One of the museum’s most-requested paintings for public viewing is a dramatic watercolour by Sydney landscape artist Samuel Elyard (1817–1910) titled Burning of the Barque India (c 1841). Recently we arranged a viewing for cousins Catherine Bell and John Grant. Their great-great-grandparents John Scott Grant and Ann Grant (née Kilpatrick) were survivors of the ill-fated migrant ship, which caught fire and sank in the South Atlantic Ocean on 19 July 1841.
Last Sunday, 7 May 2017, saw 364 new names unveiled on our 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. The new names now bring the total number of names on the wall to 28,657. Of these 9,330 are from England, 3,526 from Italy, 1,627 from The Netherlands, 1,630 from Germany and 1,317 from Greece. In all, more than 200 countries are represented.
Where does Australians’ love of the sea first start if not at the beach as children? Absorbed for hours by the sand, ignoring the heat and discomfort of constantly wet swimmers, they diligently build and rebuild imagined cities and swimming holes, filled up by countless trips down to the water’s edge to return with slopping buckets of seawater.
In the big scheme of the museum’s collection, they are not your standout items. Overshadowed by bigger and bolder objects jostling for gallery space, the collection of beach buckets sits in storage protected from the rigours of the outside world. But they are very much part of the fabric of Australian maritime history.
The museum’s travelling exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants recently commenced a tour to the UK, opening at Merseyside Maritime Museum at Liverpool’s historic Albert Dock. The exhibition traces the history of the government-sponsored schemes that sent more than 100,000 unaccompanied children from Britain to Commonwealth countries between the 1860s and 1960s. The special guest at the opening was former child migrant Tony Chambers, who was sent to New Zealand in 1951 at the age of nine.
There was something incredibly symbolic about being gathered at this museum on the banks of the River Mersey – where so many child migrants embarked on their long sea voyage to a new life – to hear Tony speak about his experiences. He acknowledged that he was one of the lucky ones, in that he was able to return to England in 1965 and reconnect with his birth mother. Many others were not so lucky, and one of the most common questions I was asked while in Liverpool, and indeed throughout the three-year Australian tour of On their own, was How can I find out more about my/my family’s child migrant history?
A great place to start is the ANMM’s research guide to child migration resources in our Vaughan Evans Library. Merseyside Maritime Museum’s information sheet on child emigration is also very useful for an overview of the schemes and sending organisations.
The National Archives of Australia’s Child migration to Australia fact sheet contains a guide to personal documents of child migrants that are held in national and state archives, while Good British Stock: Child and Youth Migration to Australia includes a guide to archives and libraries in the UK, Canada, Malta and Zimbabwe, as well as organisations that can help former child migrants to find family members.
The Child Migrants Trust provides a range of social work services for former child migrants, including counselling, family research and support for family reunions. It has offices in Nottingham, Melbourne and Perth. The International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families advocates for recognition, understanding and reparation for former child migrants.
It is also a good idea to contact the sending organisation, if you know its name, as many have aftercare offices that can provide information to former child migrants or their families. There is a detailed list of organisations and their contact details in the report from the 2001 Senate Inquiry Lost Innocents: Righting the Record – Report on Child Migration.
Find and Connect is a comprehensive web resource for Forgotten Australians, former child migrants and anyone with an interest in the history of child welfare in Australia. It brings together historical resources relating to institutional care and also helps people to connect with support groups and services in their state or territory. The Find and Connect website has a list of commemorative events that have been organised this week to mark the fifth anniversary of the Australian Government’s apology to Forgotten Australians and former child migrants who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children during the 20th century.
At the Parliament of Australia website you can watch or read the transcript of the historic apology in Canberra on 16 November 2009, when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised for ‘the absolute tragedy of childhoods lost’ and acknowledged: the particular pain of children shipped to Australia as child migrants – robbed of your families, robbed of your homeland, regarded not as innocent children but regarded instead as a source of child labour.
To those of you who were told you were orphans, brought here without your parents’ knowledge or consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told to your mothers and fathers, and the pain these lies have caused for a lifetime.
To those of you separated on the dockside from your brothers and sisters; taken alone and unprotected to the most remote parts of a foreign land – we acknowledge today that the laws of our nation failed you.
And for this we are deeply sorry.
On their own – Britain’s child migrants is on show at Merseyside Maritime Museum, National Museums Liverpool UK, until 4 October 2015.
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration
In April this year I climbed aboard the Charles W Morgan at her dock at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, United States for the first time. With a sailing date of 17 May fast approaching, riggers and shipwrights, painters and crew, electricians and carpenters, plumbers and deckhands were swarming about the ship in a frenzy of activity, patiently side stepping the curious and fascinated public who came to marvel and to question.
I sat for a while at the captain and mates’ table beside the cabins which Norfolk Islander George Parkins Christian occupied for 20 years, reflecting and writing, and exploring the crew cabins, the blubber room, the between decks areas. I felt the ship move heavily at the dock as she responded to the 45mph winds, listened to the creaking of the hull and the sound of the wind singing through the rigging. Almost as if she sensed her imminent freedom. I talked to Tim, a crew member painting thick tar on the dead eyes and rigging and Paul, a shipwright busy with woodwork below. Their excitement and passion for the project was infectious. Behind the roped off area, Paul showed me the gimballed and carved captain’s bed made for Lydia Landers when she joined her husband in 1863, the first of five captains’ wives who sailed on the Charles W Morgan. Quite comfy! Continue reading
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
This story was inspired by a monkey. Lately I’ve noticed that in addition to stories being discovered within the museum’s collection, some of our wonderful followers have been coming forward with stories of their own and relating it back to the museum’s collection. Enter Flickr user beachcomberaustralia and his seafaring relative, Lieutenant William Henn – America’s Cup sailor and proud owner of Peggy the monkey. Continue reading
It’s 8 am in this first picture, minus one degree and there’s light snow around too. I am in Greenwich, London on museum work and have been out for a morning run, well-dressed in thermals, beanie and gloves. I have stopped in Thames Street, Greenwich and the camera’s self-timer has caught me just where my Payne family’s long association with boats and the sea started. In the 1850s my great, great grandfather, Frederick Payne lived in Thames Street and he was a waterman rowing passengers in his wooden skiff across the Thames, a stone’s throw to my left from where I stand. Continue reading
Every week I come across new discoveries being made on our Flickr Commons stream. One of my aims in writing about the historic watercraft that graced Australian waters is to try and find the people behind the vessels. I want to discover the families who made these vessels their own and developed a close connection with them. One such story yet again sprung out of a Samuel J Hood photograph from our collection, depicting a bearded man in front of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron headquarters in Kirribilli, Sydney. One of our Flickr followers suggested a name and once I had that name, a connection was formed and then, a story was born. Continue reading
On 13 December 2012, my colleague Penny Hyde and I participated in Inside History Magazine’s weekly Expert Q&A hosted on their Facebook page. For weeks prior to the forum, we brainstormed the kinds of questions people were likely to pose. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the deluge of interesting questions and comments posted over just one hour! One thing certainly became clear throughout this experience, and that is, there is a growing network of people present online who are passionate about all things genealogy and family history. This is an audience hungry for information and willing to delve into the various research tools open to them. We enjoyed ourselves so much, in the end, we’re not sure if we learned more from them, than they did from us! Continue reading