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The Austrian Frigate SMS Novara

and the Novara Scientific Expedition of 1857-9

including its visit to Australia 1858

Compiled by Michale Organ

with contributions from J.E. Fletcher (deceased), Georg Vladar, Dymphna Clark, G.L. McMullen and T. Darragh

The Austrian frigate Novara docked in Sydney Harbour, November 1858. Original photograph, published in L. Lind (1988). Picture most likely taken by local photographer and fellow Austrian Wilhelm Hetzer.

Introduction and Tribute to J.E. Fletcher

A modern account of the visit to Sydney, Australia, during 1858 of the Austrian scientific expedition aboard His Imperial Majesty's (SMS) Frigate Novara begins not with the vessel itself, but with the late German scholar, historian and University of Sydney academic John E. Fletcher (1940-92). If not for this prolific bibliographer, enthusiastic researcher into and promoter of Austrian-German-Australian historical links, the Novara's visit to New South Wales between 5 November and 7 December 1858 would remain largely unknown in Australia. Therefore, it is fitting that any preface to a collection of Novara-related material - as is to be found on this Web site - should make clear the debt owed Mr Fletcher, a man who the current compiler never met, but who can only be admired for both the quantity and quality of his work. His published legacy will remain influential for many years to come, and will undoubtedly stir others on to related areas of research.

The reason for this on-going relevance/reverence is the fact that John Fletcher opened many doors to researchers interested in Australian-Germanic relations during the nineteenth century, leaving the contents therein exposed and awaiting - nay, demanding - further investigation. The Novara story is one such treasure trove which he only partially (though nevertheless substantially) revealed. Indeed, in 1988, following his own researches on the subject over the previous five year period, John Fletcher wrote, knowingly and somewhat self-effacingly:

......the full story of the Novara's visit to Sydney has yet to be put together, has yet to be told. It is a story that no historian - professional, amateur, or local - has tackled.

Of course this long-time student of German history was underestimating the value of his own contributions up to that point in time. By 1988 he had identified and studied the major published works and extant manuscripts pertaining to the Novara expedition, and had developed a deep understanding of the events surrounding its visit to Australia in 1858. Furthermore, John Fletcher must be admired for publishing the initial results of his research, and thereby encouraging others to take up the mantle of translation and investigation, rather than working entirely in isolation until 'the job is complete', which, in many cases, maybe never! It is extremely disheartening that this Australian academic did not live to share in the on-going task of further revealing this episode of colonial history, having been tragically struck down by cancer in 1992. Sad indeed that he never came to complete 'the full story,' though what he did discover and publish is nevertheless a substantial record, and a worthy introduction to the Novara episode. For this reason, the present Web site includes updated and expanded versions of the two major articles on the Novara in Australian waters, which were published by Fletcher in 1985 and 1988.

The modern elucidation of the Novara visit was initially revealed to an Australian audience during 1984, within Fletcher's John Degotardi - Printer, publisher and photographer (Sydney, 1984). Pages 37-41 of that book dealt with 'The visit of the Novara' to Sydney, within the context of the German Degotardi's role in reporting the visit within the local German-language newspapers, and in his involvement in associated festivities. The topic was more fully addressed the following year - expanded to 18 pages, and with the addition of copious endnotes - in Karl Scherzer and the Visit of the Novara to Sydney, 1858, published in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society. This work dealt with the major social events surrounding the visit, using as its focus the published and manuscript accounts of the expedition's official historiographer and ethnographer, Karl Scherzer which, by chance, reside in the Mitchell Library collection, Sydney. As a scholarly work it was evidence of the intimate knowledge Fletcher possessed of nineteenth century German-language material pertaining to Australia - a resource which still remains largely inaccessible to the non-German speaking community.

John Fletcher's work on the Novara did not end there. During 1988 he published a second article - "On unlocking a time-warp": The Novara in Sydney, November - December 1858 (19 pages, plus endnotes). It reproduced sections of the 1985 piece along with introducing much new information of a bibliographic nature, further describing various unpublished and published journals and diaries which he had discovered in the course of his research. These gave additional accounts of the vessel's stay in Sydney, from both Austrian and Australian perspectives. As a result, we were made aware of a vast amount of material of a political, economic, scientific and social nature pertaining to those 5 weeks of November - December 1858. There were journals, diaries, letters and publications by the Austrian scientists and sailors, Australian politicians and scientists, and even diary entries by young Sydney girls infatuated with the visiting foreigners. A concluding paragraph to the 1988 article went on to note:

The complete dossier of the Novara's visit to Sydney remains to be completed. Primary sources in Vienna and Trieste are yet to be sighted, evaluated, used. Further Sydney material will include diaries, official records, correspondence, personal papers, biographies and memoirs, autograph-albums, scrap-books, visitors' books, photographs, dance and theatre programmes. Only then, and not until then, will the chrysaline time-capsule, that is the Novara's stay in Australian waters, reveal once more its true iridescence.

A final, short article on the expedition's artist Joseph Selleny, adapted from Fletcher's 1988 work, appeared posthumously in the 1992 Dictionary of Australian Artists to 1870, edited by Joan Kerr. This brought to a close his published work on the Novara. It is unclear whether Fletcher was working on other Novara material at the time of his death. Further unpublished material of relevance has not been located within the John Fletcher Papers in the collection of the Fisher Library Rare Book Section, University of Sydney, however a comprehensive search has yet to be undertaken. John Fletcher was never able to carry through plans to release a populist 'picture book' account of the Novara's Sydney visit - a project he had discussed with fellow historian and student of Austrian history, Marlene Norst.

The two Fletcher articles presented on this Web site appear largely as published, with minor additions and corrections by the editor, bearing in mind the constraints originally placed upon them at the time of publication. For example, when they initially appeared as journal articles, they would have been limited to about 5000 words, thus requiring lengthy journal and published quotes or extracts to be deleted by the author. As a result, whereas in the 1985 article Fletcher refers to (but does not reproduce) descriptions of the Novara Ball and German Club dinner contained within the Sydney Morning Herald, those pieces have been included in full within this edition. John Fletcher's original short article on the artist Joseph Selleny has also been included, though substantially expanded by this author to incorporate a detailed Catalogue of Works relating to his time in the colony, with more than fifty individual works (watercolours, pencil sketches, engravings) listed.

The current editor's own interest in the Novara expedition arose out of his own researches into the art history of the Illawarra district of New South Wales during the colonial era. This research brought to light the visitation by Joseph Selleny in 1858, and also related material associated with the visit to the district by a contingent of Novara scientists and naval officers. This led on to a reading of the work of J.E. Fletcher, and to a discovery of additional material of relevance.

It should be stated at the outset that the aim of the present site is to carry on the work of John E. Fletcher in bringing to the notice of the Australian community, via bibliographic compilation, original research, and precise translation, material of relevance to Australian history. The Novara episode is of import scientifically, politically and socially - in its revelation of how the Colony was then seen by a 'foreign' (i.e. non-British) European power, and how the locals in turn viewed Austria and the Germans. Its place in the overall scheme of Austrian-Australian relations since the time of Captain Cook 1770 is briefly discussed within M.J. Norst and J. McBride's Austrians and Australians (Sydney 1988), though John Fletcher's articles give the most detailed account to date.

The surviving records of the Novara visit present us with a snapshot view of the Colony in the middle of the century, from a distinctly Austrian perspective. At the time, the Hapsburg Empire, with Vienna at its centre, was a multicultural, multilingual society, therefore on board ship were men who spoke Italian, Austrian and German dialects. In November 1858 New South Wales was still very much the satellite of Mother England, attempting to shake off the shackles of over half a century as a penal colony, and in some social turmoil as a result of the recent, and on-going, gold discoveries. It was also politically immature, though on the road to independent statehood with the implementation of a Legislative Assembly and workable local government, whilst at all times wary of foreign invasion and insecure as a nation. During the late 1850s and early 1860s, following on the Crimean War, the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria expressed this concern through the erection of coastal defences mounted with cannon, and the getting up of voluntary regiments to man them. Though forewarned of the scientific intent of the Novara expedition, the vessel itself - the largest man-of-war to enter Port Jackson up to that point in time - must have been somewhat intimidating to the colonial authorities, for a vessel such as this could have quickly disabled Fort Macquarie and the various other harbour fortifications, leaving Sydney exposed to an invading fleet.

Perhaps this paranoia, built upon the overwhelming sense of physical isolation from Mother England, may have been one of the reasons that the expedition was to some degree shunned by local authorities, and the scientific establishment in the form of the Philosophical Society failed to formally welcome the members of the scientific contingent, though reasons for these omissions were forthcoming at the time. For example, both the Governor-General (Sir William Denison) and Colonial Secretary had recently suffered family bereavements at the time of the Novara's arrival, and these were reasons given for their lack of enthusiasm shown in organising a formal welcome to the Novara and its crew. With regards to the local scientific community, many of the Church of England clergy who were strong supporters of the struggling Philosophical Society - such as the Reverends W.B. Clarke and William Woolls - were engaged in a lengthy Anglican Conference at the time of the vessel's visit, thus perhaps accounting for that body's failure to organise any official welcome. We should also remember that Austria was a Catholic nation, and the majority of the crew followed its doctrine. Mass was regularly held on board. It is therefore understandable that this staunchly British, Anglican Colony would view the Austrians somewhat cooly.

If the hospitality of the English establishment was less than it should have been, not so with regards to the local German/Austrian population. Happy to welcome their countrymen, they organised a number of festivities for the Novara complement, welcomed the officers and scientists into their homes, and, along with other sections of Sydney society, opened their doors to the visitors, no doubt happy to receive part of the more than 12,000 paid out by the ship's burser whilst in port - only a portion of which would have been spent in connection with scientific endeavour and repairs to the vessel itself. After more than a year and a half at sea, all those associated with the Novara made the most of the welcome offered by this distant British colony.

The extant published and manuscript accounts of the visit of the Novara to Sydney during 1858 therefore present a multi-faceted picture of life in the Colony at a time of much change. The Expedition itself could be seen as one of the last of its type, the culmination of a process which began with the visit of Captain Cook and the Endeavour in 1770. In the intervening years numerous English, French, and even American scientific expeditions visited the Antipodes to collect and record its many exotic treasures and strange landscape. By 1858 Australia was adopting a degree of independence - local scientific societies were coming into existence and turning the tide on the traditional notion that all scientific discovery and classification must bear a European imprimatur to be legitimate; resident naturalists, geologists and ethnographers were publishing their findings locally, and building up collections for exhibition in city museums, as opposed to shipment to England and Europe. It is telling that the Novara scientists were given only seconds from the Australian Museum collection, and were required to purchase other items on the open market. There were no longer any major `discoveries' to be made, though the Novara botanists did identify 17 new species of beetle from New South Wales.

Austria's immediate interest in Australia can be traced back to Emperor Joseph II who, after Cook's discoveries, had shown a scientific curiosity in the southern continent and, in 1788, arranged for Australian botanical specimens to be introduced into the Botanical Gardens at Schönbrunn. As part of this scheme, when a Spanish expedition arrived at Port Jackson in March 1793, it had on board the Austrian botanist T. Haenke, whose task was to collect material for the Emperor. But by far the most important of these early Austrian scientists to visit Australia was Ferdinand Bauer, reknowned botanical artist who arrived in the Colony in 1801 as part of Matthew Flinder's expedition aboard the Investigator, sketched in various parts of eastern Australia and along its coastline, before returning to England in 1805. By 1816 Emperor Franz I had likewise requested Australian plant seeds for the Schönbrunn gardens, and when botanist Carl von Hügel arrived in the Colony in 1833 he was already familiar with their taxonomy, having for many years cultivated `New Holland' plants in his own gardens, along with studying various Austrian collections.

This Austrian-Germanic interest in Australian botany was most fully realised with the arrival in Victoria of Ferdinand von Müller, who went on to become the pre-eminent `Australian' botanist of the nineteenth century. Of course this confusion over distinctions between Austria and Germany - in regards to both geographical boundaries and ethnic subdivisions - was common in the Colony throughout the period, and remains so to this day, with the Austria of 1858 now divided amongst Italy, Germany, Czechoslavakia and Russia. As a result, throughout their stay in Sydney, the members of the Novara expedition were variously referred to as 'Germans' or 'Austrians', and the ill-fated German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt was lauded as the most famous of their countrymen to have visited here.

The extensive Novara record is therefore one of social, economic, political, scientific and artistic import to the history of the Colony of New South Wales during the middle part of the nineteenth century. In order to appreciate its achievement, a selection of the published and manuscript accounts are presented to the reader within this volume. Perhaps, in the near future, such translations and compilation of sources may lead to the production of a more consolidated work on the Novara visit of 1858.

Michael Organ, 14 December 1999

SMS Novara - Timeline


20 September

The vessel Minerva - subsequently to be re-named Novara - is laid down at the Arsenal shipyard, Venice


17 March

Rebellion in Venice by the local population, against the imposition of rule by Austria. The partially completed Minerva is renamed L'Italia by the rebels


Franz Joseph is appointed Emperor of Austria and its territories



The Dane, Rear Admiral von Dahlerup, is appointed head of the Austrian navy

12 March

Armistice ends between the Austrian and Italian armed forces

23 March

Battle of Novara - Austria defeats the Italian contingents


Siege of Venice begins, involving Austrian land and sea forces

2 August

Peace of Milan signed between Austria and Sardinia. Siege of Venice continues

24 August

Venice siege ends. Austrian forces enter Venice shortly thereafter and secure the Arsenal shipyard


4 November

The frigate Novara leaves the slipway at Venice



Fitting out of the frigate Novara is completed

30 July

Novara leaves Trieste on a cruise to Spain and Gibraltar

8 August


17 August

Departs Naples

25 August

Passes by Corsica

26 August

Tuscany / Leghorn

27 August


28 August


2 September

Leaves Leghorn for Spain

12-19 September


20-5 September


27 September


7 October

Departs Malaga

14-17 October


17 October

Departs Cartagina for Trieste


2 September

Wilhelm Tegetthoff - Austrian navy story



The Novara and other Austrian naval vessels sail to Montenegro


Montenegro - Milan insurrection - assassination attempt on Franz Joseph


Koszta affair at Smryna

22 June

Koszta seized by crew from Austrian naval vessel Hussar

23 June

Austrian naval officers attacked by Hungarian refugees at Smryna - 1 killed

25 June

Funeral of midshipman Baron Huckelberg

27 June

US frigate St Louis holds Hussar in port

Crimean War

30 November

Destruction of Turkish fleet by Russians at Sinope


17 October

Bombardment of Sevastopol (explosive shell)



Crimean War ends


Letter from scientist Alexander von Humboldt to Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian re a proposed Austrian round-the-world scientific expedition



Novara refit in preparation for round-the-world voyage

15 March

Novara refit completed

30 April

Novara expedition departs Trieste

20-30 May


8-17 June


5-31 August

Rio de Janeiro

2-26 October

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

9 November

Islands of St Paul and Amsterdam

7 December

Departs Amsterdam Island, South Indian Ocean


8-16 January


31 January


10 February

Leaves Madras

23 February

Nicobar Islands

26 March

Departs Nicobar Islands

15-21 April


5-29 May


15-25 June


5-18 July

Hong Kong

25 July



Leaves Shanghai

17 September

Island of Puynipet

17 October

Sikyana (Stewart) Island

5 November


13 November

Enters FitzRoy Dock


Departs Fitzroy Dock


Departs Sydney


New Zealand



Departs New Zealand

February 2-23



Austro-Italian War

24 April


3 May

France enters war

11 July

Armistice at Villafranca

1 August


26 August

Novara returns to Trieste harbour



Triple-decker battleship Kaiser launched


Italy begins building up fleet


Garibaldi plans to attack Venice with Italian fleet. Austria moves material from Arsenal to Pola naval yard. Fleet goes on alert


Fleet returns to Pola



Novara refit

American Civil War 1861-5

19 November

T - Austrian Navy listing


15 February

Discussion re F. Max and Mexico

10 July

Novara refit completed


Greek expedition under command of Captain Tegetthoff division - includes Novara (flagship), plus Erzherzog Friedrich, Veleblich and Wall


Greek expedition



Novara enters yard for repairs. Tegetthoff transfers to Schwarzenburg



Danish War

10 April

Miramar Convention

14 April

Novara departs for Mexico

9 May

Battle of Heligoland

10 May

Blockade of German ports raised

11 May

Post-Captain Tegetthoff made Vice-Admiral

28 May

Novara arrives at Vera Cruz

16 June

T - Austrian Navy list



Novara returns home from Mexico


Bismark seeks alliance with Italy, against Austria



Tegetthoff given command of navy

8 April

Prussian - Italian alliance, secret

21 April

Austrian army call up

27 April

Austrian army call-up accelerated

end April

Austrian expedition to Eastern Asia planned


T begins preparing fleet at Pola

12 May

Prussian mobilisation

14 June

Prussians begin advance into Bohemia etc.

16 June

Prussian invades Hanover and Saxony

20 June

Italy declares war with Austria

21 June

Prussian declares war with Austria

24 June

Battle of Custozza - Austrians defeat Italians (Italians: 720 killed, 3112 wounded, 3608 prisoners; Austrians: 960 killed, 3690 wounded, 1000 prisoners)

27 June

Austrian fleet appears off Ancona - 12 ships

1 July

Austrian gunboats bombard Italian encampment on Lake of Garda and blockade part of Salo

3 July

Battle of Konnigratz / Sadowa - Prussians defeat Austrians. Italian fleet moves from Taranto to Ancona

6 July

Tegetthoff off Ancona?

8 July

Italian fleet puts to sea

13 July

Italian fleet returns to Ancona

16 July

Italian fleet leaves Ancona for Lissa

18 July

am - Italian fleet reaches Lissa

8.30am - telegram sent to T from Lissa

Italian fleet attacks Lissa

11am - Tegetthoff informed of attack at Lissa

19 July

Affondatore arrives at Lissa

2pm - Austrian fleet leaves Pola for Lissa

20 July

Battle of Lissa

7am - Austrian scout ships sight 6 Italian vessels

7.50am - Esploratore signals "Suspicious vessels in sight". Persano: "No doubt they are fishing vessels"

9am - weather lifts

10am - mist clears, rolling seas

10.30am - Persano leaves Re D'Italia for Affondatore

10.45am - battle begins, Italians open fire

10.50am - Austrians break through Italian line

11.20am - Re D'Italia sinks

12pm - Persano calls on fleet to withdraw

2pm - Palestro blows up (?2.30pm)

4pm - Persano asks whereabouts of Re d'Italia

23 July

Tegetthoff's report

25 July

Prussia signs peace with Austria

28 July

Persano demands trial before court marshal

2 August

Armistice between Austrian and Italy


15 April

Persano found guilty

19 June

Emperor Ferdinand Maximillian executed

22 July

Tegetthoff sets off for Mexico to retrieve body of Maximillian

4 September

Tegetthoff arrives in Mexico City

Novara arrives at Havannah, Cuba, en route to Mexico

26 November

Body of Emperor Ferdinand Maximillian arrives at Vera Cruz for transfer to the Novara

28 November

Novara leaves Mexico with Maximillian's body

27 December

Novara at Cadiz


13 January

Arrives at Pola

15 January

Novara and funeral procession arrives at Trieste

16 January

Transfer of body


Tegetthoff made commander of Austrian navy


Armament upgrade for the Novara



Novara refit

24 April

Novara arrives in New York


7 April

Tegetthoff dies

11 April

Tegetthoff buried

1 May

Memorial service for Admiral Tegetthoff held on board the Novara, docked in New York harbour


22 August

Novara becomes a hulk



Engines of the Novara removed

22 June

Novara converted into a gunnery training ship


22 October

Novara stricken



SMS Novara scrapped

Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff - Timeline




23 December

Wilhelm Tegetthoff born


28 November

Enters Naval Cadet College, Venice



First training cruise


21 July


28 September

Sails in brig Montecuccoli to Corfu



Montecuccoli sails to the Aegean; Tegetthoff transfers to the Adria - sails to Greece



Promoted to Midshipman


Blockade of Trieste by Sardinians

14 September

Adjutant to Vice-Admiral Martini



Blockade of Venice on board Adria

28 August

Enters Venice as member of Admiral von Dahlerup's staff


Executive officer of paddle wheeler Marianne



Executive Officer to Wullerstorf on Montecuccoli; promoted to junior grade Lieutenant


Transfers to Carolina


13 July

Appointed to first command on board schooner Elizabeth



Completes command of Elizabeth



1856 On board paddle wheeler Taurus at Sulina



Completes period with Taurus

Red Sea mission


Lieutenant-Commander of Trieste


28 October

Command of Erzherzog Friedrich, to Morocco





Sails to Brazil in steamer Kaiserin



Returns from Brazil; gains command of Radetzky



Returns to Pola



Command of naval division - includes Novara (captain), plus Erzherzog Friedrich, Veleblich and Wall - to Greece



Novara enters yard. Tegetthoff transfers to Schwarzenburg


Mediterranean cruise

Index | Ship History | Scherzer Diary | Expedition Narrative | Sydney | Selleny | Bibliography | Novara Expedition
Hochstetter I | Blanche Mitchell Diary | Minnie Mann Diary | Hochstetter II | FitzRoy Dock | Scherzer in Sydney
Frauenfeld Diary | Incident at Sikyana | Sydney Chronology | Appendicies
| Lissa 1866 | Ferdinand Maximillian

Site last updated: 30 October 2004. Return to SMS Novara Home Page.