Protector was the most significant vessel in South Australian naval history. Its duties initially comprised vice regal tours to South Australian out ports, manoeuvres and training drills. In 1888 following the tragic shipwreck of the Star of Greece, Protector was made responsible for the training and maintenance of the colony’s lifeboat service which had languished since the early 1860s. The most dramatic event in the vessel’s history occurred in 1900 when Protector was sent to help quell the Boxer Uprising in China as one of a combined British naval force. Protector saw no action, but the efficiency of its crew was noted by the Royal Navy. Following the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy in 1910, Protector became a Commonwealth naval ship.
The Protector material includes 19th and 20th century paintings, two by notable early 20th century maritime artist Frederick Dawson, historic photographs of crew and of the vessel in South Australian ports, ship fittings, a nose cone from shells fired during the vessel’s drills, and vases fashioned from shell casings. Personal memorabilia includes a sword belt belonging to Captain CJ Clare, the last commander on the vessel before it was transferred to the Federal government in 1901, a sword and medals belonging to Captain Norton, a wooden money box in the shape of a half model crafted by the Protector’s gunner William Blake, and a dress sword, cat-o-nine tail, binoculars, diary and stores book owned by Edwin Argent, who also served as a gunner. The collection also includes a Queen Victoria medal issued to those who served during the Boxer Rebellion and souvenirs acquired by seaman Henry Perry from his voyage to China as gifts for his young family.
The Protector collection provides insights into the significance and role of the colonial navy in South Australia. The Protector’s voyage to the Boxer Rebellion in 1901 was a defining moment in the history of the South Australia in that a local naval force was asked to assist the British in a major conflict and acquitted itself with flair and dignity. Argent’s diary from the voyage is a rare personal account of this endeavour. Stores and duty books also owned by Argent provide a window into the routines, rhythms and regulations of a colonial naval ship. The Protector was a familiar local sight and many Port Adelaide families were connected to the vessel in some way either in provisioning, maintenance or with sons serving on the ship itself. While there is material relating to the Protector in other institutions, this collection is the most comprehensive and complete.