75 years ago today a queen arrived in Sydney

RMS QUEEN MARY in Sydney Harbour, 1941. ANMM Collection 00045046.

RMS QUEEN MARY in Sydney Harbour, 1941. ANMM Collection 00045046.

On 28th March 1942 the troopship RMS Queen Mary arrived in Sydney with 8,398 Americans on board, destined for the Pacific War. These first American troops to be transported on the ‘Grey Ghost’ (the nickname for the camouflaged giant, yet fast, former liner) had embarked in Boston on the 18th February on what became known as their ’40 days and 40 nights’ voyage.

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The many survivals of Barbara Crawford

The reality of travelling steerage where diseases found the perfect conditions. ANMM collection 00005627

The reality of travelling steerage, where diseases found the perfect conditions. ANMM Collection 00005627

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.

Sydney harbour in 1837. Not the most prepared location for a typhus fever outbreak. 'View of Sydney Cove and Fort Macquarie' by Conrad Martens, courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Sydney Harbour in 1837 – not the best-prepared location for a typhus fever outbreak. View of Sydney Cove and Fort Macquarie by Conrad Martens, courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

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.

The Quarantine Station, at Manly, in its early years. ANMM collection 00005538.

The Quarantine Station at Manly in its early years. ANMM Collection 00005538.

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.

Extract of the passenger list of the John Barry, after it had been released from quarantine. Barbara's father is listed as Charles Crawford, tinsmith. Although it claims he had seven children, it is understood that another was born on the voyage. Image: NSW State Records.

Extract of the passenger list of the John Barry, after it had been released from quarantine. Barbara’s father is listed as Charles Crawford, tinsmith. Although it claims he had seven children, it is understood that another was born on the voyage. Image: NSW State Records.

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.

An article about HMS Rattlesnake which briefly the discovery of Barbara Crawford. Image: Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February 1850, via Trove.

An article about HMS Rattlesnake which briefly related the discovery of Barbara Crawford. Image: Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February 1850, via Trove.

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).

A Polish ship, British children and caring Sydneysiders captured in concrete

This memorial to British children evacuated to Australia in 1940 also commemorates the local women who looked after them at Sydney's Quarantine Station. Image: Ursula K Frederick, Sydney Harbour National Park.

This memorial to British children evacuated to Australia in 1940 also commemorates the local women who looked after them at Sydney’s Quarantine Station. Image: Ursula K Frederick, Sydney Harbour National Park.

The Polish passenger liner MV Batory seems an odd ship to be commemorated at Sydney’s North Head Quarantine Station, as it never moored there. Yet its presence is captured in concrete: ‘BRITISH EVACUEE / CHILDREN / ARRIVED 16TH OCTOBER / 1940. M.S. BATORY / VA + DS’, followed by 37 names etched into four neat panels.

In fact, despite outbreaks of influenza, measles and ‘school sores’, the Batory was never quarantined. Rather, for the British children it rushed to Sydney in 1940, North Head represented a safe haven from German bombers and invasion scares.

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Finding Tingira: The search for the Royal Australian Navy’s first training ship

Oil painting of Sobraon (later Tingira), by William Barnett Spencer, c 1866. ANMM Collection 00009342

Oil painting of Sobraon (later Tingira), by William Barnett Spencer, c 1866. Image: ANMM Collection 00009342.

On a cold sunny morning in June 2016, Silentworld Foundation Director and maritime archaeologist Paul Hundley steered the survey vessel Maggie III into shallow water at the head of Berrys Bay on Sydney’s North Shore. Accompanying him were the museum’s maritime archaeologists Kieran Hosty and myself, staring intently at a laptop computer as it displayed readings from a marine magnetometer towed a short distance behind the boat. As Maggie III’s hull glided through water less than a metre deep, we watched for any indication that remnants of a unique sailing ship might lie buried in the silt below. Continue reading

Harold Cazneaux: Fame and family

Cazneaux family. Image: Reproduced courtesy the Cazneaux family.

Cazneaux family. Image: Reproduced courtesy the Cazneaux family.

‘No tribute could be too high or too glowing for this great lover and promoter of art and photography in Australia.’— Max Dupain writing about Harold Cazneaux’s legacy in 19781.

If you weave your way through the imagery and beautiful photographs in Through a different lens – Cazneaux by the water, you’ll notice that 1937 was a big year for Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux: the culmination of a forty-year career that corresponded with the dawning of the Australian nation, and an emerging national consciousness.

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Little shipmates: Seafaring pets

Portrait of a baby and a dog on a ship. Image: Samuel Hood / ANMM Collection 00023789.

Portrait of a baby and a dog on a ship. Image: Samuel Hood / ANMM Collection 00023789.

Cats, dogs, monkeys and birds have been cherished on board ships for as long as people have made sea voyages. In a life from which children and families are usually missing, and are often very much missed, pets provide a focus for emotions and affection – although cats and dogs may have been expected to earn their keep catching mice and rats, too.

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A working harbour: Waterfront change through Cazneaux’s ‘seeing eye’

Harold Cazneaux, 'A study in curves', 1931. Gelatin silver print. ANMM Collection 00054649.

Harold Cazneaux, ‘A study in curves’, 1931. Gelatin silver print. ANMM Collection 00054649.

Whatever pictures are made of our great Sydney today will in future years have some historical interest and value. As time marches on there will always be a ‘Sydney of yesterday’.

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It’s a Wrap: The Windjammer Sailors

What's wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

What’s wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

Last week saw a Christo-like wrapping of silky black satin on the wharf at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Pyrmont. Intriguing and mysterious the form it enveloped was unreadable…

What could be under the silk? Well it’s an amazingly beautiful material, bronze. Used for millennia for public statuary, it is here applied to fuse old and new in an incredibly detailed and exacting process. This has produced a sculpture that explores something of the history of the site as a mercantile and maritime centre. Continue reading

Endeavour: Sailing and Sea Birds

Stephen Radley. Image: ANMM.

Stephen Radley. Image: ANMM.

A blog series from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Adelaide to Port Lincoln. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this.

Growing up in Portland the bay was a constant in Stephen Radley’s childhood – swimming in the summer, watching the ships unload their cargo, trawlers returning with their catch and people sailing their yachts. One memory that remains of those days is that of the cray boats returning with their catch, cooking the crays right there on the wharf and then selling them still steaming.

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Endeavour: From Land to Sea

Sam Wilson. Image: ANMM.

Sam Wilson. Image: ANMM.

A blog series from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Adelaide to Port Lincoln. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this.

Like his father, Donald, sailing did not play a large part in Sam Wilson’s childhood. However, unlike his father, the sea did play a major part in his childhood. Living in Bunbury a block away from the beach Sam spent a lot of time body boarding or just hanging at the beach with his mates. Watching vessels on the horizon and the yachts sailing up and down the coast became a fascination for him but joining them never entered his mind. It was during this time at the beach that he was unconsciously honing his ability to read the waves and the sea. An ability which would serve him later when the sailing bug took hold.

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Endeavour: Portland to Sydney, day 13

The voyage crew. Image: ANMM.

The voyage crew. Image: ANMM.

A blog series by Steward John Cowie from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Port Lincoln to Portland. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this. 

Day 13, 6th April 2016: Darling Harbour.

Early morning call this morning as we had to weigh anchor early to be at Darling Harbour at 1000. Weighing anchor a complex operation, particularly as the Bower anchor weighed 2.5 tons. Using a Fish davit, cathead and various tackles, the anchor was secured outboard as we motored past Georges Heights. Two and a half months of voyaging came to an end as we passed the first lines ashore on time.

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Endeavour: Portland to Sydney, day 12

Voyage crew heading to the Quarantine station. Image: ANMM.

Voyage crew heading to the Quarantine station. Image: ANMM.

A blog series by Steward John Cowie from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Port Lincoln to Portland. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this. 

Day 12, 5th April 2016: Quarantine Bay

The predicted thunder storms and squalls of 45 knots that were to come in from the NE last night failed to eventuate – the wind was very light and the thunder storms faded well before they hit the coast. Anchored in Quarantine Bay, Endeavour therefore swung with the tide and the each of the watches throughout the night only required one crew member. Morning greeted the ship with the sound of commuter ferries coming and going to Manly.

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Endeavour: Portland to Sydney, day 11

Sydney through the heads. Image: ANMM.

Sydney through the heads. Image: ANMM.

A blog series by Steward John Cowie from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Port Lincoln to Portland. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this. 

Day 11, 4th April 2016: At sea.

We were off Jervis Bay at 2100 last night when the rains came and the wind went further into the nor’east. Reluctantly, we brought the square sails in and motored on. Morning dawned, more rain, and squalls of around 25 knots, a low swell, and the EA Current still pushing us south at 3 knots.

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Endeavour: Portland to Sydney, day 10

Bosun. Image: ANMM.

Bosun. Image: ANMM.

A blog series by Steward John Cowie from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Port Lincoln to Portland. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this. 

Day 10, 3rd April 2016: At sea.

As the day dawned we were 35 miles off Batemans Bay and certainly not as far up the coast as we had hoped. After 6-7 hours of making good a consistent 9 knots, the wind dropped and our speed came back to 6 knots. Owing to our being in the East Australian Current, which flows south at 4 knots, our speed over-ground came back to 2 knots.

Since the current flows south and the wind was coming from the south, the seas overnight become short and steep and worked the helmsmen hard to maintain course.

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Endeavour: Portland to Sydney, day 9

Trio of terns. Image: ANMM.

Trio of terns. Image: ANMM.

A blog series by Steward John Cowie from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Port Lincoln to Portland. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this

Day 9, 2nd April 2016: At sea

During night the wind played with us going from N – NW – W so we wore the ship to keep the wind on our beam. By morning we were off Eden and had made 14 miles from where we were yesterday. No change in the sails and the modest winds moved us up the coast slowly adding to the 705 miles that we have already covered under sail.

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