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The Departure of the American Fleet

Date: 1908
Overall: 345 × 740 × 20 mm
Medium: Watercolour on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from the estate of late Don Ferguson, MP South Australian Parliament 1982-1993
Object Name: Painting
Object No: 00054595

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    This watercolour painting by artist Fred Elliot depicts the spectacle of the sixteen ships of the American 'Great White' fleet departing Sydney Harbour on 27 August 1908. The visit brought Sydney to a standstill as enormous crowds turned out to welcome the American sailors throughout their week-long stay. The fleet went on to visit Melbourne and Albany and had steamed around 45,000 miles in their goodwill voyage by the time they returned to the United States. This painting was donated from the estate of the late Don Ferguson, MP South Australian Parliament 1982-1993.
    SignificanceThe painting is significant as a commemoration of the entry of the American 'Great White' fleet into Sydney Harbour on 20 August 1908. The sixteen ships of the American fleet heralded the growing power of the US Navy in the Pacific.
    HistoryIn December 1907 United States President Theodore Roosevelt sent a US Atlantic Battle Fleet of 16 battleships on a 14 month goodwill cruise around the world. The fleet was a chance for the Navy to practice seamanship and express America's world power. Roosevelt was also concerned about rising Japanese aggression and their expansionist foreign policy. The cruise would be a political and public relations exercise to build domestic support for more naval construction.

    Led by the flagship, USS CONNECTICUT, the Great White Fleet as it became known, consisted of 16 battleships painted white, as was the practice of all US Navy ships in times of peace. The ships sailed in four divisions of four ships each. Early in the voyage the order of the ships was altered to allow the best-looking vessels to be at the front of the fleet. The cruise incorporated six continents, 26 countries and 32 ports with 614 officers and 13,504 crew. It consumed 435,000 tons of coal, more than any other naval expedition and was the largest fleet to ever accomplish a circumnavigation of the globe.

    Australia was not originally on the itinerary route of the Great White Fleet, which only decided to visit after receiving a direct invitation from the Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. One quarter of the Australian population, over one million people, saw the Great White Fleet during its three-week visit to Sydney, Melbourne and Albany. Public holidays were declared and enthusiastic crowds flocked to see the ships and parades. Vast arrays of souvenirs were produced for a population caught up in the euphoria.

    Frederick James 'Fred' Elliott, 1864-1949, was a prolific water colour painter and lithographer, active in Sydney from the 1890s to the 1920s, specialising in marine subjects.

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