This collection comprises detailed representations of historic ketches, windjammers and passenger liners. Along with ship models, they enable audiences to understand the configuration and function of these historic but now redundant vessels.
The portraits represent some of the most famous vessels that operated in South Australian waters. Prior to the advent of photography, portraits often provided the only visual record of ships. Artists were often connected with the ships they depicted or commissioned to paint them as portable souvenirs for ships’ crews, families and owners. Some portraits were executed by sailors who served on these vessels and these romantic if naïve depictions, reflect their deep sentimental attachment to their homes at sea.
The portraits depict some of the most significant ships in South Australian maritime history including the colonial naval vessel HMCS Protector, the record breaking tea clipper Thermopylae and the ill–fated Star of Greece. Over 800 shipwrecks litter the South Australian coastline and several of the portraits capture maritime tragedies including the sinking of the Star of Greece off Port Willunga in 1888. These works are often the only visual record we have of maritime disaster and while not painted during the event, reflect contemporary reportage and provide insights into how deeply those tragedies resonated in the wider community.
The collection includes a rich selection of work from some of South Australia’s most prolific and talented marine artists. It includes 23 watercolours by George Bourne (1851 - ) an itinerant artist who shifted between Western Australia and South Australia, painting a number of finely executed watercolours of barques, brigs, schooners and ketches in South Australia during the 1880s. It is one of the most comprehensive collections of Bourne’s work held by any Australian institution.
The collection comprises 16 watercolours by Frederick Dawson who worked as a painter of ships from the 1890s to the 1920s. Dawson taught in Port Adelaide and captured some of the most significant coastal traders and ketches working in South Australian coastal waters.
Early 20th century artists include South Australian marine artist and model maker Harold Dalton Hall (1881 – 1946) who worked in oil, watercolour, pen and ink. Harold joined the South Australian Navy and worked on the colonial naval vessel Protector as a cabin boy in 1894. While Dalton Hall undertook some training with Adelaide art teacher James Ashton, he was largely self taught. His paintings are distinctive in the use of rich colours and his attention to detail. Charles Henry Moore was a clerk with the Adelaide Steamship Company in Port Adelaide and executed a number of pencils sketches on paper of ships at sea during the early 20th century. The museum holds 16 of his works.