A dog’s life at sea

ANMM Collection Crew of the SS Stratherry and their pets.

ANMM Collection
Crew of the SS Stratherry and their pets.

Although the sailor, while at sea, is obliged to do without nearly all of the home attractions which even the poorest landsmen indulge in, he is allowed to cultivate to a limited extent his fondness for domestic pets…It affords him deep pleasure to hold in his loving though rough embrace the innocent creature who either by a cheerful wag of the tail or a responsive purr assures him that his attentions are appreciated…
(New York Times – November 2, 1884)

We love them. Their loyalty, good humour and appreciation for simple pleasures—dogs are quite simply the ultimate companion. And for hundreds of years, sea farers have also thought so. Other pets such as monkeys, cats, birds and even goats may have their place, but dogs and boats are truly a match made in maritime heaven.

ANMM Collection A crew member of the steamer SS SUEVIC

ANMM Collection
A crew member of the steamer SS SUEVIC

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

The museum has many photos capturing the unique friendship between sailors and their dogs. Whether it be captains, crew, cooks, explorers or passengers, dogs were never far away. Although the life these ship-board dogs led may not have involved parks or yards, their small on-board world was one filled with affection, attention and camaraderie. They were a welcome relief from the monotony and tension of sea life, and despite their earlier uses as ratters, it was their endearing nature that has kept them happily afloat.

History has also proven that no matter what the maritime triumph or disaster, dogs could be found on board. From the sinking of Henry VIII’s ship the Mary Rose, the Titanic and even HMAS Sydney, dogs were on board and suffered the same conditions and fate as the ship’s crew.

ANMM Collection Crew and dog aboard the Discovery on their way to  in 1901.

ANMM Collection
Crew and dog aboard the Discovery on their way to Antarctica in 1901.

Crew of the submarine HM Ursula and their dog Peter, 1943. (Wikimedia)

Crew of the submarine HM Ursula and their dog Peter, 1943.

Incredibly dogs were also kept on board some submarines. Surely a less dog-friendly environment would be hard to think of. There is a story of one such dog called Garbo who lived aboard the USS GAR. One crew member recalls:

“Under the heaviest depth charge attacks, when the gauges were leaking, light bulbs breaking, and fires breaking out, Garbo remained as playful as ever. Bunn said, “She should have gotten a medal for keeping our spirits and morale up when we needed it most.”

Whilst they were commonly known as mascots, dogs proved to be so much more. They provided comfort and courage, loyalty and affection, and a chance for crew to be human in circumstances that often asked them to forget their humanity.

- Myffanwy Bryant, Curatorial Assistant


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Who said sand paper was dull?

In 2012 the museum acquired a vast collection of negatives of Australian commercial photographer Gervais Purcell (1919-1999). Purcell worked for a variety of clients such as David Jones, P&O, Ansett Australia, Jantzen and many others.


ANMM Collection

In the past few months, I have been cataloguing his ‘swimwear’ work that mainly contains negatives of models wearing swim and beach wear shot in studio settings, beaches and other outdoor locations during the 1940 – 1960 period.


ANMM Collection

Through these photographs I have witnessed the evolution of swimwear styles, starting with the fairly conservative 1940s one piece.


With fabric shortages during the war time, the US Government issued the L-85 order that basically made smaller swimming suits patriotic. Manufacturers in countries like Australia followed suit introducing the cut outs in midriff and bikinis.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As the swimwear evolved, so did advertising. In the 1950s, ‘Golden Era’ of Cinematography and ‘Golden Age’ of Television, advertising became even prominent and daring.
Informed by market studies, agencies started positioning their ads to address the perceived consumer needs of safety, belonging and success. They also capitalised on featuring scantily-clad young ladies, which noticeably improved ad content and sales scores.

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

I can just imagine the people at the 3M abrasives and sandpaper company branch, looking for ways to make their abrasive paper products look sexy and appealing to the masses. What a better way than ask Gervais to take two bikini beauties to a lovely beach and make them interact with… yes, sheets and disks of sand paper!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And didn’t they do a fantastic job? I’m not sure if the masses were running to their nearest hardware shop to get their hands on a box of sand paper, but what I can see is the models and perhaps, even Gervais, having a giggle at the crazy ways to accommodate abrasive material into a perfect beach scene!

4 x 18 = 72

Simple stuff: 4 x 18 feet = 72 feet.

72 feet x 1/3.281 = about 22 metres (in French).

But if you put the four 18-foot skiffs currently on display at the museum in a line, their long bowsprits and booms make the line closer to 120 feet or 37 metres long. Imagine this impressive sight as their big rigs tower over the 5.5-metre long hulls.

Enough maths! In a rare opportunity, the museum has four classic 18s on display at once. Britannia, Yendys and Taipan have been visited by the replica of Myra Too, the quartet covering a wide section of the 18-foot skiffs’ colourful class history.

Britannia on Sydney Harbour during the1920s

Britannia – William Hall Collection – ANMM

Britannia makes a terrific starting point. It has a big eight-foot (2.45-metre) wide hull, seam batten planked in Queensland cedar, strong thwarts and tabernacle—everything that these mighty craft began with in the 1890s as open boats racing with Mark Foy’s Sydney Flying Squadron. It was built in 1919 by the legendary ‘Wee Georgie’ Robinson. ‘Wee Georgie’ and his team from Balmain raced Britannia hard and its career spanned the next few generations of gradual developments until it retired after World War II. In that time it carried one of the largest rigs ever put on an 18. That rig was rebuilt when the vessel was restored in the late 1980s and is how it is displayed in the Watermarks exhibition at the museum.

As we walk into the Wharf 7 foyer, on our right is Sydney Heritage Fleet’s Yendys. A rival of Britannia, Yendys was built in 1925 by Charlie Hayes for Norm Blackman. This big hull is also built in the traditional heavy scantlings, but it illustrates an early piece of innovation, its transom bow. Hayes had another legend working for him at the time, Charlie Peel, who had been successful with transom bows on 14-foot skiffs in Victoria. As well, the 1920s was the time when the Restricted 21s showed how fast a lighter-keel boat could go, and Hayes and Peel were in the thick of this class too. Out comes Yendys, with its sawn-off profile and veed bow shapes, a sort of restricted-class yacht crossed with a skiff and with the bow overhang squared off. Despite the odd mix it went pretty well too, but although another two snub-nosers were built in that time, the idea did not catch on. It did show there was room to move in the rules, though, and the Queenslanders took on both innovation and the establishment at the same time.

Yendys with all sails set

Yendys – William Hall Collection – ANMM

The 1930s ‘galloping ghost’ from Queensland, Aberdare, was a narrow seven-foot (2.15 metre) beamer that won many races and championships. It was so unpopular with traditional sailors that two new clubs were set up that allowed seven-foot beamers to race – the New South Wales 18-Foot Sailing League and the Brisbane 18-Foot Sailing Club – and the politics spawned by that divide raged on for decades.

Six feet (1.83 metres) became the new seven feet in the 1940s. Sailing in the 1951 season, Billy Barnett and Myra Too from the Sydney Flying Squadron won everything – states, nationals, worlds – the lot. The Myra Too replica, sitting on its rigging cradle on the Wharf 7 floor, and built a little differently from the original, is still a showcase of how the lighter construction had taken hold of the class post-war, finally shutting the door to the big-boat era of Britannia and Yendys.

The new boats were planing, the crew were swinging out on trapezes, and just when they thought they were the bees’ knees of skiff and dinghy sailing, along came Bob Miller and the plywood Taipan in 1959. This was another Queensland revolution that caused heartache and resistance in New South Wales but became the origins of today’s flyers. Here it is, elevated for all to see the end plates and fences on the appendages – the things that led Bob Miller, who had by then changed his name to Ben Lexcen, to the controversial features on Australia II that ultimately helped snare yachting’s greatest trophy, the America’s Cup, in 1983. Taipan was rebuilt in 2007 to its 1959 configuration that caused as much local stir in its own time, even though it only won a few races and had many gear failures. When it worked, it often won with big margins. Taipan had the speed and performance that the crews wanted, and they never looked back.

Taipan during the 1960 world championships in Auckland

Taipan – Courtesy Robin Elliot

To complete this, but not on display, the ANMM collection also has a 1970s Bruce Farr design, KB, the type that bedded down the three-hander, and then Colorbond, from 1985/86, a showcase of where it all went ballistic. Getting back to numbers here, the 18-foot skiffs sported bowsprits and extensions that made them around 40 feet (12 metres) long and more than 20 feet (six metres) wide and enabled them to do powerboat speeds on the harbour—and the cost of all this yearly high-tech building spree finally blew the lid on development in the class.

The skiffs on display are three survivors rebuilt to their former glory and a fourth built as a replica to race on and carry the heritage of the class into the future. Did the four skiffs on display ever sail on the harbour together? Not likely, but in a lovely moment captured on film, we have the original Myra Too running downwind to eventually pass the seven-foot beamer Jantzen Girl that’s just in front, and there off to the side is a little motor launch with a mast­—it looks like it could be Britannia which was converted by ‘Wee Georgie’ to be the club’s starting boat—and it’s trying hard on one cylinder to keep up with progress.

Myra Too at sea

Myra Too – Bill Barnett Collection – ANMM

 – David Payne

Curator, Historic Vessels

The ‘triumphant procession’ of the ANMEF

troops of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road

Contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, marching on Randwick Road, 18 August 1914.
Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

On this day, 100 years ago, a contingent of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) marched through Sydney for final embarkation. Fourteen days after Britain declared war on Germany, the ANMEF contingent made their way through streets flooded with tens of thousands of well-wishers. It would be the start of many marches to come throughout the war, and one of the many photographer Samuel J Hood captured with his Folmer and Schwing Graflex camera. Yesterday, a service was held at Government House and re-enactment of the march took place. As Royal Australian Navy (RAN) cadets marched down a soggy Macquarie Street, they paid homage to the ‘khaki clad contingent’ who had taken the same steps a century before under a clear blue sky. Continue reading

After 82 years, still cruising the Southern Oceans

Going through the museum’s archives I came across an old photo album featuring a yacht and two men photographed during the 1930s – nothing unexpected for a maritime museum’s collection. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the boat’s story.


Maluka sitting high and dry on the Victorian coast ANMM collection

It all started in 1932 when George and William (Willy) Clark (the ‘Lucky Clarks’ as they became known), two brothers from Sydney who were also wealthy foresters, decided to build the 9 metre gaff-rigged cutter Maluka of Kermandie following the design in Huon pine by Cliff Gale.

In 1933, the brothers took Maluka on a five month cruise off Far North Queensland, followed by a trip to Lord Howe Island the following year. The album documents these trips with numerous photos of Maluka at sea and the adventurous, care-free life of the brothers, fishing, going for picnics in remote places and mixing with the locals, reinforcing the romantic ideas of escape and private travel that have fascinated people and contributed to the characterisation of cruising sailors as bohemians and eccentrics. Continue reading

“Design debauchery” at its finest.

Whilst looking though the artefacts from the Dunbar shipwreck, it is difficult to imagine that anything amongst the dull metal was ever intended to decorate people’s homes. Ship fixtures blend with metal domestic and commercial goods and all have acquired the dull lacklustre look acquired by years under the sea.

Artefact from the Dunbar wreck.  ANMM Collection.

Artefact from the Dunbar wreck.
ANMM Collection.

Yet amongst the piles of screws, nails and concretion are some lovely examples of metal work in the shape of flowers and leaves. These pieces had obviously been part of some elaborate Victorian pieces of furniture intended to adorn the houses of Sydney. Even more lovely was when I was able to find not only the maker of some of these pieces but also what they would have originally looked like. Not so dull after all it seems! Continue reading

Mouths of Gold

The wreck of the Dunbar in 1857 is a well-known story in Sydney and the effect it had on the colony at the time. One of the outcomes of the wreck was the recovery of the artefacts it left behind. In addition to the ship itself, there were hundreds of everyday objects that do not often survive the rigours of domesticity but tell the story of life in a growing colony. In effect the wreck becomes a time capsule, preserving together the materials of many different industries and areas of life.

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857. ANMM Collection

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857.
ANMM Collection

There were many day to day items in the Dunbar collection that tell of the increasing wealth of its residents. Remnants of clocks, watches, furniture labels from iron bedframes and ovens, coins, jewellery and silver tableware are just a few. Some small but interesting pieces also found were sets of dentures. These are made of gold and despite their torture like conations, they are surprisingly delicate and one of the many wonders of what could survive a devastating shipwreck such as the Dunbar. It did get me wondering what the state of dentistry was in the colony of Sydney in 1857 and whether these dentures were an export from London, or did they possibly belong to one of the passengers? We know from the passenger list that there were a number of wealthy passengers on board who could have afforded dentures and at least one surgeon, Alexander Bayne,  who might have been a practicing dentist also.

Dentistry across the globe up until this point was an unregulated industry and attracted many pretenders. Traditionally the practice was a side industry for surgeons, chemists and even silversmiths. Australian newspapers from the early 1800’s onwards have numerous advertisements for dentists. And it is interesting to see that most promote other services as well. There were ‘dentists’ who were also apocathries, accoucheurs (male midwives), surgeons, photographers and ‘cuppers’ (practitioners of bloodletting). The usual arrangement at this time was to set up a practice in a room in your house and advertise the hours you would be ‘at home’. It was a relatively casual affair it seems as there was no sterilization or hygiene standards to consider so a ‘dentist’ could indeed be multi-tasking practitioner. Continue reading

A tale of love and adventure between two teakwood panels

The journal of the Loch Bredan

The teakwood cover of the journal of the Loch Bredan made by the ship’s carpenter from the panels of the ship’s charthouse door. The journal was written and illustrated by Chief Officer Robert Robertson Smythe, 1902.
ANMM Collection, photographs by Sabina Escobar, ANMM

The museum recently acquired the journal of the Liverpool barque Loch Bredan, by Chief Officer Robert Robertson Smythe. This wonderful logbook/journal was written and beautifully illustrated by Smythe during his 123-day voyage from Sydney to Liverpool via Cape Horn from the 25 July 1902 to 24 November 1902.

The Loch Bredan, built in 1882, was a steel-hulled barque of the ‘Loch’ ships of Liverpool owned by D&J Sproat & Co. She traded between England, Australia and New Zealand, arriving for the first time in Australia at Watsons Bay on November 1891 after a three-month journey from Antwerp, Belgium. In 1902, the Loch Bredan was forced to return to port within a fortnight of leaving Sydney on the return journey to Liverpool. During this trip, the ship ran into such severe weather that three life boats were smashed along with the charthouse’s doors.

She left Adelaide in September 1903 having picked up crew and cargo and disappeared with no scrap of wreckage ever found. Chief Officer Smythe was not on board, as he had signed off after arriving in Liverpool in November 1902. During this voyage, (the last one before its disappearance) the ship’s carpenter used the teakwood of these doors to make the covers for Smythe’s journal. These covers and the memories written on its pages are the only remaining pieces of the Loch Bredan today. Continue reading

East meets West: The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam

Chinese magician and acrobat Long Tack Sam with his company of artists c 1936 Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

Chinese magician and acrobat Long Tack Sam with his company of artists 1936
Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection*

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.

Image from Ann Marie Fleming's graphic novel The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. Image courtesy of Ann Marie Fleming

Image from Ann Marie Fleming’s graphic novel The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam.
Image courtesy of Ann Marie Fleming

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.

Long Tack Sam Image courtesy of Ann Marie Fleming

Long Tack Sam
Image courtesy of Ann Marie Fleming

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

Memories are made of these

Handwritten menu from the SS Australien, 1894 ANMM Collection

Handwritten menu from the SS Australien, 1894
ANMM Collection

“Night Blooming Cereus” by Frank Macintosh for SS Monterey, 1938 ANMM Collection

There is no separating food and travel. Whether it is for enjoyment or basic necessity, where the next meal is coming from and what it will be can become all-consuming. Nowhere on the travel scene is this more evident than on cruise ships. Whole websites are now devoted to on board dining experiences. Super ships can have upwards of 13 dining options on board. You can choose to change your on board dining style or cuisine daily. Buffets are rated, desserts are discussed in online forums and celebrity chefs engaged to create enticing menus for the ultimate on-board experience.

Retro offerings from MV William Ruys, 1963 ANMM Collection

Retro offerings from MV William Ruys, 1963
ANMM Collection

I came to think about this as I looked through the museum’s collection of ship menus. Like fashion or technology ship menus are such an accurate snapshot of the times. They took off towards the end of the 19th century as shipping lines began focusing on passenger comfort and service as much as the practicalities and speed of the journey. With long days at sea stretching out, the variety and quality of food served became paramount in attracting wealthy paying passengers. Shipping companies began to heighten the appeal of their dining experiences. In 1913 the Hamburg American Line employed master celebrity chef Georges Auguste Escoffier from the Ritz Carlton to design the dining room and menu aboard the SS Imperator. This was in addition to the eight kitchens, two head chefs and 116 assistants.
Continue reading