Biography of  Robert Carter - OAM FASMA FISMP - Marine Artist, Historian, Author, Engineer (Rtd)

Robert Carter was born in Sydney in 1931. He claims that his genes were well soaked in salt water as his father was a shipwright and naval architect and his grandfather was a master mariner in British sailing ships. Growing up in Manly on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour during WW2 he developed a strong interest in ships and the sea.

He says, “I spent my boyhood surfing, sailing and ‘messing around in boats’. I witnessed the Japanese submarine attack and crippled ships returning after the battle of the Coral Sea. I saw the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary as troopships, taking our soldiers off to war”. I visited the sailing ships Lawhill, Pamir and Kaiulani on their last visits to Sydney;  this latter experience kindled my passion for the sail driven ship.”

He followed an engineering career, whilst at the same time painting ships and the sea for relaxation. He studied life and landscape painting at the Royal Art Society and went on to become an exhibiting member.

Small boat sailing (14, 16 and 18 footers), three years in the Naval Reserve and crewing in the barquentine New Endeavour in his early life, has given him a sensitivity and understanding of ships, sea, wind and wave. His engineering background plus his father’s teachings allowed him to develop almost a forensic knowledge of ship construction and rigging - essential for the creation of authentic marine paintings. He built a 4 metre sailing boat at age 18, eight more in ensuing years and just recently a gaff rigged yawl.

Consequently his advice has been sought by museums and institutions involved in ship restoration and he was one of the founding members of the original Australian Sail Training Association. He is also a member of the Sydney Heritage Fleet (formerly Sydney Maritime Museum), where his engineering skills allowed him to contribute to the restoration of the steam tug Waratah. As a volunteer he rebuilt her boiler water feed pump, which is still in use.


To facilitate his research into the last commercial sailing ships he became an honorary member of the Australian Cape Horner’s Association (AICH) and was secretary for many years. This experience brought him into contact with the last living men and women from around the world who had served in and rounded Cape Horn in a commercial sailing ship. As a result he has written a book titled ‘Windjammers - The Final Story’, a collection of stories, happenings and anecdotes from contact and interviews with these last living sailing ship sailors. It is illustrated with over 40 of his paintings. There would be few in the world with the knowledge that he has acquired on this subject. In 2016 his second book ‘Paint Me a Ship’ was published.


In 1995 he was awarded the prestigious St. Malo Medal by the International Association of Cape Horner’s in France, for his contribution in recording and illustrating the existence of commercial sailing ships in their final years.


In 1996 he founded the Australian Society of Marine Artists. This society flourished and now has 150 members - Australia wide. It has held major exhibitions at the Australian National Maritime Museum and NSW Parliament House.


In 2011 he was awarded the Order of Australia medal for his services to the arts in documenting and illustrating the final years of commercial sailing ships.


Robert’s work has been commissioned by collectors world-wide. He also exhibits in the US, UK, Germany and Finland and his paintings hang in the permanent collections of the Deutsches Schiffahrts Museum in Bremen and Aland Maritime Museum in Mariehamn, Aland, Finland where he has had two sell-out exhibitions. 


Robert is highly regarded in Mariehamn, for it was here that the world’s last fleet of large deep-water commercial sailing ships was owned and registered. In 1999 he was commissioned by the Aland Post to paint a picture for a stamp and First Day Cover to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last voyage in 1949, by the last two commercial sailing ships, carrying cargos of grain from Australia around Cape Horn to the UK. It was subsequently voted the best stamp of the year.


Robert has judged many marine art prizes, including the Mission to Seafarers/ANL art prize in Melbourne.


As well as painting, Robert is an active writer and contributor to maritime publications.


He has written three books -


Windjammers – The Final Story, assembled from interviews with the last living seafarers from the age of sailing ships and illustrated with 40 of his paintings. It has been acclaimed as a definitive work and will be the last book on this subject ever to be published using the spoken words of the last seafarers to have rounded Cape Horn in commercial sailing ships.


Paint me a Ship - Part 1 is a collection of images his own work and commentary on his part time career as a marine artist. Part 11 is an overview of the Australian Society of Marine Artists with images of work by its founding members’ work.


Wartime Windjammers - A monograph revealing the hither-to unknown activities of 27 large commercial sailing ships operating during World War 2.


Other published work:


Australian Artist Magazine: 

  • Marine Art in Australia – more than just painting boats. Parts  1 and 2

  • Celebrating the diversity of Marine Art

  • A Witness to History – Marine Art in Australia

  • Marine Art in Action

  • Marine Art – In a Heritage Context  

  • All at Sea


Traditional Boats and Tall Ships Mag. UK sailing ships:

  • 30 x bi- monthly articles titled, ‘Once upon a Tide’ featuring his paintings and  history of well-known sailing ships.  

  • Feature article  ‘An Eye For Art’  Spring edition 2009


Dog Watch Magazine:         

  • Sail Training for Australia – Now a reality

  • Grain Ship Memories  Parts 1 and 2

  • Memories of a girl Cape Horner

  • The Grain Fleet c. 1930


Modern Boating Magazine:     

  • Eight Days before the Mast  -  An account of the author’s voyage in the Russian Sail Training ship Nadezhda.

Australian Sea Heritage Magazine:    

  • A look through the Maritime Museum town of Mariehamn in Finland

  • Commentary on Artist in Residence programme

  • Marine Art in Australia

  • Notes on a Picture – Ship Wavertree loading coal at the                                                                               


Dyke - Newcastle:                 

  • Notes on a Picture – Four masted ship Falls of Clyde

  • Obituary and biography of Dennis Adams OAM – Official                                                                                                                     War Artist WW2 and first president of ASMA

Mobil Magazine USA:           

  • Dismasting of the 4 masted barque Hougomont       

ANMM Signals Magazine:     

  • Article on last sailing ships to visit Sydney               


Australian Amateur Boat Builder: 

  • Building the Stornoway – An account of the Author’s building of a gaff yawl.         


Australian Cape Horner’s  Journal:

  • Numerous articles over 40 years


  • Maritime Museums, Rotary, Lions Clubs, Probus.


Military Service:                      

  • Royal Australian Navy Reserve 1949 – 1952

  • Petty Officer – Electrical Artificer grade 4

  • Sea service in HMAS Australia, HMAS Hawkesbury, Various General Purpose Vessels. 


Sea Riding:                              

  • To stay attuned to Navy lore Robert avails himself of ‘sea riding’ opportunities with the Fleet. Viz. On HMAS Anzac during Fleet concentration exercises and HMAS Jervis Bay (Dili Express) after her deployment in East Timor.                                           

  • He travelled to Adelaide in HMAS Brisbane on her paying  off voyage. This latter experience produced his painting, The Five Mile Sniper.


Memberships and Life Member:    

  • Past President and Fellow - Australian Society of Marine Artists - Founder                                                

  • Fellow- International Society of Marine Painters,  USA

  • Royal Art Society – Exhibiting member

  • North Shore Art Society – Past exhibiting member

  • Sydney Heritage Fleet, active member for over 30 years.

  • Convenor of Artist- in- Residence programme.

  • International Cape Horner’s Association (now disbanded) -  past secretary and recipient of St. Malo medal for the                      recording and illustration of the last years of the Cape Horn sailing ship.

  •  Naval Historical Society - member for 25 years.

  • Australian Sail Training Association (now disbanded) - Committee member and advisor.

Further information on Website