- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Canberra I, HMAS Tingira, HMAS Sydney I
- December 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
WHEN ONE ENTERS THE WARDROOM of the FFG HMAS Adelaide the first object to catch one’s eye is a fine painting of the cruiser Adelaide in 1944 in her wartime camouflage. The new HMAS Canberra also has an outstanding painting of the 10,000 ton Country class cruiser Canberra in her pre-war paint. Both these paintings were presented as gifts to the ships by John Bastock.
John has drawn and painted ships and marine subjects since his schooldays. Having joined the RAN as a boy, he was trained in HMAS Tingira, and later served in some of the well-known ships of the earlier RAN.
His first years at sea were too crowded with activity to devote any time to painting. These included service in HMAS Brisbane (I) on the China Station and in HMAS Melbourne (I) in the Mediterranean.
Amongst the young officers serving in Melbourne during her Mediterranean commission were several whose names were to make history in the annals of the RAN.
These included Lieutenant (later Vice Admiral Sir John) Collins, the ship’s gunnery officer; Lieutenant (later Captain) Dechaineux, who, as Captain of HMAS Australia lost his life when his ship was attacked by a Japanese Kamikaze aircraft at Leyte Gulf on 21st October 1944; Midshipman (later Lt.-Commander) R.W. Rankin who went down while in command of HMAS Yarra as that ship fought valiantly against overwhelming Japanese odds, South of Java on 4th March 1942; and Midshipman (later Rear Admiral) G.G.O. Gatacre, first Captain of HMAS Melbourne (II).
Having served the final commission in HMAS Sydney (I) John, with most of the old ship’s company sailed in SS Beltana to commission HMAS Canberra (I) at Clydebank, Scotland.
On the ship’s voyage to Australia, via the Cape of Good Hope, John found time in the dog-watches to take up painting again. He completed many pictures of the Canberra, some on art board, others on black velvet, depicting the vessel at night on a moonlit sea, with all lights ablaze. The art board paintings were sold to his shipmates for about 2/6d (25¢) and those on velvet for about 5/- (50¢). John’s supreme effort during this period was a large painting of the ship on canvas, suitably framed, and signed by the Captain (Captain Massey, RN) and his senior officers. The picture was raffled amongst the ship’s company and netted John about £15 ($30.00) profit. The asking price for a similar painting today would be in the $700-$800 range! A ship-painting sometimes takes weeks of research and concentrated work to complete, which is what makes it so valuable.
John qualified at Cerberus as a torpedo-gunner’s mate (his was the first class of TGMs undertaken at Cerberus, as previously, this course, for the highest torpedo rating attainable on the lower deck, involved a posting to the UK). Following further service at sea, John sustained an affliction which culminated in blindness in one eye and he was discharged from the Service as below the required physical standard. Fortunately, over the years the condition partly improved to such an extent that he was able to resume painting.
Since then he has painted many subjects and has executed hundreds of drawings, diagrams and paintings of ships and written and illustrated many articles on both ships and maritime subjects. His book Australia’s Ships of War (now out of print but hopefully to be revised and updated in the near future) is well known as a work of naval reference.
Australia’s Ships of War, signed edition, has become a much sought after collector’s item, and copies, when available, fetch a high price.
He is a recognised authority on the Sail/Steam era, and in this regard he has in publication a new book, packed with the results of his research on the Australia Station period and illustrated with photographs, drawings, diagrams and a series of his paintings of the flagships involved. When published the book will become a valuable reference work on a period of Australia’s naval history, about which little authentic information has ever been published.
John laments the fact that many locally produced books, including recent much publicised works, contain misnamed photographs of ships on the Australia Station. His new book will include a correctly named picture of every vessel which served on the Station – the results of study and research extending over a quarter of a century.