The Great White Fleet and Port Melbourne
President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned 16 new battleships between 1904 and 1907. He sent them on a 15 month goodwill visit around the world. Prime Minister Deakin invited them to visit Australia. The young Australia was feeling exposed following the defeat of the Russian Navy by Japan in 1905. The British Navy had withdrawn its warships from the Pacific. The visit was a formative step in the relationship between the US and Australia. The popular support and the excitement generated by the visit gave an impetus to the subsequent establishment of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911.
The ships’ hulls were painted white, except for the gilded scrollwork, with a red white and blue banner on their bows. Fourteen thousand sailors came to town. Melbourne was in a fever of excitement. The sailors made their entrance to Melbourne via Port Melbourne’s Town Pier. Crowds lined the entrance to the Pier as the sailors set off to parade to Melbourne for the week long celebrations. They were in Melbourne from 29 August to 5 September 1908.
The Bride’s write that ‘they arrived in Port Melbourne, where they were greeted with great enthusiasm and given a formal Entry to the City at the Town Pier. The ships were anchored in the Bay. On the day of their arrival, thousands of people crowded around the foreshore to watch.
The Standard considered this to be a truly wonderful day:
“Last Saturday was no doubt one of the greatest days in the history of Port Melbourne, and proved once again that whatever the desire of those in high places to treat this town with contempt, the general public recognise that it is a favourite place of resort, when anything of interest in the maritime world stirs the great heart of the people.” 1
Town Pier was built in 1849, where Liardet’s jetty had been, at the southern end of Bay St.
1 M and G Bride The Borough and Its People: Port Melbourne 1839 to 1939, p239