Inside the Collection

A daughter of Neptune – Annette Kellerman

Mermaid costume
Collection, Powerhouse Museum.

Earlier in the year, I took a break from Registration duties to complete an internship in the Curatorial department under the guidance and supervision of Peter Cox, Curator of Australian Social History, as part of a Graduate Diploma in Museum Studies. The subject of my research was Annette Kellerman and my aim was to investigate if any new material or information might have surfaced relating to the Powerhouse collection of Kellerman costumes or from Kellerman’s career and life. While Kellerman is probably best known for her achievements as a long-distance swimmer, she was also an author, Vaudeville performer, lecturer and, perhaps most famously, a silent movie star.

Portrait of Annette
Collection, Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum’s collection of Annette Kellerman costumes came to the Museum via the Sydney Opera House at the beginning of this century and comprises some 142 items. The material was collected from Annette herself by Mrs Barbara Firth back in 1975 – unfortunately little detail is known about the early life of the collection, due largely to the fact that Annette Kellerman was 89 at the time of acquisition and detailed records of provenance had not been kept. My internship culminated in a public talk detailing the results of my research at the Museum in November 2009.

Some of these interesting results include:

An interview with Mrs Barbara Firth

Re-discovered extra footage from one of Annette’s silent films, Neptune’s Daughter (1914) which you can view here.

Neptune’s Daughter was one of a number of ‘Big Budget’ silent films that Kellerman appeared in. This extraordinary footage adds almost six more minutes to the 19 minutes of known surviving film, and was supplied by Mary Ann Cade from Illinois USA. It was originally sourced (by others) from the Gosfilmofond archive in Russia.

Only one of Kellerman’s films ‘Venus of the South Seas’ (1924) is believed to have survived in its entirety to the modern day, and her biggest budget film ‘A Daughter of the Gods’ (1916) has no known surviving copies available. The results of this research project confirm that further discoveries of related material within diverse collections around the globe is possible, and is especially helped with databases increasingly going online and people with similar interests being able to connect and share information via the internet.

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