Gervais Purcell: hats, photography and fashion of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s

Gervais Purcell - model in beach hat

Woman modelling a hat, Gervais Purcell 1949

Cock your hat.
An angle is an attitude

– Frank Sinatra

Its hat week this week – for myself it’s an excuse to kit up for winter but among the vast collection of images by respected Australian commercial photographer Gervais Purcell the hats are generally more about form than function.

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Mouths of Gold

The wreck of the Dunbar in 1857 is a well-known story in Sydney and the effect it had on the colony at the time. One of the outcomes of the wreck was the recovery of the artefacts it left behind. In addition to the ship itself, there were hundreds of everyday objects that do not often survive the rigours of domesticity but tell the story of life in a growing colony. In effect the wreck becomes a time capsule, preserving together the materials of many different industries and areas of life.

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857. ANMM Collection

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857.
ANMM Collection

There were many day to day items in the Dunbar collection that tell of the increasing wealth of its residents. Remnants of clocks, watches, furniture labels from iron bedframes and ovens, coins, jewellery and silver tableware are just a few. Some small but interesting pieces also found were sets of dentures. These are made of gold and despite their torture like conations, they are surprisingly delicate and one of the many wonders of what could survive a devastating shipwreck such as the Dunbar. It did get me wondering what the state of dentistry was in the colony of Sydney in 1857 and whether these dentures were an export from London, or did they possibly belong to one of the passengers? We know from the passenger list that there were a number of wealthy passengers on board who could have afforded dentures and at least one surgeon, Alexander Bayne,  who might have been a practicing dentist also.

Dentistry across the globe up until this point was an unregulated industry and attracted many pretenders. Traditionally the practice was a side industry for surgeons, chemists and even silversmiths. Australian newspapers from the early 1800’s onwards have numerous advertisements for dentists. And it is interesting to see that most promote other services as well. There were ‘dentists’ who were also apocathries, accoucheurs (male midwives), surgeons, photographers and ‘cuppers’ (practitioners of bloodletting). The usual arrangement at this time was to set up a practice in a room in your house and advertise the hours you would be ‘at home’. It was a relatively casual affair it seems as there was no sterilization or hygiene standards to consider so a ‘dentist’ could indeed be multi-tasking practitioner. Continue reading

A tale of love and adventure between two teakwood panels

The journal of the Loch Bredan

The teakwood cover of the journal of the Loch Bredan made by the ship’s carpenter from the panels of the ship’s charthouse door. The journal was written and illustrated by Chief Officer Robert Robertson Smythe, 1902.
ANMM Collection, photographs by Sabina Escobar, ANMM

The museum recently acquired the journal of the Liverpool barque Loch Bredan, by Chief Officer Robert Robertson Smythe. This wonderful logbook/journal was written and beautifully illustrated by Smythe during his 123-day voyage from Sydney to Liverpool via Cape Horn from the 25 July 1902 to 24 November 1902.

The Loch Bredan, built in 1882, was a steel-hulled barque of the ‘Loch’ ships of Liverpool owned by D&J Sproat & Co. She traded between England, Australia and New Zealand, arriving for the first time in Australia at Watsons Bay on November 1891 after a three-month journey from Antwerp, Belgium. In 1902, the Loch Bredan was forced to return to port within a fortnight of leaving Sydney on the return journey to Liverpool. During this trip, the ship ran into such severe weather that three life boats were smashed along with the charthouse’s doors.

She left Adelaide in September 1903 having picked up crew and cargo and disappeared with no scrap of wreckage ever found. Chief Officer Smythe was not on board, as he had signed off after arriving in Liverpool in November 1902. During this voyage, (the last one before its disappearance) the ship’s carpenter used the teakwood of these doors to make the covers for Smythe’s journal. These covers and the memories written on its pages are the only remaining pieces of the Loch Bredan today. Continue reading

#HoodsHarbour: Our super sleuths inspire an exhibition

Portrait of Hera Roberts

The inspiration for our exhibition #HoodsHarbour – Hera Roberts 10 October 1930,
Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

The day has finally arrived for the opening of our #HoodsHarbour exhibition! Showcasing a small selection from our Samuel (Sam) J Hood collection, #HoodsHarbour pays homage to the work of a group of individuals we call our ‘super sleuths’. Thanks to their efforts on our Flickr Commons page, we were able to solve the mystery behind the image that formed the inspiration for this exhibition – the lovely Hera Roberts. The story of this discovery symbolises the way that our followers have enriched our collection, unearthing its secrets and finding its hidden stories. Hood’s photograph of Hera remains the highest viewed and most favourited on the museum’s Flickr Commons photostream to date. More than 80 years after it was taken, Hera continues to captivate and inspire our audiences. Continue reading

Sailing away into Sydney Harbour’s past with Britannia

Hi! My name is Geneviève Bourgon or ‘Gwen’ and I’m a museum studies student at the University of Sydney. I am currently interning in the Registration department of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

My project is to digitise an archival collection of photographs, postcards and sailing programs associated with Britannia, an 18ft sailing vessel and its builder, owner and skipper  ‘Wee’ Georgie Robinson. Digitising a collection makes all the information about the objects more accessible, 22,000 collection objects have been release on the museum’s collection website for everyone to access.

The collection I am cataloguing dates from the 1920s through to the 1960s. The majority are sailing programs of weekly sailing competitions on Sydney Harbour, special championships and anniversary regattas. They begin as a single page and double sided program and evolve into massive 100 page booklets filled with interesting events surrounding the regatta and advertising.

Flat bed scanner

Flat bed scanner

First, I scanned the items using a flatbed scanner, and then I created an image and a PDF of pages scanning them as an optical character recognition (OCR) file to enable searching through the text on individual pages which are combined to form a single PDF document. Information is added to the collection management database where all 140,000 objects in the museum’s collection, are catalogued.

Second, I update any missing cataloguing data from the records such as: the object measurements, update its title, what it’s made of, and what it looks like. Continue reading

Waves of migration returns on Australia Day

The museum’s award-winning digital projection Waves of migration returns this Sunday, Australia Day, to once again illuminate the museum’s iconic roofline with a rich tapestry of migration stories drawn from our collection.

Waves of migration illuminates the roof of the museum in Darling Harbour

Waves of migration illuminates the roof of the museum in Darling Harbour

Waves of migration explores the history of migration to Australia and the compelling stories of those who’ve come across the seas – from British convicts and early settlers, to Jewish refugees and displaced persons; from post-war European migrants and Ten Pound Poms, to Indochinese boat people and seaborne asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Continue reading

Espionage and paranoia: The Sea Devil tours Australia

Count Felix Graf von Luckner with wife Countess Ingeborg von Luckner on board Seeteufel, 20 May 1938 Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection

Count Felix Graf von Luckner with wife Countess Ingeborg von Luckner on board Seeteufel, 20 May 1938
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

In 1938, on an uninhabited island somewhere between America and New Zealand, a German nobleman anchored his schooner. He had a mission. Twenty-one years previously, he’d buried treasure, or as he told the American press, ‘a chest with gold and German banknotes’. He told The Australian Women’s Weekly that a ‘plan of the hidden treasure was tattooed on his knee’ and he was finally making the journey from his country to retrieve it. There have been many labels used to describe Count Felix Graf von Luckner – war raider, Nazi spy, gentleman pirate, ‘rollicking buccaneer’, and the list goes on. Some of them are unfounded, yet some of them contain elements of the truth. So when he finally arrived, Samuel J Hood was on hand to photograph the man famed for sinking 28 Allied merchant vessels in 1917. Hood’s photographs display a glimmer of the controversy and suspicion aroused that day back in May 1938 as tensions brewed in Europe and a German war raider known as Der Seeteufel (the Sea Devil) sailed into Sydney waters in the dead of the night. Continue reading

A tale of three blazers, two t-shirts and one pocket – collecting America’s Cup apparel

Imagine a sailor, navigator or tactician and you don’t picture them in a blazer. Blazers are part of a formal uniform which need to be viewed alongside other artefacts to reveal their character and meaning. Most of the jackets and blazers in the sporting collections at museum have been collected as part of a selection of material related to sporting personalities, but here I’ll detail a few of them in isolation, to chart some of the key campaigns during Australia’s participation in the America’s cup.

Photo of

The Australia II crew gathers for the 30th anniversary of Australia’s America’s cup victory in front of Ben Lexcen’s innovative Australia II tank test model on display at ANMM’s Wharf 7 Maritime Heritage centre. Skipper John Bertrand asked to hold Ben Lexcen’s green and gold team jumper as a tangible memory of him, of ‘Benny’. Ben Lexcen died in 1988.

In the years leading up to 1983 Australia had won the right to challenge every three years bar one since 1962. Then Sydney media baron and sailor Sir Frank Packer bankrolled the Alan Payne designed Gretel to scare the Americans a little with its efficient winch system, deck layout and speed to windward. With six further challenges moving from the east to the west coast of Australia the two countries had enjoyed a twenty year rivalry. Continue reading

Suitcases, boats and bridges

Last week I was invited to speak about the museum’s work at the Suitcases, boats and bridges: telling migrant stories in Australian museums workshop, organised by Dr Nina Parish from the University of Bath and Dr Chiara O’Reilly from the University of Sydney. The workshop brought together academics, museum professionals and museum studies students to discuss how migrant stories have been collected and articulated in a number of Australian museums, ranging from large government-funded institutions such as ours, to smaller regional, suburban or volunteer-run museums.

Suitcases and boats in Passengers, the museum's permanent exhibition about Australia's immigration history. Photographer Andrew Frolows

Suitcases and boats in Passengers, the museum’s permanent exhibition about Australia’s immigration history. Photographer Andrew Frolows

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These are a few of our favourite things…

The year is drawing to a close and we have enjoyed investigating, researching and sharing parts of the museum’s collection with you. We have come across the weird and wacky, but we have also made discoveries that have stopped us in our tracks and demonstrated the enormous depth of the collection.


The Whale Cure for Rheumatism in Australia (1902)
Printed in The Graphic
ANMM Collection

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A prized ram – Tales from ‘100 Stories’

If you could design a trophy, what would it look like? Personally, I would suggest something grand, shiny and of a size that visitors to my home would notice, but not too overstated of course.

In the museum’s collection we hold quite an unusual trophy, something I would have never dreamt of. Commissioned in Scotland by the whiskey distiller Johnny Walker, it features a ram’s head. Yes, a ram’s head! And not only that, it doubles as a cigar box!

You don’t believe me? Take a look at our video on Youtube which also features in the eBook version of our new publication 100 Stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum.

100 Stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum is available as a free eBook for iPad in the iBookstore or for purchase in our museum shop.

Object of the month: A silver reminder of World War I

To acknowledge ANZAC day on 25 April, this month we feature a quite unassuming object – a silver teapot. But as you all know, every museum object has a story. Read on to discover the fascinating past of this domestic item.

Australia’s naval involvement in World War I was not confined to the Indian or Atlantic Oceans, nor the Mediterranean Sea or Dardanelles. The Royal Australian Navy’s first operations were in German New Guinea waters where a quick capture of German holdings in the Pacific region took place – and is not often talked about. This story is about the German government inspection ship Komet, captured by the RAN and then commissioned into the Australian Navy.

The 977-ton German government steam yacht KGS Komet was built in Bremerhaven in 1911. It was sent to German New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelmsland) as an administrative vessel for the German protectorate and was based at Rabaul, New Britain. The yacht was finely fitted out for senior German staff who undertook regular  inspection trips of German holdings. The acronym ‘KGS’ stands for Kaiserliches Gouvernement Schiff (Imperial Government Ship).

War was declared in August 1914, finding Komet at Morobe, New Guinea. It had transported the Acting German governor, Dr Eduard Haber, for an inspection. Komet had narrowly avoided interception by the Australian Squadron and was able to sail to New Britain, landing Haber at Herbertshohe, near Rabaul.

Haber put Komet at the disposal of Admiral von Spee’s German fleet where it was used as a supply vessel to the auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Freidrich until late September, 1914.  Rabaul was captured by Australian forces, and because of other  British ships in the vicinity, Komet sought refuge at a far location on the north coast of New Britain, west of Willaumez Peninsula – which became unofficially known as ‘Komethafen’ (Komet Harbour).

The ship’s presence was reported to the Australian administrator in Rabaul, and at dawn on 11 October 1914, HMAS Nusa, an armed German steam yacht which had been captured from the Germans some weeks earlier, surprised and captured the Komet. It is said that Komet‘s captain was interrupted during his morning shave by Australians boarding his ship! The crew of five Germans and 52 local sailors were removed and the yacht sent to Garden Island in Sydney for refitting.

The tiny HMAS NUSA with its first capture - KGS KOMET ANMM Collection

Komet had been quite sumptuously fitted out, including a fine galley and a wardroom used by the ship’s officers and guests. A full silver service made by Wilkens of Bremen was in use in the dining room and bits of it were souvenired by the Australians. The Australian War Memorial has some of the silver cutlery and we recently acquired this silver teapot. A soup ladle – also in silver – is on display in the Navy gallery.

Teapot from the KOMET, part of the silver service made by Wilkens of Bremen, a company still in operation today. ANMM Collection Gift from Peg Adena

After refit, the yacht served in the Royal Australian Navy as the patrol boat HMAS Una and in the post-war period it served in the islands as Una until 1924, when it was privately sold and renamed Akuna and became a pilot vessel under the Port Phillip Pilots’ Association in Melbourne. Under this name it served with the RAN during WWII as an examination vessel until late 1943, when it was returned to pilotage duties. The KometUna / Akuna was finally broken up in the 1950s but parts of it remain – the teak was used for the deck of Captain John Walker’s Windsong IV of Victoria – to remind us of all Australians who have served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

April is a time also to remind us of the spirit of ANZAC, the qualities of courage, mateship and sacrifice, which continue to have meaning and grow in relevance for our sense of national identity and pride.

Lindsey Shaw, senior curator

Discover love in the museum…

We’ve been getting a little romantic here at the museum and have created a Lovers’ Trail through our permanent exhibitions. We hope you enjoy our selections and also have a lovely Valentine’s Day.

Fan from ChinaGifts from afar

This ivory and paper fan was made in Canton, China, for distribution through the China Trade between China, the United States and Australia during the 1800s. It highlights the popular fashion of the day for women in the developing colony, and the influence of oriental culture on western style in general.  Both sides are brightly painted with scenes of figures carrying fans in an oriental landscape. The ivory sticks and guards feature carvings of figures, pagodas, and lotus blossoms. This fan has an accompanying lacquer box for storage.

Location: USA gallery, ground floor

Pin cushion heartThink of me – a sailor’s heart

This heart-shaped pin cushion with the words ‘Think of me’ formed in pins, was a favourite theme of sailors in the British Royal Navy in the 19th century. Keepsakes such as these were handmade by the sailors as love tokens for wives and girlfriends at home. Decorated with glass beads and a postcard photograph of HMAS Sydney (I), this pin cushion was probably made by a sailor of the ship shortly after its commissioning in 1913. Many Royal Navy sailors transferred into the new Australian fleet, bringing their traditions with them.

Location: Navy gallery, ground floor

Badge with image of Murray RoseHeart throbs

The 1956 summer Olympic Games held in Melbourne, Australia were beamed around the country through the brand new medium of television. Spectators flocked to shop windows to watch the Adonis-like swimmers in action. Freestyle swimmer Murray Rose won three gold medals (400 and 1,500 metre events and the 4×200 metre relay) and immediately became a national hero. At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Rose won the 400 metre gold medal and took the silver in the 1,500 metres. The gold went to fellow Australian, Latvian-born John Konrads, a rising star and poster boy for Australia’s post-war immigration policy. Both young men guest starred on television panel shows. Rose also appeared in movie Ride the Wild Surf.

Location: Watermarks gallery, ground floor

ShipOceans apart – the love story of Ann and Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was a great British navigator, responsible for much of the charting of Australia. He married Ann Chappelle in 1801 – but for nine years their relationship was carried out by letter as he firstly circumnavigated Australia and was then imprisoned on the French island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. What was supposed to be three years of separation turned into an eternity. Returning to England in 1810 they spent a few short years together until he died in 1814. Ann outlived Matthew by 38 years, never remarrying. His letters to her are full of passion, love and loneliness.

Location: Navigators gallery, 2nd floor

Shell necklaceFamily love – from mother to daughter

The stringing of shell necklaces has been an occupation for the Indigenous women of the Furneaux Islands group off north-east Tasmania since the 1930s and is now undergoing a revival. Traditionally, these beautiful shell necklaces had ceremonial and cultural significance and, while this significance remains, Indigenous women now make them for a number of other reasons, including rites of passage gifts, cultural and personal heirlooms, as souvenirs, and as wonderful works of art. The time when the necklaces are being made is a time when history, language and song are shared and passed to younger generations.

Location: Eora First People gallery, 2nd floor

CurrencyTokens of forbidden love

Sadako Kikuchi met Australian army officer John Morris when he was serving in Japan after World War II. They fell in love but were forbidden from officially marrying. Instead Sadako and John exchanged bank notes as tokens of their commitment.

In 1952 the Australian Government lifted the marriage ban and Sadako and John were married in a church wedding. Sadako was one of more than 600 Japanese war brides who migrated to Australia after World War II. They were the first group of non-Europeans permitted under the White Australia Policy.

Location: Passengers gallery, 2nd floor

Convict love tokenConvict love

For the majority of convicts sent to Australia, transportation meant lifelong separation from family and friends. To ease this pain many produced tokens as gifts, a practice that continued throughout the entire period of British transportation from 1788 to 1868. By engraving copper coins, they could write of their sorrow using rhyming couplets, by engraving images of themselves in chains, by engraving signs of their life (houses, bottles, flowers, hearts, arrows, anchors) or by engraving their names or initials alongside those of their loved ones. These tokens, also known as ‘leaden hearts’ were then left behind as mementoes.

Location: Passengers gallery/Age of Sail, 2nd floor

Perfume bottleLove scents

Perfume, the scent of love, used to include a thick, black, foul-smelling liquid produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. After this substance – called ambergris – was regurgitated or secreted by a whale it would harden into a waxy form that gave a pleasant, earthy aroma. It was then used as a fixative, making the scent of a perfume last longer.

It may be surprising that such a thing as whale vomit once graced feminine wrists and necks and that many whales died in the creation of love potions.

Location: Commerce gallery, 2nd floor, rear of museum

The self-guided tour is available to download on our website. Print or save to your mobile and bring to the museum when you next visit.

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Apart from a parrot and a peg-leg, no self-respecting pirate would ever be without treasure!Carefully deposited in an iron-bound chest and buried on some convenient island, treasure made the world go round and was the reason for the hard work of all pirates. ‘Pieces of eight’ – those funny-shaped silver coins of Spain’s empire in the Americas – were produced in such abundance over the 200 years that piracy flourished along the world’s great seaways that they are just what you might expect a savvy pirate to collect.

Pieces of eight

Pile of pieces of eight. Photo: Andrew Frollows

One reason for the enormous number of these coins is thanks to the discovery of a mountain of silver at Potosi in Bolivia which throughout the 16th and 17th centuries produced thousands of tons of silver for Spain. ‘Pieces of eight’ (officially known as 8 Reales) were sliced like salami from a bar of silver, to produce coins of similar weight (27 grams) before being stamped with insignia.  The process was quick but crude, and unfortunately, open to fraud as the rough coins were frequently ‘shaved’ of some of their silver.  Despite this drawback, ‘Pieces of eight’ were produced up until the 1730s when regular-shaped and milled coins were introduced.

Centurion attacking the Manila galleon

Centurion attacking the Manila galleon. Australian National Maritime Museum collection.

The immense wealth of the Spanish Empire was both attractive and vulnerable to pirates, as the great galleons sailed along well-defined tracks and at particular seasons towards the narrow passage separating central and south America.  Packed on mules, the treasure was then carried through the tropical jungle to the Caribbean coast where Spanish ships waited to carry it home. Also waiting were the hordes of pirates, who like tourists today, haunted the balmy islands and convenient anchorages of the west indies. ‘ARRRR captain Blackbeard – what about another mojito while we’re waiting?’ 

Portobello Road Markets

Portobello Road Markets. Photo: Nigel Erskine

Strictly speaking, piracy involves the unlawful seizure of a ship, but things change completely when war is declared.  London’s famous Portobello Road was renamed (previously Green’s Lane) in honour of Admiral Vernon’s  capture of the Spanish Panamanian port – Puerto Bello in 1739 during the War of Jenkin’s Ear (so named for the English captain Jenkin’s ear which was cut off by a Spanish coast guard). Four years later commodore George Anson became a legend when his ship HMS Centurion  successfully ambushed and took the Manila galleon carrying over 1,300,000 ‘pieces of eight’.

Which brings us back to the picture of ‘pieces of eight’ in the museum’s collection. The coins were recovered by archaeologists from the 1656 wreck of the Dutch ship Vergulde Draeck lost off the coast of Western Australia while enroute to Batavia.  Silver was readily accepted by Asian merchants and all ships trading to the east indies carried silver in some form.

The discovery of the wreck in 1963 led to unauthorised attempts to salvage the silver using explosives, ultimately prompting new laws which continue to protect our underwater cultural heritage.  So you see – you may talk like a pirate, but you don’t need to be one to get up close and personal with this ‘treasure’ from our past.

Nigel Erskine, Curator Exploration & European Settlement
Australian National Maritime Museum

This post was shared to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Australian rowing gold

It’s gold in the rowing for Drew Ginn and Duncan Free and we’d like to highlight a gold medal rowing collection held by the Vaughan Evans Library. Put together over a lifetime by former Olympic rowing team captain, Kevyn Parke Webb (1924-1991) this collection covers the period from the mid 19th century to the 1980’s. Amongst the many volumes you’ll find rowing textbooks, club histories, handbooks, regattas and rare specialist rowing periodicals. Visit the Vaughan Evans Library at the ANMM website