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HELEN B STERLING commemorative plate

Date: c 1927
Overall: 2.3 x 25 x 2.3 mm, 0.85 kg
Medium: Ceramic with painted inscription
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Plate
Object No: 00028372

User Terms

    This ceramic plate commemorates the six-masted schooner HELEN B STERLING. The ship was built in Oregon, USA and used for the transportation of timber to Australia. The ship’s last master, Henry H Oosterhuis, reportedly stayed with the vessel for 15 months before it was finally towed to Kerosene Bay (now Balls Head Bay) where it was destroyed in March 1934. 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]
    SignificanceThe HELEN B STERLING is representative of the timber trade between the North West coast of America and Australia. It was one of only two six-masted schooners to operate in Australian waters. The vessel was a popular sight in Sydney Harbour and its destruction in 1934 in Balls Head Bay signalled the end of an era.
    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


    Web title: HELEN B STERLING commemorative plate

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