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The Atlantic and Pacific cruise of SMS Bismarck, 1879–80

The Library recently acquired a fascinating album of 93 photographs taken on the maiden cruise of SMS Bismarck from 1879–80.

PXD 1490 the ship Bismarck in dry dock Sydney

SMS Bismarck, Cockatoo Island Dry Dock, Sydney, 1880, photographer Claus Franzen. Albumen print from ‘The First Voyage of SMS Bismarck Photograph Album, 1879–1880’, image 80, PXD 1490

Recently the Library acquired a collection of 93 albumen prints made from photographs taken on the maiden cruise of SMS Bismarck from 1879–80. The prints are in a morocco-bound photograph album lined with red silk, which was presented to the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck on the ship’s return.

The Bismarck, one of the most powerful warships of the period, was commissioned into service in 1878 and sailed from Germany in November of that year. The ship’s first voyage was through the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, under the captaincy of Karl August Deinhard. One of the main objectives of the mission was to maintain a strong naval and military presence at Apia, in Samoa. European activity there by British, American, Russian and German interests had resulted in political instability and internal conflict in the islands. After first stopping in the Society Islands for a diplomatic visit, the Bismarck arrived in Sydney in time for the opening of the Garden Palace on 17 September 1879. The officers and crew were guests at the opening and the ship’s band played at a race meeting at Randwick Racecourse.

The voyage continued through the Pacific to Samoa, where the Bismarck was damaged on 26 January 1880 and forced to return to Sydney for repairs. The ship then patrolled the west coast of South America, leaving Chile on 18 July. Proceeding to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, and then on to Plymouth, the Bismarck returned to Germany, reaching Wilhelmshaven on 30 September 1880.

The photographs were taken by Claus Franzen (1857–1947), one of the crew on board the Bismarck for the entire voyage. Franzen’s images document the ship’s crew and shipboard activities as well as the diplomatic mission to the Society Islands, where a friendship treaty between Germany and the Queen of Raiatea was signed. Also photographed were the goodwill visits made to Bora-Bora, Huahine and Samoa between May and August 1879. The ship then visited Tonga, Fiji and Rarotonga before being forced to return to Samoa due to the escalating civil and military crisis there.

Franzen’s photographs capture the turbulent negotiations with Malietoa, eventually recognised by Germany as king in December 1879. Photographs of Sydney include views of the Garden Palace, the gardens at Cranbrook and the Bismarck undergoing repairs in the FitzRoy Dry Dock (Cockatoo Island).

Geoff Barker
Senior Curator, Research and Discovery.