“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

#HoodsHarbour: May’s ‘People’s Choice’ winner

Sydney Harbour ferry approaching Circular Quay, 1901-1953 Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

Sydney Harbour ferry approaching Circular Quay, 1901-1953
Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

I’m pleased to announce the May winner of the museum’s #HoodsHarbour People’s Choice competition. Robert Osborne chose this photograph from the museum’s Samuel J Hood collection via our Flickr Commons photostream. Robert noted the picture ‘reminded me of the Manly Ferries as I used to spend the journey looking into the engine room from the passenger area and soak up the sights and smells‘. He composed a poem, which now forms the basis for the photograph’s exhibition label:

A memory of the past,
the glorious days of old.
The smell of oil and steam,
the shine of brass.
Gone, but still a dream.

People's Choice winner

Robert’s favourite Hood photograph currently on display in #HoodsHarbour
Photo: Nicole Cama, ANMM

Congratulations to Robert and thanks to all those who participated in our #HoodsHarbour competition. It was a museum first for us and was aimed at engaging visitors by allowing them to explore our historic photographic collection online as well as participate in the exhibition process. We hope you enjoyed it just as much as we did! :)


#HoodsHarbour is open at the museum until 9 June 2014.

Nicole Cama
Digital Curator

The ‘March of the Gallant Five Thousand’

Australian Light Horse saluting the Governor-General

Australian Light Horse saluting the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, and riding along Macquarie Street in Sydney, 24 April 1915.
Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

At about 2pm on 24 April 1915, 5,000 Australian troops marched through streets of Sydney. Symbolising the State’s official farewell to the troops, it wasn’t until a few months later that they finally embarked for war. On this day, 99 years ago, over 200,000 people flocked to the city to bid farewell and a safe return to ‘Our Boys in Blue’ and ‘The Khaki Men. It was a goodbye seemingly unaware of the horror that would unfold the following day – the day Australian and New Zealand forces commenced a devastating 8-month conflict; the day they landed at what is now known as ANZAC Cove. Continue reading

#HoodsHarbour: April’s ‘People’s Choice’ winner

#HoodsHarbour competition entry winner

April’s #HoodsHarbour competition entry winning image and label from Myleah Bailey, currently on display
Photo: Nicole Cama, ANMM

I’m pleased to announce the first winner of the museum’s #HoodsHarbour People’s Choice competition for the month of April. Myleah Bailey from Victoria has chosen this photograph from the museum’s Samuel J Hood collection via our Flickr Commons photostream. It depicts crowds at Circular Quay, Sydney welcoming home the crew of HMAS Sydney II on 10 February 1941. The ship had left Australia 10 months previously for battle in the Mediterranean and relatives were keen to see their fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, husbands, fiancées, boyfriends and friends again. Myleah told us why this was her favourite from the Hood collection, which now forms the basis for the photograph’s exhibition label:

The faces and fashions change, but be it 1941 or 2014 the heartfelt message, and title, of this image remains the same – ‘Welcome Home’.

Our winner told me she ‘was very surprised to receive it! I really enjoyed seeing the pictures in the exhibition and there were many beautiful ones displayed.’ Congratulations Myleah!

Continue reading

A mutiny of a different sort

Captain Amasa Delano's ‘Voyages and Travels’

Captain Amasa Delano’s ‘Voyages and Travels’
ANMM Collection, Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds

In the history of maritime mutinies, it is the mutiny on the Bounty that is most often recalled, and it is generally assumed that mutinies involved tyrannical captains whose crews have rebelled. Yet in 1804, a mutiny of a different sort took place, and Captain Amaso Delano, an unsuspecting American sea captain at anchor near Chile, found himself both witness and participant in a dark page in history.

Delano and his crew aboard the Perserverance had been at sea for a year and a half hunting seals and whales, and he wrote that ‘future prospects were not very flattering’. It had not been a profitable 18 months, and Delano had not made enough money to pay the crew even 20 dollars each. Added to these financial woes, Delano tells of having unknowingly picked up 17 ‘outlawed convicts’ from Botany Bay who were a source of unending trouble throughout the rest of the journey. There was a constant fear that they would somehow steal one of the smaller boats to escape and discipline was a daily struggle. Although Captain Delano managed to offload a number of the worst behaved convicts, those remaining, as well as other ongoing problems, were putting him under a great deal of pressure when the Spanish ship Tryal appeared while Perserverance was anchored at Santa Maria, Chile.
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Search, Rescue and Survival

Courtesy Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)

Courtesy Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)

The search for Malaysian Air Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean is like looking for a needle in a haystack. By international agreement Australia is responsible for co-ordinating search and rescue efforts over an area of about 53 million square kilometres – more than one tenth of the earth’s surface! While this is an enormous area, the use of modern satellite and radar technology and the co-ordination of civil and military efforts by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) significantly improves the efficiency of the search and the possibility of locating something in the search area.

Continue reading