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Superstitions and History view

Sydney Maritime Museum

The Visit of the great White Fleet to Sydney harbour in 1908

Ms Winifred Throsby-Bridges wrote from the Avalon Hospital saying “In 1908 I was a young nurse in training at the Coast Hospital, now Prince Henry. I was stationed in wards 5 and 4 when the American Fleet passed, fairly close in, all the male patients in both wards were moved out on the long verandah to watch it pass. On return to the ward I found a small boy (patient), aged about eleven or twelve, in tears because he was not taken out. The child was fatally ill with typhoid fever and could not be carried. I immediately sent for some men to bring a convalescent chair and they wheeled him out. He was in tears with joy and I am now 94 years old and will never forget his face as he watched that spectacle.

Mrs Edith Ayers of the Hopetoun Village Home, Castle Hill, offered. “ I clearly remember its arrival. The schools were given a holiday and I joined my sister and her husband on the harbour. We left early in a sulky with a high-stepping horse. We passed steam trams crowded with people hanging out, on the roofs – every type of conveyance was utilized and all going to vantage spots at South Head. They came and the first we saw was the eight masts and it was then I realised that our earth was round. Slowly the warships emerged from the early morning mist in perfect formation. It was a magnificent sight as the Great White Fleet moved gracefully up the harbour reminding us of the white swans of England. On return to school I on the prize for the best essay on the arrival of the American Fleet to Sydney harbour. The prize, presented to me by Bishop Stone-Wigg, was half a crown.”

Walter Thompson of Wagga Convalescent Home, Wagga Wagga, wrote “ When the United States Fleet arrived in Sydney I was living with my mother and two brothers in Broughton Street, Paddington. I was a clerk in a Sydney office and, as usual, I took a tram to Oxford Street, Paddington, and when I alighted I saw a Yankee Sergeant of the Marine Corps. I approached him and asked what he was doing there because I knew there was nothing of interest in the area. I said it was near tea-time and since there were no cafes around I suggested he might come home with me and see what an Aussie home looked like. I introduced him to mother and when she asked him what he’d like for tea he replied, “Steak!” I went to the butcher’s shop at Five Ways and bought a steak.

After dinner I showed him my uniform. I was a corporal in the Volunteer Scottish Rifles. A female friend of the family arrived after tea. She was one of my mother’s cousins and her father was a dairy-farmer on the upper Myall River and she was a shop assistant in a Sydney shop. She was a big and beautiful girl. During the evening Sergeant Johnson invited me to visit his ship on the following Sunday. I readily accepted and asked whether I could bring two mates. So, on the date, Colour Sergeant Neil Harvey and Sergeant Maurice Benson joined me at the Man of War steps, between the new Opera House and the Botanical Gardens. He met us there and we went in a launch to the battleship ‘Rhode Island’ where we had lunch. Afterwards Sergeant Johnson told me that if he had a further week in Sydney he would have proposed to the girl that he’d met at my home. She was definitely a beauty! The White Fleet travelled on to Japan and he sent me a card from there which read ‘Celebrating the visit of United States navy’.