The Last Pirate

船員と犬 A watercolour of a foreign sailor and his dog by Japanese Samurai artist Makita Hamaguchi in 1830. Image courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive

In the early 19th century Japan had closed its doors to foreign ships in an effort to resist colonisation. One day in January 1830, a British flagged ship appeared off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, southern Japan. A low-ranking Samurai official duly recorded information about the ship and its crew before being ordered to send it away by firing cannon at the vessel. The ship, the brig Cyprus, was in fact a pirated vessel with a crew of escaped convicts from Tasmania under the command of the self-styled ‘Captain William Swallow’. Until now, this wonderful record of Australian pirates in Japan has been sitting, unrecognised in a Japanese archive.

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The Batavia tapestry

Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry

Textile artist Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry. Photographer Kristina Kingston, reproduced courtesy Melinda Piesse

Last week we unveiled a new large-scale embroidered work by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse at the museum. Known as the Batavia tapestry (2017), it illustrates the tragic story of the wreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) flagship Batavia in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Western Australia, on 4 June 1629 and the sorry fate of the ship’s company.

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Pieces of Eight and a Parrot Pinata

finsihed piñata

It’s almost unavoidable, if you have small children in your world, at some point they will probably ask for a pirate party. There’s something irresistible about those tricorn wearing terrible thugs that no amount of education on the truly Horrible Histories of Pirates can overcome.

I once made the mistake of festooning a 3 year old’s pirate birthday with my favourite  skull and cross bones cardboard bunting and the adorable Pete the repeat parrot, not anticipating the swashbuckling scoundrel-like behaviour that would ensue once the face paint eye patches and paper pirate hats began to encourage a little too much role play.

Needless to say Pete was minus a head and an arm after being thrown off the “pirate ship” (read cubby house/swing/ nearby tree) a few times. Never to flap his awkward mechanical arms and chirp again.

This month’s craft spot is inspired by our Horrible Histories Pirates exhibition ( after all Golden age Pirates really did have parrots and other exotic animals, stolen ones of course, to fetch a pretty penny) and pirate parties, and pirate-like toddler behaviour perhaps. It’s a parrot piñata- something you beat up to steal all its goodies, sounds like piratical mischief to me. Fringing onto an adhesive base is also a great craft for with older toddlers and young children as it’s easy, glue free and a good opportunity to practice some fine motor skills with layering, tearing, cutting and collage.

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Special offer for teachers – Horrible Histories

Horrible Histories scull and cross bones

The Pirates are coming! HORRIBLE HISTORIES® – PIRATES: THE EXHIBITION will be arriving on our shores Wednesday 16 December.

For the first time in Australia comes an interactive, hands-on exhibition based on the bestselling HORRIBLE HISTORIES® series.

Teachers, we have a special offer for you. Contact us before Tuesday 1 March 2016 to make a booking for Term 1 2016 and receive a 50% discount. Normally $7.00 per student, we can offer teachers a special price of $3.50 per student.


  • take command of a pirate ship
  • design and project your own pirate flag
  • try out different weapons from cutlasses to cannons
  • find your fate on the wheel of misfortune
  • discover the best loot to steal and splat rats in the quayside tavern.

Along the way, discover why the pirate women were just as wicked as the men and learn to talk the patter of a pirate. Learn about the ships they sailed on, the punishments they suffered and the rules they lived by.


Full of lively illustrations, foul facts and gruesome games, HORRIBLE HISTORIES® – PIRATES: THE EXHIBITION is a rollicking ride back in time to the days when putrid pirates ruled the water and gave merchant sailors jelly-legs!

Author Terry Deary and illustrator Martin Brown’s unique approach to storytelling comes to life in this blockbuster family exhibition especially for children 6–12 years of age.

Book now!

Email call 9298 3655 or Tweet to us @ANMMedu

Australian pirate tales

‘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.

The Batavia Massacre

The Batavia Massacre

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’.

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Queen Anne’s Revenge

Archaeologists have recently raised five large cannons from the wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the coast of North Carolina.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Smilax worked with personnel from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources to recover five cannons and multiple barrel hoops from the Queen Anne's Revenge in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina: Coast Guard News

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Smilax worked with personnel from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources to recover five cannons and multiple barrel hoops from the Queen Anne’s Revenge in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina: Coast Guard News

The vessel was originally named Concord, and belonged to the famous pirate Blackbeard. She started as an English frigate, and after being captured by the French and used in the slave trade, she was again captured, this time by the pirate Captain Benjamin Hornigold. Hornigold gave the vessel to a member of his crew, Edward Teach, later known as Blackbeard, who added cannons and renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Blackbeard sailed the ship from West Africa and throughout the Caribbean, attacking British, Dutch and Portuguese merchant ships along the way. He eventually ran the ship aground in 1718. Whether he did this intentionally or not is the subject of much debate, but it is thought that he may have done so in an effort to disperse his crew hence increasing his share of the spoils on board.

Blackbeard, from the second edition of Charles Johnson's General Historie, 1724

Blackbeard, from the second edition of Charles Johnson’s General Historie, 1724

Blackbeard was eventually killed later the same year during a dramatic battle aboard a Royal Navy vessel, the HMS Pearl. After the battle, in order to collect the bounty on Blackbeard, his head was hung from the bowsprit of the Pearl.

Meanwhile, the Queen Anne’s Revenge remained in shallow waters off the coast of North Carolina for more than 270 years, until it was rediscovered in November 1996.  Whatever the reason it was abandoned, there is a noticeable lack of treasure on board – the ship’s crew appears to have had ample time to remove any plunder. Nevertheless, the vessel has proved a treasure trove of artefacts. So far, around 25 cannons, from reports of 40, have been discovered along with more than 280,000 artefacts, including a small amount of gold dust, as well as turtle bones, scientific instruments, lead shot, ornate glass and sword hilts.

Four of the five cannons raised last week weigh between 900 and 1360 each and measure over eight feet long with the capability to fire six pound cannon balls.

Excavations on the Queen Anne’s Revenge continue, with archaeologists moving to have all artefacts removed before the next cyclone season, as previous bad weather damaged parts of the wreck.

ANMM archaeologist, Keiran Hosty, team leader of the Mermaid Project

ANMM archaeologist, Keiran Hosty, team leader of the Mermaid Project

If you are interested in maritime archaeology, you can read about the museum’s current maritime archaeology program HERE and find our current and previous projects, along with links to the National Shipwreck database and our archaeology blogs HERE.

The The ANMM Mermaid Project: Recording the details of HM Mermaids kedge anchor

The ANMM Mermaid Project: Recording the details of HM Mermaids kedge anchor

Siobhan McKenna

Further reading / references The Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project – Archaeological Investigations of Blackbeard’s Flagship.

Konstam Angus, Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate, John Wiley & Sons: USA, 2007.


William Dampier – Buccaneer, Explorer, Hydrographer and sometime Captain

Copper engraving of William Dampier. ANMM Collection 00000846

Copper engraving c 1789 of William Dampier. ANMM Collection 00000846

Buccaneer, Explorer, Hydrographer and sometime Captain of the Ship ROEBUCK in the Royal Navy of King William the Third.

So reads the memorial to Englishman William Dampier in the village of East Coker, Somerset, England, the place of his birth in 1651. The memorial lists only a portion of Dampier’s eclectic career and speaks faintly of his contradictory character. Pioneer and pirate, criminal and captain, explorer, author, travel writer and buccaneer. Ironically Dampier, with his less than angelic past, visited Australian shores in 1688, a full century before the convicts of the first fleet. At its bleakest contrast, Dampier was a felon who created a historic legacy in the hallowed halls of literature, science and exploration.

Here’s how it came about. Continue reading

Raine Island: it never Raines, it pours…

Hey, it’s Oli here again to tell you about another one of my tasks as an intern here at the museum: research!!

Early next year (2013), the museum plans on making a trip to the tip of Northern Queensland in the hope of investigating, surveying, and possibly excavating some endangered artefacts from the reef-riddled waters surrounding the infamous Raine Island. Perhaps the word ‘infamous’ is a little strong these days, but if there is one thing this research has taught me, it’s that Raine Island was absolutely treacherous for sailors during the 19th century, with around 40 known shipwrecks in the area immediately surrounding the island (one article I found stated that there had been 51 wrecks in the area in 1854 alone).

“Disaster at Sea”, Woven by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, concept by Murray Walker, Ausrtalia, 1989. ANMM Collection

From the late 1700s onwards, Raine Island represented an opening in the Great Barrier Reef, and the start of the passage through Torres Strait for ships attempting to voyage from the East coast of Australia to Asia, India, and Europe. Once past the island, ships could enjoy the protection of the reef, and relatively calm waters safe from the furious surf of the Pacific Ocean. However, before ships could take advantage of this calm, they had to navigate waters riddled with small and large reefs, and if a crew failed to properly identify a certain landmark, or else allowed themselves to deviate slightly from the established path, they were almost guaranteed to spend the rest of their voyage in a lifeboat (if they were lucky).

Alongside attempting to discover various facts about the ships’ destination and cargo, I am looking for accounts of the actual wrecking events in the newspapers of the period. This has exposed me to some amazing stories of death and survival, the like of which I would not otherwise have imagined were possible in the Australian context.

One of the most morbidly interesting is the story of the Charles Eaton, which was a barque out of Sydney bound for Singapore with around 40 people on board. On 15 August 1834, the barque mounted a reef and stuck fast under the heavy surf of the Pacific Ocean. Five members of the crew, including the ship’s carpenter and boatswain, immediately abandoned ship on the only boat that was still usable, but the others refused to join them because it seemed utterly hopeless for the little boat to get away. The five managed to survive and navigated their way right across the top of Australia to Timor where they were immediately robbed, and were almost murdered, but for the kindness of an elderly man, who nevertheless held them captive for over a year.

The rest of the crew on board the Charles Eaton set about making a raft from the components of the ship (after the storm had subsided) and finally succeeded in making a vessel large enough to carry around 10 people including three young boys: George and Willy D’Oyley, and William Sexton. The raft was set adrift, and the crew paddled for some days before meeting a man in a canoe, who invited them onto a nearby island, where he promised them turtle meat. Upon landing, the group were attacked by a large number of men, who decapitated all of them, except for the three boys, who were to be assimilated into the community (George D’Oyley and William Sexton were, however, beaten to death around two months later). Meanwhile, the rest of the crew still aboard the Charles Eaton had constructed another raft which would be capable of holding them all. This final vessel was cast off, and paddled around for a full week before also landing on an island at the direction of a man in a canoe. As the crew collapsed, exhausted upon the sand, they were attacked and butchered, and all were decapitated save another young boy who was also subsequently adopted into the community (the very same people who dealt likewise with the other raft).

The cover of a book in the museum’s collection, which is a narritive written by William Sexton some time after the shipwreck ordeal. It tells of his adventure, and some fond memories of his time on the island.

The fate of the Charles Eaton was an utter mystery for many months, before the five remaining crew managed to escape from their captivity in Timor, and sail to Batavia to alert authorities to the wreck. At this point, a rescue ship was sent out, but failed to discover the whereabouts of the survivors until the captain of another vessel reported sighting a white child in an indigenous family. The rescue vessel located them, along with a number of skulls identified as belonging to the crew of the Charles Eaton. The two boys were taken back to Europe, and provided witness to the whole event some two years after it had occurred (despite now having a slightly limited grasp on the English language).

Another interesting (and somewhat shorter) story was that of the Norna, which left for Hong Kong from Newcastle in 1861 under a cloud of controversy surrounding the murderous behaviour of the previous captain. The Norna was wrecked on a reef described merely as being 14 miles away from the wreck of the Constant. The ship and crew had been missing for some time before a search was sent out in the form of the Sphinx, which started searching islands around the Coral Sea, and managed to find a note in a glass bottle buried on a tropical island under a tree with a plaque reading “NORNA”. The note was written by the Second Officer of the Norna, and described the wreck event, and the subsequent months of being marooned on the island. The captain and his family had left after a week on the island, never to be heard of again. The rest of the crew intended to make for the ‘Pellew Islands’ in the remaining boat, but were not found there by the rescue vessel.

After further searches were made of the surrounding islands, the crew of the Norna were located on an island, but in the captivity of the indigenous people who refused to release their captives or negotiate with the would-be rescuers. As a result, the crew of the Sphinx burned down all the villages on the island, and held the the local chiefs hostage until eventually the surviving crew of the Norna were handed over.

These accounts, and others like them, provide an amazing insight into the extraordinary stories emanating from Australia’s maritime history, and the fact that many of these vessels are yet to be properly investigated (let alone discovered) convince me that the maritime archaeologists here at the museum have some of the most remarkable jobs in Australia!

Treasure hunting tuesdays and swashbuckling saturdays.

Ahoy there landlubbers!

It’s time to join our pirate captain for another fun filled month of Pirates Ahoy in Mini Mariners.

Paws up and snouts out as we sniff the air for adventure.

We’ll do the pirate crawl and the grog walk and the sea shanty dance until we are deliriously dizzy.

We’ll march and creep and yarrr our way through the galleries in search of pieces of eight and gold doubloons!

We’ll take scraggly sprogs and swashbuckling scallywags and make a fine pirate of em.

little pirate blue bg

Pirates Ahoy! is our theme for Mini Mariners, our under 5s program, this month and today I be dusting off the treasure map to prepare for the many baby buccaneers who will join our crew in the weeks to come.

This August we are also extending the patched-eye hook-handed booty-hunting adventures to an all new Saturday morning timeslot. We hope that parents and carers who can’t make Mini Mariners on Tuesdays will be able to join us for this special weekend session on Saturday 11 August.

Mini Mariners is one of our most popular programs and Pirates Ahoy in particular is so well loved that the little pirates often want to stay all day in the activity space.

little girls with treasure and pirate hats

It’s also a wonderful learning experience that incorporates singing, movement and pretend play in the galleries as we engage with museum artefacts and artworks such as the Sirius anchor, the HMB Endeavour cannon, a woven Yawkyawk or mermaid and an East Timorese crocodile sculpture.

making treasure boxes

Our treasure cave is also a place for creative play and kinaesthetic learning as we make treasure boxes, fluffy parrots, bandannas, hats or flags and dress up in pirate costumes.

It’s only 5 sleeps to go until the swashbuckling fun begins again and we can hARRRRRRdly wait!

Mini Mariners: Pirates Ahoy for under 5s is on Saturday 11 August at 10am and 11am and every Tuesday in August 10am and 11am. Bookings Essential and available online.