The South Australian Maritime Museum preserves the oldest nautical collection in Australia. In 1872 the Port Adelaide Institute began a museum collection to complement its library and its educational and social programs. That collection grew over the following century reflecting the seafarers and the ships that visited Port Adelaide. It is now held in trust at the South Australian Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum’s collections ranges from the Port Adelaide Lighthouse that was first lit in 1869 to a plaque that explorer Matthew Flinders left at Memory Cove in 1802 to mark the loss of eight seafarers. It includes figureheads, nautical instruments, bathing costumes, shipwreck artefacts, paintings, models and vessels.

Our scope is the maritime heritage of South Australia from the coast to inland waters. The collection of over almost 20,000 objects and over 20,000 images is at once a window to the heritage of the local community and to the ships of the world.

Compass made by Alfred Sawtell

Compass made by Sawtell, Nautical Optician, Divett Street, Port Adelaide. A compass is a navigational instrument used to establish direction relative to the magnetic poles of the Earth.

Before the introduction of the compass, navigators plotted a course by sighting landmarks. As scientists understood more about the effects of magnetic variation and deviation, compasses improved and became the most crucial navigational tool at sea.

Alfred E Sawtell established a chronometer, watchmaker and optician business in Divett Street, Port Adelaide in 1853. The business expanded and came to be known as makers of fine nautical instruments and publishers of the famous nautical almanac, Star Twinkles. The almanac was the local seafarer's bible containing nautical tables and practical information on astronomy and how to use the stars for navigation.

Caption: COMPASS

AccessionNo: HT 1984.0001

Height: 13 mm

Diameter: 43 mm

Material: Brass, steel, glass

Date Created: 1840 - 1860

Physical Description:
Compass. Brass with brass cover, white painted face with cardinal and 12 intermediate points, each 10 degrees, numbered by quadrants and with zero set at N & S. Steel needle set on edge with pin to indicate north. Brass stop arm activated by push button on rim. Manufacturer’s name printed on small circle around centre pin. ‘Carey/London’ Name ‘Billiatt’ scratched on lid.

Associated with John Billiat, a member of John McDouall Stuart's expedition party on his successful crossing of the continent. Every member of the party had a compass, and it was an essential piece of equipment used on exporation and surveying expeditions. The association with John McDouall Stuart's party makes this compass a significant object associated with exploration and surveying in Australia.

Reputedly used by John Billiatt on 1861-2 expedition with John McDouall Stuart across Australia. Adelaide - Indian Ocean. Donor a descendant of both Billiatt and King who was on the same expedition.