Posted by: timjohn7 | 13 January 2010

The Rescue of the HELEN B. STERLING


Helen B. Sterling

Oil on Canvas (1200 x 760mm) 9 November 2009

Commissioned by CMDR Mick Harris of the Royal Australian Navy, this painting depicts the rescue of the crew and passengers of the schooner HELEN B. STERLING by HMAS MELBOURNE in 1922.



  1. My wife’s grandfather sailed on the Helen B Sterling
    which at the time was the worlds largest sailing ship.
    The painting puzzles me because the Helen B Sterling was a six masted barque not a three masted schooner,she also had a funnel because she had auxilery steam power.My wife has a letter from the Captain inviting her grandfather and his children to lunch on board in Auckland.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for the very interesting comment.

      The painting was commissioned by Commander Mick Harris of the Royal Australian Navy who provided me with a contemporary newspaper cutting including a sketch of the rescue by a sailor on board the HMAS MELBOURNE. His grandfather was a boy on board the ship and was rescued on that fateful night. I based the painting on his information, which certainly seems genuine and accurate.

      The ship is described as a 4-masted schooner (in the painting the 2nd mast is snapped and in the water on the port side, as reported as the cause of the distress).

      My only thought on the discrepancy is that there was perhaps a 2nd Helen B Sterling named after the 1st ship was lost?

      What is the date of the letters which you have?


      Tim Johnson

  2. Tim’s observation is correct – there were 2 HELEN B STERLING ships. The first was a 4 master schooner which foundered in 1922 near Three Kings off NZ (the painting depicts the ship with one mast lost overboard). George Harris was capt. and my father 2nd mate. George was the great grandfather of Mick (the cmd of the current HMAS MELBOURNE) and George’s wife and 10 yr old son were also on the ship. She was owned by E R Sterling. All on board were saved by HMAS MELBOURNE. The second ship of that name was a 6 master schooner purchased by Ray Sterling (E R’s son) in 1926 (she was originally the OREGON FIR and was rejigged). Ray was married to my aunt. The ship was sold in 1928 to Wm Payne of Portland, Oregon and ended her days about 1930 in Australia.

  3. My Grandfather, Henry Lyons Davie was one of the sailors from the HMAS Melbourne who volunteered to row out in the ‘cutter’ to rescue all on board the Helen B Sterling. I am endeavoring to find out more information from the Royal Australian Navy with regards to this. Does anyone know of a contact name in the Navy who I could speak to? Dan

  4. My father, Henry Lyons Davie, was one of the crew members of the HMAS Melbourne who volunteered to go out in the cutter to rescue the ship’s company of the Helen B Sterling in 1922. He, along with the other volunteers, were awarded a gold medal, which was ordered to be specially struck by the President of the United States. In my father’s will, he wished this medal to be displayed at the Naval Museum in Sydney. I have not seen this medal since my father’s passing in 1973 and I would very much like to see it. I would also like my son, daughter and grandchildren to be made aware of the great courage their grandfather and great-grandfather displayed during the rescue of those aboard the Helen B Sterling. By the way, I was not aware that there were 2 Helen B Sterlings and the photo I bought many years ago appears to be that of the second ship.

  5. This thread seems to be cold now – I am writing a history of HMAS Melbourne and naturally am interested in making contact with descendants of crew or anyone related to the activities of the ship, including the Helen B Sterling rescue. I’d be grateful for any responses to this email if it finds a home.

    I can be reached at kilsbya at

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