GIST: Family Stories and National Myths: The sinking of the 'Emden' November 1914

When:3 Nov 2011, 6pm - 7:30pm
Venue:Room 327 Robert Webster Building, UNSW Kensington Campus
Who:Christine Kelly, freelance historian, author and lecturer


Christine Kelly, freelance historian, author, and lecturer

During the early months of the First World War a lone German cruiser, the Emden, prowled the Indian Ocean disrupting and sinking shipping and delaying vital Allied troop movements. Nicknamed ‘The Corsair’, as she outwitted the seventy-eight warships sent to destroy her, her crew became heroes to the Germans and a source of fascination to the British and Australian press until she was single-handedly attacked and run aground by HMAS Sydney at the battle of the Cocos Islands in November 1914. This was the first naval victory of the war and a significant triumph for the recently commissioned Australian navy. This talk looks at the themes underlying the dramatic tale of the battle including the exploration of private and public myths, contrasting the victory of the Sydney over the Emden with the disaster at Gallipoli in the shaping of Australian identity. The story is told through eye-witness accounts, focusing on Denis Rahilly, the young Irish/Australian Gunnery Officer who had to scramble up the mast into the Crow’s Nest to direct the firing. (The mast is now the centre of the peace memorial on Bradley Head overlooking Sydney harbour.) The family stories and economic influences that brought this young man, educated in England, to volunteer for the Australian navy rather than returning to Ireland echo the experiences of many Australians

Christine Kelly has an M.A. in History and Political Science from Trinity College, Dublin and is a Licentiate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. She is a freelance historian, author and lecturer and a contributor to the New Dictionary of National Biography, the BBC History Magazine and the Literary Review. Her publications include, Blessed Thomas Belson: His Life and Times 1563-1589 (Colin Smythe, 1988) and Mrs. Duberly’s War: Letters & Journal from the Crimea 1854-56 (Oxford University Press, 2008). She is a member of the executive committee of the British Irish Association

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Contact: Angela McLoughlin | T: 02 9385 7164 | E:

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