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.

Images from the museum's photograph and paintings and object collections are being digitised and added to the collection online search with new items added regularly so don’t forget to check back.

Visit the Ship portraits collection highlights from the National Maritime Collection.

Finding an image

Ship portraits of early sailing vessels with Australian connections are rare particularly those of the colonial and pre 1850’s era. Finding a contemporary sketch or painting of a vessel from this period is usually only possible if the ship is very well known or the painting is in a public collection and reproduced online or in books.

Pictures of vessels from the clipper ship era are more numerous with ship portraits and images featuring in advertising, clipper cards, illustrated newspapers of the period and books of engravings.

Pictures of steamships and later sailing ships from the 1860’s onwards are slightly easier to find as photography developed in Australia with commercial photographers taking photos of maritime subjects. These photographers are well represented in Australian collections.

Searching for images of late 19th and 20th-century vessels is much easier as photography had become more accessible and a popular hobby in addition to the established commercial maritime photographers. Postcards featuring ships were also popular and collected by enthusiasts.

By far the quickest and easiest way to locate paintings or photos of ships in the Australian trade is to do a Trove search.

Illustrated newspapers such as the Illustrated London News, Illustrated Sydney News and Australasian Sketcher featured good quality drawings of sailing ships and early steamships. These images have been the mainstay of researchers pre the internet era of collections online and are often featured in books.The indexes are available from the museum library reference shelves (REF 387.50994 ILL).

Visit the Illustrated London News Picture Library website for online access to images or find an Australian library with access to the full text of the Illustrated News Archive online through Trove.


We've indexed some of the best illustrated books in the library to help you locate images of ships. Visit the museum library to 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

Trove pictures search is the gateway site to Australian pictorial collections from across the country and includes images from the Museum’s collection. 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, for ordering information.

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 Library Guide outlines the Library's holdings, which include several extensive collections of ship photographs. Online access to its Catalogue, which contains digitised images of photographs and paintings is available.

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

The Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office collections search has thousands of digital images including many of ships and maritime subjects.

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

The photograph collection held by the National Archives can be searched online and also has many digital images.

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 Collections online section has links to over 2,000 photos paintings 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.

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.

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

Images Canada is the pictures search at Library and Archives 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.

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

The Library of Congress 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 P&O Heritage website is a very good place to find images and information about P&O and Orient line ships.

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
Dunbar (1853); (83 kb)[IMAGE FILE]
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.
Edward Lombe (1928); (67 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
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.
Rosa (c.1853); (42 kb)[IMAGE FILE]
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.
Hilander (1850); (57kb)[IMAGE FILE]
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.
Amhpitrite (1867); (63 kb)[IMAGE FILE]
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).

Ketch Cutter Schooner
Titania (1855); (42 kb)[IMAGE FILE]
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 Brothers (1840) [IMAGE FILE]
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
Rover (c.1841)[IMAGE FILE]
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.

Paddle steamer
Ballina (36 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
Single screw steamer engines aft [collier]
Duckenfield (29 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
Single screw steamer [passenger]
Merimbula (18 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
Coal fired passenger and general cargo.

Twin screw steamer engines amidships [general cargo] John Penn (40 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
Motor steamer [passenger]
Malabar (45 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
Side paddle wheeler [steam tug]
Commodore (34 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
Diesel fuelled passenger and general cargo.

Stern paddle wheeler [drougher]
Drougher (29 kb) [IMAGE FILE]
National vessel used for riverine and general transport.