1900 - 1950

Hood's Sydney Harbour 

Australian National Maritime Museum

Sydney Harbour through the lens of Australian photographer Samuel J Hood.

In a career spanning almost 70 years, Samuel (Sam) J Hood remains one of Sydney's most prolific photographers. Each image offers us a glimpse into a different world and a window into Sydney's past. Sam's work documents the majestic tall ships that once graced Sydney Harbour, families and crews of the booming shipping trade in the early 1900s, the glitz and glamour of the 1920s and 1930s and Australian troops marching off to war.
From the 1890s to the 1910s, before his career in photojournalism, Hood relied on the income from portraits he took of shipping families as they arrived in Sydney. These photographs became souvenirs of adventures exploring faraway ports and it was not uncommon for the captain’s family to accompany him on his voyages. Hood's portraits of ships' crews proudly posing with their pets shows his ability to narrow his focus from the grand sweep of the harbour to more personal moments.

Allegedly a close friend of Hood’s, American Captain Edward Robert Sterling built his career from modest beginnings as a sailor before becoming the owner of a famously ill-fated fleet of tall ships. This photograph possibly depicts Sterling’s daughter, Dorothy, on board the most famous ship of the Sterling Line – the E R Sterling.

As most of Hood’s photographs were taken on or around Sydney Harbour this image is a rare example of the Sydney Central Business District during the 1910s. Depicting Pitt Street looking south toward Central Station, the photograph was probably taken between Abercrombie Lane and Bridge Street.

Hood’s photograph of the three-masted steel barque Bourbaki demonstrates a time when great sailing ships from around the world would set sail for the Australian wheat trade. In 1920, Bourbaki loaded almost 6,000 tons of grain at Geelong before returning to France.

A man and a woman share an intimate moment aboard two vessels, the woman possibly on board SS Champion.

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s RMS Mooltan III was built especially to service the route between England and Australia via the Suez Canal. The largest ship in the trade, it could carry 656 first and second class passengers.

Sydney designer, artist and socialite Hera Roberts was also a muse for some of Australia’s leading artists and photographers. She represented the bold exuberance of the 1920s modern woman. In this photo, Hera Roberts poses on the deck of HNLMS Java. Sydney Harbour Bridge, still under construction, is visible in the background.
Curiosity spread as Captain Luis Alvarez and more than 300 Chilean Navy crew sailed into Sydney Harbour on 16 July 1931. Their white training corvette General Baquedano glowed in the sunlight as it berthed at Circular Quay. Sam produced a series of spectacular shots during their visit demonstrating his discerning eye for the glamour of the international navy visit.

Captain Luis Alvarez and more than 300 Chilean Navy crew attracted significant public interest during their 1931 visit. On 25 July crew members Hector Villarroel and Victor Reyes were soundly beaten in boxing matches at Sydney Stadium in Rushcutters Bay. This photograph depicts either Villarroel or Reyes posing on board, fists at the ready.

Each year the Royal Australian Navy hosted a children’s Christmas party on board its flagship stationed at Garden Island. Hoisted in a crate, probably aboard HMAS Australia II, are the children of Sir Philip Game, Governor of New South Wales and also Sir Henry Budge, the Governor’s Secretary.

Representing the French Pacific Naval Station, the sloop Bellatrix made three trips to Sydney for its annual overhaul between 1929 and 1932. Though the overhaul took place in Mort’s Dock, Balmain, the vessel was moored in Farm Cove and Ruschcutters Bay, sparking the curiosity of ferry onlookers as they steamed passed.

One of the most compelling series of photographs taken of visiting foreign vessels are Sam’s images of the German barque Magdalene Vinnen at Woolloomooloo Wharf.

Hood captured the crew sewing sails, pulling the rigging, pushing the capstan and loading 16,000 wool bales, at the time the fourth largest shipment to leave Sydney. Magdalene Vinnen still sails today under the name Sedov.

Launching of HMAS Warrego at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Shipwrights who had 'railed up', or readied a vessel for launch on the slipway, were customarily rewarded with a keg of beer.

Sydney was abuzz with excitement in April 1940 as Cunard Line’s giant passenger liner RMS Queen Mary arrived in preparation for its new role as troopship. Among the thousands that flocked to catch a glimpse of the ‘Grey Ghost’ was Sam.

On 28 June 1941 Prime Minister Robert Menzies hoisted a Red Cross flag on TSS Oranje II. The ceremony marked the handing over of the vessel from the Dutch Netherlands Indies Government to the Australian and New Zealand Governments to be used as a hospital ship for the war. Australian, New Zealander and Dutch doctors and nurses were placed on board.

In these photographs, Hood captures on-board medical personnel at work and play.

Sam Hood continued working at his studio up to his death in June 1953. He had used the same modified Folmer & Schwing Graflex camera for more than 40 years. Hood's oeuvre was primarily commercial and journalistic but, importantly, his studio created a vast, rich and detailed archive of daily life in 20th-century Sydney.
Australian National Maritime Museum
Credits: Story

Curator: Nicole Cama
Producer: Michelle Mortimer

Credits: All media
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