In the 19th century, sailing the ships which were vital Australia’s economy was tough and dangerous work. Countless lives were lost on perilous charting, trading and immigrant voyages, crews and passengers included. There are more than 8,000 shipwrecks in Australian waters, of which approximately 1,500 are identified, the earliest being the British East India Company’s TrialI, lost in 1622. There were many more ships lost in international waters en route from ports or coastlines around Australia.
No wonder then that the ships and their crews were widely reported and romanticised for their majesty, power, bravery and prowess in delivering passengers and goods safely. Their voyages and cargoes were tracked as crews manoeuvred voluminous sails and yards at the mercy of the elements, tackling massive winds and seas as they traced their routes to and from home ports.
The tug Hero towing the sailing ship Pamir. ANMM Collection: 00038310.
This April the museum unveiled a major bronze sculpture to pay homage to the crews of these ‘windjammer’ ships, which once visited the wharves of Sydney’s Pyrmont where the sculpture is located. It is both a romantic tribute, an ode to the sailing ship men, and a fitting commemoration of the role they played in Australia’s maritime and mercantile history.
This new work is a life-size bronze sculpture based on an idea cherished for many years by Rear Admiral Andrew Robertson AO DSC RAN (Rtd), a former member of the museum’s interim council, who steered the Australian National Maritime Museum through its formative years in the mid-1980s.