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US battleships of the Great White Fleet in Sydney Harbour

Date: 1908
Medium: Glass plate negative
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Piers Jones
Object Name: Glass plate negative
Object No: 00017217
Place Manufactured:Australia
Related Place:Sydney,

User Terms

    This photograph depicts a small steam ferry, and two United States battleships of the Great White Fleet in the background. The fleet visited Sydney in August 1908, as part of its peace-time world cruise.
    SignificanceThis photograph records the presence of American naval vessels in Sydney Harbour, as part of the celebrated Great White Fleet tour in 1908. The fleet's arrival generated great excitement in Sydney with estimated crowds of between 400,000 and 600,000 turning out to welcome the ships on land and water.
    HistoryIn December 1907 United States President Theodore Roosevelt sent the 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, who 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.

    As a result of the 1908 visit, the Australian-American alliance was established, with Australia reducing its dependence on the British Royal Navy and eventually establishing the Royal Australian Navy. In 1909 the British Government, aware of Australia's dissatisfaction with British policies and disturbed by the enthusiastic reception of the American Fleet, decided to make concessions. It recommended that Australia build its own fleet of 13 vessels, the first formation of the Royal Australian Navy.

    Harry Brisbane Williams (1869-1959) was born is Brisbane, Queensland, and later lived in Balmain and Point Piper - both on Sydney Harbour. Williams was an enthusiastic amateur boater, and took his motor launch SABLE on numerous excursions around Sydney Harbour and the Lane Cove River. He was the photographer for the Water Board of New South Wales, and was a keen amateur artist - becoming friends with a number of prominent Sydney artists including Alfred Coffey.

    Williams' photographs held in the Museum's collection date from the 1890s into the 1950s. His images depict a range of vessels, from passenger ships, cargo ships, RAN vessels, USN battle cruisers, yachts, motor launches, sailing ships, tugboats, ferries, row boats and even paddle steamers on the Darling River. Williams captures a range of social activities, including Fleet Week celebrations, rowing sculls, surf life saving, picnics, pleasure cruising and swimming. He also photographed a range of ship building activities, dry docks, slip ways and waterfront construction.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: US battleships of the Great White Fleet in Sydney Harbour

    Primary title: United States of America Great White Fleet on Port Jackson

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