Rope Samplers ; 1940s; 2014/601


Mid North Coast Maritime Museum


Rope Samplers

About this object

This superb collection of six cotton knotted rope samplers was made during the 1940s by Eardley Bickersteth Hawkins Ashby, a professionally trained Ship Rigger. Eardley was born in Kent, England in 1878 and learned his craft whilst employed by the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company (P&O) sailing and working on the square rigged sailing ships that were an important part of the P&O fleet up until the early 1900s.

In 1910 Mr Ashby migrated to Australia with his young family, and took up farming although it appears he continued to practise and perfect his rope knotting, plaiting and weaving skills, as the samplers demonstrate the high degree of technical excellence and craftsmanship which usually comes from years of experience.

Remarkably, Eardley was in his mid 60s when he was engaged to work at the Rose Bay Flying Base with Qantas Airways after World War II. Here he was employed as a professional rope maker applying the knowledge and expertise he had gained as a sail rigger with P&O more than 35 years earlier, to new and different situations. Over the next 14 years, Eardley made the long braided and knotted ropes which were hung along the gang ways for passengers to grip as they boarded the flying boats that operated from Rose Bay. He also made the ornate bell-pulls which adorned the plush interiors of the Sandringham Flying Boats and it is likely that he made these samplers to plan and test his patterns prior to making the final pieces.

Rope making and methods of fastening and securing ropes are traditional and essential nautical arts. Egyptians on the Mediterranean worked with twisted, braided and knotted ropes 3,000 years ago as did seamen many miles away in the Far East. Their ropes and knots were much the same as those in use today except that synthetic fibres have replaced natural fibres over recent years.

Knots have been a subject of much interest not only for their ancient origins and their use for measuring speed over water, but for their many common applications. There are a very large number of different kinds of knots, each with properties that make them suitable for a range of specific tasks, for example, some are used to attach rope, or other knotting material to other objects such as another rope, or a cleat, or a ring, while others are used to bind or constrict objects. They may also be made to slip, or move, or slide, or release. In addition knots can be made quite ornamental by binding them to themselves in order to produce interesting and attractive patterns such those shown in these rope samplers which incorporate elaborate knotted embellishments.

Other creative crafts, such as beading, fabric and wool sculpture, macramé, tatting and crocheting all make use of various knotting techniques and sometimes decorative embellishments similar to those in these samplers may evolve.

Knowledge of knot structure, knot tying and knot strength are essential requirements for those working in the sailing and marine industry as they are used frequently for a variety of functions. These miniature samplers not only display Mr Ashby’s high level of understanding of these elements, but they also demonstrate his expertise and ability to build on the knotting skills he learned as a ship’s rigger, to create these unique, ornate and intricately detailed items.

Zsolt Newby & Margaret Blight
21 January 2015

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