Little shipmates: Seafaring pets

Portrait of a baby and a dog on a ship. Image: Samuel Hood / ANMM Collection 00023789.

Portrait of a baby and a dog on a ship. Image: Samuel Hood / ANMM Collection 00023789.

Cats, dogs, monkeys and birds have been cherished on board ships for as long as people have made sea voyages. In a life from which children and families are usually missing, and are often very much missed, pets provide a focus for emotions and affection – although cats and dogs may have been expected to earn their keep catching mice and rats, too.

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Flickr Commons turns 5!

Five years ago today the Flickr Commons was launched. Since then, about 250,000 images from 56 different libraries, archives and museums have been uploaded, promoting the world’s photographic collections in all its splendour. I don’t think any of us envisioned the response it has elicited from audiences around the world. In particular, from a large group of elite photo investigators, people the National Library of Ireland refers to as the ‘Flickeroonies’ and who we often call the ‘super sleuths’. This group have invested hours upon hours of thorough research identifying people, places and key events, adding new meaning to the images on The Commons. To celebrate The Commons’ 5th birthday and, as a hats off to these contributors, The Library of Congress sent out a call for the most viewed, commented or favourited images on The Commons. We, and quite a number of other institutions, answered the call and the result was a fascinating array of snapshots from the past.

Baby and a dog on a sailing ship, c 1910. By Samuel Hood, ANMM Collection 00023789

Baby and a dog on a sailing ship, c 1910. By Samuel Hood, ANMM Collection 00023789

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Hood’s Harbour – Tales from ‘100 Stories’

In the 1890s, young photographer Samuel (Sam) John Hood developed an excellent strategy for a lucrative business in ship and crew portraits. He would hitch a ride on a tugboat to photograph sailing vessels ready to enter Sydney Harbour and, with his portfolio under his arm, would then board the ship and convince the captain to let him sell photographs to the crew – with the promise of a similar oil painting for the captain or a free portrait. With the captain’s assent, Hood’s bill for photographs was deducted from the crew’s wages, so they didn’t have to ‘pay’ a penny upfront.

Black and white photograph of Queen Mary troopship with tug boat alongside

Samuel J Hood Studio Queen Mary as Troopship, May 1940 Nitrate negative, 8 x 10.5cm

He would then rush back to his city studio or his home studios in Balmain and, using a trick of the trade, paint the sails (based on the particular ship’s rigging plan) onto the photograph of the vessel, which he would then rephotograph and present to the crew as postcards. Apparently, few sailors saw though his retouching techniques (often also applied by skilled marine artists such as Walter Barratt, Reginald Arthur Borstel, George Frederick Gregory and John Allcot).

The turn of the 20th century marked the end of the sailing ship era and the growing dominance of steam vessels. This had implications for Hood’s business, as steamship crews were less inclined to request photographs of their vessels.

… By the 1920s, Hood had moved from ship postcards to the newspapers’ social and sport pages. With an excellent eye for everyday subjects, he was a leader in the early development of photojournalism.

The entire collection of the Samuel J Hood studio is enormous – of about 33,000 images, the museum holds more than 9,000, primarily related to maritime scenes. The industry around, and activity on, Sydney Harbour during the busy early to mid-20th century remained some of Hood’s favourite subjects. His iconic photograph of the troopship Queen Mary in 1940 (pictured) captures the drama of manoeuvring a large vessel on the harbour.

Stephen Gapps
Curator, Environment, Industry and Shipping

An excerpt from 100 Stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum. Available as a free eBook for iPad from the iBookstore or hard copy versions available for purchase through our museum store.