Bottled Wonders. Ray Gascoigne

Ray Gascoigne is a masterful man of the seas. He’s spent his life skilfully navigating wilful waves, breathing new life into broken, weary and salt crusted trawlers, reaping the ocean’s harvests and negotiating his way through nautical storms, blistering scorchers & glistening heat waves. Nowadays, though, this salty sailor is found mostly on dry land, tinkering away in his modest, weathered workshop in Sydney.

History Lesson

This fascinating and intricate craft has taken on many forms over the centuries. It is thought that over 4000 years ago the Eygptians buried miniature ships with their mummified masters and that the Phoenicians, Etruscans and the Greeks produced similar models that can be seen today, depicted clearly in ancient wall and cave murals.

Centuries later, around 1850, those nimble-fingered and painstakingly patient, progressed to building bottled ships when the great clippers plied the seas from port cities in England and America. Their bored and fidgety sailing staff, enduring months and even years at sea, would while away their precious hours spared from deck duties, delicately creating their own modest version of a magnificent ship that only they would be captain of.

 A *SnapShot* Interview with Ray Gascoigne

Who introduced you to this maritime craft?

In 1949, I was at sea as a 21-year-old shipwright and a fellow sailor taught me. It fascinated me.

Did you always work at sea?

Yes, I spent 5 years posted at Cockatoo Island as a shipwright, I was also a trailer fisherman, ferry master, merchant seaman and sailor.

Where did you grow up?

On the Lane Cove River, Sydney. My father built the house I grew up in, it was later pulled down to make way for the bridge.

Were there any maritime influences in your family?

My grandfather on my father’s side was a ferry skipper, on my mother’s side there were ship’s engineers and my brother was in the business too.

How long does a standard sized model take to build?

Weeks, I take my time but there is a lot to it, it can’t be built quickly if it’s to be done well. That’s why I don’t sell them. Like so many other cottage industries, you don’t get paid what they are worth and the effort put in!

Do you like silence or background noise when you work?

I listen to the radio, ABC or 2CH or sometimes Bob Dillon. I love Bob Dillon.

Tell us about your tools.

I make some myself and as an old seaman I have many old tools used on ships that I make use of. The only tools I have to specifically buy for the models are the tiny drills.

Images for this piece by Chris Court originally used for The Smith Journal 2013.



 A poem about love and loss at sea by Cicely Fox Smith, an English writer and poet (1882-1954)

Poem was first published in Country Life Magazine in 1951. Cicely’s poem is about her ‘Dan’ who was lost at sea.

And I looked on my youth with it’s pleasure and pain,

And the shipmate I loved was beside me again..

In a ship in a bottle a-sailing away

In the flying-fish weather through rainbows of spray,

Over oceans of wonder by headlands of gleam

To the harbours of youth on the wind of a dream.

Thank you to craftsman Ray Gascoigne and photographer Chris Court



  1. On ya Ray used live next door on the Plateau and sailed with you on the Sirius back in 85 love your work and you the best Garry Stuts.


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