Collections

The SA 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 SA Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum’s collection 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 to 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..

Norma

Figurehead from the barque Norma, wrecked off Semaphore, 1907.

Norma was a four-masted barque of 2122 tons, built by Barclay, Curle & Company, Glasgow in 1893 which traded between Australia and the United Kingdom. The figurehead represents a druid priestess from Welsh mythology. On 21 April 1907, loaded with 31,045 bags of wheat, Norma anchored off Semaphore waiting for favourable winds. That morning, the barque Ardencraig, misjudging distances through the pelting rain, struck the Norma midships and sank it within fifteen minutes. All Norma's crew escaped, except the ship's carpenter who was missed in the chaos. 

Later that morning, the steamer Jessie Darling misread the signals from the Ardencraig and steamed to its assistance. The shallow wreck of the Norma ripped a gaping hole in its hull and it too sank within eight minutes, settling on top of the Norma.  The crew was saved and the vessel was subsequently repaired and re-floated within the next twelve months. Acknowledging the dangers posed by the wreck, authorities dynamited the site. It is not known whether the figurehead lost its head in the series of collisions or as a result of the detonation. 

Norma's figurehead was discovered in the mangrove swamps of the ships graveyard at Gawler Point and donated to the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum. 

Creator: Barclay, Curle & Company

Associated locations: Semaphore, Port Adelaide, Glasgow, South Australia  

Caption: Figurehead , NORMA

AccessionNo: HT941009(m)

Depth: 300 mm

Width: 660 mm

Height: 1700 mm

Material: Wood

Date Created: 1893

Physical Description:
Figurehead from the barque Norma, wrecked off Semaphore (Wonga Shoal) in 1907. The figurehead depicts its namesake - 'Norma' a druid priestess from Welsh mythology. Norma's figurehead is clad in a white flowing robe and clutches a flaming torch in its right hand. It is missing its head.

Significance:
Figureheads, carved wooden sculptures which ornamented the bow of a sailing ship, embodied the 'soul' of the vessel and were believed to offer the crew protection and safe passage on the seas. They were also used to identify a ship, reflecting its function or paying tribute to a person connected with the vessel. The South Australian Maritime Museum has a collection of seventeen ship’s figureheads - the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The figureheads were sourced and acquired by Vernon Smith, the Honorary Curator of the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum (from which the current museum evolved) over a period of fifty years. He thoroughly documented his search and as result, most of the figureheads are well provenanced with a recorded chain of ownership. The headless figurehead from Norma is a powerful reminder of the perils of shipping even in waters close to Port Adelaide. Norma and subsequently Jessie Darling sank as a result of freak accidents.

Provenance:
‘Norma’ was a four-masted barque of 2122 tons, built by Barclay, Curle & Company, Glasgow in 1893, which traded between Australia and the United Kingdom. On 21 April 1907, loaded with 31,045 bags of wheat, Norma anchored off Semaphore waiting for favourable winds. That morning, the barque ‘Ardencraig’, misjudging distances through the pelting rain, struck the Norma midships and sank it within fifteen minutes. All Norma’s crew escaped, except the ship’s carpenter who was missed in the chaos. Later that morning, the steamer ‘Jessie Darling’ misread the signals from the Ardencraig and steamed to its assistance. The shallow wreck of the Norma ripped a gaping hole in its hull and it too sank within eight minutes, settling on top of the Norma. The crew was saved and the vessel was subsequently repaired and re-floated within the next twelve months. Acknowledging the dangers posed by the wreck, authorities dynamited the site. It is not known whether the figurehead lost its head in the series of collisions or as a result of the detonation. Norma’s figurehead was discovered in the mangrove swamps of the Ships' Graveyard at Gawler Point and donated to the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum collection. Established in 1872, it is the oldest maritime collection in Australia and represents the Port Adelaide community, businesses and seafarers - some returning home from abroad and others passing through. Formerly located in the museum of the Port Adelaide Institute, established 1851, it was a part of the 19th century movement for self-education that led to the establishment of public libraries, schools and museums. The collection is now held by the South Australian Maritime Museum.