In April 1802 when the lookout station situated on the southern headland at the entrance to Port Jackson reported the sighting of a French naval vessel approaching, the news spread quickly through the streets of Sydney. Isolated on the far side of the world from England, it was normal for news of the arrival of a ship to cause excitement at the prospect of news from Europe and the hope of fresh supplies. The armed corvette Le Naturaliste however, was an unusual arrival and unlikely to bring much comfort to the town.
In today’s global world you may have drunk coffee from Brazil or a smoothie containing frozen fruit from China. You could be wearing clothes made in India, watching a TV made in Japan while sitting on a sofa containing wood from Argentina on a laminate floor manufactured in Sweden. All of this has been made possible by a rectangular steel box – the humble shipping container.
It’s a wet and windy morning as the Yang Ming Singapore arrives in Sydney, ready to discharge and load almost 2,000 of the 2.3 million containers that will pass through Port Botany Container Terminal this year. Curator and project manager Dr Mary-Elizabeth Andrews takes a look on board.
Over the past six months, Em Blamey, Creative Producer at the museum, and I have travelled Australia engaging regional and remote maritime museums with the exhibition project Submerged: Stories of Australia’s shipwrecks. In late September, we were honoured to attend the 2017 AIMA Conference: Claimed by the Sea, to present the results of our endeavours.
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
The date the eruption which consumed Pompeii is normally given as 24th August, as this is the date that appears in the standard classical text of Pliny the Younger’s Letters. It is written down as nonum kalends Septembres – the ninth day before the first (kalends) of September – which, to the modern reader seems an awkward way of recording a date.
Several of the most unusual and interesting items in Escape from Pompeii are from the Museum of the Parco Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei housed in the Castle at Baia on the Bay of Naples. The Archaeological park covers the ancient sites of Cumae, Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) and Baiae which were a lot more famous to ancient Romans than Pompeii and Herculaneum. The sites are on northern side of the Bay as it stretches past Mount Vesuvius and Naples.
All three sites are situated in or around the Campi Flegrei, which translates as the fields of fire. The Campi Flegrei is one very large ground level volcano with gaseous fumeroles, boiling mud pools, and numerous smaller craters – about 24 of them – some of them flooded like Lake Avernus. The caldera of the volcano continues underwater into the Bay of Naples. If it were erupt it would be catastrophic.
The museum has been fortunate to host a travelling exhibition on the history of pearling and the uses of pearl shell. The award winning exhibition – Lustre: Pearling and Australia – has been very well received by visitors but unfortunately will close soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and get along to the National Maritime Museum before August 13. Lustre is full of fascinating objects and interesting stories, particularly the long cultural importance of pearl shell in north western Australian Aboriginal communities.
With midwinter upon us and an ever-so-slight chill in the air, my thoughts go straight to the land of ice, where the darkest day of a four-month twilight darkness means so much – the coming of the sun. Today expeditioners on Antarctica’s scientific bases jump into the icy seas, feast and celebrate with all the ritual and high-jinks befitting the occasion.
Equally so for their forebears 100 years ago. Bold explorers and adventurers – among them Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team, who sledged into the interior across uncharted ice to claim the South Pole for Norway in 1911.
Lessons from the Arctic – How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole, a panel exhibition on display in ANMM’s Vaughan Evans Library from the Fram Museum in Norway, explores life for those men on their incredible journey. Catch it until June 30, while the sun is low in the sky and think of those men on midwinter day 1911.
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.
During the opening of our new exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year we had the opportunity to welcome a special guest: Scott Portelli, an Australian photographer living in Sydney has already travelled the world extensively and took pictures in some of the most remote destinations like The Arctic, Antarctica, Galapagos, etc. He spent hundreds of days in pursuit of different wildlife. Due to his experience, he is privileged to be up close and personal with many creatures. Scott has already won multiple awards, this year he got selected by Wildlife Photographer of the year and his picture can be seen in the exhibition.
In the early 19th century Japan had closed its doors to foreign ships in an effort to resist colonisation. One day in January 1830, a British flagged ship appeared off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, southern Japan. A low-ranking Samurai official duly recorded information about the ship and its crew before being ordered to send it away by firing cannon at the vessel. The ship, the brig Cyprus, was in fact a pirated vessel with a crew of escaped convicts from Tasmania under the command of the self-styled ‘Captain William Swallow’. Until now, this wonderful record of Australian pirates in Japan has been sitting, unrecognised in a Japanese archive.
One of the most amazing objects in Escape from Pompeii: The Untold Roman Rescue is a rostrum from a Roman warship. A rostrum is a bronze ram attached to the bow of an ancient warship. It was used to punch holes into the hull of enemy ships to disable or sink them. The Roman historian Livy gives a description of their use at the Battle of Side in 190 BC:
Whenever a ship encountered an enemy vessel head on, it either shattered its prow, or sheared off its oars; or else it sailed through the open space in the line and rammed it in the stern
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.