photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum
This photograph is of the U.S.S. Vermont which became a part of the American naval fleet in 1907. After a ‘shake-down’ voyage she joined a fourteen-month global cruise of the world in what was nicknamed the ‘Great White Fleet’. The sight of the squadrons of ships on the Sydney Harbour made huge impression on the locals and presented an opportunity for commercial photographers, like George Rose, to make and sell a series of images on the visit.
The images of the huge metal ships and their guns are the best known records of the visit but perhaps less easy to capture was the impact of the 14,000 sailors who disembarked at every port of call. The fleet visited twenty different ports, including a stay in Sydney in August 1908.
One of the events organized in Sydney was a series of boxing matches highlighting the physical prowess of the American sailor. These fights were held at the stadium in Rushcutters Bay and the representative from U.S.S. Vermont was a sailor named Baur who competed for the featherweight crown of the ‘Fleet’.
Over the course of the Fleet’s stay these kinds of sporting activities were combined with rounds of dinner invitations, dances and formal exhibitions. All of which made as much of an impression on the American sailors as it did the people of Sydney, and Melbourne their next port of call. In fact it appears some sailors enjoyed Australia so much they decided not to return home at all, which extended the U. S. S. Vermont’s stay as she had to round up deserters.
This photo is one of a number posted to Mrs Hall, of West Maitland, which made their way into the postcard collections of her daughters Amy and Linda. It is unusual in that it appears to have been taken by an amateur rather than a professional photographer. In the detail above we can see Fort Denison and in the background the Sydney skyline. While on board a man in a bowler is perched on what appear to be some metal stands while watching a woman disembarking.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 24 August 1908, page 9
Williamstown Chronicle, Victoria, Saturday 5 September 1908, page 2
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