While revisiting Sydney's Vivid Festival on Thursday night I happened to chance on a dress rehearsal of 'Fire and Water' a free public performance that is a stunning recreation of the famous historical incident when a fire devastated the 19th century convict ship the Three Bees.
It is being performed in the very spot it happened in
Campbells Cove opposite the Sydney Opera House, next to the southern side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Three Bees arrived in Sydney Harbour on 6 May 1814 with a cargo of male convicts, it was one of the so called 'fever ships' that had a high mortality rate for the convicts transported upon them.
The Three Bees, commanded by a Captain John Wallis, arrived at Campbells Cove and after the 210 surviving convicts were disembarked and a fire was discovered on the ship. It was later thought that the fire was caused by candle snuff being dropped when an officer and boy that had entered the ships hold.
The Three Bees was cut loose from its moorings and pushed away from other ships in the cove because at that time the colony was apparently a little paranoid about being attacked by the French. As a consequence of this the Three Bees, other ships in the cove and in installations around it there were a lot of highly explosive munitions.
A recreation of the Three Bees rises out of the water accompanied by eerily beautiful and dramatic music.
Not long after the fire took hold the Three Bees first gun exploded on board and a swivel ball smashed into the parlour of the house of a Captain Piper, luckily missing everything but a writing table but further explosions sent cannon balls blazing across the harbour.
It was reported that panic ensued and the Govenor and other colonists were quickly evacuating the settlement for fear that the whole town would explode and burn.
The ship drifted out to Bennelong Point and shortly afterwards its whole magazine exploded and it sank.
Campbells Cove with the Sydney Opera House sails being lit in the background.
PERFORMANCES - 12–14 June 2009 at Campbells Cove, The Rocks 6.15pm, 7.15pm and 8.15pm
Created by a team of Australia's leading outdoor theatre makers features a rich musical score performed live by CODA, floating inflatables and various other installations from other artists.
View the making of the ship for Fire Water.
All photographs © Wayne Ryan 2009