Volunteer researcher Aliza Chin shares her investigations of late 19th-century Chinese vessels built in Australia.
A research adventure
For the past two months, I have been a volunteer researcher at the Museum. I have become an explorer who conducts archival deep dives, a decipherer and editor of Trove auto-text, an appraiser of photographs stored away in digital collections, swinging between feelings of elation and frustration, in between clicks and scrolls. If you don’t know Trove, it is an Australian online library database aggregator; a free faceted-search engine hosted by the National Library of Australia, in partnership with content providers including members of the National & State Libraries Australasia. It is one of the most well-respected and accessed GLAM services in Australia, with over 70,000 daily users.
To say that the experience has equipped me with new skills in my field would be an understatement, but this blog entry is not about me. Rather, it is about the issues and new sources encountered and uncovered in the little-studied area of Chinese shipbuilding; specifically, vessels that were made here in Australia between the 1870s and early 1900s. Dr Stephen Gapps has been researching sampans and junks for a while and invited me to help with this project.
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.
The 60th anniversary of the Spanish migration agreement
Sixty years ago today, the first contingent of assisted immigrants arrived under the Spanish migration agreement’s Operación Canguro (‘Operation Kangaroo’) to work as cane-cutters in north Queensland. The 159 young men, primarily from the north of Spain, docked in Brisbane on the Lloyd Triestino liner Toscana in 1958. They were transferred to the Wacol Migrant Centre, before being sent to the sugarcane fields in Cairns, Tully, Ingham and Innisfail. However, the origins of Spanish involvement in the Queensland sugar industry date back much earlier, to the introduction of the White Australia policy in 1901.
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?
A few days ago a Scottish newspaper ran a story about an upcoming auction of a cannon from HMS Bountyset to make £500,000. According to the article, the cannon was gifted by JR McCoy (the Pitcairn Island President) to a British sea captain who stopped at Pitcairn Island in 1898 and it subsequently made its way to Scotland. The article included three pictures showing a badly corroded gun missing its trunnions and cascable but with some surviving details of reinforce rings and the touch hole.
Maritime archaeologists and technicians study the shipboard computer screens during the 3D photographic survey of submarine HMAS AE1, in early 2018. Image courtesy Navigea Ltd.
Expanding the Archaeologist’s toolkit
Once upon a time, the archaeologist’s toolkit was likely to consist of a shovel, trowel, bucket, brush, stakes and string. Today it includes a multitude of technological tools such as magnetometers, drones, ground-penetrating radar, 3D imaging and all sorts of acronyms including DGPS, LIDAR, ROVs, AUVs and many more. In the past, archaeologists were digging trenches in the ground or diving in shallow waters. These days even the roughest terrain and deepest of waters can be part of the archaeologists working environment. What was once thought impossible is increasingly possible – for example, the search for Australia’s first submarine AE1, lost in 1914 and thought one of the greatest unsolved Australian maritime mysteries, is now complete.
Today, an archaeologist can ‘look’ below the ground without even digging, they can send remote operating vehicles to incredible depths under water, and some are even investigating the potential for an ‘archaeology of the air’. And now with DNA analysis archaeologists can construct very human pictures from old bones.
Part of AE1‘s hull, showing extensive corrosion. After 103 years since her loss, AE1 was located in waters off the Duke of York Island group in Papua New Guinea in December 2017. Image: Find the Men of AE1 Ltd.
Australia’s greatest naval mystery is solved at last
It is more than a century since Australia’s first submarine, HMAS AE1, disappeared without trace in the waters off Papua New Guinea. Its fate remained a mystery until late last year, when the most recent of many searches finally found its wreck.
LEFT: Pinisi trading ship on the Barito River, S.E.Kalimantan, 1983. RIGHT: Patorani fishing boat, Makassar Harbour 1985. Photographs: Jeffrey Mellefont.
UNESCO heritage-lists Indonesian wooden-boat building
Across the 17,000 equatorial islands comprising the Republic of Indonesia, the ingenious arts of timber boat building have been a crucial enabler of human ventures from prehistoric times until today. As ports, kingdoms and states developed, distinctive traditions of boat building and seafaring underpinned trade, politics and warfare, transport and communications as well as day-to-day livelihoods and subsistence … more so in this sprawling tropical archipelago than in just about any other region in the world.
These accomplished seafarers, key participants in the world’s spice trade since ancient times, have also had long-standing economic and cultural connections with nearby northern Australia and its Indigenous coastal populations. Best-known was a centuries-old fishery that brought annual fleets from the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, harvesting a costly, luxury marine product for trade with imperial China. This teripang or bêche-de-mer fishery was long-established when British settlers first arrived, but was prohibited in 1906 by customs officials of the new Commonwealth of Australia. Continue reading →
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.
Arriving at Pasongsongan, Madura, to inspect a flamboyant fishing fleet returned from its nightly fishery on the Java Sea. All photography by Jeffrey Mellefont.
Thirty years ago, field-research for the museum took me to a remote little Indonesian island called Raas in the Java Sea. It was so far off regular motor-ship routes that I took passage on an engineless trading prahu propelled by a huge lateen sail. Prahus like these, called lete-lete, provided transport and livelihoods for Raas and adjacent islands, and some of them were sailed on long-haul fishing expeditions into northern Australian waters. The museum, which at that time was just beginning to develop its collections and first exhibitions, wanted to learn more about various types of maritime contacts linking Australia and Indonesia.
This autumn I returned to these same waters, leading a small group of visitors from Australia, the UK and Canada who were eager to meet some of Indonesia’s least-known maritime communities, in a region of the Java Sea where tourism has not yet arrived.
Woodcut by Joan Hassall illustrating a pivotal scene from the novel, an accident in Lyme Regis. Anne Elliot is third from left and Captain Wentworth kneeling at centre. From the 1975 Folio Society edition of Persuasion, reproduced with permission.
If, like me, you’ve been meaning to reread Jane Austen, among other classics you first read long ago, then this year is the time to do it — the 200th anniversary of her death in July 1817. And if, like me, you weren’t sure which one to begin with, let me guide you as a reader of Signals to Persuasion, with its splendid central characters drawn from the Royal Navy at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s not just chick-lit for the literati. You can read it, if you like, as an adjunct or appendix to the well-thumbed maritime classics of C S Forrester and Patrick O’Brian, most likely sitting on your bookshelves already.
船員と犬 A watercolour of a foreign sailor and his dog by Japanese Samurai artist Makita Hamaguchi in 1830. Image courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive
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.
Textile artist Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry. Photographer Kristina Kingston, reproduced courtesy Melinda Piesse
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.
Big is best,
Big is like – OMG – gigantic
Big is beautiful!
Look what’s outside my hotel window in Hobart: Ovation of the Seas, one of the biggest ocean cruise ships in the world. It’s here, you can’t miss it, it seems longer than the docks, wider than the widest sea, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound – anything goes in this department.
Dirk Hartog’s plate envelops the museum’s rooftop in ‘A chance encounter’ roof projection, 2016. Photographer Andrew Frolows/ANMM.
Last Thursday night saw the launch of the museum’s latest roof projection, A chance encounter, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog’s landing on the west coast of Australia in the VOC ship Eendracht. To mark his landfall on 25 October 1616, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate in Shark Bay, Western Australia, which provides tangible evidence of one of the earliest European encounters with Australia.