1916 Trial Bay Decorative Wood Jewellery Box

Era: Cultural background: Collection: Theme:Folk Art Gaol German Internment Internment Prisoners of War Trial Bay Gaol WW1
Jewellery Box, circa 1916.
Decorative Jewellery box, c.1916. Photograph Stephen Thompson

Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, Australia.

Object Name
Decorative Wood Jewellery Box.

Object/Collection Description
The jewellery box is made from a series of carved and machined sections of different colour soft wood that creates a star with in a star pattern on the hinged lid of the box with decorative lines on the side. The Box is heavily lacquered with an opaque clear finish. Dimensions: 270mm long x 155mm high x 110mm high.

The outbreak of fighting in Europe in August 1914 immediately brought Australia into the Great War. Within one week of the declaration of war all German subjects in Australia were declared ‘enemy aliens’ and were required to report and notify the Government of their address. In February 1915 enemy aliens were interned either voluntarily or on an enforced basis. In New South Wales the principal place of internment was the Holsworthy Military Camp where between 4,000 and 5,000 men were detained. Women and children of German and Austrian descent detained by the British in Asia were interned at Bourke and later Molonglo near Canberra. Former jails were also used. Men were interned at Berrima gaol (constructed 1840s) and Trial Bay gaol (constructed 1889). The internees at Trial Bay Gaol created their own management committees that organised entertainment, sport, culture and arts activities. The Jewellery Box was made by an internee attached to an art club at the camp.

The jewellery box is historically significant as evidence of a cultural tradition that migrated with the German communities to Australia in the 1840s. The jewellery box is evidence of the strong artistic and intellectual traditions of the German internees at Berrima, Trial Bay and Holsworthy.

The jewellery box has aesthetic significance in the design and manufacture of toys for children interred at other internment camps. The internees were educated and cultured. The design and manufacture of the Jewellery Box reflects the influence of German artistic and intellectual traditions, and a strong sense of patriotism.

The jewellery box provides a research tool for historians to explore the First World War chapter of Australian history and give the story a wider meaning in the context of the History of migration & settlement of Australia. The material culture of the Trial Bay Collection reveals of the diverse skills and backgrounds of the people interned there, including their educational and cultural background. Members of the Trial Bay internee community included wealthy industrialists, doctors, academics, publishers, professionals and entrepreneurs.

The jewellery box has intangible significance to German Australian Community as internees and guards families have a common link to the place and many people of German heritage have developed a strong attachment to the place. Many local residents are collectors and amateur historians carrying out many years of research and documenting the history of the site and the Collection. A lot of information still resides in the memories of the South West Rocks community. The place is a focal point for both Australians of Germans decent and visiting German nationals. The jewellery box is a part of a collection that has strong links to the community. It is part of a group of objects that holds pride of place in the Trial Bay Museum as an inherently German object from World War I.

The jewellery box was donated to the Trial Bay Museum by a resident from South West Rocks. The actual details of the owner and its provenance need to be researched further but is one of the objects that was returned to the site some time ago

The Trial Bay Collection is rare in that it relates specifically to the German internee occupation of the site and it is associated with those particular people who emerge as significant participants at Trial Bay and World War I Australian internment camp history. These people include the camp artists Max Hertz, who was also a distinguished orthopedic surgeon, Kurt Viese, who went onto become head of Animation for Disney Animation and E. Frolich a prominent collector of the work of the Trial Bay internee photographers. Frolich donated a considerable collection of Trial Bay photographs to the Australian War Memorial.

The jewellery box represents the culture and traditions of the German internees. It bears similarities with the models and crafts of the internees of the Berrima internment camp. This jewellery box shows a strong eye for accuracy and detail and a represent a symbol of German internee’s patriotism and defiance as prisoners. The jewellery box, as part of a larger collection represents Australia’s strong historic links to Britain and the adherence to British foreign policy after Federation. The wider Trial Bay Collection represents Australia’s fear of subversion during the war and racial antagonism to cultural minorities in war time. The Collection represents a time when Australia still looked to Britain for foreign policy and held deep suspicions of non British immigrants. This is evidenced in the concentration camp nature of the internment, the isolation of the place, the boredom that resulted in the detailed and precise immaculate jewellery box and toy furniture

The jewelry box’s importance lies it’s potential to interpret the place as a site of internment, the internment camp itself and the experience of German communities. The jewellery box presents the opportunity to interpret the stories of various individuals who were interred at Trial Bay and those who were ‘repatriated’ after the War only to return as migrants and become successful members of the Australian community despite their experiences.


Coupe, S & Andrews, M 1992, Was it only Yesterday? Australia in the Twentieth Century World, Longman Cheshire, Sydney.

Davies, P 2000, Trial Bay Gaol Conservation Management & Cultural Tourism Plan, Dept Environment & Conservation.

Fischer, G W & Helmi, N 2004, Internment at Trial Bay during World War I, unpublished thematic history, Migration Heritage Centre & Dept Environment & Conservation.

Fischer, G W 1996, Enemy Aliens, Queensland University Press.

Heritage Office & Dept of Urban Affairs & Planning 1996, Regional Histories of NSW, Sydney.

Heritage Collections Council 2001, Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Canberra.

Written by Stephen Thompson
Migration Heritage Centre
2006 – updated 2011

Crown copyright 2006©

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