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A Tale of Two Rosebuds

Last year I wrote about the Eleanor, the 22 foot motor launch built in 1913 by Henry Charles Rose and now on display at the Mackay Museum. The Eleanor’s story continues to evolve, with the identification of further items relating to her sister ships, Rosebud and Rosebud II, also held in the collection at Mackay Museum.

Rosebud was the first vessel built by Henry Rose, probably around 1907. Rosebud was an active participant in Mackay Regatta Club races, and in 1908 won the Ainslie Cup. Rose also sailed the 18ft open vessel to Bowen to participate in regattas there. But in 1909 one of these cruises caused considerable anxiety when the boat failed to arrive in Bowen when expected. Search parties were making ready to depart Mackay when Rosebud was sighted still making her way to Bowen, having been delayed by contrary currents. The return trip to Mackay caused even more problems, with strong headwinds forcing Rosebud and her crew to shelter at Repulse Island for three days. Rosebud was eventually spotted by the Harbour Master, who happened to be working in the area on overhauling navigation marks, and taken aboard the steamer Relief for transport back to Mackay.

rosebud

A race on the Pioneer River, c.1910, with Rosebud or Rosebud II at far left. Private Collection.

The following year Henry Rose dismantled Rosebud and used her copper fastenings and fittings to make a new 18 foot skiff, Rosebud II. Launched in 1911, Rosebud II’s maiden sail was an eventful one. Caught in breakers and a sudden squall at the mouth of the Pioneer River, the boat capsized and, with her crew clinging to the upturned hull, drifted out to sea. After nearly an hour in the water the exhausted crew were rescued, but weather conditions prevented retrieval of Rosebud II. She was towed back to shore the following day and during the retrieval operation her mast was broken. Fitted with a new mast, Rosebud II continued to compete in Mackay Regatta Club races, and won the Andrew Cup in 1913.

In investigating some sail bags stored with the Eleanor at the Mackay Museum recently, we discovered a set of sails which correspond to a photograph of a sailing skiff believed to be either Rosebud or Rosebud II. The distinctive kangaroo emblem is evident in the photograph and on the surviving mainsail, which also has the remnants of a sail number ‘6’ visible. Whether the sails belong to Rosebud or Rosebud II, or were possibly used on both vessels, is not yet clear.

Exposed to the elements and pushed to their limits to coax every bit of speed from a craft, sails have a hard life and surviving historic examples are rare. To therefore have sails from the first decade of the 20th century, associated with a well-documented vessel, builder, and crew, and complemented with photographs and other associated items make the Rosebud sails in the collection something of a museum jackpot.  This collection of maritime objects at Mackay Museum continues to enhance our understanding of recreational boating in early 20th century Mackay, and the people who enjoyed it.

A slice of sailing history

As Museum Development Officers, significance assessments of community collections are a regular and important part of our work. Responding to a request for an assessment and funded by the Community Heritage Grants programme administered by the National Library of Australia, I recently had the opportunity to undertake an assessment of the Lord Howe Island Museum collection.

The collection at the museum is diverse, and represents the island’s history from its discovery only a few weeks after the arrival of the First Fleet in Port Jackson, through its days as a provisioning stop for the American whaling fleet, to an idyllic holiday destination and hotspot of biodiversity. The museum documents these events through objects as well as an exceptionally rich collection of photographs, books, and other archival material. But one particular sub-collection struck both a personal and professional chord with me.

Sailing to Lord Howe Island has always presented mariners with a challenge. Surrounded by the notorious Tasman Sea and with the nearest land 600kms away there is nowhere to hide from bad weather. But with an increasing interest in cruising sailing from the 1920s, recreational yachtsmen began setting course for more distant shores. Tourism on Lord Howe Island was also becoming an important industry at the time, with Burns Philp running a small passenger service alongside cargo on their Sydney – Lord Howe Island – Norfolk Island supply run. Assured of an ocean adventure with an hospitable reception on arrival, Lord Howe became an alluring goal for recreational yachtsmen.

Visiting yachts would often present their island hosts with a commemorative photograph of their vessel, and a number of these are held in the museum’s collection. A frequent visitor during the 1930s was the yacht Wanderer. Built in 1928 and owned by Norman Wallis, Wanderer undertook her first voyage to the island within a few months of her launch. The museum collection includes an original scrapbook of the Wanderer, which documents her racing and cruising career through to Norman Wallis’ death in 1965.

Of particular relevance to the Island’s history is the Wanderer’s participation in the search for the missing motor launch Viking.   The Viking was a newly built vessel owned by island resident Gower Wilson. At the beginning of November 1936 she left Port Macquarie bound for Lord Howe Island with Gower Wilson, his son Jack and a crew of four Sydneysiders on board. When the Viking failed to arrive at her destination after ten days the alarm was raised, and Norman Wallis lost no time in setting out on Wanderer to assist in the search. Wallis and Gower Wilson had become firm friends during the former’s island visits. During the search Wanderer herself nearly became a victim of the sea, and limped back to Sydney with a broken rudder after 15 days searching. No trace of the Viking or her crew were ever found. Gower Wilson had been a regular host for many visiting yachts so his loss was keenly felt not only by the tiny population on the island, but also by the wider yachting community.

The museum’s collection documents more modern yachting history as well, with the local postmistress Hazel Payten maintaining a register of visiting yachts from the late 1960s into the 1980s. For those with an eye for yachting history a number of well-known skippers and vessels can be spotted, but perhaps most notable amongst these is the tiny 12ft sloop Acrohc Australis with skipper Serge Testa. Acrohc Australis stopped at the Island in 1987 during her voyage around the world, which had commenced in 1983. Serge and his homemade vessel still hold the record for the smallest sailboat ever to complete a circumnavigation of the world. Acrohc Australis now has a home at the Queensland Museum.