Villain or victim? The story of convict Ann Norman

This oil painting by Henry Gritten depicts the settlement of Hobart on the Derwent River in Tasmania, below the impressive shape of Mount Wellington, circa 1856. A number of Hobart landmarks are also recognisable, including Constitution Dock, Victoria Dock, Cowgills windmill and St. Georges church. Convict Ann Norman would have faced a smaller settlement during her years as a convict during the 1830s and 1840s. ANMM Collection <a href="">00018553</a>.

This oil painting by Henry Gritten depicts the settlement of Hobart on the Derwent River in Tasmania, below the impressive shape of Mount Wellington, circa 1856. A number of Hobart landmarks are also recognisable, including Constitution Dock, Victoria Dock, Cowgills windmill and St. Georges church. Convict Ann Norman would have seen a similar view, though of a less developed settlement during her years as a convict, circa 1830-1845. ANMM Collection 00018553.

In this blog post ANMM intern Jonas Groom takes us on a personal journey through convict history via a new museum acquisition

Arriving in Van Diemen’s Land

Clambering up the ladder from her convict quarters, Ann Norman would have come  onto the deck of the transport ship Persian and embraced the warm rays of the sun, the fresh southern air and a vista of Hobart Town nestled under Mount Wellington. Ann’s thoughts about her new home may well have been cut short by the barking voice of Superintendent Patton, ordering the convicts ashore.

Ann’s vista of Hobart Town, crowded with convicts and their overseers and settlers, may have turned to the distance and the unforgiving Australian bush. Looking away from the small settlement, Ann would have seen the ships and harbour waters and beyond, to the great blue expanse that was the Southern Ocean. Possibly, like many convicts, clutching an engraved penny to her chest – a token of love – Ann may have felt the pangs of sorrow and heartache ripple through her, not knowing when or if she was ever going to see her beloved again…

The convict indent of Ann Norman is an exciting new acquisition for the Australian National Maritime Museum. The indent was an official government record kept by the Convict Department of Van Diemen’s land (later known as Tasmania). It is in effect a record of Ann’s life as seen through British authorities, from her sentencing at age twenty in 1826 to the final entry in 1841. This unique object presents a rare and tangible link to Tasmania’s convict past. Furthermore, Ann’s indent offers an intimate insight into the plight of convict women in the British Empire.

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A woolie mermaid

Sailor's woolwork picture of Mermaid, 1870s

Sailor’s woolwork picture of the convict transport Mermaid, 1870s. ANMM Collection, 00004596

Last week I started exploring the fascinating intersection between needlework, craft and maritime history in the museum’s collection, examining an embroidered sampler made by young British migrant Julia Donovan in 1879. Today I will be looking at the sampler’s first cousin – the sailor’s woolwork picture or embroidered ship portrait, affectionately known as a ‘woolie’.

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Deferred – In the footsteps of Cook, La Perouse and d’Entrecasteaux

Unfortunately, we’ve continued to have problems finalising the voyage to New Caledonia and reluctantly, we have decided to postpone it. It will occur but probably in April/May next year. In the meantime, we are negotiating with a variety of outside agencies and authorities to cement in the other elements of this year’s program.

It is likely that the ship will sail to Newcastle in September, taking an opportunity to see the coast as Cook did and to understand something of sciences of botany and astronomy. In October/November the ship will sail to Eden on the NSW south coast and participate in the Eden Whale Festival and in January/February next year Endeavour will sail to Hobart for the wooden boat festival. It is also hoped to visit Flinders Island, Maria Island, Port Arthur, Adventure Bay, Port Davey and possibly Macquarie Harbour. The intent is to learn something of the convict history of Tasmania, the hardships of operating square rigged ships in Bass Strait and of course, Cook’s voyage to that part of the world in Resolution.

As soon the details are settled, we will begin posting those voyages on our website.

John Dikkenberg

Reflections on Charlotte medal

The auction of the Charlotte medal in copper this week, focuses the spotlight once again on this fascinating episode from Australia’s earliest colonial history.  Made of copper and just 47 mm in diameter, the medal bears an almost identical but necessarily abridged version of the inscription found on the much larger silver Charlotte medal purchased in 2008 by the National Maritime Museum, where it is now displayed.

Front of the silver Charlotte Medal.

Front of the silver Charlotte Medal.

Both medals are believed to be the work of convict Thomas Barrett who was transported aboard the First Fleet ship Charlotte which arrived in Botany Bay on 20th January 1788.  A convicted thief, Barrett had come to the attention of Surgeon- General John White who also sailed aboard the Charlotte.  From the following entry in White’s journal it is clear that Barrett was an accomplished and ingenious forger capable of producing coins from materials available on board the vessel:

5th August 1787

Still calm. This morning a boat came along side, in which were three Portugueze and six slaves, from whom we purchased some oranges, plantains, and bread.  In trafficking with these people, we discovered that one Thomas Barret, a convict, had, with great ingenuity and address, passed some quarter dollars which he, assisted by two others, had coined out of old buckles, buttons belonging to the marines, and pewter spoons, during their passage from Teneriffe.  The impression, milling, character, in a word, the whole was so inimitably executed that had their metal been a little better the fraud, I am convinced, would have passed undetected. A strict and careful search was made for the apparatus wherewith this was done, but in vain; not the smallest trace or vestige of any thing of the kind was to be found among them. How they managed this business without discovery, or how they could effect it at all, is a matter of inexpressible surprise to me, as they never were suffered to come near a fire and a centinel was constantly placed over their apartments. Besides, hardly ten minutes ever elapsed, without an officer of some degree or other going down among them.  The adroitness, therefore, with which they must have managed, in order to complete a business that required so complicated a process, gave me a high opinion of their ingenuity, cunning, caution, and address; and I could not help wishing that these qualities had been employed to more laudable purposes.

[Journal of a voyage to New South wales, John White Surgeon-General to the First Fleet and the Settlement at Port Jackson]

Front of the silver Charlotte Medal.

Front of the silver Charlotte Medal.

The silver Charlotte medal is thought to have been made from a surgical dish – perhaps supplied by Surgeon White to create a memento of the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay. Inspection of the copper Charlotte medal reveals it is made from thin copper around 1 mm thick.  This thickness equates very closely to the heaviest grade of copper sheathing used in Royal Navy shipyards at that time.  Three weights – 32 ounce/ square foot; 28 ounce /square foot and 22 ounce/square foot were used to sheath the underwater hull of ships.  Copper is highly toxic to barnacles and other aquatic organisms which, if allowed to grow, reduce the speed and affect a vessel’s manoeuvrability.  Weed and barnacles grow especially well in warm tropical waters and like the Royal Navy, ships employed by the East India Company trading to and from Asia were frequently copper sheathed.

A relatively new ship, the Charlotte was one of three First Fleet ships contracted by the East India Company to sail to China after leaving Sydney, to purchase valuable cargoes of tea for the return voyage to England.  Enroute the Charlotte’s captain Thomas Gilbert ‘discovered’ and named the Gilbert Islands [now the Republic of Kiribati].

And how did the Charlotte get its name? From the German Princess Charlotte von Mecklenburg – Strelitz who marriage to King George III in 1761 made the name fashionable in England.  Captain Cook named Queen Charlotte Sound in the South Island of New Zealand in honour of the Queen and the town of Charlotte in North Carolina was similarly named in her honour.

The stunning silver Charlotte medal can be seen on display at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

Walking in Hall’s footsteps

Two men and a dog on the Hawkesbury c 1900, Photographer: William Hall
ANMM Collection

Ever since the museum joined Flickr Commons in 2008, we have gleaned a wealth of invaluable information related to photographic items from the collection. Flickr users have scanned images noticing the tiniest details, such as barely discernible ship names and locations. With their generous help we have been able to attach names to faces, found their stories and retold them with the aid of stunning photography particularly from the Samuel J Hood and William J Hall collections. One such example of the power of the Flickr Commons community was in the investigation of the Hall photographs of the lower Hawkesbury River region taken around 1900. A simple comment left by a Flickr user lead to correspondence with a historical society in an effort to learn more about the photographs. This was followed by a personal quest to explore Hall’s Hawkesbury and imagine what travelling the area may have been like for the man with the glass plate camera. Continue reading

The Prince of Pickpockets who stole our imagination with a swagger

Portrait of George Barrington

Detail from a portrait of George Barrington (1803)
ANMM Collection

Everyone loves a good convict story, and George Barrington’s chequered life of misdeeds, ‘dissipation and licentiousness’ fails to disappoint. A real life ‘Artful Dodger’, Barrington remains one of the most notorious convicts in history. He also played a role in one of the greatest literary frauds, a myth that perpetuates to this day.

George Barrington was born around 1755 near Dublin, Ireland. It seems that his troubled past began quite early when, at the age of just 16, he fled his school after stabbing another boy with a penknife and stealing money and a gold watch from the headmaster. Continue reading

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.

RelationShips: Pincushions, sweetheart brooches and love tokens


Heart-shaped pincushion, c1915 ANMM Collection

Living in a world where loved ones are little more than just a phone call or email away, it’s hard to imagine the anguish of separation felt by those whose loved ones were oceans apart, with little or no contact. An evocative pincushion in the Australian National Maritime Museum’s collection (00006919) highlights the disconnection felt by many naval and merchant sailors in the 19th and 20th centuries from their loved ones.  Heart-shaped pincushions featuring the words ‘Think of me’ were a favourite with sailors in the British Royal Navy in the 19th century. Painstakingly hand made by sailors and then sent home to their sweethearts, the pincushions – predestined to be wounded with pins – are a potent symbol of heart-ache. This pincushion is decorated with glass beads and a postcard-photograph of the Light Cruiser HMAS Sydney (I). It is presumed to have been made by a sailor on the ship shortly after its commissioning into the newly formed Royal Australian Navy in 1913. Many Royal Naval sailors transferred from England into the new Australian force, bringing their traditions with them.

RAN sweetheart brooch

RAN sweetheart brooch, c1939 ANMM Collection

The length of separation of sailors and their loved ones increased during times of war. Also included in the museum’s collection is a Royal Australian Navy sweetheart brooch (00044564) produced by Stokes of Melbourne. It features a naval crown mounted on an anchor, with the text RAN in red, white and blue enamel. While many sweetheart brooches were handmade by resourceful sailors from materials close at hand, this brooch was mass manufactured, reflecting a new market for sweetheart souvenirs as a result of the mass displacement of service men and women across the globe. Like the pincushion, the brooches were sent home to loved ones to serve as a reminder of them while away at war.


Of course, the separation of people from their friends and family was not always by choice. This convict love token (00040473) is a reminder of the hundreds-of-thousands of men, women and children who were sentenced to transportation to Australian colonies by the British Government in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Convicts would engrave copper coins of little value with initials, poems, or images. They were either given to loved ones before being separated, or kept with the hope it would ease the pain of parting – which for most convicts, was for life. 

Convict love token
Convict love token, 1770-1820 ANMM Collection

 Powerful symbols of separation, heart-ache and home sickness, these items offer an insight into the objects produced in the hopes of keeping memories and relationships alive in the face of short-term and permanent separation.  To read more about the museum’s collection of sweetheart brooches and love tokens, you can browse our collection on-line.