Saving a life at the beach

Surf Life Saving Handbooks from 1940 to 1946 at the Vaughan Evans Library. Vaughn Evans Library Collection.

Surf Life Saving Handbooks, from 1940 to 1946, at the Vaughan Evans Library. Vaughn Evans Library Collection.

Surf Life Saving handbooks of yesteryear

The first week of September is history week and the theme for 2018 is ‘Life and Death’.

Each weekend, many Australians flock to the sea for fun, sport and recreation. It is part of the Australian way of life – a place of work and play. At the same time, the sea can be harsh, unpredictable and deadly. A true symbol of life and death at sea is the Australian Surf Life Saving movement, a group who work tirelessly to prevent death at sea and ensure Australians can safely enjoy all that a coastal lifestyle has to offer.

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A gesture of kindness, Lord Nelson and the crew of the HMS Cordelia

A donation to the Vaughan Evans Library yielded a mysterious tale from history. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

A recent donation to the Vaughan Evans Library yielded a mysterious tale from history. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

A story hidden within a book

Sometimes it is the little things in life that can be the most interesting. A story that recently came across our path at the Vaughan Evans Library reflects this: It is a tale that took place in 1891 and involves Lord Viscount Nelson, a kind lady from Darlinghurst and thirteen wounded crew members from the HMS Cordelia… Continue reading

Postcards from the sea

Personal mementoes

The Vaughan Evans Library was recently gifted the personal maritime research collection of Roy Fernandez. Roy Fernandez was an Australian diplomat who spent much of his adult life travelling the world. In 1969 he was Australian ambassador to Burma and later Yugoslavia. From 1971- 1974 he was deputy head of mission in Washington with a staff of 350. His last posting was as ambassador to Manilla in 1982.

Fernandez had a keen interest in researching details of immigrant and shipping to Australia and New Zealand, convict transports as well as the transports of both world wars. It is this research that has been generously donated to the Vaughan Evans Library for everyone to access. As a part of this collection, there are several volumes of postcards beautifully illustrating shipping vessels from around the world. Some of these postcards still have their original messages. It is through these short, hand-written messages that we can catch a glimpse of into the sender’s life as they send quick messages to loved ones back home.

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Remembering the marvelous maritime mothers

Making it look easy, Ethel May Sterling and her daughter Margaret aboard her husband's ship, <em>ER Sterling</em>. ANMM Collection 00035539.

Making it look easy, Ethel May Sterling and her daughter Margaret aboard her husband’s ship, ER Sterling. ANMM Collection 00035539.

Mothering on the high seas

As Mother’s Day approaches a maritime museum is not usually a place one would look for motherly sentiment. Yet here at the museum and the Vaughan Evans Library, there are small yet extraordinary reminders of what motherhood can mean. And how hard it can be for some.

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Lessons from the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen with his dog and ship Fram in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Polenear his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

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Ships’ diaries – The blogs of yesteryear

‘Ships’ diaries’, by former technical services librarian Jan Harbison. From Signals 104 (Sept-Nov  2013).

This narrative is dedicated to my dear wife and children for their amusement and my employment and as it is most agreeable to me to sometimes hold converse with them, it is only intended for their eyes or those akin to them.

So begins the diary of Captain John Buttrey of the brig Dart in 1865. He could not know that nearly 150 years later, his diary might be accessed by a worldwide audience through the Internet, as are the blogs of today.

Pages of the Terror Diary, by Captain Henry Downes.

Pages of the Terror Diary, by Captain Henry Downes.

The museum’s public research facility, the Vaughan Evans Library, has many diaries written by travellers, immigrants, crew members, sea captains, naval men, ships’ surgeons, whaling captains, a captain’s wife, a matron and a convict. Some are very brief and factual, while others are beautifully descriptive and often very personal accounts revealing emotions and humour. Some have been donated by family members who might have found the diary in an attic; others have been purchased by or donated to the museum.

The diary quoted at the beginning of this article is a wonderful one. Captain Buttrey commanded a brig that travelled to the South Sea Islands in 1865 to collect bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers) and tortoiseshell. As well as writing letters home to his family, he kept the diary, which gives an insight into life at sea, interactions with the islanders, and his life at home, with frequent references to what his wife and four boys would be doing at that time of day. It is a diary full of affection for his family. He looks at their ‘likenesses’ every day:

I have [been] looking at your likenesses again today and have been pictureing [sic] you all at home. Our time is about 10 minutes in advance of Sydney so I say now they are at breakfast. Baby looks as if he was trying to imitate Lister with his mouth – Bateson looks as if he were brim full of mischief … Marshall appears as a staid gentleman & one of deep thought. The principal one Mama looks indescribably loveable.

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Discover your past: Inside History Magazine’s Q&A

Inside History Magazine's Expert Q&A with ANMM, December 2012

Inside History Magazine‘s Expert Q&A with ANMM, December 2012

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

What’s new in our digital library

Cover. Handbook of information for the Colonies and IndiaThe Library has recently added some new book titles to our digital library collection. There’s a British India Steam Navigation Co. guide, a New Zealand Shipping Co. pocket book and an AUSN Co. time table and fare guide.

We hope that you’ll find these hard to find shipping company publications useful for all sorts of research from historical research to getting those little details right in your latest novel.

Illustrated London News archive

The Illustrated London News Historical Archive is now available online in the Vaughan Evans Library.  Covering the entire run of the ILN from 14 May 1842 to 2003.  Each page has been digitally reproduced in full colour and every article and caption is full-text searchable.  This illustrated newspaper is a key resource for historical research and  is also a good source for  illustrations of ships and maritime scenes.

Keep up with what’s new in the Library

Want to know how you can keep up with new items added to the Library collection ?

Follow the link  to WorldCat where you can view or subscribe to our monthly new titles list and tag or share books with others.

via New items available at Australian National Maritime Museum Library [].

For regular blog readers there’s also a link on the blogroll in the bar at the right of the screen.

Happy browsing

Library treasure trove

The National Library of Australia has launched their new discovery service called Trove .  Designed to help researchers browse and discover material about Australians by Australians through a simple search with clustered results.

You’ll find our own library collection and those of many other Australian memory institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum Library, State, University and public libraries.  Books, images and Australian digitized newspapers are just some of the sorts of resources available. Trove gives researchers easy access to information resources from the deep web for family history, school assignments and academic research, supplementing what you can find using search engines.

Try it out now

Library reopens to the public

Library compactus under construction

Library compactus under construction

The Vaughan Evans Library reopened today after a temporary closure with a slightly new look.

The book collection has been rehoused into an electronic compactus unit. Not only is our storage space more efficient but an unexpected bonus is it’s now easier to locate books on the shelves. No more cramped aisles and bookshelves and automatic lighting above each bay.

The Library is open to researchers by appointment 10 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday and the first Saturday of each month. To make an appointment contact Gillian Simpson our Public Enquiries Librarian on 02 9298 3731 or email

Library shares bookmarks with you

The Vaughan Evans Library is now publishing bookmarks on the museum blog.

“The Library’s Bookmarks” section at the right hand side of the screen contains the most recent bookmarks we’ve added to social bookmarking site

As Australian’s we’re aware that to access many of the primary resources used for maritime and related family history research can often involve people in long and expensive journeys. Either here or to their state libraries. Sometimes even interstate or overseas. So we began by seeking out digital versions of some of those hard to find texts and reference books for you.

We’ll be adding to our bookmark collection regularly and hope to share with you sites that we work with all the time.

We hope you’ll find them a useful and convenient research tool too and want to share them with others.

So visit the velibrary at

Australian rowing gold

It’s gold in the rowing for Drew Ginn and Duncan Free and we’d like to highlight a gold medal rowing collection held by the Vaughan Evans Library. Put together over a lifetime by former Olympic rowing team captain, Kevyn Parke Webb (1924-1991) this collection covers the period from the mid 19th century to the 1980’s. Amongst the many volumes you’ll find rowing textbooks, club histories, handbooks, regattas and rare specialist rowing periodicals. Visit the Vaughan Evans Library at the ANMM website