Guardians of Sunda Strait: Remembering HMAS Perth and USS Houston

Before its deployment to Asian waters, HMAS Perth saw duty in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Egypt was exotic and exciting for the young Australian sailors, and photographs to send back home were a priority. Image: Naval Heritage Collection.

Before its deployment to Asian waters, HMAS Perth saw duty in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Egypt was exotic and exciting for the young Australian sailors, and photographs to send back home were a priority. Image: US Naval History and Heritage Command.

On the night of 28 February–1 March 1942, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth and the American heavy cruiser USS Houston fought bravely and defiantly against overwhelming odds – outnumbered and outgunned by a large advancing Japanese naval force – as they approached Sunda Strait, a narrow sea passage between the islands of Java and Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Both ships sank that dreadful night in the Battle of Sunda Strait. Continue reading

Meeting the descendants from a disaster at sea

Samuel Elyard, Burning of the Barque India, c 1841. Watercolour on paper, 41.7 x 55 cm. ANMM Collection 00004246

Samuel Elyard, Burning of the Barque India, c 1841. Watercolour on paper, 41.7 x 55 cm. ANMM Collection 00004246.

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.

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Sailing with the Captain on Father’s Day

On the deck of yacht SIRIUS off Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. ANMM Collection 00014421.

On the deck of yacht Sirius off Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. ANMM Collection 00014421.

This Father’s Day there will no doubt many a father choosing to spend the day on the water. Perhaps on the family boat for a sail around the quiet waters of home, pull in for a bbq at some bay and feel the sense of peace and gratitude that sailing in Australia can bring. Whatever your vessel type, the ease of getting out on the water brings joy to a lot of families.

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Capturing a lighthouse in 3D

The Cape Bowling Green lighthouse, at the museum in 2017. Image: ANMM.

The Cape Bowling Green lighthouse, at the museum in 2017. Image: ANMM.

Conservators rarely have the opportunity to access made-for-conservation equipment, software, tools or chemicals. We borrow and adapt things intended for other environments. Conservation labs are often populated with dental tools and equipment, surgical scalpels, entomological stainless steel pins, book binder’s presses and felts, as well as a tradesman’s array of socket sets, drills, punches and pliers. We put Tyvek® Homewrap® covers over collection objects as it is breathable and keeps off dust. We transport small objects in prawn crates and often display costume on off the shelf mannequins.

When it came time to document the Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse prior to major conservation work, our conservation team turned to technologies which are often used by insurance companies and real estate agents to photograph buildings and record damage.

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Blackbirding: Australia’s slave trade?

The blackbirding schooner <i>Daphne</i> was seized by <a title="HMS Rosario (1860)" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Rosario_(1860)" target="_blank" rel="noopener">HMS <i>Rosario</i></a> in 1869. Samuel Calvert (1828-1913) and Oswald Rose Campbell (1820-1887) - State Library of Victoria.

The blackbirding schooner Daphne was seized by HMS Rosario in 1869. Samuel Calvert (1828-1913) and Oswald Rose Campbell (1820-1887) – State Library of Victoria.

In 1847 Benjamin Boyd, an early colonial businessman better known for his whaling ventures, shipped 65 men from New Caledonia and Vanuatu to Eden on the south coast of New South Wales. Boyd’s experiment in finding cheap indentured labour among the Pacific Islands was a failure, but he had foreshadowed a labour practice that was in many instances to hold all the hallmarks of slavery.

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Soundtrack to the sea

Sheet music in the ANMM Collection.

Sheet music in the ANMM Collection.

It is so easy for us today to access music anytime, anywhere and in any style that it is difficult to imagine that music was still influential in people’s lives prior to radio, stereo, records etc. Music was played live but it was also widely distributed in the form of sheet music. Cheaply produced in large quantities sheet music meant people could play or learn the songs themselves and the song could be sung in a wide range of venues including homes, pubs, street corners, wharfs and music halls.

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How to build a lighthouse

The timber structure of the lighthouse going up. The photograph was taken from aboard the visiting vessel <em>Cape Grafton</em>, 24 March 1994. Image: Deborah Gillespie.

The timber structure of the lighthouse going up. The photograph was taken from aboard the visiting vessel Cape Grafton, 24 March 1994. Image: Deborah Gillespie.

In 1993, the Australian National Maritime Museum was ready the rebuild the Cape Bowling Green Light.  After some discussion, a site near the wharf was selected.  Reconstruction of the lighthouse started in late 1993.  This visual story shows how the lighthouse was rebuilt piece by piece at Darling Harbour.

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1967: When Australia First Won The Admiral’s Cup (Part 2 of 2)

Caprice of Huon Beken, 1967. Image: ANMM.

When Australian yachting made history fifty years ago early in August 1967 by winning the Admiral’s Cup event sailed in UK waters, then recognized as the unofficial world championship for ocean racing, it was one of those dominant sporting wins that stands out as a blueprint of how to achieve success.

Australia had a plan – and one of the first steps was building on the past. It was only the second time an Australian team had entered the event, which, up to then, had been dominated by yachts from the UK and USA. However, as described in the first part of this story, Australia had shocked everyone in 1965 by coming second, and their yacht Caprice of Huon had won two of the four races. The post-race write-ups noted how well Australia had sailed as a team, and how well led the crews were.

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How to move a lighthouse

Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse prior to dismantling 1987. Credit: Mike Lorimer (Ove Arup and Partners).

Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse prior to dismantling, 1987. Credit: Mike Lorimer (Ove Arup and Partners).

How do you move a building from a remote cape in far north Queensland? In 1987 the 113-year old Cape Bowling Green Light was superseded by radar beacon, decommissioned and sold to the Australian National Maritime Museum. Somehow, the museum had to transport a 22-metre structure from Cape Bowling Green to Darling Harbour, Sydney. So, how does a lighthouse travel over 2000km?

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A wandering light: Cape Bowling Green lighthouse

Ever wondered how a lighthouse came to be at the museum? Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM, 2017.

Ever wondered how a lighthouse came to be at the museum? Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM, 2017.

At 22 metres tall Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse seems a solid, immovable structure. In fact, it was designed for ready disassembly and has been moved at least three times in its 150-year life.  It has also been continuously modified throughout its history.  The lighthouse at the museum is only partially the lighthouse that was built at Cape Bowling Green in 1873-4. The lighthouse and its changing history challenges ideas about the preservation of immovable cultural heritage. Continue reading

1967: When Australia First Won The Admiral’s Cup (Part 1 of 2)

Fifty years ago, in August 1967, Australian yachting made history on the world stage, winning the Admiral’s Cup event sailed in UK waters, then recognized as the unofficial world championship for ocean racing.

It was only the second time an Australian team had entered the event, which, up to then, had been dominated by yachts from the UK and USA. The result was astonishing at the time – similar to Australia beating Brazil in a final of the World Cup.

This is part one of a two part story of that remarkable victory.

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The Bulk of the Iceberg: What’s NOT On Display at the Museum

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Green job-fish (Aprion virescens). ANMM Collection 00019588. Gift from Walter Stackpool. Reproduced courtesy of Dr Jane Stackpool.

One of the issues we readily face in the museum world is how to increase the proportion of our collection that is accessible to the public. The unfortunate reality is that due to collection size and the display space available the percentage of the collection on display at any one time is limited to approximately 9%.

The solution: digitise.

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A Poignant Remnant from the ‘Plucky little Ship Aurora’

20 June 2017 marked 100 years since the famous polar vessel Aurora left Newcastle, Australia with a cargo of coal, never to be seen again.

The museum recently accepted the gift of the ship’s lifebuoy, recovered from the seas six months later.

A powerful emblem, with the ghost lettering of its famous Antarctic expeditions on its rim, it acts as a lifeline to all the sailors, whalers, scientists, workers, expeditioners and sealers whose lives, toils and achievements were entwined with it.

Importantly, the lifebuoy connects all of us to the tragic loss of its captain and 20 officers and crew in 1917. This is the incredible story of a powerful wooden ship and its men.

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The world of Thomas Lawson: Big ships, books and sofas

Thomas W. Lawson in his office, surrounded by the fresh flowers and books he loved. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thomas W. Lawson in his office, surrounded by the fresh flowers and books he loved. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the world seemed unbearably young. It had yet to experience a World War or the Great Depression. Fossil fuels were the future and any new technology was seen as a good thing. It became known as the Gilded Age and it must have been heady times for those who had the cash to enjoy it. And there were plenty of those. One, in particular, was Thomas W Lawson. At one time Lawson was thought to be one of the wealthiest men in America with a fortune estimated at over USD $50 million (over $1 billion in today’s money).

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Midget submarine attack on Sydney 31 May – 1 June 1942

The wreck of M14 being recovered. Image: <a href="https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C48694">Australian War Memorial</a>, via Wikimedia.

The wreck of M14 being recovered. Image: Australian War Memorial, via Wikimedia.

My mother has often told me this story of the evening of Sunday 31st May 1942:

‘It had been a normal Sunday: Church, followed by lunch, a visit to my grandparents, some radio and then suddenly, while I was taking a bath, sirens split the air, Dad turned off the lights, and I shivered in the dark.’

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