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Disaster at Sea

Date: 1989
Dimensions:
Overall: 57 kg, 5400 x 3500 mm
Medium: Wool
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Art
Object Name: Tapestry
Object No: 00015661
Place Manufactured:Australia
Related Place:Bass Strait, King Island,

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    Description
    This woollen tapestry depicts the wrecking of the clipper ship BRITISH ADMIRAL off King Island in 1874. The tapestry is after Oswald Rose Campbell's engraving 'Loss of the British Admiral off King's Island' which appearing in The Illustrated Australian News on 15 June 1874. The tapestry was commissioned by the Australian National Maritime Museum and woven by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop.
    SignificanceThis depiction of the BRITISH ADMIRAL breaking up off King Island in 1874, reflects the danger to shipping in the mid-19th century and is a reminder of the tragic loss of life as a result of shipwrecks.
    HistoryAs the mid-19th century approached, the increase in trade and settlement brought more and more people to the Australian colonies. A number of disastrous shipwrecks instigated the construction of lighthouses around Australia's vast coastline. In 1857 the DUNBAR was wrecked in a gale at South Head, Sydney with a loss of some 121 lives, resulting in the construction of the Hornby light at South Head. Bass Strait around King Island north-west of Tasmania saw a number of tragic shipwrecks during this time, including the 1,800-ton fully-rigged BRITISH ADMIRAL in 1874 with the loss of 79 lives.

    The BRITISH ADMIRAL was en route from Liverpool, England to Melbourne with cargo valued at £51,000 including railway iron, steel and household commodities, 49 passengers and a crew of 39. In the early hours of 23 May 1874, the ship was wrecked on the east coast of King Island. The captain had been unable to ascertain the ship's latitude during the previous days as a result of cloudy weather, and he was forced to use dead reckoning. Combined with his faulty chronometer, the BRITISH ADMIRAL sailed dangerously close to land.

    The ship struck the east coast of the island and huge seas washed over the deck, completely breaking the ship up within 15 minutes. Five crew and four passengers survived on floating wreckage, and were later picked up by the ketch KANGAROO. The government steamer PHAROS was sent out in search of survivors. Cargo and wreckage stretched 24 kilometres along the coast. The BRITISH ADMIRAL was the second largest ship to have been lost off King Island (the largest being the CARNARVON BAY 1,932-ton lost in 1910).

    Many people believed that the lights around King Island were insufficient to guide ships to Melbourne:

    "in view of the casualties that have occurred on King's Island during the past few years, it becomes a question with the Imperial and colonial Governments whether another lighthouse should not be erected on that coast. " (The Argus, 'The Wreck of the British Admiral', Tuesday 2 June 1874, p 6.)

    Between 1877 and 1879 a screw-pile prefabricated iron lattice lighthouse was constructed at Currie Harbour, King Island, and first lit in March 1880.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Disaster at Sea

    Assigned title: Disaster at Sea tapestry

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