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.
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.
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?
‘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.
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.
Photographer Samuel J Hood capturing the love of a sailor. ANMM collection 00035634.
Valentine’s Day is not usually a day associated with sailors. Roses and chocolates are hard to find at sea and some would say romantic prose has no place on the decks of ships – particularly ships which do not come equipped with a cocktail bar and a pool.
For centuries, mothers warned their daughters about falling in love with a sailor. Tales of seafaring rogues and cads abound. As recorded countless times in songs and ballads, heartbreak was the only outcome for someone who caught the eye of a roving sailor. He was bound to desert the fair maiden, who would then usually die a tragic death caused by loneliness, grief or shame. Not really the stuff to make the heart swoon on Valentine’s Day. But do sailors really deserve this bad reputation? Is it true that no one can anyone really ever compete with a sailor’s real and greatest love, the sea?
SY Ena is now part of the museum’s floating maritime heritage fleet. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.
“Shortly after 9.0’clock on Saturday morning, a handsome steam yacht, built for Mr TA Dibbs was launched from Mr Fords yard, Berrys Bay. As she left the ways she was christened ‘Ena’ by Miss Dorothy Dibbs.”
This brief report in the Sydney Morning Herald Monday 10 December 1900 and headlined “LAUNCH OF MR T.A. DIBBS’ NEW STEAM YACHT” was reflected in other newspapers with comments describing Ena as “one of the finest specimens of a modern steam yacht in the Australian colonies”.
117 years onwards andSY Ena still is one of the finest of its type, both here and internationally, despite many adventures since it was launched. Now it has come home again to Sydney, within sight of where it was built. SY Ena is now part of the National Maritime Collection at the museum. The extremely generous donation of the steam yacht by its owner Mr John Mullen.
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!
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.
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.
Dragon boat figurehead painted gold, green and beige with red beard and white plastic antennae. ANMM Collection 00039729. Gift from Carlos Ung.
It’s Lunar New Year and time to present the colour and excitement of ancient Chinese culture from the museum’s collections. Dragons feature heavily. And so does racing. (I know that it’s the Year of the Rooster, but they don’t usually like water …)
Dragons have been a potent symbol of Chinese culture for thousands of years – people believed they lived in rivers and lakes and controlled the rains and crops. They were mostly protective, yet when angered created havoc with floods and drought. Chinese communities honoured the dragons with festivals and sacrifices to keep the river dragon happy.
SPIRIT OF AUSTRALIA driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam. ANMM Collection ANMS1163, courtesy of Graeme Andrews.
Museums are truly wondrous places. Reminding us all where we have come from. Our shared history and what humans have experienced. I have always been constantly inspired by these stories but I now find myself using them as life lessons to be held up during moments of parental pressure. Continue reading →
Not quite at the water’s edge, yet. This 1865 depiction of colonists at Manly celebrating Christmas appeared in The Illustrated Sydney News. Image: ANMM collection 00006061.
It was bound to happen. There was only one this year: a lone Christmas card arriving in my mailbox, stoically spreading Christmas cheer and best wishes for the season. Likely, next year there will be none and although we may discover new ways to spread cheer, via emails or seasonal emojis, but for me, the demise of the Christmas card is cause for some lament.
Beachgoers at Newcastle, c1910. This period saw Australians embrace swimming at the beach for leisure. ANMM Collection ANMS0551.
In this island country, the coastline stretches over a distance of more than 36,000 kilometres, so it’s no surprise that Australians are obsessed with water, beaches and water sports. It is this obsession with water that has contributed to Australia’s reputation as a nation of swimmers, surfers and beach goers. With the introduction of paid holidays and leisure time for families, Australians crowded the beaches making them the place to be. Continue reading →