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.
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 →
Spirit of Australia driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam, 1977. ANMM Collection ANMS1163, 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!
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!
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.
‘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.
The partially submerged remains of the ferry Greycliffe, following the collision with Tahiti. 40 lives were lost in the disaster. ANMM Collection 00036858, Samuel J Hood Studio.
The sinking of the Greycliffe ferry on 3 November 1927 remains the most significant accident on Sydney Harbour to date. Forty lives were lost when the ferry collided with the Union Steamship Company’s liner Tahiti. The tragedy had a marked impact on the city – many old Sydney families can still recount their personal connections to the disaster, particularly those associated with the suburbs around Vaucluse and Watsons Bay where many of the victims lived. It inspired significant plot points in the novels Waterways by Eleanor Dark (1938) and Careful, He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott (1963).
Today, on the 90th anniversary of the disaster, we tell the story of Betty Sharp, the teenage girl who had a haunting impact on the recovery teams at the time of the accident and through subsequent retellings of the disaster.
Ghost ship – Self-steering and completely intact, the Sea Bird appeared to onlookers as if it was being guided by a ‘mysterious power’. Image: Unsolved Mysteries in the World.
One of the upsides of the eerie Halloween season is that you can let yourself dwell on the macabre. Even if the rest of the year you envision yourself as a hard-nosed cynic, on Halloween you are allowed to drop your scepticism and ponder the impossible ‘What if…?’
For maritime folk, there is no end of unnerving tales to scare yourself with. Oceans are vast and humans have sailed the seven seas long enough that you can take your pick of myths or unsolved mysteries that will keep you awake with chills, well into the night. Leaving aside sea monsters, murderous pirates or alien encounters, it is the appearance of ghost ships that can really raise the hair on your neck. The thought of these silent and abandoned vessels aimlessly making their way across oceans is disconcerting, to say the least.
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.