The Powerhouse acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands upon which our museums are situated. We respect their Elders, past, present and future and recognise their continuous connection to Country.

No image is publicly available for this object

Due to the age of the Museum's collection, some objects have not been digitised yet. Images may also not be available due to copyright, cultural or privacy reasons.

Part of the capstan bar for raising anchors on HMAS Australia, 1910-13

    This length of capstan bar represents the use of muscle power and teamwork to raise the anchors of HMAS Australia in preparation for battle. HMAS Australia was Australia's first battle cruiser and was commissioned in 1913. Along with a pulley block (object H3211A) donated at the same time, it represents the hard manual labour required of sailors even in the age of steam, hydraulic and electric power.

    It is also a reminder of the much greater effort required in the age of sail, when …


    Object No.


    Object Statement

    Capstan bar, part, for hoisting anchors, wood, made by Harfield and Co, Blaydon-on-Tyne, England, 1910-1913, used on HMAS Australia, 1913-1924

    Physical Description

    This is a smooth cylindrical length of timber cut from one of the bars designed to turn a capstan by hand. The timber is probably American white ash, Fraxinus americana, selected for its strength and flexibility. One end of the bar was cut square so it could fit into an aperture in the capstan head.

    In use, a team of sailors would retrieve bars from storage, insert them in the capstan, and push on them as they walked in a circle, causing the capstan to turn around its vertical axis. At least three men would work at each of twenty bars, so at least 60 man-power was applied to the task of turning the capstan to reel in the attached anchor chain and so hoist the anchor out of the water.



    The ship's wrought iron capstans were made by Harfield and Co at Blaydon, near Newcastle-on-Tyne in England, between 1910 and 1913. The bars would have been made by the company or one of its suppliers.

    Wooden capstans were used in ancient Greece and Rome, typically turned by pairs of oxen. A related machine, once widely used in rural Australia, was the all-metal horseworks (see object H10248). Capstans were used on sailing ships to adjust sails, hoist anchors and load and unload cargo. They were also used on steamships for a range of duties, and on docks to tether ships.

    In the 1860s William Horatio Harfield of London patented improvements to the capstan and windlass. His company became the major supplier of capstans to the Royal Navy.



    HMAS Australia was built at John Brown's shipyard at Clydebank in Scotland. While its major equipment was made by John Brown, several other companies were contracted to make smaller, specialised items. These included three man-powered Harfield capstans, which were located near the ship's bow to hoist two anchors on the starboard side and one on the port side via chain cables.
    While other capstans on the ship were operated mechanically, man-power was probably considered appropriate for the task of hauling in anchors because this was crucial in order to prepare, at short notice, to head off into battle. On such an occasion, the stokers would have been working at full tilt to increase the amount of steam produced by the boilers, to get the turbines moving; diverting steam to an engine to turn the capstans would have interfered with the urgent task of powering the ship 'full steam ahead'.

    HMAS Australia was laid down in June 1910, launched in October 1911 and commissioned in June 1913. It served during the First World War, winning battle honours at Rabaul in 1914 and the North Sea from 1915 to 1918. After the war it served briefly as a gunnery training ship on Westernport Bay in Victoria.

    In 1922 British officials determined that the ship would be scuttled under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, a disarmament agreement aimed at reducing the chances of another world war. The treaty implicitly recognised that the rapid build-up of naval firepower had contributed to the pressure for war in 1914.

    The German fleet was interned at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys in 1918 and scuttled there by its own sailors in 1919 to prevent the ships becoming spoils of war. The Treaty of Versailles, signed a week later, severely restricted the ability of Germany to rebuild its navy. The Washington Treaty was signed by the Allies who had fought Germany: the UK (representing the British Empire), USA, Japan, France and Italy. All agreed to destroy some of their own ships and restrict future naval expansion. Russia was not included in the treaty as war, revolution and post-war British action had left it with very few ships.

    Navy personnel removed some equipment from the mothballed ship before a Melbourne-based group of businessmen won the tender to remove further equipment and material. Led by salvage operator George Wright and supervised by naval officers, a team of men carried out this work at Sydney's Garden Island naval base. Some of the brass was fashioned into souvenirs to help the salvage syndicate recoup their investment.

    This piece of capstan bar is one of several items from the ship donated to this museum by the Defence Department's Navy Office in August 1924. Other salvaged equipment was donated to universities, technical colleges and municipalities.

    In 1925, timber from another HMAS Australia capstan bar was fashioned into a set of stumps and presented by retailer Sir Samuel Hordern to Arthur Gilligan, captain of the England cricket team that was playing in Australia. The stumps, capped at each end with silver, were housed in a box made of teak from the ship's deck, adorned with a silver map of Australia inscribed with the names of the England players. Hordern presented the gift in memory of the two nations' fighting side-by-side, and of a long association in cricket. Gilligan promised to place it in the care of Marylebone Cricket Club.


    Credit Line

    Gift of Navy Office, Department of Defence, 1924

    Acquisition Date

    4 August 1924

    Cite this Object


    Part of the capstan bar for raising anchors on HMAS Australia, 1910-13 2023, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 4 February 2023, <>


    {{cite web |url= |title=Part of the capstan bar for raising anchors on HMAS Australia, 1910-13 |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=4 February 2023 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


    This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.