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Binnacle lamp from HMAS AUSTRALIA (I)

Date: c 1910
Dimensions:
Overall: 202 x 102 x 115 mm
Medium: Metal, glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Roger Selby and family in memory of Dr Clive Herbert (Tom) Selby
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Lamp
Object No: 00051778

User Terms

    Description
    This binnacle lamp is believed to have been salvaged during the dismantling of HMAS AUSTRALIA (I) prior to scuttling in April 1924. The scuttling was watched by the donor's father Dr Clive Herbert 'Tom' Selby.

    A significant amount of material from the ship was reclaimed and fashioned into a variety of commemorative pieces, including wooden chests made from the internal teak fittings, brass cigar trays moulded from the guns, and photo frames made from the wooden deck. Other material retained its original purpose and fabric.
    SignificanceAs the first flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, HMAS AUSTRALIA (I) was held in high esteem throughout the naval and public community. When the ship was scuttled in 1924, thousands of commemorative items and mementoes were produced in honour and celebration of the ship, including items made from the ship's timber decking and metal fittings, in addition to smaller items salvaged from the ship and sold as souvenirs.
    HistoryHMAS AUSTRALIA arrived in Sydney in October 1913 at the head of the procession of the First Australian Fleet Unit. The battlecruiser participated in operations at Rabaul in 1914, then pursued the German Pacific ships across the Pacific without success during the first months of World War I, before steaming to Europe were it became the flagship of the Grand Fleet's 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron, based at Rosyth, Scotland. AUSTRALIA was part of the Grand Fleet at the time of the surrender of the German High Sea Fleet on 21 November 1918. Sailing home in April 1919 it served in Australian waters for the remainder of its service life - paid off into reserve in December 1921.

    By this time battlecruisers built before the Battle of Jutland were considered obsolete, and the British Admiralty had decided to phase out 12-inch guns and had stopped the manufacture of shells for these weapons shortly after the war. It would have been necessary to replace AUSTRALIA's main armament once the Navy's stock of shells reached their expiry date given that it was not possible to produce replacement shells in Australia.

    The 1922 Washington Naval Treaty was a mutual naval arms limitation and disarmament treaty between the five major naval powers of the time: the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Japan, Italy, and France. One of the main aspects of the treaty was the limitation on the number and size of capital ships each nation possessed; as the RAN was counted as part of the Royal Navy for the purposes of the treaty, AUSTRALIA was one of the battlecruisers nominated for disposal to meet the British limit. The battlecruiser had to be made unusable for warlike activities within six months of the treaty's ratification, then disposed of by scuttling, as Australia did not have the facilities to break it up for scrap, and the British share of target ships was taken up by Royal Navy vessels.

    Some equipment had been removed when AUSTRALIA was decommissioned for use in other ships, but after the November 1923 decision by the Cabinet confirming the scuttling, RAN personnel and private contractors began to remove piping and other small fittings. Between November 1923 and January 1924, £68,000 of equipment was reclaimed; over half was donated to tertiary education centres (some of which was still in use in the 1970s), while the rest was either marked for use in future warships, or sold as souvenirs. Some consideration was given to reusing AUSTRALIA's 12-inch guns in coastal fortifications, but this did not occur as ammunition for these weapons was no longer being manufactured by the British, and the cost of building suitable structures was excessive. It was instead decided to sink the gun turrets and spare barrels with the rest of the ship. The scuttling was originally scheduled for Anzac Day (25 April) 1924, but was brought forward to 12 April, so the visiting British Special Service Squadron could participate.

    On the day of the sinking, AUSTRALIA was towed out to a point 25 nautical miles (46 km) north-east of Sydney Heads. Under the terms of the Washington Treaty, the battlecruiser needed to be sunk in water that was deep enough to make it unfeasible to refloat her at a future date. The former flagship was escorted by the Australian warships MELBOURNE, BRISBANE, ADELAIDE, ANZAC and STALWART, the ships of the Royal Navy Special Service Squadron, and several civilian ferries carrying passengers. Many naval personnel volunteered to be part of the scuttling party, but only those who had served aboard were selected. At 14:30, the scuttling party set the charges, opened all seacocks, and cleared the ship. Explosive charges blew a hole in the hull a few minutes later, but it took 20 minutes for the intake of water to bring holes cut in the battlecruiser's upper flanks to the waterline. The angle of list increased significantly, causing the three spare 12-inch barrels lashed to the deck to break free and roll overboard, before AUSTRALIA inverted completely and began to sink stern-first. AUSTRALIA submerged completely at 14:51; a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft dropped a wreath where the warship had sunk, while BRISBANE fired a rolling 21-gun salute.

    The wreck of HMAS AUSTRALIA was found in 1990 by Fugro Australia Pty Ltd during an offshore telecommunications survey. In 2007, the RAN engaged the US Navy deep water robotic vessel CURV 21 to take the first photographic inspection of the wreck site. It shows the substantially intact battlecruiser lying upside down in a depth greater than 400 metres. The site is protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976).


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