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Thursday 20 August 1908 witnessed the arrival of the United States of America fleet at Port Jackson, Sydney. This was part of a round the world cruise by the fleet which had originally set out on 16 December 1907.
The sixteen warships, led by the flagship Connecticut, were painted white to denote peace. They would be known as The Great White Fleet.
The fleet was given a tremendous welcome. Thursday 20 August 1908 was a public holiday and a week-long celebration followed.
Fleet Week celebrations and entertainments included the Official Landing and Public Reception, a review at Centennial Park, parades, luncheons, dinners, balls, concerts, theatre parties, sporting events such as boxing, football and baseball matches, a gymkhana including a tug-of-war and a regatta.
Buildings and streets were decorated and illuminated at night. There were daylight and night time fireworks displays.
Excursions were arranged for the Americans to visit Manly, Parramatta, Newcastle, The National Park, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains.
A Royal Parade took place at Centennial Park and a public schools display at the Sydney Cricket Ground
Ferry services were temporarily suspended while the Great White Fleet moored on 20 August and public transport was overcrowded as people flocked to the harbour.
The Newtown and Dulwich Hill lines experienced overload from 5am, the Belmore service was reduced causing dangerous crowding with "passengers being carried on the sides of the engines during certain trips, numbers being left behind and these eventually made for the trams."
Many spectators had to walk much of the way. "On the Watson's Bay line the loading was heavy from the start, in fact a number of people walked before the special service commenced, starting out almost from daylight as they were unable to get accommodation..." and "at 7am there were thousands walking from Elizabeth St to Erskine St to get accommodation." Trams had to stop running on King Street due to the "congested state of the thoroughfare" where "poles were being pulled off the overhead wire and passengers were riding on the roofs to a dangerous extent."
This letter from FH Boone and co, an Artistic Furniture company included a photo of the wicker chairs.
The Hon. Mr C G Wade
Re the visit of the American Fleet
We have had made up at our Factory, 62 Sussex St,
wicker chairs with the flags - worked into the backs in
the correct colours. We enclose photograph
...such chairs would prove we
think, both a novel & pleasing feature
The fleet stayed in Sydney until its departure for Melbourne on 27 August 1908. The letter from the Inspector General of Police below titled "Urgent matter" reveals that 205 sailors were reported absentee:
- 40 returned to the ships voluntarily,
- 76 placed on the USS Yankton by police
- 50 went to Melbourne by boat or rail, and
- 42 believed to have been left behind.