago, Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog (1580–1621) sailed into history when, on 25 October 1616, he made the first documented European landing on the west coast of Australia in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Eendracht (‘Concord’ or ‘Unity’). Today his name is synonymous with the inscribed ‘Hartog plate’ that marked his landfall at Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay, Western Australia. This evocative pewter relic, now held in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, provides tangible evidence of one of the earliest European encounters with the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown southern land.
Last week I started exploring the fascinating intersection between needlework, craft and maritime history in the museum’s collection, examining an embroidered sampler made by young British migrant Julia Donovan in 1879. Today I will be looking at the sampler’s first cousin – the sailor’s woolwork picture or embroidered ship portrait, affectionately known as a ‘woolie’.
One of my favourite objects in the museum’s collection is a charming needlework sampler made by 19-year-old assisted immigrant Julia Donovan on board the Carnatic in January 1879. Immigration records show that Julia arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland, from England on 5 February 1879, and presumably went into domestic service in the growing port town.
The museum’s travelling exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants recently commenced a tour to the UK, opening at Merseyside Maritime Museum at Liverpool’s historic Albert Dock. The exhibition traces the history of the government-sponsored schemes that sent more than 100,000 unaccompanied children from Britain to Commonwealth countries between the 1860s and 1960s. The special guest at the opening was former child migrant Tony Chambers, who was sent to New Zealand in 1951 at the age of nine.
There was something incredibly symbolic about being gathered at this museum on the banks of the River Mersey – where so many child migrants embarked on their long sea voyage to a new life – to hear Tony speak about his experiences. He acknowledged that he was one of the lucky ones, in that he was able to return to England in 1965 and reconnect with his birth mother. Many others were not so lucky, and one of the most common questions I was asked while in Liverpool, and indeed throughout the three-year Australian tour of On their own, was How can I find out more about my/my family’s child migrant history?
A great place to start is the ANMM’s research guide to child migration resources in our Vaughan Evans Library. Merseyside Maritime Museum’s information sheet on child emigration is also very useful for an overview of the schemes and sending organisations.
The National Archives of Australia’s Child migration to Australia fact sheet contains a guide to personal documents of child migrants that are held in national and state archives, while Good British Stock: Child and Youth Migration to Australia includes a guide to archives and libraries in the UK, Canada, Malta and Zimbabwe, as well as organisations that can help former child migrants to find family members.
The Child Migrants Trust provides a range of social work services for former child migrants, including counselling, family research and support for family reunions. It has offices in Nottingham, Melbourne and Perth. The International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families advocates for recognition, understanding and reparation for former child migrants.
It is also a good idea to contact the sending organisation, if you know its name, as many have aftercare offices that can provide information to former child migrants or their families. There is a detailed list of organisations and their contact details in the report from the 2001 Senate Inquiry Lost Innocents: Righting the Record – Report on Child Migration.
Find and Connect is a comprehensive web resource for Forgotten Australians, former child migrants and anyone with an interest in the history of child welfare in Australia. It brings together historical resources relating to institutional care and also helps people to connect with support groups and services in their state or territory. The Find and Connect website has a list of commemorative events that have been organised this week to mark the fifth anniversary of the Australian Government’s apology to Forgotten Australians and former child migrants who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children during the 20th century.
At the Parliament of Australia website you can watch or read the transcript of the historic apology in Canberra on 16 November 2009, when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised for ‘the absolute tragedy of childhoods lost’ and acknowledged: the particular pain of children shipped to Australia as child migrants – robbed of your families, robbed of your homeland, regarded not as innocent children but regarded instead as a source of child labour.
To those of you who were told you were orphans, brought here without your parents’ knowledge or consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told to your mothers and fathers, and the pain these lies have caused for a lifetime.
To those of you separated on the dockside from your brothers and sisters; taken alone and unprotected to the most remote parts of a foreign land – we acknowledge today that the laws of our nation failed you.
And for this we are deeply sorry.
On their own – Britain’s child migrants is on show at Merseyside Maritime Museum, National Museums Liverpool UK, until 4 October 2015.
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration
The museum’s award-winning digital projection Waves of migration returns this Sunday, Australia Day, to once again illuminate the museum’s iconic roofline with a rich tapestry of migration stories drawn from our collection.
Waves of migration explores the history of migration to Australia and the compelling stories of those who’ve come across the seas – from British convicts and early settlers, to Jewish refugees and displaced persons; from post-war European migrants and Ten Pound Poms, to Indochinese boat people and seaborne asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Continue reading
Last week I was invited to speak about the museum’s work at the Suitcases, boats and bridges: telling migrant stories in Australian museums workshop, organised by Dr Nina Parish from the University of Bath and Dr Chiara O’Reilly from the University of Sydney. The workshop brought together academics, museum professionals and museum studies students to discuss how migrant stories have been collected and articulated in a number of Australian museums, ranging from large government-funded institutions such as ours, to smaller regional, suburban or volunteer-run museums.
With plenty of attention focused on the British royal family at the moment, I was delighted to discover a royal connection in a recent addition to the museum’s collection – a framed 1900 print of the Orient liner Ophir in the Suez Canal by British artist Sir Frank Brangwyn.
Ophir was built by Robert Napier & Sons in Glasgow in 1891 and was the first twin-screw vessel to operate on the Australian mail service. It was often described as ‘the opulent Ophir’ because of its sumptuously-decorated interiors.
In 1900 it was chartered to the British Admiralty as the royal yacht HMS Ophir for the tour of the British Empire by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary). The main task for the Duke was to open Australia’s new Federal Parliament in Melbourne, but the tour also served to thank the colonies for their assistance during the Boer War.
In March 1901 the Duke and Duchess departed Portsmouth on an eight-month tour that took in the following ports: Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Suez, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Albany, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton, Hobart, Adelaide, Albany, Fremantle, Mauritius, Durban, Simonstown, St Vincent, Quebec, Halifax and St John’s.
The tour was an outstanding diplomatic success, with thousands of people turning out in each port to welcome the royal couple. The museum holds several mementos from the tour, including a breakfast menu and a souvenir copper medallion issued to school children in New Zealand.
Following the royal tour, Ophir’s popularity soared, helping to sell summer cruises to the Norwegian fjords. However the vessel continued to lose money for the Orient Line because of its high running costs and it started to spend increasing time laid-up. During World War I it was commissioned as an armed merchant cruiser and in 1918 it was purchased by the Admiralty and converted into a hospital ship. Ophir was finally scrapped at Troon, Scotland, in 1922 – a sad end for the former royal yacht.
The museum’s colourful Frank Brangwyn print captures Ophir at the height of its grandeur and popularity, surrounded by Arab traders in bumboats as it travels through the Suez Canal. Brangwyn (1867–1956) was a prolific artist whose favourite subjects included ships and life on the high seas. Like many European artists of the time, he was influenced by Orientalism and the colours of the Mediterranean and Africa.
Art historian Libby Horner writes, ‘[Brangwyn’s] paintings, whatever the title, are usually concerned with the dignity of human labour, and the working man.’ Our print certainly epitomises this – it is not a staid ship portrait but a vibrant picture of how Ophir would have been seen by the inhabitants of Port Said or Suez, when it was a regular visitor on the fortnightly Royal Mail route from London to Sydney.
The long-held belief is that Ophir was named after a gold mining town near Bathurst, NSW. However recent research by the P&O archivist Rob Henderson into the personal papers of the Anderson family (co-founders of the Orient Line) suggests that it was named after the biblical port of Ophir, thought to have been on the coast of Arabia on the Red Sea. A wonderful connection between a vessel, a shipping company and an artist so inextricably linked with the Orient and the exotic sights and delights of travel by sea!
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration