Pictures of ships in the Australian trade

The following guide summarises sources in the museum library as well as other web-based resources. It aims to help researchers find pictures of ships in the Australian trade.

As images from the museum's photograph and paintings collections are currently being documented and digitised, only limited online access is available at present. These images will be available in the future.

  • Visit the Pictures of ships collection highlights for a selection from the National Maritime Collection
  • Mystic Seaport (the Museum of America and the Sea) also has some examples from its clipper card collection and highlights of its paintings and photographs online

Slideshow: Click an image to view the ships picture


Finding an image

Images of early sailing vessels are rare. You may find a contemporary sketch or painting of a vessel from this period if the ship is very well known.

Pictures of steamships are slightly easier to find as steamships appeared regularly on the Australian coast as photography developed. Searching for images of 20th-century vessels may yield results, as photography had become a popular hobby.

Illustrated newspapers such as the Illustrated London News, Illustrated Sydney News and Australasian Sketcher featured good quality drawings of sailing ships and early steamships. Download the following indexes to make locating a suitable illustration much easier. The indexes are also on the museum library reference shelves (REF 387.50994 ILL). Visit the Illustrated London News Picture Library website for online access to images.

Maritime Illustration Index 1. Illustrated Sydney News 1853-1889  (PDF, 260kb)

Maritime Illustration Index 2. Illustrated London News 1842-1891  (PDF, 190kb)

Maritime Illlustration Index 3. Australasian Sketcher 1873-1889  (PDF, 151kb)


We've indexed some of the best illustrated books in the library to help you locate images of ships. Download our Index to ship pictures (PDF 2.1 MB) or use the hardcopy (on the reference shelves) when you visit the library.

To obtain a photocopy of an image from the index you can either locate the book at a library near you or contact our Public Enquiries Librarian (phone 02 9298 3731 or fax 02 9298 3730).

Online sources

Australian sites

Pictures collection is a gateway site to several major Australian pictorial collections. Hosted by the National Library, it provides a single access point where users can search for images across the collections of contributors. Thumbnail images are attached to the database record with links to the contributing institution's website, including the Museum, for ordering information.

Images from Picture Australia can also be searched using Trove pictures.

Picman catalogues the collections of the State Library of New South Wales and includes paintings, drawings, objects, posters, architectural plans and over 300,000 digitized photographs.

At the State Library of South Australia, maritime history is a special area of interest. Its Ships and Maritime History Factsheet outlines the Library's holdings, which include several extensive collections of ship photographs. Online access to its Mortlock Library Australiana Catalogue, which contains digitised images of photographs and paintings is available.

The Battye Library in Western Australia has an online catalogue of its pictorial collection, which consists mainly of photographs.

Information about the photograph collections of the John Oxley Library in the State Library of Queensland and how to access them can also be found online.

The State Library of Tasmania's Library Images database has thousands of digital images including many of ships and maritime subjects.

The catalogue for the pictorial collection at the National Library in Canberra is available online and a large proportion of catalogue records include digital images.

The photograph collection held by the National Archives can be searched online and a large number of digital images can be viewed.

The State Records of New South Wales offers its Photo Investigator database to researchers who want to search or browse through its photographic collections.

The Nautical Association of Australia website has links to a photographic service specialising in post World War II ships on the Australian coast.

International sites

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich has compiled Research guide G3: Passengers: Ships sailing to Australia & New Zealand (images) which includes pictures, photos and plans in its collection. For online images visit the All collections page  and access their manuscript, library, prints, drawings and photograph collection catalogues (some records include digital images). The Collections online section has links to over 2,000 paintings and prints and drawings. A collection of photographs from Bedford Lemere & Co covers the period from 1891 to 1919 and contains many interior shots and photos of ships under construction. Prints can be purchased from the Picture Library.

SCRAN is a well established database of multimedia resources for researching Scottish history and material culture and includes over 1 million records and contributions from archives, museums and galleries. You can search the whole database and view thumbnails for free. Subscribers can access more features.

Matapihi is New Zealand's national digital collection comprising images (including maritime subjects) from major cultural institutions.

Images Canada is the Canadian pictorial portal and it includes a large number of ship and maritime subjects from a diverse range of sources such as the National Library, universities and regional museums.

The American Memory website at the Library of Congress is a diverse database of digital resources for studying American history. It is drawn from 100 sources including those with large photographic and print collections. Resources available include photographs and prints and ship plans.

The Ships Pictures Research commercial service is run by Nick Vine Hall who can locate ships pictures for you.

Other sources

We hold copies of indexes to the Dickson Gregory collection, Nicholls collection and Ernest G Best Collection of ship photographs from the State Library of New South Wales. Ask library staff if you would like to view these indexes.

The Sydney Heritage Fleet Library (phone 02 9298 3850) is located alongside the Museum Library in the Wharf 7 Maritime Heritage Centre. It has a large ship photograph collection available for researchers to use.

Can't find an image?

If you have looked everywhere and can't find the image you are after, the best thing to do is look for a picture of a vessel of similar size, type and tonnage and place of build instead (use the above sources).

The following examples of typical ships active in Australian waters from the early days up until the 1950s have been kindly supplied by the New South Wales Heritage Office and are taken from its Shipwreck Atlas of New South Wales. We have included them to give you an idea of what the vessel you are researching would have looked like.

The images are available for research purposes only. Permission to reproduce or publish them must be sought from the New South Wales Heritage Office.

Pictures of typical ships on the Australian trade





Ship, full rigged




A vessel with three masts (foremast mainmast and mizzen mast) each fitted with a topmast, top-gallant-mast and royal mast. Each mast is square rigged i.e. each mast carries yards on which square sails are set.


Dunbar (1853)
(83 kb)






A vessel with three masts, with the two foremasts square rigged as in a ship. The after or mizzen mast has no yards and is fitted with a topmast only, and is fore and aft rigged. NB also spelt Bark


Edward Lombe (1828)
(67 kb)






A vessel with two masts (foremast and mainmast) square rigged on both masts as in the two foremost masts of a full-rigged ship or barque.


Rosa (c.1853)
(42 kb)






A vessel with two masts (foremast and mainmast) the foremast being square-rigged, and the after or mainmast fore and aft rigged. This mast carries a boom-sail (but not always a boom), called a mainsail, and is fitted with a topmast carrying a gaff-topsail.


Hilander (1850)
(57 kb)






A vessel with three masts (foremast, main mast and mizzen mast) the foremast only is square rigged, the main and mizzen masts are fitted with topmasts and are fore and aft rigged.


Amhpitrite (1867)
(63 kb)






A vessel with two masts main and mizzen, both fore and aft rigged. The steering wheel or helm is placed aft of the mizzen mast.


Ketch Cutter Schooner
Titania (1855) (42 kb)






The cutter carries one mast, setting a fore-and-aft mainsail, stay foresail, flying jib and topsail. The name cutter applies to as much to the sharp build of the vessel's hull as to the particular rig.


Ketch Cutter Schooner   Brothers (1840)






A vessel with two long masts, for and aft rigged on both. Schooners can have between two and five masts. A top-sail schooner has a square topsail on the fore mast.


Ketch Cutter Schooner 
Rover (1841)


Paddle steamer [ side paddles passengers and cargo]


Ballina (36 kb)


Single screw steamer engines aft [collier]


(29 kb)


Single screw steamer [passenger]




Coal fired passenger and general cargo.


(18 kb)


Twin screw steamer engines amidships [general cargo]


John Penn
(40 kb)


Motor steamer [passenger]


Malabar (45 kb)


Side paddle wheeler [steam tug]




Diesel fueled passenger and general cargo


(34 kb)


Stern paddle wheeler [drougher]




Notional vessel used for riverine and general transport.


(29 kb)


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