Irene Pritchard, Sydney’s first female race skipper

Irene and her brothers Fred and Harry sailing <em>Zephyr</em>. Despite her highly impractical attire, Irene survived two capsizes in one season. Image William James Hall, ANMM Collection 00002619 Gift from Bruce Stannard.

Irene and her brothers Fred and Harry sailing Zephyr. Despite her highly impractical attire, Irene survived two capsizes in one season. Image William James Hall, ANMM Collection 00002619 Gift from Bruce Stannard.

‘This venturesome young lady’

On Christmas Eve 1898, Irene Pritchard became the first woman to race a sailing boat on Sydney Harbour. Skippering the tiny 8-footer (2.4 metre) Zephyr, she took to the front early and won her first race with two minutes to spare.

The Sunday Times reported the day of the race was ‘scarcely an ideal one for a trip on the water, the wind blowing strong and cold from the southward, while it rained pretty continuously throughout the afternoon.’ It said the 8-footers race ‘formed an exciting part of yesterday’s programme owing to the fact that one of the small racers was in charge of a lady, Miss Irene Pritchard. That victory fell to this venturesome young lady, is perhaps not so much to be wondered at as that she would risk a wetting and the possibility of a capsize on such a day as yesterday proved.’ 1

The next month Irene became the first woman to sail a winner in a Sydney regatta – the Anniversary (now Australia Day) Regatta. She only sailed for one season, but in that time her fame spread as far as Britain.

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It was ‘a veritable blaze of splendour’: Lightshows of the past

'Searchlight Practice - USA Fleet' 1908 ANMM Collection

‘Searchlight Practice – USA Fleet’. Hand coloured postcard, 1908
ANMM Collection

Back in the olden days, you may be surprised to know, in honour of visiting international navy fleets, we hosted special events often called ‘Sydney Illuminations’. In 1908, during the United States Great White Fleet visit, ‘Magnificent! Splendid! Beautiful!’ were the words used to describe the electric lighting and searchlights placed around Customs House, Martin Place and Circular Quay. Even the great battleships themselves were lined from bow to stern in ‘dazzling brilliance’, in what culminated in a spectacular festival of light attended by thousands of people. Sound familiar? We’ve experienced the festival of light that is Vivid Sydney, and tonight a real treat is in store for International Fleet Review. Fireworks, projections and light will once again animate the Sydney Opera House and visiting ships on the harbour. At 7:40 tonight, it’s showtime! Continue reading

60 years on, thanks for all the photographs Sam

Ship's officer with pet dog on SS CHINDWARA, 1912-1933 Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection

Ship’s officer with pet dog on SS Chindwara, 1912-1933
Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

Much of what I research seems to gravitate toward the museum’s Samuel J Hood photographic collection. Even when I try to focus on a specific historical event, the odds are, Sam or one of his photographers were there snapping away and I’m left spellbound by a spectacular series of glass plate negatives. Sixty years ago today, we lost one of our most prolific and compelling photographers. We lost a man who ensured that much of early twentieth-century Sydney was documented for us to appreciate today. Continue reading

Billy Barnett, Master Shipwright of Sydney Harbour

It seems that some skills take more than a lifetime to gain – they have to be inherited, in the blood. This is certainly the case with many boat builders and none more so than Bill Barnett, one of Sydney Harbour’s finest wooden boat builders and the man who designed, built and raced his 18-footer Myra Too to glory in 1951.

The Australian National Maritime Museum has recently been assisting with a project to build a replica of Barnett’s Myra Too, however the success of this yacht in Barnett’s expert hands forms only a small chapter in a life full of achievement on and off the water.

Bill Barnett, crew member of the 1967 America’s Cup challenger DAME PATTIE, c 1967. Copyright. ANMM Collection Gift from Graeme Andrews

Bill Barnett, crew member of the 1967 America’s Cup challenger DAME PATTIE, c 1967. Copyright. ANMM Collection Gift from Graeme Andrews

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Sydney under attack!

Under the cover of darkness Japanese submarines stand north-east of Sydney ready to send three midget submarines with their two-man crews to victory and possible certain death. The date? 31 May 1942. The time? 8.01 pm and the first of the three submarines enters Sydney Harbour undetected.

In the hours that followed there was panic, indecision, bravery and death. One midget submarine became entangled in the boom nets – anti-submarine nets positioned across the inner harbour entrance; unable to release itself, the submariners blew the submarine and themselves up. A second submarine successfully fired two torpedoes, one of which struck the sea wall of Garden Island beneath the barracks ship HMAS Kuttabul. Twenty-one sleeping ratings were killed and another 10 injured. The third Japanese midget submarine was sunk by depth charges.

The mystery of what happened to the second submarine – M24 – was finally solved in November 2006 when its wreck was found off Sydney’s northern beaches. But what happened to the remains of the two submarines destroyed during the raid?

Their wrecked remains were recovered from the waters and the bow section of one was rebuilt into the stern section of the other. This largely intact composite submarine was then toured SW, Victoria and South Australia to raise money for the naval relief fund. Today it is magnificently displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The second remaining conning tower can be seen at the Naval Heritage Centre on Garden Island, Sydney.

With the 70th anniversary of the attack looming large it offers us a time to reflect and to remember the bravery of those involved – the sailors, the submariners, the volunteers, the civilians. And there is an opportunity for you to commemorate this important anniversary – join us on a harbour cruise on Saturday 2 June as we visit important sites connected with the attack.

Lindsey Shaw, senior curator