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The six-masted schooner HELEN B STERLING moored in Kerosene Bay, Sydney Harbour

Date: 1931-1934
Dimensions:
Overall: 81 x 106 x 2 mm, 32 g
Medium: Emulsion on glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Photographs
Object Name: Glass plate negative
Object No: 00045755
Related Place:Waverton, Sydney Harbour,

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    Description
    This glass plate negative depicts the six-masted schooner HELEN B STERLING in Kerosene Bay (now Balls Head Bay) in Sydney Harbour. The vessel was berthed in Kerosene Bay from March 1931 until it was destroyed in March 1934. It is believed that 'Sydney Morning Herald' photographers took the images shortly before the vessel was destroyed and may be some of the last photographs taken of the ship. One SMH reporter wrote about the vessel's last days:

    'In the neighbourhood of Berrys Bay, Kerosene and Gore Bays... are the old-timers, such as the Helen B Stirling [sic], who have seen the greatest days of life, and are now passing their twilight hour in these reaches of the harbour. There they rest placidly amid the ripples, vessels which have helped to build Australia.'

    [Macleod Morgan, 'HAVENS FOR SHIPS: Keels at Rest in Sydney Harbour', The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 1933, p 9]
    SignificanceThis photograph of HELEN B STERLING is part of a collection of 17 glass plate negatives of the schooner and records of one of only two six-masted schooners to operate in Australian waters. Very few images exist of such ships in Australia and even fewer of such vessels in Sydney Harbour. These images are some of the last photographs taken of the ship before it was destroyed in 1934.
    HistoryThe six-masted schooner HELEN B STERLING (formerly OREGON FIR) was built at the Peninsula Shipbuilding Yard at Portland, Oregon, USA in 1920. Originally the ship was intended as a steamer but instead rigged as a six-masted schooner. For six years OREGON FIR and her sister ship OREGON PINE were employed in the offshore lumber trade from Columbia River, Washington state, USA to Australia.

    In January 1927 the vessel was sold to Captain E R Sterling of the Sterling Shipping Company (SSC) of Seattle, Washington. He renamed HELEN B STERLING, after his wife. The schooner made only one voyage under Sterling's name, carrying more than two million feet of lumber to Australia. The ongoing issues with other ships of the Sterling Line forced E R Sterling to sell the schooner to a Mr W S Payne of the Pacific Export Lumber Company, who then changed its name back to OREGON FIR.

    By 1930, the vessel was seized in Sydney for outstanding debts. The ship’s master, Henry H Oosterhuis, reportedly stayed with the vessel for 15 months. As it lay idle in Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour, Oosterhuis made headlines in the newspapers for opening the vessel at night as a ‘floating cabaret’ to host wild ‘Bohemian parties’.

    On 5 March 1931, the vessel passed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge with only six feet between the masts and the bridge. It was on its way to its 'final resting place' in Kerosene Bay (now Balls Balls Head Bay near Waverton). In March 1934, after it was dismantled and stripped of anything of value, HELEN B STERLING as it was still affectionately known, was set on fire in 20 places and destroyed.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Glass plate negative HELEN B. STERLING

    Web title: The six-masted schooner HELEN B STERLING moored in Kerosene Bay, Sydney Harbour

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