A migration story in stitch

One of my favourite objects in the museum’s collection is a charming needlework sampler made by 19-year-old assisted immigrant Julia Donovan on board the Carnatic in January 1879. Immigration records show that Julia arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland, from England on 5 February 1879, and presumably went into domestic service in the growing port town.

Needlework sampler made by Julia Donovan on board Carnatic en route to Australia, 1879

Needlework sampler made by Julia Donovan on board Carnatic en route to Australia, 1879

From the 17th century, embroidered samplers were used to teach young girls the essential art of needlework, incorporating a repertoire of stitches and motifs that would be used to mark household linens and garments. While samplers typically featured a combination of letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case, numerals, geometric borders and small emblems, the specific arrangement of motifs was often highly personal to the maker.

Julia Donovan’s sampler is hand embroidered in cross stitch using green, blue, red and purple wools on a square piece of cloth. It includes the alphabet, numbers 1 to 17 and two sprays of blue flowers. Julia’s sampler is particularly special as it is signed and dated, and connected to her journey on Carnatic through the following verse that reveals a migration story in stitch:

Dearest Matron we must part you
On that strange and distant shore
For though across the stormy ocean
With great patience you us bore
May the seasons richest blessing
Rest within your home and heart
Peace and love and happiness possessing
And may all troubles from you part.

The sampler was probably given by Julia as a gift to the ship’s matron, Alice Wadley, who worked as a stewardess and matron on board migrant ships on the Australian route from 1879 to 1887. It illustrates the friendship between the matron and her young charge over the three-month voyage, while also highlighting broader themes such as late 19th century attitudes to the role of women, colonial education and domesticity, and the way in which gendered skills were transferred across cultures and continents – from a familiar land to ‘that strange and distant shore’.

Julia Donovan’s sampler is just one example of the intriguing intersection between needlework, craft and maritime history in the museum’s collection. Over the next few weeks I will be looking at some other wonderful examples of nautical craft at the museum. Next time – sailor’s woolwork pictures or ‘woolies’!

Kim Tao
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration

Gervais Purcell: hats, photography and fashion of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s

Gervais Purcell - model in beach hat

Woman modelling a hat, Gervais Purcell 1949

Cock your hat.
An angle is an attitude

– Frank Sinatra

Its hat week this week – for myself it’s an excuse to kit up for winter but among the vast collection of images by respected Australian commercial photographer Gervais Purcell the hats are generally more about form than function.

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Being a hero is all about timing: Oskar Speck’s kayak voyage

Oskar passport.  ANMM collection

Oskar Speck’s passport. ANMM collection

As I was examining the letters, journals, photographs and reports of Oskar Speck, as though they were parts of a giant jigsaw puzzle, I started piecing together the life and the incredible voyage of this intrepid German, who spent seven years and four months paddling a collapsible kayak from his native town of Altona in Hamburg all the way to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait.

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Lynton Lamb’s Orient Line designs

Panels from the Orient Line Building design by Lynton Lamb - on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Panels from the Orient Line Building design by Lynton Lamb – on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

It is so often the way that in the name of progress, much of what once was is now lost. So it was with great fortune that in 1988 Australian National Maritime Museum staff were able to work together with developers to salvage part of Sydney’s rich maritime history. As part of a renovation of the Orient Line Building in Sydney, the interiors were to be gutted and the fixtures and decorations removed. These included maritime themed murals, glass panels and floor mosaics. The glass panels designed by Lynton Lamb, 20 in all, were carefully extracted and taken to the museum.

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Commemoration and contestation at Kurnell

1930 poster - the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay 1770 Australia

1930 poster – the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay 1770 Australia. ANMM Collection.

Last week was the 245th anniversary of the arrival of Captain James Cook and HMB Endeavour at Botany Bay, just south of Sydney. Cook and his crew spent 8 days here from 29 April 1770, their first landfall on the Australian coast.

The moment of Cook’s landing took on a great consequence for Australians ever since. For non-Indigenous Australians, from the 1820s Cook was seen as a far better set of origins than Captain Phillip and his boatloads of convicts in the First Fleet. Indeed it was Cook’s landing at Kurnell on the southern headland of Botany Bay that was the preferred moment of commemoration right through the 19th and well into the 20th century.

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Anzacs and surf lifesavers

Installing the Souter murals in the Australian National Maritime Museum's Navy gallery

Installing the murals in the Navy gallery, March 2015

A few weeks ago we installed a series of murals in the museum that were painted by David Henry Souter for the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Lifesaving Club (BSBLC). In January 1921 a ceremony was held to unveil an honour roll listing the names of the club members who had served during World War I and died far from their beloved Bondi. Also unveiled that day was this series of murals. The local sporting gazette The Arrow reported on the unveiling and made brief mention of the paintings:

The interior of the clubhouse is now distinctly attractive. The walls are panelled and Bulletin artist Souter has supplied a series of friezes done in his own inimitable style. (21 January 1921, p.6)

Souter (BSBLC President, 1920–21 season) completed the series in 1934 when he painted an additional two works.

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Anzac Cove from the water: the Gallipoli diary of 2nd Engineer George Armstrong

George Armstrong’s diary

100 years after the Anzac landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, the museum has acquired a rare diary written on board a transport ship lying off Anzac Cove.

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Diving into the past: the Beatrice Kerr collection

Swimming Gala poster featuring Beatrice Kerr

A swimming gala poster featuring Beatrice Kerr. ANMM Collection.

“By-the-bye, everyone rushes after lunch to the Palace Pier to see a young Australian girl in a swimming and diving performance. We went with the rest, and can assure our readers that Miss Kerr is better worth seeing than nine out of ten of the famous dancers…”

Poster advertising Beatrice Kerr's swimming and diving show.

Poster advertising Beatrice Kerr’s swimming and diving show. ANMM Collection.

Digitising the National Maritime Collection archive reveals some interesting stories from the lives of the people behind the objects. One such story was the career of aquatic star Beatrice Kerr. I found her both entertaining and inspirational, while scanning and researching her letters, handbills and photographs.

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Going it alone – Kay Cottee’s voyage aboard Blackmores First Lady

Blackmores First Lady surfing down a wave rounding Cape Horn. Painted by Jack Earl, 1988. ANMM Collection.

Blackmores First Lady surfing down a wave rounding Cape Horn.
Painted by Jack Earl, 1988. ANMM Collection.

“It’s what I do — I do the sea … To people it may seem dangerous, foolish even but, for me, it’s not a strange environment. It’s not alien to me, it’s where I’m happiest.”

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston – (Still solo racing at 75)

Solo celebrating the milestones. Label reads   `Rounding Good Hope. Kay Cottee'.

Solo celebrating the milestones. Label reads `Rounding Good Hope. Kay Cottee’. ANMM Collection.

It has been 28 years now since Kay Cottee set out aboard Blackmores First Lady to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe non-stop and unassisted. Much has happened and changed in the world of solo sailing in that time. While still attracting those quiet adventurers, solo sailing also attracts big money, big boats and big speed.

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Sharing the collection on Google Cultural Institute

A selection of the museum's collection displayed on Google Cultural Institute

A selection of the museum’s collection displayed on Google Cultural Institute.

The museum is excited to be among the 14 major Australian museums, archives and galleries to recently join Google’s Cultural Institute — the world’s biggest online museum.

Google’s online platform, which includes the Google Art Project, allows visitors to search and virtually explore high resolution images of artworks and artefacts from around the globe. So far, 673 international museums have joined, contributing digital collections, online exhibitions and even virtual tours made possible with Google’s Street View technology.

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