- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories, Obituaries
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Brisbane I, HMAS Canberra I, HMAS Tingira, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment), HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Melbourne I
- September 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
RAN serviceman, naval artist, writer. Born Sydney, February 18, 1908. Died Padstow, July 26, 1996, aged 88.
In 1913, when he was five years old, John Bastock perched on his father’s shoulders to watch the arrival from England into Sydney Harbour of the flagship, the powerful new battlecruiser HMAS Australia, the new cruisers Melbourne and Sydney, together with other units of the Royal Australian Navy already serving in Australian waters.
Aged 15, he joined the cradle of the RAN, the training ship Tingira. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for the sea and the inspiration for a fine career as a naval artist and writer.
Born in Sydney in 1908, Bastock was already drawing and painting ships and marine subjects in his schooldays. But his first years at sea were too crowded with activity to devote any time to his hobby.
He served in HMAS Brisbane I on the China Station and in HMAS Melbourne I in the Mediterranean. Having served the final commission in HMAS Sydney I, John, with most of the old ship’s company, sailed in S. S. 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.
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 (25c) and those on velvet for about 5/- (50c).
John’s supreme effort during this period was a large painting of the ship on canvas, suitably framed and signed by Captain Massey and his senior officers. The picture was raffled among the ship’s company and netted John about £15 profit. A similar painting today would cost more like $1000; such a 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. But after further service at sea, he sustained an affliction that resulted in blindness in one eye and he was discharged from the RAN. Having specialised in torpedo and electrical work in the navy, he found ready employment with the electrical branch of the NSW Public Works department and later the Electricity Commission.
Fortunately, his sight eventually improved to such an extent that he was able to resume painting. In the years to follow he painted many subjects and executed hundreds of drawings, diagrams and paintings of ships and wrote many articles on both ships and maritime subjects. His book, Australia’s Ships of War, is well known as a work of naval reference. In fact the signed edition has become a much sought-after collector’s item.
Bastock was a recognised authority on the Sail/Steam era. His second book, Ships on the Australia Station, packed with photographs, drawings, diagrams and a series of his paintings of the flagships involved, has become a valuable reference work on a period of Australia’s naval history of which little authentic information has ever been published.
Many locally produced books, including much publicised works, contain misnamed photographs of ships on the Australia Station. Bastock’s book includes 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.
The keynote to John’s work was correctness of detail – perspective must be spot on, funnels and masts must have just the right angle, guns must look as though they will not collapse when fired, seaboats must be turned out, properly gripped, ready to lower, correct pattern anchors are to be carried, bollards, fairleads and a host of other such details must be included, and the details must be correct for the period depicted. The latter is most important-for example, another artist once created a picture of Sydney I complete with tripod foremast, blasting the Emden. The tripod was not fitted for some years after the action.
John believed that ships, like people, had an ideal angle from which they should be seen. He liked his ships in this ideal position, looking as though they were having their portraits painted.