1858 Trial Bay Jewellers Lathe

Era: Cultural background: , Collection: Theme:Folk Art Gaol German Internment Internment Prisoners of War Trial Bay Gaol WW1

Jewellers Lathe, 1858.
Jewellers Lathe, 1858. Photograph Stephen Thompson

Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, Australia

Object Name
Jewellers Lathe

Object/Collection Description
The Lathe is made from iron, steel, wood and brass. It is mounted on a wood plinth. It is hand made with machined sections. It is inscribed “W. Friend July 9th 1858. It is hand powered.

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 gaols 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 Jewellers Lathe was used by an internee to make children’s toys ands handicrafts in an art and crafts club at the camp.

The Lathe has historic significance as evidence of the experience of the German internee’s life at Trial Bay, the attitudes of the German internees to the war and internment and their relationships to other German communities.

The Lathe has aesthetic significance in the design and manufacture of toys for children interred at other internment camps. The design and manufacture of the Jewellers Lathe reflects simplicity of the technology available to the internees to make the toys, yet the internees were educated and cultured and drew on their cultural background to manufacture toys. The Lathe itself has a certain aesthetic quality in its simplicity.

The Lathe 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 and 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 from Australia and South East Asia as well as Australian guards and Soldiers.

The Lathe has intangible significance to the South West Rocks and the wider German community. Internees and guards families have a common link to the place and many local residents have developed a strong attachment to the place. The place is a focal point for both Australians of Germans decent and visiting German nationals. The Lathe 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 One.

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 One New South Wales German internment camp history. These people include the camp artists Max Hertz, who was also an orthopaedic 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 object represents the culture and traditions of the German community. It bears similarities with the children toys made by the internees of the Berrima internment camp. This object shows a strong eye for accuracy and detail and a represent a symbol of German internee’s patriotism and defiance as prisoners.

The condition of the Lathe in general is good. It is significant that such an object remains in good condition, intact and at the place it has an historical association with.

The important of the Lathe lies it’s potential to interpret the place a site associated to internment, the internment camp itself and the experience of German communities. The Collection presents the opportunity to interpret the stories of various individuals who were interred at Trial Bay and those who were deported 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, GW & Helmi, N 2004, Internment at Trial Bay during World War One, unpublished thematic history, Migration Heritage Centre & Dept Environment & Conservation.

Fischer, GW 1989, 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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