The Great White Fleet, 1908

Peace Mission

On 20 August 1908 a round the world peace mission by the American fleet arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney. The US navy was on a round the world cruise which had set out eight months earlier on 16 December 1907. The sixteen warships, led by the flagship Connecticut, were painted white to denote peace. They would be known as The Great White Fleet.

On arrival, the fleet was given a tremendous welcome. The day was declared a public holiday and a week-long celebration followed.

We hold 300+ images and other documents in the State Archives Collection that document this momentous event.

Fleet Week celebrations

Fleet Week celebrations and entertainments included the Official Landing and Public Reception, a review at Centennial Park, parades, luncheons, dinners, balls, concerts, theatre parties, sporting events such as boxing, football and baseball matches, a gymkhana including a tug-of-war and a regatta.

Events list

Excursions were arranged for the Americans to visit Manly, Parramatta, Newcastle, the National Park, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains.

Buildings and streets were decorated and illuminated at night. There were daylight and night time fireworks displays and a replica of the Statue of Liberty in King Street, erected by the Daily Telegraph.

Programme of events

Royal parade and public schools

A royal parade took place at Centennial Park and a public schools display at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The battleships

Large crowds converged on Sydney Harbour to see inside the battleships and walk on the decks.

Illustrative souvenir booklet

The battleships were described in the souvenir booklet.

Public transport services and delays

Ferry services were temporarily suspended while the Great White Fleet moored on 20 August and public transport was overcrowded as people flocked to the harbour.

The Newtown and Dulwich Hill lines experienced overload from 5am, the Belmore service was reduced causing dangerous crowding with "passengers being carried on the sides of the engines during certain trips, numbers being left behind and these eventually made for the trams."

On the Watson's Bay line the loading was heavy from the start, in fact a number of people walked before the special service commenced, starting out almost from daylight as they were unable to get accommodation...

Many spectators had to walk much of the way.

at 7am there were thousands walking from Elizabeth St to Erskine St to get accommodation.

Trams had to stop running on King Street due to the "congested state of the thoroughfare" where

poles were being pulled off the overhead wire and passengers were riding on the roofs to a dangerous extent.

Wicker chairs and the national anthem

This letter from FH Boone and co, an Artistic Furniture company included a photo of the wicker chairs.

The Hon. Mr C G Wade
Parliament House,

Dear sir,
Re the visit of the American Fleet
We have had made up at our Factory, 62 Sussex St,
wicker chairs with the flags - worked into the backs in
the correct colours. We enclose photograph
of same.
...such chairs would prove we
think, both a novel & pleasing feature

A confirmation of the national anthem

Departure time

The fleet stayed in Sydney until its departure for Melbourne on 27 August 1908. The letter from the Inspector General of Police below titled "Urgent matter" reveals that 205 sailors were reported absentee:

  • 40 returned to the ships voluntarily,
  • 76 placed on the USS Yankton by police
  • 50 went to Melbourne by boat or rail, and
  • 42 believed to have been left behind.

There are over 300 digitised photos of the visit by the American fleet in the State Archives Collection. The photos are a captivating snapshot of Sydney in the early 1900s.

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