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National Museum of Australia

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A Famous Life Belt for Cricketers

2004.0039.0001

A Famous Life Belt for Cricketers

Object information

Physical description

Rectangular pressed brass belt buckle, c.1845-1870. It has an embossed design showing a man with a moustache holding a belt in front of his forehead. "A FAMOUS LIFE BELT / FOR CRICKETERS" is within an oval border that frames the man. It is slightly dented and torn around the edges, has a small hole near the man's left hand, and there are patches of verdigris on the back.

Statement of significance

It is believed that these six brass or cuprous belt buckles came from the wreck of the Dunbar, one of Australia's greatest colonial maritime disasters. The buckles are decorated with differing designs of cricketers and cricket equipment. One has crossed bats, balls, a wicket, oak sprigs and a 'Let Cricket Flourish' banner. Another depicts a cricketer with the slogan 'A Famous Life Belt For Cricketers'. Each of the remaining four has a cricketer holding a bat in the centre of the buckle, surrounded by a decorative edging.

The Dunbar's loss on 20 August 1857, at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, was gruesome and dramatic. All souls were lost, except for one crewman, James Johnson. The Dunbar was carrying a full cargo and while much of this was washed ashore, a great deal remained to sink to the sea floor. The wreck has been almost continually looted since the tragedy, at times with explosives. Belt buckles were a popular sporting accessory for both players and enthusiasts in 1850s England. As objects, and in their retrieval from the wreck, they provide a fascinating glimpse into changing attitudes to heritage sites, commercial trade and private travel in the 1850s as well as cricketing fashions.

Object information

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