As a national cultural agency, the museum provides support for Maritime Heritage nationally and the importance of supporting local communities, smaller museums and historical societies to care for, conserve, preserve, interpret and display Australia’s maritime heritage is recognised. Several of the avenues for doing this involve funding opportunities and engagement in collaborative travelling exhibition development.
‘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.
The year 1837 was a busy one for the colony of New South Wales. Busiest of all was Sydney Harbour, which saw thousands of convicts arriving and a growing number of immigrants. In addition to the free single men and women, whole families were travelling from Britain to try their luck with a new life.
On 5 November 1836 the immigrant ship Lady McNaughton left Ireland for Australia. On board was the largest number of children ever to immigrate to Australia at that time. Passenger lists show 196 of the passengers of the ship were under the age of 14. However, by the time the ship was about 300 kilometres from Sydney, 54 of the passengers had died – 44 of those being children. Even in the age of dangerous sea travel, this was an extraordinarily high death rate. The typhus fever on board showed no signs of abating, with some 90 passengers still afflicted.
But at this stage the ship met HMS Rattlesnake, on its way down to Port Phillip with Governor Bourke aboard. Upon hearing of the terrible state of the Lady McNaughton, it was decided that the Rattlesnake‘s assistant surgeon would go with the Lady McNaughton back to Sydney, as their surgeon had taken ill himself. Bourke sent instructions on the quarantine arrangements to be carried out in Sydney, where the colony was unaware that it was about to face its biggest medical challenge to date.
By the time Rattlesnake and Governor Bourke returned to Sydney on 8 April, the Lady McNaughton had quarantined its surviving passengers at Manly, on the northern entrance to the harbour. A further four adults and 10 children had died. Conditions at the isolated location were basic and life in makeshift tents in 37°C February heat did little to restore the passengers’ health or stamina. Bourke proposed a more suitable and permanent solution, which proved to be timely, as only three months later the colony would be tested again.
When the John Barry limped into Sydney on 13 July 1837, the horrors experienced on board could only have been imagined by those who had managed to survive on the Lady McNaughton. Three adults and 22 children had died. In an attempt to dampen local fear, papers played down the episode:
‘We are happy in being enabled to state, from an authentic source, that the alarming reports current in town relative to a violent and dangerous fever raging on board the John Barry, are very nearly without foundation. A medical board went to the quarantine ground yesterday, where the John Barry is lying, and the Executive Council has been summoned to meet this morning to receive their report, which is of the most favourable description. The following is a correct account of the deaths on board since her departure from Scotland; three adults, two men and one woman, and twenty-two infants, whose deaths are attributed to their mothers living upon salt provisions; one of the infants died since the vessel has been in the harbour.’
Whatever the paper proclaimed, it had been very clear to those on board that it was a fever and sickness that had claimed lives.The Rattlesnake was back in Sydney at that time and it is interesting to think of her moored on the harbour with the John Barry close by, after being released from quarantine. After seeing firsthand the despair aboard the Lady McNaughton just three months before, the crew of the Rattlesnake must have been happy to keep well clear of the John Barry.
Aboard the John Barry when it arrived in Sydney was the Crawford family from Dundee. With eight children, and living in steerage where the fever had raged, the parents had done well to get all of them to Sydney alive. One of their children was six-year-old Barbara Crawford. We can never know if Barbara had noticed the Rattlesnake moored nearby in July 1837, but we can say for sure that in 1849 the sight of that same Royal Navy vessel would cause her to sit down and cry.
The Rattlesnake had returned to Australia in 1847 under the command of Captain Owen Stanley. The vessel was undertaking a survey the region of Evans Bay near Cape York in October 1849 when they came across a group of Kaurareg people, among whom was Barbara Crawford. Still less than 20 years old, Barbara had been living with the Kaurareg community for what she thought had been four to five years. She had been rescued by them after her vessel was wrecked and her husband presumed drowned.
Despite living and learning the ways of the Kaurareg, Barbara chose to return to Sydney aboard the Rattlesnake. After being taken aboard Barbara told her story to the artist Oswald Brierly, who was travelling with the survey at the time and had been one of the first to talk to Barbara ashore. Over the long weeks of the journey, Barbara talked to Brierly nearly daily and he wrote down everything she could tell him about her time with the Kaurareg people, drawing and recording what she could tell him of their language, beliefs and way of life. In 1849 this was a significant insight into the traditional way of life of the Indigenous people of the area.
The Rattlesnake moored back in Sydney in February 1850, and after four months aboard, no doubt it was a bittersweet farewell to the ship as Barbara was reunited with her family. After the usual public interest in her experience, little is definitely known about the next stage in Barbara’s life. It is believed she later remarried and died in 1912. No records remain to indicate whether she and Brierly kept in contact, but as Barbara was illiterate, it seems unlikely.
The discovery of Barbara is often overlooked as part of the Rattlesnake’s voyage to Australia in 1847. It became overshadowed by the subsequent death of the captain and the rise to fame of another crew member, the impressive Thomas Huxley. But in hindsight, the survival of Barbara through the trials of the John Barry, a later shipwreck, five years in the extremities of Cape York and her return to Sydney aboard the Rattlesnake is as worthy a story. The contribution of what Brierly recorded from his and Barbara’s conversations is as significant to our understanding of the world as the charts and collections that were made by others.
— Myffanwy Bryant, Curatorial Assistant
Want to find out more surprising stories? Why not check out our collection online (Warning: you might lose a few hours doing this).
What a museum without its collection? The stories we tell are imbued in the objects the museum collects and the conservation department is tasked with caring for these objects. Our conservation team look after a range of artefacts, from paper to paintings, ceramics, textiles and even archaeological material recovered from the seabed. From small coins to the HMB Endeavour replica, every object is condition reported, treated and conserved. The team monitor the environmental conditions our objects are either stored or displayed in, checking light levels, relative humidity and maintaining a stable temperature.
While the dive team was busy documenting sites KR10 and KR11 on the morning and afternoon of 14 January, the magnetometer team took advantage of the calm weather and sea conditions to run a survey along the outside of the entire Kenn Reefs system. The first area surveyed was along the outside fringe of the ‘foot and ankle’, with specific emphasis placed on detecting offshore components of known shipwreck sites (such as KR1, KR2 and KR4). Because sea conditions were calm, the team also ‘deployed’ Lee on a tow-board behind the magnetometer.
The tow-board (also known as a ‘Manta-board’) is a flat, hydrodynamic-shaped board with handles that is connected to a towing vessel with a length of line. The person using the tow-board grips the handles, is pulled through the water at low speed, and can visually search the seabed for shipwreck material. Most tow-boards are designed so that their users can turn, dive and ascend through the water column at will, simply by changing its orientation with the handles. Lee was positioned 10 metres behind the magnetometer in the hope he might be able to visually spot and identify any anomalies it detected.
One of the major goals of the Kenn Reefs expedition was to find Hope, the small cutter built from material salvaged from Bona Vista, and later lost during the rescue of the brig’s crew. According to historical accounts, two boats were sent from the rescuing vessel (the ship Asia) to Observatory Cay, where they recovered most of Bona Vista’s crew, the brig’s allocation of specie (gold and silver coin brought aboard Bona Vista for trading purposes), and brought them aboard Asia. A skeleton crew of thirteen and the personal belongings of all of the brig’s officers and men remained aboard Hope, as did unspecified salvaged goods valued at £1,000. However, as Asia got underway and took Hope under tow, tragedy struck:
On a dark and stormy day in Houston, Texas, museum’s latest international travelling exhibition starts to take shape.
This weekend (25-26th February 2017) the President of Indonesia will visit Australia for the first time since being elected in 2014. President Joko Widodo will be talking with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Much of the discussion – typical of Australia’s long relationship with its northern neighbour – will undoubtedly be about maritime related affairs. As Indonesia furthers its policy of focusing on maritime development as one of fundamental importance in an archaepeligo of around 18,000 islands, the historical maritime links between the two countries should not be forgotten.
In honour of the President’s visit to Sydney over the weekend, the museum will display an exhibition that explores one of the most significant – and largely forgotten – periods of strong bonds based on maritime links in the two nations histories. The display Black Armada – Australia’s support for Indonesian Independence 1945-1949 was developed for the 75th anniversary of independence in August 2015. The exhibition has been on display at the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Jogjakarta, the ARMA museum in Bali, as well as here in Darling Harbour.
You can read more about this fascinating and important period of Australian links with Indonesia in the museum’s Feature Story.
Dr Stephen Gapps – Curator
Over 500 boats, numerous displays, demonstrations and talks, four seasons of weather plus a rainbow, and not to mention the fine Tasmanian food, it’s always a challenge at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival (AWBF) to cover everything with not much more than three days to see it all. The museum managed to do it by sending a diverse contingent of staff for the festival, which ran from Friday 10th through to Monday 13th February, 2017.
The 2017 Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart starts this Friday 10th February, and the Australian National Maritime Museum will be very well represented at the festival over the weekend. A contingent of staff is travelling south to attend and help with various activities.
The museum has a booth in the principal display hall on Princes Wharf and is hosting a cocktail evening on Saturday. It is the sponsor for the AWBF Symposium of speakers which runs over three days, and is a key organiser with Maritime Museum of Tasmania for the Australian Maritime Museums Council’s Conference that proceeds the festival. The Voyage Game will also be a feature at the festival.
While the magnetometer crew conducted its initial search west of Observatory Cay, a second team embarked upon a metal detector survey of the cay itself and searched for evidence of survivor camps associated with the wrecked vessels Bona Vista and Jenny Lind.
Alison Stillwell is a volunteer and Secretary of the Kingston SE Branch, National Trust SA. She has recently coordinated a project, partially funded by Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), called the ‘Margaret Brock Room Development’ within the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse. She shares with us her experience of managing the project and the significant events that their organisation celebrated last November.
The Australian National Maritime Museum and Silentworld Foundation recently led an expedition to the Australian Coral Sea Territory to conduct an archaeological survey of historic shipwrecks lost at Kenn Reefs during the nineteenth century. The Kenn Reefs expedition is a continuation of an ongoing collaborative project between the museum and Silentworld Foundation that commenced in 2009 and led to the discovery that same year of the wreck of the colonial government schooner Mermaid (lost in 1829 on what is now known as Flora Reef). No less than eight vessels are known to have wrecked at Kenn Reefs between 1828 and 1884, and most grounded in relatively close proximity to one another on the largest of the southernmost reefs in the chain, as it was located within an oft-travelled shipping route, but poorly charted until the mid-nineteenth century.
It’s Lunar New Year and time to present the colour and excitement of ancient Chinese culture from the museum’s collections. Dragons feature heavily. And so does racing. (I know that it’s the Year of the Rooster, but they don’t usually like water …)
Dragons have been a potent symbol of Chinese culture for thousands of years – people believed they lived in rivers and lakes and controlled the rains and crops. They were mostly protective, yet when angered created havoc with floods and drought. Chinese communities honoured the dragons with festivals and sacrifices to keep the river dragon happy.
On 26 January the museum has often sailed the HMB Endeavour replica in the Tall Ships Race on Sydney Harbour. This year, Endeavour will not be out, but another important vessel linked to the museum will be involved in the 26 January events.
At 7.30am on Thursday at Barangaroo Reserve a bark canoe – or nawi in the Sydney Aboriginal language – will bring ashore a small fire from the Tribal Warrior vessel. The fire will be lit as part of the WugulOra (One Mob) ceremony that will begin Australia Day events in Sydney by ‘recognising our shared history’. Previously held at the Opera House, WugulOra will be at the new Barangaroo parkland site for the first time this year.