Ship's Bell : HMAS Perth

Unit HMAS Perth
Place Asia: Netherlands East Indies, Sunda Strait
Accession Number REL/07771
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Brass
Location Main Bld: World War 2 Gallery: Gallery 2: Fall Sing
Maker Unknown
Place made United Kingdom
Date made c 1935
Conflict Period 1960-1969
Second World War, 1939-1945

Ship's bell from HMAS Perth. The headstock is intact but the clapper is missing. One side is engraved with a 'broad arrow acceptance mark' on the shoulder of the bell, below which is engraved 'H.M.S. AMPHION 1935.' On the other side of the bell is engraved 'H.M.A.S. PERTH 1939.'

History / Summary

This is the ship's bell from the cruiser HMAS Perth which was sunk, together with the USS Houston, on 1 March 1942 during the Battle of Sunda Strait. Of the Perth's company of 686, only 218 were eventually repatriated to Australia. Survivors of the sinking became prisoners of the Japanese and were initially incarcerated near Batavia, Java before being dispersed to other camps, in Singapore, on the Burma Thailand Railway, and in Japan.

HMAS Perth was built at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard and commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Amphion on 15 June 1936. Purchased by the Australian Government, she was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on 29 June 1939. To celebrate her commissioning, the Royal Navy presented the Perth with an ornate bell, which was displayed at the rear of the quarter deck. The bell differed from the standard Admiralty pattern, having bands of raised oak leaves around the shoulder and soundbow. The original bell, now held by the War Memorial, was retained in the ship, and engraved with the names of both HMS Amphion and HMAS Perth.

The Perth first arrived in Australia on 31 March 1940, when she sailed into Sydney Harbour. Shortly afterwards the presentation bell was removed and placed in storage. In line with RAN policy, ships were stripped of their non-essential items in wartime, such as presentation trophies, wardroom silver and any soft furnishings. They were held in store, to be returned to the ship or its name successor post-war.

The South Australian diver, David Burchell, first located the wreck of the Perth in 1967 and made a number of dives on it with support from the Indonesian Navy. Although a number of artifacts were recovered, most of which were donated to the Australian War Memorial, the ship’s bell, which he had wanted to recover, could not be located.

In 1975 Burchell received information that an independent Indonesian salvage company had recovered the bell. He immediately travelled to Indonesia, and was able to negotiate the transfer of the bell to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. A small ceremony was held at the embassy to mark the occasion, before the bell was shipped to the RAN in Australia. The RAN donated the bell to the Australian War Memorial in 1976 in a ceremony that was attended by Burchell and surviving HMAS Perth veterans.

HMAS Perth's ornate presentation bell is displayed at the Perth town Hall in Western Australia.