The Windjammers

Robert Carter is the President of the Australian Society of Marine Artists. He has some paintings on show at the Mosman Art Gallery, alongside a truly spectacular selection of important works collected by Howard Hinton and donated to the Armidale Teachers College. Anyone who travels all the way from the North of Australia to Harbord and back again without checking out this amazing exhibition (the Hinton Collection) should be sent to bed without any supper. As a bonus for visitors the gallery is located literally a stone’s throw from one of the most beautiful “village green” sports grounds in the nation, the Mosman War Memorial Oval, lately re-named the Alan Border Oval after the man who grew up in a house which is also just over the road from the ground.

An equally beautiful ground is located in Rawson Park, which commands a panoramic view from Manly through the Heads and the Eastern Suburbs to the City. Actually the panorama has deteriorated in recent times as the bush grows taller. A movie on the 1930s Bodyline series was filmed at Rawson Park because it was possible to get camera angles without anachronistic artefacts in view.

Mosman is a place of many delights ranging from the Zoo to the massive complex of the army base on Georges Heights which is currently being reclaimed for a wide range of community uses. On the downside, trips to Mosman only serve to remind many people that they are mere wage slaves and worms in the greater order of things, where they toil so the fleshpots and plutocrats of Mosman can enjoy the finer things of life, including living in Mosman. The genteel poor in the neighbouring suburbs of Cremore and Neutral Bay think much the same out of simple envy without a hard ideological edge.

Getting back to the “windjammers”, this is a term coined with derogatory intent by steamer crews who coexisted on the waterways for a remarkably long time. Robert Carter gave a talk at the Gallery and he caused some surprise when he started by saying that he fell in love with the big sailing ships when he saw one coming into Sydney Harbour in 1946. One would have assumed that sailing ships (for commercial purposes) would have departed from the scene fairly rapidy after the turn of the last century (if not before) because steamers were well on the move in the 1860s.

Carter provided some illuminating asides on the pros and cons of iron, steel and wooden hulls, as a background to the information that 170 wooden sailing ships were built in the US in the first decade of the 20th century. Of course they were useless in wartime but the most sophisticated of the big windjammers remained commercially viable in niche markets up to the mid 1950s.

Some of the modern sailing ships from Germany were really big, 300 or 400+ feet in length with five, six and even seven masts. Using steel masts and supported by high quality rigging and winches these massive ships could be crewed by as few as 20 men and they could beat around the Horn, tacking against the prevailing winds, from Europe to the west coast of South America, backloading with nitrates. That was a favoured destination for the windjammers because there was no local supply of coal and steamers either had to carry enough fuel to get there and back or they took on coal that had been deposited from a windjammer, as likely as not from Newcastle (Australia).

Many sailing ships carried grain to Europe from the south of Australia, among them the big Germans and a Finnish fleet of “reclaimed” windjammers, owned by a some Finnish magnates who were prepared to source sound old vessels anywhere in the world that were going out of service and spruce them up for a new least of life. The Finns and some other nations had a requirement, far into the century, for experience under sail (as much as two years) as a requirement for senior ranks in the merchant service. So the Finns could get some of their crew for next to nothing while they served their two years to get further promotion.

Anyway, that was a fascinating talk and I wish I had made notes.

There is a website for the Society of Marine Artists and some of the links work! It is most unfortunate that the reproductions of the paintings on the site are small and do not convey anything like the life or the detail in the originals or the slides that were shown by Robert Carter. It is suggested that this is deliberate so the works cannot “stolen” by reproduction from the net.

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Nicholas Gruen
2024 years ago

Thx for tha Rafe – guess I’d better go and check it out next time I’m in Sydney then!

2024 years ago

However the collection doesn’t feature the greatest maritime painting ever –

Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up.”

One of the world’s greatest canvas merchants capturing the pathos and fading glory of the last canvas powered warships.

The greater the warship, the meaner her end.

2024 years ago

Good call Nab, do you think this does justice to the canvas?

2024 years ago – great link but only the poms could come up with a domain name like