Len Forsythe Boat Cloak

Contributed by: Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum

Cloak front Cloak Cloak - side view Cloak - back view Detail of Chain Detail of Button Detail of Collar Clasps Detail of Interior Lining Detail of Tacking
  • Australian dress register ID:

    541
  • Owner:

    Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum
  • Owner registration number:

    2009/177A
  • Date range:

    1900
  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain
  • Gender:

    Male
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Object information

Significance statement

This British Royal Navy Officer's boat cloak dates from c.1900-1939. It is made from fine, worsted, British wool, is hip length and has seams at the sides. We know that the garment was not Australian, as the word 'AUSTRALIA' would be printed on the lower edge of the buttons if that were the case. Boat cloaks were an optional item of dress for navy personnel, worn mainly over full dress, ball dress or mess dress for additional warmth when travelling in an open ship's boat/gig/barge, either between ships or to a function on shore. A gabardine waterproof cloak of similar pattern was worn when it was wet. Boat cloaks were also, according to some, a handy item to put around the shoulders of one's girlfriend when escorting her home after a dance.

This boat cloak belonged to Leonard Edgar Forsythe, who established a naval training facility for boys at Snapper Island, in Sydney Harbour in 1931. Forsythe was responsible for transforming what was once a rocky outcrop into a flat island in the shape of a ship. This metamorphosis was achieved by means of blasting the rock from the top and using the excess stone to sculpt sea walls. The labour was voluntary and performed by the cadets on weekends and holidays.

Over 2,200 youths between the ages of 15 and 18 were trained in naval skills that included sailing, rowing, boat maintenance, signalling, rope work and radio operations. The operation was so successful that over 700 cadets went on to join the navy. The facility was well resourced and boasted a fleet of nine boats, including two motor launches. It also functioned as a monument to HMAS Sydney, which had been decommissioned in 1928 and was broken up on Cockatoo Island in 1932. Forsythe bought many parts of the ship and put them to use in the training depot.      

Forsythe's boat cloak was on display at Snapper Island Training Depot Museum from about 1952, then it was given to the Goulburn War Memorial Museum in 2008. The cloak is of historical significance, as it provides insight into the bold actions of a passionate individual who transformed the physical shape of the smallest island in Sydney Harbour and who influenced the lives of thousands of youths in the inter-war and post World War II periods.     

 

Author: Carol Olsen, 19 June 2014.

Description

This navy coloured, wool British Naval Cloak is hip length and has two side seams, no back seam. It is made from very fine worsted wool. Machine made, plain weave, machine stitched to a point but the hem is hand stitched. It probably had lining attached and has been removed perhaps because of deterioration.

The cloak has a fall collar with fasteners (two toggles and a chain, early 1900's). The toggles are lions heads, from left over right fastening. It fastens with four naval buttons with a crown at top, anchor at bottom, stripe in the centre with cord around the edge. Shaped over the shoulders, with a seam down the side.

 

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Leonard died in 1981 - his father was Thomas Todd Forsythe and his mother was Martha Rosewall Forsythe.

 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Len Forsythe was responsible for moving the Training Depot of the Navy League Sea Cadet Company from Carey St Drummoyne to Snapper Island, Sydney Harbour in 1931. The Company, which was founded in 1921, was training 70 cadets by 1929 and had become so large that it was necessary to find new premises. Snapper Island was leased from the government for only 2 pounds a year to accommodate the growing numbers of cadets.

Between 1931-2, Forsythe organised the levelling of what was once a rocky outcrop into a flat island shaped like a ship with the bow towards Drummoyne and the stern towards Cockatoo Island. The transformation of the rocky outcrop was achieved by blasting the rock from the top of the island and using it to sculpt sea walls. All the labour was voluntary and undertaken by youths at the weekend and on holidays.

As well as train cadets at Snapper Island, Forsythe wanted to create a monument to HMAS Sydney which had been decommissioned in 1928 and broken up at nearby Cockatoo Island in 1932. Forsythe bought many parts of the old ship and used them at the new training depot.

Training provided by the cadet school included sailing, rowing, boat maintenance, signalling, rope work and radio operations. The training was so popular that by 1937 the Depot had 110 cadets and a waiting list of 75 boys between the ages of 15 and 17. By 1945, 2200 youths had completed courses at the Training Depot, 700 of whom went on to join the navy.        

Where did this information come from?

Information provided by Mick Uren and Bridie Kirkpatrick.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra (regarding fabric)

Various articles on Trove

Sydney Harbour Trust website http://www.harbourtrust.gov.au/lease/snapper-island 

This garment has been exhibited

On display at the Snapper Island Museum, Snapper Island, Sydney Harbour. 

  1. Place of origin:

    Great Britain

  2. Owned by:

    The cloak was owned and worn by Leonard Edgar Forsythe during his time at Snapper Island Training Depot. It was on display at Snapper Island Training Depot Museum, Sydney Harbour, from about 1952 and donated to the Goulburn War Memorial Museum in 2008 by Mick Uren, a former volunteer at the Snapper Island Training Depot Museum, who now lives in Goulburn.

  3. Worn by:

    Leonard Edgar Forsythe during his time at the Snapper Island Training Depot.

  4. Place:

    Snapper Island Training Depot, Sydney Harbour, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Fibre / Weave

Made of very fine worsted wool, possibly milled in Northern England.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Possibly manufactured in Great Britain.

Alterations

Cloak was probably lined, but has been removed, perhaps due to deterioration.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

The cape is fastened with 4 naval buttons - a crown at the top, an anchor on the bottom, and a stripe in the centre with cord around the edge. 

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The lining inside the collar is stitched on tailors canvas to give a stiffness.  It is all hand stitched.  There is hand stitching and tailors canvas on the back of the Lions Head toggle to protect the wool.

Measurements

cloak
Girth
Neck 480 mm
Hem circumference 2730 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 810 mm
Back neck to hem 870 mm
Horizontal
Cross back 480 mm
Fabric width 1350 mm
Convert to inches

Condition

Evidence of repairs

The lining has been removed.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

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