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.
This Sunday, 25 September 2016, saw 882 new names unveiled on our migrant Welcome Wall in honour of all those who have migrated from around the world by sea or air to live in Australia. The museum unveils new names on the Welcome Wall twice a year. 2016 marks the 17th year of unveiling ceremonies, bringing the total number of names on the wall to a staggering 28,293. More than 200 countries are now represented on the Wall.
As a multicultural nation, with one in four of Australia’s 23 million people born outside Australia, the Welcome Wall is a celebration of diversity. It allows today’s Australians to pay tribute to migrant forebears, family members and friends by having their names inscribed on it. Located outdoors on the museum’s northern boundary, the wall faces Darling Harbour and Pyrmont Bay.
This development and the removal of the Sydney Monorail meant the Australian National Maritime Museum had to look at ways to attract new visitors to our doorstep. Because without a convention centre and the monorail tourists would not be ‘dropped’ at our doorstep.
There was once a man who could ‘take needles out of his mouth for half an hour at a time’, who could make ‘beautiful vases appear’ from thin air. He was a magician, and the people of a Northern Chinese village would watch spellbound as he ‘performed a hundred magic feats’. One day a little boy asked him if he could turn stones into bread as food was scarce. The magician told the boy that he would only conjure bread in front of his pupils, so the boy pleaded with the magician to teach him. The boy was taught the art of magic and went on to become a great magician, revered by the likes of Harry Houdini and Charlie Chaplin and performing in theatres around the world.
This forms one of the many myths surrounding one of the most successful magicians of the early 20th century – the world renowned Chinese acrobat and vaudeville performer, Long Tack Sam. Lurking in the storage rooms of the museum, you’ll find a cabinet containing a black and white nitrate negative taken by another famous Sam. Samuel J Hood’s photograph depicts Long Tack Sam no longer a boy in 1880s China but a man in 1930s Sydney, posing with his company of artists reading The Telegraph newspaper.
When I first saw this image in the collection, I was curious. It remained a mystery until one of our Flickr followers identified it and opened up Sam’s amazing story. I got in contact with his great-granddaughter, writer and filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, who has worked tirelessly over the past several years to resurrect a story long forgotten. In her award winning film The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, and graphic novel of the same name, Ann Marie pieces together the story of her famous ancestor… Continue reading
‘Australian pirate tales’, by curator Dr Stephen Gapps. From Signals 97 (Dec 2011-Feb 2012).
We might not think of Australian history as having much to do with pirates. Yet from the infamous Batavia mutiny in 1629 to the 1998 seizure of the oil tanker Petro Ranger by pirates in the South China Sea, there have in fact been dozens of instances of piracy in Australian waters or on vessels travelling from these shores.
In 1806 the brig Venus was weather-bound for five weeks in Twofold Bay, on the south coast of New South Wales. Ill feeling had been building between its crew and Captain Chase who, fearing for his life, left to report to the authorities that he also feared the crew would take the ship – which they promptly did. The Sydney Gazette described the ‘band of ruffians’. First mate Benjamin Kelly was a ‘pockmarked’ American whaler. Second mate Richard Edwards had a ‘very remarkable scar or cut in one cheek’. Seaman Joseph Redmonds was a ‘mulatto’ who wore his hair in pigtails and had ‘holes in his ears, being accustomed to wear large earrings’. Their accomplices included a ‘Malay cook’, two convicts with ‘sallow complexions’ and a woman with a ‘hoarse voice’. They would have been at home in any pirate tale.
The incredible voyage of Mary Bryant and her convict companions from Sydney to Timor in an open boat in 1791 showed that escape by boat from the colonies was indeed possible. William Bligh’s epic open-boat voyage after the 1789 Bounty mutiny may also have inspired the many convict escape attempts that followed. Certainly, after the mutiny on the Bounty, ship captains in the Pacific were on their guard. The lure of stealing a ship and living in a tropical paradise in the South Seas was clear. Lieutenant George Tobin, on Bligh’s second breadfruit voyage in 1792, noted how ‘passing some months at a South Sea Island and in the full swing of indulgencies’ was good reason to keep a ‘vigilant eye upon the crew’.
Object of the Week: A Chinese tea caddy
This Chinese tea caddy was exported during the prolific tea trade of the 19th and 20th centuries. It has a pear shaped body decorated with finely grained chrysanthemum blossoms. The cylindrical cover was used to measure tea prior to the introduction of tea caddy spoons and is inscribed with the date, 30th April 1904-1929. The base features three hallmarks, including the manufacturer’s stamp of Hung Chong & Co, who worked out of Canton and Shanghai, China. It was owned and commissioned by an Australian merchant working in Shanghai, probably as a gift or memento.
Hung Chong & Co were influential and respected jewellers based out of Club Street, Honan Island Canton and Nanking Road, Shanghai in China between 1850 and 1930. During this period Shanghai became one of the major tea trading ports in China with the introduction of steam navigation on the Yangtze River in 1861.
Western merchants from America, Australian and Europe actively traded with China during the 19th and 20th centuries. On their ships they brought back items including metal domestic wares, paintings, furniture, carvings and tea. The exportation of silverware objects has been less acknowledged than other materials, as Chinese artists commonly used pseudo-marks on their manufactured wares, making it difficult to distinguish them from products made in Europe or America.
Founded in the 10th century, the city of Shanghai is located east of Suzhou at the mouth of the Yangtze River. Its importance in the region grew due to its extensive irrigation system and it soon became a major cotton production and manufacturing centre with a population of over 250,000 people.
In the 19th century the importance of Shanghai developed further as the city’s strategic position at the mouth of the Yangtze River was perceived by westerners as an ideal location for trade with the Chinese hinterland. Following the First and Second Opium Wars, Shanghai was recognised as one of the Treaty Ports established by the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, the 1843 Treaty of Bruges and the 1844 Sino-American Treaty of Wangsia and foreigners were allowed to establish trading factories and European settlements inside the city.
These treaties opened the floodgate of western culture and influence into Shanghai. Over time two cities emerged: a chaotic Chinese city and a western city, inhabited mainly by Chinese. The western part of Shanghai was one of the most modern “European” cities in the world – often called the Paris of the East. New inventions like electricity and trams were quickly introduced, and westerners turned Shanghai into a huge metropolis with the western part of Shanghai nearly four times larger than the Chinese part in the early 20th century. British, American, French, German and Australian businesses made a great deal of money in the tea trade, real estate and finance and by the early 1920s half of all China’s imports and exports passed through the city of Shanghai.
This tea caddy is a lovely example of Chinese silverware and highlights the importance of tea as a western commodity in the 20th century. I talso represents the Chinese exportation of silverware by American, Australia and European merchants. The Australian National Maritime Museum collection contains a number of other Chinese export and trade items, including other silver tea caddies, pewter tea pots, snuff boxes, tea boxes, ivory fans, dinner sets and cutlery, which you can now browse on-line.