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John Bastock (1908–1996)

by Greg Swinden

This article was published online in 2023

John Bastock (1908–1996) sailor, artist, and naval historian, was born on 18 February 1908 at Glebe, Sydney, eldest child of locally born parents John Bastock, confectioner, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Hewett. At the age of five, John watched from his father’s shoulders the official entry of the new Australian fleet, comprising a battlecruiser and six other warships, into Sydney Harbour. He later recalled that from that moment he knew he would join the navy. Educated at Glebe Public School, he was a keen artist, drawing and painting pictures of ships. After leaving school he gained employment as a process engraver. On 29 May 1923 he joined the Royal Australian Navy as a boy, 2nd class, on board the training ship HMAS Tingira, moored in Rose Bay, Sydney.

Bastock was promoted to boy, 1st class, on 1 January 1924 and in August 1924 joined his first ship, the cruiser HMAS Brisbane. The ship spent six months on the China Station during 1925 visiting ports in Malaya, China, and Japan. Rated as an ordinary seaman on 18 May 1925, he transferred to the cruiser HMAS Melbourne in October that year and spent most of 1926 in the Mediterranean on exchange service with the Royal Navy, before returning to Australia in August. He was promoted to able seaman on 11 June 1926.

Having trained as a torpedo man at Flinders Naval Depot (HMAS Cerberus), Westernport, Victoria, Bastock joined the cruiser HMAS Sydney in October 1927. While on board he worked as a technical assistant to the filmmaker Ken Hall, who was filming The Exploits of the Emden, portraying the destruction of the German cruiser by HMAS Sydney in 1914. In May the next year, Sydney was decommissioned and her crew proceeded to Britain to commission the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra. In late 1928, during Canberra’s delivery voyage to Australia, Bastock found time to take up painting again. He completed many pictures of Canberra, including a large painting on canvas that was sold by raffle. Promoted to acting leading seaman in October 1928 and confirmed in the rank a year later, he served in Canberra until February 1930 before returning to Cerberus for training as a torpedo gunner’s mate. On 5 July 1930 he married Vera May Claggett, a machinist, at St John’s Church of England, Rockdale.

In May 1931 Bastock completed his training and returned to Canberra. Later that year he sustained a serious eye injury, and although offered transfer to the rating of officer’s steward, he instead chose to be medically discharged and left the navy on 18 February 1932. He soon found employment with the electrical branch of the New South Wales Department of Public Works and later the State Electricity Commission. Over time his sight improved and he resumed painting.

Over the following years, Bastock produced many paintings, drawings, and diagrams, constructed models, and wrote several articles on ships and maritime subjects. The hallmark of his work was attention to detail and accuracy, resulting not only from extensive research but also the knowledge and experience gained from his sea service. He always looked for the best perspective from which to cast his pictures, seeking the ‘ideal position, looking as though they were having their portraits painted’ (Zammit 1996, 17). Many of his paintings were donated to the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney.

Bastock’s ‘enthusiasm for the Royal Australian Navy was contagious’ (Zammit 1996, 17), and he was a recognised authority on ships of the sail and steam eras. In 1975 he had published his first book, Australia’s Ships of War, followed in 1988 by Ships on the Australia Station. Both had informative text and were richly illustrated, becoming standard reference works, the former being praised as his ‘enduring monument’ and as a setting a ‘benchmark’ (Roberts 1976, 12). He died at Padstow on 26 July 1996 and was buried at Woronora Cemetery, Sutherland; his wife, who died three days later, their son and two daughters, survived him: one child had predeceased him.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • National Archives of Australia. A6770, Bastock J.
  • Roberts, W. O. C. ‘”Australia’s Ships of War” a Valuable Book of Reference for All Shiplovers and Historians.’ Royal Australian Navy News, 27 August 1976, 12
  • Royal Australian Navy. ‘Mr John Bastock.’ Accessed 12 December 2022. Copy held on ADB file
  • Zammit, Alan. ‘Seaman Put Naval History on Canvas’ Australian, 9 August 1996, 17

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Greg Swinden, 'Bastock, John (1908–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 21 May 2024.

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