The museum is very pleased to announce the 2017-2018 awards made of grants and internships through the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), supporting not-for-profit organisations to care for Australia’s maritime heritage. MMAPSS has been offering support since 1995, awarding over $1.6M to support over 395 projects. Internships have been awarded since 2000, with over 50 internships awarded since that time.
Shipwreck on a stormy winter’s night
The devastating wreck of the Dunbar on Sydney’s South Head on the evening of 20 August 1857, 158 years ago, was a disaster so appalling that it left a lasting emotional scar on the emerging colony of New South Wales.
In the pitch-darkness of that stormy winter’s night, Dunbar – only moments from safety at the end of an 81-day voyage from Plymouth carrying immigrants and well-to-do colonists returning to Sydney – missed the entrance to Port Jackson and crashed into the sheer sandstone cliffs just south of the heads. The heavy seas quickly pounded the ship to pieces, and all but one of at least 122 souls on board perished.
Whilst looking though the artefacts from the Dunbar shipwreck, it is difficult to imagine that anything amongst the dull metal was ever intended to decorate people’s homes. Ship fixtures blend with metal domestic and commercial goods and all have acquired the dull lacklustre look acquired by years under the sea.
Yet amongst the piles of screws, nails and concretion are some lovely examples of metal work in the shape of flowers and leaves. These pieces had obviously been part of some elaborate Victorian pieces of furniture intended to adorn the houses of Sydney. Even more lovely was when I was able to find not only the maker of some of these pieces but also what they would have originally looked like. Not so dull after all it seems! Continue reading
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.
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
Hi, it’s Oli again. This time I’m going to tell you about another one of my tasks as an intern at the museum in the curatorial department, which is writing about the infamous Dunbar wreck.
As one of the most significant wrecks in Sydney’s waters, it is important for the museum’s history of the wreck to be complete and accurate. To this end, I found myself reading Kieran Hosty’s book Dunbar 1857, Disaster on Our Doorstep, which paints a fascinating history of the wreck, according to the archaeological discoveries from the wreck site (just south of The Gap, near South Head, Sydney). I am tentative to admit the fact that I didn’t get much work done that day was on account of the book, which is complete with hundreds of images of various artefacts salvaged from the wreck, and provides a vivid insight into a tragic page of Sydney’s past.
Here are some highlights from the story of the Dunbar:
After a fast voyage from England to Australia, Dunbar approached Port Jackson on the night of 20 August 1857, in a rising gale and bad visibility. The Macquarie Light could be seen between squalls, however the night was very dark and the land almost invisible. Shortly before midnight the veteran Captain Green estimated the ship was six miles away from the harbour’s entrance and ordered the vessel on, keeping the Macquarie Light on the port bow.
Shortly afterwards breakers were sighted ahead, and Captain Green, believing the vessel had sailed too far towards North Head, ordered the helm hard to port. Dunbar struck the cliffs just south of the Signal Station at South Head, and the ship immediately began to break up. All 63 passengers and 58 of the crew perished in the disaster.
The sole survivor was James Johnson, an able seaman on watch at the time of the wreck. He was hurled into the surging ocean, where he was thrust by the waves into the cliffs and onto a rocky ledge – he climbed as far up the cliff-face as he could, and managed to get out of the reach of the waves. Johnson would remain there for two days, before being hauled up by a rope lowered over the cliff-face.
Many Sydneysiders knew the people on the ship and large crowds were drawn to the scene of the wreck to watch the rescue of Johnson, the recovery of bodies, and the salvage of cargo – newspapers were filled with graphic descriptions of the wreck for weeks after.
The victims of Dunbar were buried at St Stephens Church in Newtown, and an estimated 20,000 people attended. Banks and offices closed, every ship flew their ensigns at half-mast, and minute guns were fired as the procession went past. Later, there was an outpouring of letters demanding the upgrade of the lighthouses, and the issue was raised in Parliament and recommended by the jury of the Dunbar inquest. This recommendation was followed in 1858 when Hornby Lighthouse was constructed.
The museum has a fascinating collection relating to this disaster and my job has been to proof the entries in our collection management system to ensure all the information is correct.
NB. Many of the artefacts in the museum’s Dunbar collection were removed from the wreck by hobby divers during the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of laws protecting significant historical maritime sites.
Three days ago, we lost one of the most highly regarded marine conservationists this country as ever produced – shark expert and underwater filmmaker Ron Taylor. Since the 1960s, Ron and his wife Valerie pioneered underwater photography and rigorously campaigned for marine conservation. Continue reading
Blue skies, crisp air and brilliant sunshine. The perfect May day.
A little red lightship bobs in the waves.
The Cape Bowling Green lighthouse reflects blinding white on North wharf.
Over on South Head another beacon stands, decked out in circus- worthy stripes.
This week I have had more than my share of time out on the harbour enjoying some amazing historic lighthouses.
First it was out one of the small fleet boats Arvor, cruising around the shores of the Museum to take some footage of the Commonwealth Lighthship 4, Carpentaria, with Elias and Eleanor from Curiousworks.
Usually Carpentaria is one of the vessels in our collection that can only be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of a wharf-side walkway but today we get a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with this flame-coloured beauty. It’s a little precarious climbing the narrow ladder up the side and over the top rails ( not to worry, we have our self-inflatable life-jackets on!) . Up top is spectacular though, and for the purpose of the film’s soundscape we get to unloose the bells. The deep ring echoes on and on and on, it’s almost like a clocktower’s midnight chime, smothering the chatter of seagulls and the beating whistle of the breeze. You can almost imagine the sounds of that fateful moment in 1944 when Carpentaria broke free of her moorings on Breakfree Spit during a cyclone. This warning bell was designed to toll with the motion of the ship, ringing out in case of poor visibility during foggy weather or a malfunction of the light.
The footage taken of Carpentaria will be used for one of a series of short films being made about our collection for the release of the anniversary publication One Hundred Stories, coming out later this year. It’s also the last we will see of this little lightship for a few weeks as Carpentaria is off to Garden Island for repairs.
The next day I’m back out on the harbour for our Shipwrecks cruise forum, held in partnership with WEA Sydney.
After an introduction to the science of the corrosion and conservation of shipwrecks led by some of the museums wonderful teacher guides we set out for Watsons Bay on board the Radar.
No shortage of beautiful weather and fresh breeze to enjoy and we have expert commentary courtesy of curator Nigel Erskine who has joined us for the day. Over at Watsons Bay our destination is the Hornby Lighthouse.
We take a walking track past the soft sands of camp cove beach, said to be one of the first landing places for the fleet in 1788, past disused cannon and gun turrets and alongside the spectacular views of sparkling waters and sailboats. The walk is quick and easy. Before we know it we are turning the corner to encounter the sandstone lightkeepers cottage and then the petite but spectacular red and white striped lighthouse. There is something endearing and cheerful about Hornby lighthouse that belies the horrific tragedies that brought this beacon into being.
In 1857 the Dunbar crashed with the loss of 121 out of the c.122 lives on board. The Hornby Lighthouse was built in 1858 to make sure this never happened again. It was also just the third lighthouse built in NSW.
The Dunbar was a 1,167-ton wooden three-masted sailing ship built in 1852 by the English shipbuilders James Laing & Sons at Sunderland designed to carry passengers and cargo quickly between England and Australia.
In late May 1857 Dunbar departed London on its second voyage to Australia, carrying 63 passengers, 59 crew and a substantial cargo, including dyes for the colony’s first postage stamps, machinery, furniture, trade tokens, cutlery, manufactured and fine goods, food and alcohol. After a relatively fast voyage the vessel approached Port Jackson on the night of 20 August 1857 in a rising south-easterly gale and bad visibility. The Macquarie Light near South Head could be seen between squalls, however the night was very dark and the land almost invisible, Shortly before midnight Captain Green – a veteran of eight visits to Sydney – estimated the ship was six miles away from the harbour entrance and ordered the vessel on, keeping the Macquarie Light on the port (left) bow.
Shortly afterwards the urgent cry of ‘Breakers Ahead’ was heard from the second mate in the forepeak. Captain Green, confused by the squalls, and believing the vessel had sailed too far towards North Head mistakenly ordered the helm hard to port. In doing so the vessel sailed closer towards the cliffs instead of the entrance to The Heads and struck the cliffs just south of the signal station at South Head – midway between the lighthouse and The Gap. Within a few minutes the ship had begun to break up. All 63 passengers and 58 of the 59 crew perished in the disaster.
Part of the cargo of the Dunbar consisted of two shipments of stoves from the company Garton & Jarvis of Exeter in Devon, England. One consignment was shipped by Reed & Hawley, Shipping Agents, London destined for Australia and thence to New Zealand. The second was a consignment ordered by William McDonnell, who was connected with the Colonial Stores in Sydney. The total number of stoves on board (packed in sections for shipping and ready for assembly) was in excess of 40. The models shipped included the Medium, Exonian and the Cottage.
What remains of these stoves – still identifiable – are two vents. On assembly a vent would have been fixed to the door enabling the controlled flow of air.
Ambrose Parker Jarvis and John Garton formed the company Garton & Jarvis in 1836 (although the history of the company can be traced back to 1661) and specialised in wrought iron work, gates, railings, fire grates and fire fenders. With the purchase of Kingdom & Sons in the mid-1840s Garton & Jarvis branched out into greenhouse heating, commercial, large domestic and cottage stoves.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Garton & Jarvis won two bronze medals for their portable stoves and following a commendation from Prince Albert, who had installed a Garton & Jarvis Cottage stove in his Model Cottage in Hyde Park, they were appointed stove makers to Queen Victoria. By 1857 Garton & Jarvis stoves were being exported all over the world including the Australian colonies.
In 1865 Ambrose Jarvis died and John Gould King joined the firm which was renamed Garton & King. Two years after the name change John Garton died – and a new partner named Munk briefly joined the firm creating King & Munk, but this was not a success, the partnership dissolved, and the Garton & King name was reinstated.
Garton & King became a limited company in 1925 and the foundry was relocated to the outskirts of the city in 1939. It was involved in wartime manufacture but reverted back to production of municipal castings such as gullies, inspection covers, bollards, lamp standards, gear wheels and pulleys. The production of cast iron ranges declined in the early 1900s although the company became one of the first agents for the AGA cooker in the very early 1930s. The foundry closed in 1990 and following a buy-out continues to trade as it did in Garton & Jarvis’s day under the ‘Sign of the Golden Hammer’. Today it trades as GartonKing Appliances retailing quality kitchen equipment and AGA and Rayburn cookers.
These two surviving vents are tangible links to a company with a very long heritage indeed.
With thanks to Richard Holladay who provided much of the company information above. The complete history of the company is to be found at www.exeterfoundry.org.uk
Object of the Week: Chair made from wreckage of the Dunbar
In late May 1857 the 1167-ton wooden three-masted sailing ship Dunbar departed London for its second voyage to Australia, carrying at least 63 passengers, 59 crew and a substantial cargo. After a relatively fast voyage, the vessel approached Port Jackson on the night of 20 August 1857, in a rising south easterly gale and bad visibility. The Macquarie Light near South Head could be seen between squalls, however the night was very dark and the land almost invisible. Shortly before midnight Captain Green estimated the ship was six miles away from the harbour’s entrance and ordered the vessel on, keeping the Macquarie Light on the port bow.
Shortly afterwards the urgent cry of ‘Breakers Ahead’ was heard from the Second Mate in the forepeak. Captain Green, confused by the squalls, and believing the vessel had sailed too far towards North Head mistakenly ordered the helm hard to port. In doing so the vessel sailed closer towards the cliffs instead of the entrance to the Heads. Dunbar struck the cliffs just south of the Signal Station at South Head – midway between the lighthouse and The Gap and within a few minutes the ship had begun to break up. The only person to survive the wreck was a young seaman called James Johnson.
Dawn gradually unveiled the enormity of the event to the community of Sydney, and large crowds watched the rescue of the single survivor, the recovery of the bodies and the salvage of some of the cargo. For days afterwards the newspapers were filled with graphic descriptions of the wreck and the public interest in the spectacle.
Many of the victims of the Dunbar were buried at Camperdown Cemetery in what is now present day Newtown. The funeral procession attracted an estimated 20,000 people who lined George Street. Banks and offices closed, every ship in the harbour flew their ensigns at half-mast and minute guns were fired as the seven hearses and 100 carriages went past.
The impact of the Dunbar disaster of 1857 is hard to imagine in these days of safe and efficient air and sea travel. For those living in the emerging colony of Sydney during the 1850s the tragedy had a lasting emotional effect. To commemorate the loss of the ship and its passengers and crew, numerous mementoes and souvenirs of the event were published, printed and manufactured in Sydney in late 1857.
This chair is believed to have been constructed out of timber recovered from Bondi following the wreck of the Dunbar. The chair’s design indicates that it was carved from a single piece of timber (possibly from the keel, a breast hook or counter timber), and was not a commercially manufactured piece of cabin furniture or carried as cargo on the vessel.
Notices appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in September 1857 advertising items manufactured from wreckage, including a set of chairs marked, ‘Made from the wreck of the Dunbar’, along with ‘Church, house and Garden Furniture manufactured to any design, from the wreck of the Dunbar in teak and oak’.
The effect of the Dunbar wreck on Sydney is evident by the number of letters to paper editors, lithographs, paintings, poems, narratives and accounts which were published just days after the event. These publications were sold in their thousands, and various examples are held in the Australian National Maritime Museum’s collection which you can browse on-line.