ProvenanceGeneral Blanco' was a three-masted teak ship of 985 tons built in 1844, in Quebec, Canada. It reportedly sailed under the British flag, but arrived in Port Adelaide under the Portuguese flag in 1856, carrying a cargo of tea and Chinese migrants intent on reaching the Victorian gold fields without paying the poll tax. Several weeks after its arrival, the vessel was fined for smuggling.
General Blanco spent a number of months anchored off a light ship at Port Adelaide, before departing for Manila. It was dismasted in gale force winds just after dawn on 6 September and towed back into Port. The owners were either unable or unwilling to pay the towage costs and no attempt was made to refit the ship. General Blanco was eventually sold to Coleman & Wells, and the sale used to pay off the crew and local debts. Coleman and Wells used General Blanco as a lighter in the Port, until it began to leak. After 1865 the ship was broken up and sold for firewood. For many years, the figurehead stood on the balcony of Port Adelaide's Exchange Hotel, his sword pointing towards the ocean. It was later shifted to the hotel yard where it could be glimpsed from the saloon windows. The figurehead remained there until the South Australian Harbors Board demolished the hotel building in 1935 and it was donated to the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum (the second figurehead in the collection).SignificanceFigureheads, carved wooden sculptures which ornamented the bow of a sailing ship, embodied the 'soul' of the vessel and were believed to offer the crew protection and safe passage on the seas. They were also used to identify a ship, reflecting its function or paying tribute to a person connected with the vessel. The South Australian Maritime Museum has a collection of seventeen ship’s figureheads- the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. They date from the age of sail, which dominated the 18th and 19th centuries. The figureheads were sourced and acquired by Vernon Smith, the Honorary Curator of the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum (from which the current museum evolved) over a period of fifty years. He thoroughly documented his search and as result, most of the figureheads are well provenanced with a recorded chain of ownership. The figurehead from General Blanco is an evocative relic of ship that was a familiar presence in the Port during the mid-19th century and an iconic symbol from one of Port Adelaide's many hotels.DescriptionThe figurehead depicts a Scottish chieftain wielding a sword in his right hand and a shield in his left. The figure is clad in a tartan kilt with sporran and cape, silver armour, and wears a plumed helmet on his head.AcknowledgementDate of Creation1844Date of UsageMaterialWood Accession NumberHT 2012.0658
PlacePort Adelaide, South AustraliaCollectionNeptune’s Wooden Angels