60 years since the end of the dictation test

Shocked survivors from the wrecked ship Clan Ranald sitting amongst rocks at Troubridge Hill on the Yorke Peninsula. Some are wrapped in blankets and a policeman stands with them. Courtesy State Library of South Australia.

Shocked survivors from the wrecked ship Clan Ranald sitting amongst rocks at Troubridge Hill on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, 1909. Some are wrapped in blankets and a policeman stands with them. Courtesy State Library of South Australia PRG 280/1/43/84.

Acts of the White Australia policy

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the abolition of the controversial dictation test, which was a central feature of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. This was one of three pieces of legislation, together with the Pacific Island Labourers Act and the Post and Telegraph Act, which were passed after Federation in 1901 and colloquially known as the White Australia policy. Together these acts placed restrictions on immigration and sought to remove prohibited immigrants, namely those from Asia and the Pacific Islands, from the new Commonwealth. On 8 October 1958, the Immigration Restriction Act was replaced by the Migration Act 1958, which introduced a simpler system of entry permits.

The dictation test required non-European immigrants to write out a passage of 50 words in any European language (later any prescribed language) as dictated by the immigration officer. Since the choice of language was at the discretion of the officer, undesirable immigrants were destined to fail the test. They could then be declared prohibited immigrants and deported. One of the most infamous cases of the application of the dictation test dates to 1909 and involved the Scottish cargo ship SS Clan Ranald, its Asian and Indian crew (known as lascars), and one of South Australia’s worst maritime disasters.

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Seeking the lost Browne boys: Spiritualism and grief

The spiritualist movement of the late 19th century believed life and death included an in-between realm where spirits were able to exist and communicate with the living. In the case of the missing Browne brothers, their family believed the brother’s spirits could provide some startlingly detailed information about their deaths. Images: National Library of Australia.

The spiritualist movement of the late 19th century believed life and death included an in between realm where spirits were able to exist and communicate with the living. In the case of the missing Browne brothers, their family believed the brother’s spirits could provide some startlingly detailed information about their deaths. Images: National Library of Australia.

Communing with the dead

In tasteful parlour rooms across the world, the mood was set. Accompanied by soft lighting and gentle music, people quietly gathered, waiting not for romance but in the hope of receiving messages from the dead. The appearance of a well-known historical figure would cause a stir but generally, it was messages from loved ones who had passed on which audiences waited breathlessly for.

The spiritualist movement of the late 19th century believed life and death included an in between realm where spirits were able to exist and communicate with the living. In the case of the missing Browne brothers, their family believed the brother’s spirits could provide some startlingly detailed information about their deaths.

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Beyond a book’s cover

Lucilla Ronai is the Paper Conservator at the Museum. She ensures the many books in the collection are physically and chemically stable. A Paper Conservator also considers the condition of collection items, methods of display during exhibition and loan as well as their safe storage when not in use. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

Lucilla Ronai is the Paper Conservator at the Museum. She ensures the many books in the collection are physically and chemically stable. A Paper Conservator also considers the condition of collection items, methods of display during exhibition and loan as well as their safe storage when not in use. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

A booklovers guide to bookbinding and conservation

You might be surprised to discover that over 50% of the Museum’s collection is paper, photographic material and bound items – also known simply as ‘books’. Where else would those swashbuckling adventurers record their travels than in their trusty but often weathered journals?

Our collection includes over 2,000 bound volumes. This ranges from printed books (such as dictionaries), manuscripts (such as logbooks, journals, diaries and sketchbooks), atlases and magazines. The earliest book is an account of the first journey of the Dutch to the East Indes and dates from 1617. The most recently printed book is the Year Book of HMAS Toowoomba, from 2009.

What are the main differences between these books you ask? The materials and techniques used to string words, images, paper and covers together to create the functional item you know and handle as a book. Continue reading

Villain or victim? The story of convict Ann Norman

This oil painting by Henry Gritten depicts the settlement of Hobart on the Derwent River in Tasmania, below the impressive shape of Mount Wellington, circa 1856. A number of Hobart landmarks are also recognisable, including Constitution Dock, Victoria Dock, Cowgills windmill and St. Georges church. Convict Ann Norman would have faced a smaller settlement during her years as a convict during the 1830s and 1840s. ANMM Collection <a href="http://collections.anmm.gov.au/objects/30918/hobart-town-1856?ctx=65e09399-6d09-4f8d-944b-c067c7099216&idx=3">00018553</a>.

This oil painting by Henry Gritten depicts the settlement of Hobart on the Derwent River in Tasmania, below the impressive shape of Mount Wellington, circa 1856. A number of Hobart landmarks are also recognisable, including Constitution Dock, Victoria Dock, Cowgills windmill and St. Georges church. Convict Ann Norman would have seen a similar view, though of a less developed settlement during her years as a convict, circa 1830-1845. ANMM Collection 00018553.

In this blog post ANMM intern Jonas Groom takes us on a personal journey through convict history via a new museum acquisition

Arriving in Van Diemen’s Land

Clambering up the ladder from her convict quarters, Ann Norman would have come  onto the deck of the transport ship Persian and embraced the warm rays of the sun, the fresh southern air and a vista of Hobart Town nestled under Mount Wellington. Ann’s thoughts about her new home may well have been cut short by the barking voice of Superintendent Patton, ordering the convicts ashore.

Ann’s vista of Hobart Town, crowded with convicts and their overseers and settlers, may have turned to the distance and the unforgiving Australian bush. Looking away from the small settlement, Ann would have seen the ships and harbour waters and beyond, to the great blue expanse that was the Southern Ocean. Possibly, like many convicts, clutching an engraved penny to her chest – a token of love – Ann may have felt the pangs of sorrow and heartache ripple through her, not knowing when or if she was ever going to see her beloved again…

The convict indent of Ann Norman is an exciting new acquisition for the Australian National Maritime Museum. The indent was an official government record kept by the Convict Department of Van Diemen’s land (later known as Tasmania). It is in effect a record of Ann’s life as seen through British authorities, from her sentencing at age twenty in 1826 to the final entry in 1841. This unique object presents a rare and tangible link to Tasmania’s convict past. Furthermore, Ann’s indent offers an intimate insight into the plight of convict women in the British Empire.

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Flagging a mystery in Canton

The French and United States factories at Canton, c1841. ANMM Collection 00015750. Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds.

The French and United States factories at Canton, c1841. ANMM Collection 00015750. Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds.

History in art

When I visit maritime museums, I am always drawn to the ‘China trade’ paintings of Canton (now Guangzhou), the southern Chinese port to which all foreign trade was restricted from 1757 under the Qing dynasty’s Canton System. There is something about their composition that is so intriguing – the merging of Chinese and European artistic traditions, the bustling river crowded with boats, and the detailed architectural rendering of the Western merchants’ hongs (factories) with their national flags proudly displayed out front.

Recently I have been researching one of the museum’s China trade paintings as part of a broader project on the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Cantonese settler Mak Sai Ying in Sydney in 1818. Our oil painting depicts the French and American hongs on the western side of the Thirteen Factories district along the Pearl River. It has been dated about 1841, or the latter stages of the First Opium War (1839–1842) between Britain and China, which would result in the abolition of the Canton System and the opening of five Chinese treaty ports to foreign trade. What I really wanted to know about our painting was: why would the British Red Ensign be flying in front of the Spanish factory?

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Fibre art and fashion

Acknowledgement to Country

The Australian National Maritime Museum acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the bamal (earth) and badu (waters) on which we work. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the land and waters throughout Australia and pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to elders past and present.

The words bamal and badu are spoken in the Sydney region’s Eora language. Supplied courtesy of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Cultural Warning

The Museum would like to advise visitors that this content may contain the names and artwork, by deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In celebration of NAIDOC Week 2018, explore some of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female artists, leading practitioners in their fields of weaving and shell stringing. ANMM Collection <a href="http://collections.anmm.gov.au/en/objects/details/194327/woven-skirt-from-galiwinku-elcho-island?ctx=d12c6e42-85eb-4b31-a5bd-868c52b51de0&idx=0">00054382</a>. Image: © Rosemary Gamajun Mamuniny/Copyright Agency, 2018.

In celebration of NAIDOC Week 2018, explore some of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female artists, leading practitioners in their fields of weaving and shell stringing. Detail of ANMM Collection 00054382. Image: © Rosemary Gamajun Mamuniny/Copyright Agency, 2018.

Because of her, we can!

This year’s NAIDOC week theme is ‘Because of her, we can!’, which celebrates the invaluable contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made – and continue to make – to our communities, our families, our rich history and to our nation. For at least 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have carried our dreaming stories, songlines, languages and knowledge that have kept our culture strong and enriched us as the oldest continuing culture on the planet.

A new exhibition, Unbroken Lines of Resilience: feathers, fibre, shells, brings together some of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female artists, leading practitioners in their fields of weaving and shell stringing. Their innovative works highlight the unbroken practices of our First Nations women and their deep cultural connections and knowledge systems. These practices include harvesting and processing organic and contemporary fibres, feathers and shells to create intricate bodywear for adornment.

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Spirituality and the sea

The Mission To Seafarers Collection explores the early provision of welfare to sailors in Sydney ports and the surprising role of charitable religious organisations in maritime history. ANMM Collection.

The Mission to Seafarers Collection explores the early provision of welfare to sailors in Sydney ports and the surprising role of charitable religious organisations in maritime history. ANMM Collection.

The Mission to Seafarers Collection

The museum has acquired an evocative collection of maritime heritage from the Mission to Seafarers, Sydney, which has a history dating back to the early port in 1822. We can now explore the stories of the early provision of welfare to sailors and the surprising role of charitable religious organisations in maritime history.

By the 1820s, the Sydney waterfront was bustling with ships from around the world. Tens of thousands of sailors were temporary residents of the thriving maritime township. While the sailors thronged the many pubs and inns of The Rocks area, near the port, they were not known for their attendance at religious services. In 1822 the rector of St Philip’s Church of England, the Reverend William Cowper, instigated the establishment of an interdenominational society that could minister to sailors from different churches. Lacking a place of worship, Cowper and other volunteer clergymen conducted their early services on board the ships in port.

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Contested waterways – Aboriginal resistance in early colonial Sydney

Acknowledgement to Country

The Australian National Maritime Museum acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the bamal (earth) and badu (waters) on which we work. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the land and waters throughout Australia and pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to elders past and present.

The words bamal and badu are spoken in the Sydney region’s Eora language. Supplied courtesy of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Cultural Warning

The Museum would like to advise visitors that this content may contain the names and artwork, by deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

<em>Black Bastards Are Coming</em> © Gordon Syron, 2013. This work re-imagines European contact from an Indigenous perspective. The artist reverses the roles of first contact by depicting black soldiers in military red coats, approaching shore and firing guns at the white people standing in the shallows. ANMM Collection 00054536, reproduced courtesy Gordon Syron.

Black Bastards Are Coming © Gordon Syron, 2013. This work re-imagines European contact from an Indigenous perspective. The artist reverses the roles of first contact by depicting black soldiers in military red coats, approaching shore and firing guns at the white people standing in the shallows. ANMM Collection 00054536, reproduced courtesy Gordon Syron.

Warning: This article contains some words and terms used in the past by non-Aboriginal people that would be considered inappropriate today.

In the 19th century, Aboriginal people in the Sydney region used rivers, creeks and waterways as places of refuge and survival after the devastation of colonisation. In the first decade of the British colony, waterways were also important in resistance warfare. From 1788 to 1810 there were numerous raids conducted in canoes, as well as attacks by Aboriginal warriors on British vessels. The role of nawi – the Sydney tied-bark canoe – in this conflict has been overlooked by historians.

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The saga of Skaubryn

The Camenzuli family in Paola, Malta, a few days before their departure for Australia on <em>Skaubryn</em>, 1958. From left: Lucy, Lina, Georgina, Zaren, Mary and Joyce. Reproduced courtesy Camenzuli family.

The Camenzuli family in Paola, Malta, a few days before their departure for Australia on Skaubryn, 1958. From left: Lucy, Lina, Georgina, Zaren, Mary and Joyce. Reproduced courtesy Camenzuli family.

It’s International Museum Day, an annual event that raises awareness about the role of museums in cultural exchange and the development of mutual understanding. This year’s theme of ‘hyperconnected museums’ focuses on how museums can make their collections accessible and connect with local communities. It’s a theme that is pertinent to our Remembering Skaubryn: 60 years on exhibition, which is drawn from an important collection of photographs documenting the fire and rescue on the Norwegian migrant liner Skaubryn in 1958. Skaubryn was carrying 1,080 passengers, mostly German and Maltese migrants, and was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia.

We have been amazed by the public response to Remembering Skaubryn, with offers of material for our collection, oral history interviews, and visits from survivors, their families and descendants, as well as local community groups such as the Australian-German Welfare Society. It has been wonderful to hear from visitors who have found a personal connection to the exhibition, reminding us that immigration is lived history but also living history, where the impacts of life-changing migrant voyages resonate right down through the generations. Continue reading

Remembering the marvelous maritime mothers

Making it look easy, Ethel May Sterling and her daughter Margaret aboard her husband's ship, <em>ER Sterling</em>. ANMM Collection 00035539.

Making it look easy, Ethel May Sterling and her daughter Margaret aboard her husband’s ship, ER Sterling. ANMM Collection 00035539.

Mothering on the high seas

As Mother’s Day approaches a maritime museum is not usually a place one would look for motherly sentiment. Yet here at the museum and the Vaughan Evans Library, there are small yet extraordinary reminders of what motherhood can mean. And how hard it can be for some.

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The Sydney Ducks and the San Francisco 49ers

BEWARE! Engraving, c 1872, Matt Morgan in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. What ties San Francisco 1856 to the Australian National Maritime Museum Collection? ANMM Collection <a href="http://collections.anmm.gov.au/en/objects/details/29928/beware?ctx=ad66dbba-8a2a-47eb-99d3-5c8285fcba37&amp;idx=0">00019630</a>.

BEWARE! Engraving, c 1872, Matt Morgan in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. What ties San Francisco 1856 to the Australian National Maritime Museum Collection? ANMM Collection 00019630.

An enigmatic engraving

I often come across intriguing objects as I digitise the collection. Recently, in a box containing 263 engravings, covering topics including migration, the wrecking of vessels and ambitious shipbuilding commissions, there was one object which stood out: An engraving, illustrated by Matt Morgan, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (c 1872).

It appeared to be a depiction of the American ‘Lady Justice’, an allegorical personification of the moral force of judicial systems. Oddly, she was depicted here with neither her balanced scales nor the blindfold of impartiality. Standing beside her were a group of politicians, all cowering under her gaze as she pointed towards a historical event from six years earlier. The event, headed by the words ‘San Francisco 1856’, depicts a public lynching. I was instantly curious and so put my detective’s hat on: What was the historical precedent that influenced Matt Morgan’s choice of subject?

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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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