Who was John Watt?

<em>'Daisy, I am sending the basket tomorrow. Bill'.</em> Despite the atmospheric picture, the message on the back of this card from the Watt collection is short. For years 'Daisy' and 'Bill' were strangers to the museum. ANMM Collection ANMS0410[048].

‘Daisy, I am sending the basket tomorrow. Bill’. Despite the atmospheric picture, the message on the back of this postcard from the Watt collection is short. For years ‘Daisy’ and ‘Bill’ were strangers to the museum. ANMM Collection ANMS0410[048].

An enigmatic collector

Over the years, the museum has acquired various collections that have taken the dedicated owner many years (or often a lifetime) to compile. The time, energy and cost required to gather together this type of comprehensive material can be enormous and so part of the unseen value of these collections is the story of the donor themselves.

In 1993, a collection of hundreds of photographs, drawings, postcards, papers and memorabilia featuring and related to ships was donated to the museum. It was clearly a collection that had taken a lifetime to accumulate by a dedicated and passionate individual. We were given the name Mr John Watt of McLean, New South Wales, as the collector.

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Four ships, one lifeboat

<em>Skaubryn</em> survivors were transferred to Aden in one of <em>Roma</em>’s lifeboats, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[022]. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.

Skaubryn survivors were transferred to Aden in one of Roma’s lifeboats, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[022]. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.

The 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn sinking

The Norwegian liner Skaubryn was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia, when it caught fire in 1958 with 1,288 people on board, including more than 200 children. Two of the survivors, who were both eight years old at the time of their voyage, recently registered for the Welcome Wall and shared their stories with the museum.

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Migration and photography: The Skaubryn archive

Port bow view of the Norwegian liner Skaubryn on fire in the Indian Ocean, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[002]. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.

Port bow view of Skaubryn on fire in the Indian Ocean, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214[002]. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.

Photography has always played a critical role in documenting the movement of people across borders. The photographs linked to the vast archive of Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test, for instance, put a face to those impacted by the Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia policy) for the first half of the 20th century. In more recent times, the 2015 photograph of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach brought the horrors of the Syrian refugee crisis to a global audience. Photographs, as material (and now increasingly digital) objects, also cross borders to bear witness to the lived experiences of migration and diaspora.

The museum holds a rich archive of photographs relating to migration (many of which are in the process of being digitised), ranging from informal family snapshots to official portraits promoting government mass migration schemes after World War II. One of our most significant collections documents the fire and rescue on the Norwegian liner Skaubryn in the Indian Ocean in 1958. A selection of these photographs is now displayed in our Tasman Light Gallery to mark the 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn disaster.

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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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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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The loss of HMAS Patricia Cam

HMAS <em>Patricia Cam</em>, c.1942. Image: <a href="http://images.navy.gov.au/fotoweb/archives/5011-Royal%20Australian%20Navy/DefenceImagery/2008/NoImageSeries/04409_Patricia%20Cam.jpg.info#c=%2Ffotoweb%2Farchives%2F5011-Royal%2520Australian%2520Navy%2F%3Fq%3DHMAS%2520Patricia%2520Cam"> Royal Australian Navy</a>.

HMAS Patricia Cam, c.1942. The Pat Cam was bombed by a Japanese floatplane and sank near the Wessel Islands, off northern Australia. Image: Royal Australian Navy.

Seventy-five years ago on 22 January 1943, HMAS Patricia Cam was bombed by a Japanese floatplane and sank near the Wessel Islands, in the Arafura Sea off East Arnhem Land in northern Australia.

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Irene Pritchard, Sydney’s first female race skipper

Irene and her brothers Fred and Harry sailing <em>Zephyr</em>. Despite her highly impractical attire, Irene survived two capsizes in one season. Image William James Hall, ANMM Collection 00002619 Gift from Bruce Stannard.

Irene and her brothers Fred and Harry sailing Zephyr. Despite her highly impractical attire, Irene survived two capsizes in one season. Image William James Hall, ANMM Collection 00002619 Gift from Bruce Stannard.

‘This venturesome young lady’

On Christmas Eve 1898, Irene Pritchard became the first woman to race a sailing boat on Sydney Harbour. Skippering the tiny 8-footer (2.4 metre) Zephyr, she took to the front early and won her first race with two minutes to spare.

The Sunday Times reported the day of the race was ‘scarcely an ideal one for a trip on the water, the wind blowing strong and cold from the southward, while it rained pretty continuously throughout the afternoon.’ It said the 8-footers race ‘formed an exciting part of yesterday’s programme owing to the fact that one of the small racers was in charge of a lady, Miss Irene Pritchard. That victory fell to this venturesome young lady, is perhaps not so much to be wondered at as that she would risk a wetting and the possibility of a capsize on such a day as yesterday proved.’ 1

The next month Irene became the first woman to sail a winner in a Sydney regatta – the Anniversary (now Australia Day) Regatta. She only sailed for one season, but in that time her fame spread as far as Britain.

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Goodwill to all

Henry Bowers' handmade Christmas tree, Cape Evans 1911.  Courtesy of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Henry Bowers’ handmade Christmas tree, Cape Evans 1911.  Courtesy of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

As the year crawls to its inevitable end and we turn our thoughts to Christmas, it is important to keep things in perspective as the trials of the season also begin to appear. Usually, these occur doing the early stages of Christmas travel. The trips we so eagerly planned mid-year start becoming a reality as we hit the waterways, roads and airways for the ‘break’ we have been anticipating. Somehow in our planning, we conveniently forget the crowded Pacific Highway or the moorings that are hard to secure in our favourite ‘secret’ bay. The airport queues seem longer this year and we are again surprised that so many other people seem to have had the same idea as us. No matter what tales of Christmas travel woe you’ve endured this season, rest assured, someone has had it worse than you. In fact in 1911 a journey was undertaken that became known as ‘The Worst Journey in the World’.

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SY Ena comes home to Sydney

SY <em>Ena</em> is now part of the museum's floating maritime heritage fleet. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

SY Ena is now part of the museum’s floating maritime heritage fleet. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

“Shortly after 9.0’clock on Saturday morning, a handsome steam yacht, built for Mr TA Dibbs was launched from Mr Fords yard, Berrys Bay. As she left the ways she was christened ‘Ena’ by Miss Dorothy Dibbs.”

This brief report in the Sydney Morning Herald Monday 10 December 1900 and headlined “LAUNCH OF MR T.A. DIBBS’ NEW STEAM YACHT”  was reflected in other newspapers with comments describing Ena as  “one of the finest specimens of a modern steam yacht in the Australian colonies”.

117 years onwards and SY Ena still is one of the finest of its type, both here and internationally, despite many adventures since it was launched. Now it has come home again to Sydney, within sight of where it was built. SY Ena is now part of the National Maritime Collection at the museum. The extremely generous donation of the steam yacht by its owner Mr John Mullen.

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The sinking of SS Ceramic

A black and white photograph of HMAT CERAMIC which was used during World War 1 as a troop carrier. The frame around the photograph containing signatures of soldiers and the date '15.12.15' From this date, it is most likely that the soldiers were part of the 12th Reinforcements for the 4th Light Horse Regiment. They departed Melbourne on 23 November 1915. This Regiment was recruited exclusively Victoria in August 1914. ANMM Collection 00027600.

A black and white photograph of HMAT Ceramic, which was used during World War 1 as a troop carrier. The frame around the photograph contains the signatures of soldiers and the date ‘15.12.15’ –  it is likely that the soldiers were part of the 12th Reinforcements for the 4th Light Horse Regiment. They departed Melbourne on 23 November 1915. ANMM Collection 00027600.

A British liner, a German U-boat, the mid-Atlantic Ocean and the Royal Australian Navy – what do they have in common? The SS Ceramic.

Built by the famous Belfast shipbuilders, Harland & Wolff, SS Ceramic was launched on 11 December 1912 for the White Star Line’s Australian service. For 10 years the ocean liner was the largest ship sailing between Europe and Australia. During World War I was requisitioned for the First Australian Imperial Forces as a troopship with the pennant number A40. Continue reading

‘The beautiful Balts’ – 70 years on

Letter from W H Barnwell to Konstancija Brundzaite, 1947. ANMM Collection Gift from the Australian Lithuanian Community 00003842

Letter from W H Barnwell to Konstancija Brundzaite, 1947. ANMM Collection Gift from the Australian Lithuanian Community 00003842.

At the museum, we hold a rich collection of ephemera, which refers to written or printed materials that have short-term use, like letters, postcards, brochures, invitations and greeting cards. Many of these items go on to acquire a lasting historical or social significance, such as a letter that was sent to a passenger on the former troopship USAT General Stuart Heintzelman in 1947. Continue reading

Ken Warby and SPIRIT OF AUSTRALIA: Still the world record holder, 40 years later

<em>Spirit of Australia</em> driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam, 1977. ANMM Collection ANMS1163[291], reproduced courtesy of Graeme Andrews.

Spirit of Australia driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam, 1977. ANMM Collection ANMS1163[291], reproduced courtesy of Graeme Andrews.

On 20 November 1977, Ken Warby set the world water speed record, piloting his wooden jet-powered boat, Spirit of Australia, into the history books. Warby’s home-made wooden hydroplane reached speeds of 464.44 km/h, breaking the previous ten-year-old record of 458.98 km/h held by American Lee Taylor. The current record of 511.11 km/h (317.68 mi/h) was recorded by Warby on the 8th of October 1978, but, Warby first claimed the water speed record 40 years ago today.

But where Lee Taylor’s record attempt had cost close to $1 million in 1967, Warby had built his hydroplane in a suburban backyard…with a military-surplus jet engine that cost $65!

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Maritime Moustaches

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Moustaches were big in the late 19th century. Really big.

As the wielder of a reasonably large moustache, I thought I might look into the museum’s collection of photographs and see how many and what sorts of moustaches are there. My hunch was correct – there are hundreds and hundreds of them. From nice thick ‘chevrons’, to the simple ‘English style’, to the classic ‘handlebar’ and even a few ‘walrus’ and ‘toothbrushes’. So I thought I would create a display of Maritime Moustaches in time for that important event every year – Movember!

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Remembering the White Russians

White Russians Eugene, Ilia and Katherine Seiz in Harbin, China, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy Natalie Seiz.

White Russians Eugene, Ilia and Katherine Seiz in Harbin, China, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy Natalie Seiz and Andrew Seiz.

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.

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The elusive Mrs Cherry

'I do some soothsaying', from Mrs Cherry’s illustrated journey from England to Australia on Ormonde, 1931. ANMM Collection 00029325.

‘I do some soothsaying’, from Mrs Cherry’s illustrated journey from England to Australia on Ormonde, 1931. ANMM Collection 00029325.

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.

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