Stories from Moreton Island – 1

Dr Robert Anderson OAM (Uncle Bob):

‘In 1832, on the south end of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) at dawn, surrounding a camp of Ngugi people on the banks of a fresh water lagoon, soldiers shot down as many as twenty people. Hidden in the bushes, Winyeeaba Murriaba a child of three at this time, was one of the survivors. Winyeeaba Murriaba and the remaining Ngugi were removed from Mulgumpin to Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). Much later she was to become my Great Grandmother.’

The 'Sovereign' attempting to cross the South Passage bar in 1847
The ‘Sovereign’ attempting to cross the South Passage bar in 1847

Winifred Davenport:

‘The Sovereign went to sea on the morning of 11 March 1847 and was wrecked on the bar of the South Passage within a mile and a half of the shore and almost in a direct line with the south end of Moreton Island. Only 10 of the 54 passengers and crew were saved. Both the pilot and his assistant were absent at the time.’

The Moreton Bay Courier:

‘The steamer had still another wave to encounter before getting over the bar; and at this critical juncture, the engineer called out to Captain Cape that the framing of the engines and part of the machinery had broken down…on descending from his post on the paddle-box, he examined them, and found that the frames of both engines were broken close under the plummer boxes, which were turned upside down … the ship … was drifting on the north spit. The engineer shortly afterwards let the steam off, by order of the Captain, to prevent the vessel from being blown up. The sea at this time was making breaches over her, and the rudder chains parted … As the vessel still drifted, the lar-board anchor was let go, the starboard one having been carried away from the parted in the swell … she continued to drag on the north spit. Previously … the sails were set to provide against the danger … but all to no purpose. The rollers now broke upon the devoted vessel with great violence, carrying away bulwarks and causing the wool and billets of wood to move violently about the decks, whereby three men were killed, while several more had their arms and legs broken, or otherwise disabled. The Captain then told the passengers that he saw no hopes of saving the vessel, as she was still dragging towards the spit. He had just ceased speaking when a tremendous sea broke over the ship, and swept washed away the fore hatches. Tarpaulins were then nailed over them, but they proved of no service …. The passengers were in the utmost consternation, they set up most piteous cries for help; some ran to the side, and in the agonies of despair, plunged into the sea … [Men] … worked for some time at the pumps which, however soon got choked up, and they then assisted in heaving overboard the remainder of the deck cargo … The doors of the companion were then opened, and the females came on deck together. The dreadful moment which was to determine the on, and every one saw in the countenance of his companion the vivid expression of his own feelings …. Mr. Stubbs, who appears to have maintained his presence of mind throughout, now cried out, ‘avoid the suction’: and jumped overboard. One dreadful shriek was heard, proceeding from one of the females in the forepart of the ship, as she took one roll, heeled over and sank, and then all was still. The struggle for life then commenced; some of the passengers clung to the wool bales, some to the portions of the wreck, while others, who had been disabled on board, soon sank to rise no more alive … Mr. Stubbs … saw breakers ahead proceeding from the bar, which appeared coming towards him like and foaming, and enough to appall the stoutest heart. How he got through them he does not recollect, for he saw nothing more until he reached the shoal water of the beach, which was about four miles from the spot where he left the vessel. He had just vigor enough remaining to get out of the reach of the breakers, when a native belonging to the pilot’s crew seized him by the waist, and supported him till his strength returned … Mr. Richards and neighbourhood, rendered every assistance in their power, and aided by a prisoner of the Crown, named William Rollings, a servant of the pilot, and the native crew, by the most arduous exertions succeeded in saving the lives of six more individuals, who, but for their assistance, must have perished in the surf.’

Peter Ludlow:

‘The loss of the Sovereign, with the loss of 45 lives, was a disaster that shook the foundations of the young pastoral and business community.25 More than any other single event, it led to vessels using the northern entrance to Moreton Bay rather than the South Passage.’

Tom Welsby:

‘The Aborigine, Toompani is said to have swam in the surf at the point and to have saved several passengers, with the assistance of his mates. The New South Wales Government gave him a brass plate on which I have read his actions anent the ‘Sovereign’, and for years that Government, and later on the Queensland Government kept him supplied with a first class boat, by which he was often enabled to make hauls of fish for either sale or for food amongst the inhabitants ashore.’

Stories from Fort Lytton

As a result of conflict between the expanding British Empire and Russia, Fort Lytton was built in 1881 on the advice of British engineers, Jervois and Scratchley. Situated at the mouth of the Brisbane River, the pentagonal shaped fort was surrounded by a water-filled moat. It boasted four heavy gun positions – two to fire down the river and two to fire across. An underwater mine system could also be placed across the river in times of emergency. By the turn of the century the armaments had increased to six heavy guns and two machine guns.

Queensland’s defence force had started with volunteers in 1860 and by the mid 1880s included some permanent soldiers. Fort Lytton was their main training ground. Annual camps were run there, which in the early years were a highlight in Queensland’s political and social calendar. Thousands of Brisbane’s citizens would travel by train or boat to Lytton to watch the spectacular military manoeuvres and ceremonial displays.

Army camp at Fort Lytton in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy Rob Poulton)
Army camp at Fort Lytton in the early 1900s.
(Photo courtesy Rob Poulton)

Fort Lytton was well entrenched in the psyche of Brisbane’s inhabitants. The following references reveal some glimpses not just the way of life at the Fort but of life in Brisbane and Moreton Bay during these times:

Clarrie Phillips recalls: 

“The artillery at Fort Lytton had fairly regular practice in the early part of this century.  The light guns fired across the Brisbane River at a target in the vicinity of Luggage Point.  The heavier guns fired mostly towards Tangalooma or on the Naval Reserve Banks on the South Passage.  Their target was a float with several red flags – towed there on a long line by either the Midge or the Mosquito, small fast Naval craft about 50 feet long. The target practices were advertised in the daily press, and a large red flag was flown from Lytton fort before practice commenced”. (1)

Roy Gardner: 

“I joined the Royal Australian Engineers during the Depression in 1932 and was stationed at Fort Lytton at the mouth of the Brisbane River.  It was an active garrison then and its six-inch guns commanded a view of the entrance to Moreton Bay right up to Caloundra.  I remember there was a moat of water round the guns so that they couldn’t be taken from behind.  The ground was very swampy and the mosquitoes were bad – so bad, in fact, that the horses would drag their tethering pegs right out of the ground.” (1)

Ron Williams: 

“I remember too that in the 1930s the army had camps at Fort Lytton where they would practice fire the cannon across the boat passage out towards St Helena.  Quite a lot of the shells would end up in the mudflats at Wynnum. One of our childhood pastimes was to look for the artillery shells buried there.”  (1)

Mena O’Neill: 

“Lytton was a military fort.  One part was called Reformatory Hill, where deserters were quartered.  Sentries were posted but still some got out, looking for money or tobacco.  Later before WWII, Lytton was a training camp.  My father’s shop supplied the Officers’ Mess with extras.  I used to deliver them in our truck, but only at certain times because they used to have firing practice there.  Once, General Chauvel visited there to review the troops, and we had to supply the flowers and tablecloths for the mess.” (2)

Throughout World Wars I and II, Fort Lytton continued its defensive role and remained a major training facility. A submarine boom was mounted across the river during World War II. After World War II the fort no longer met the defence needs and was gradually abandoned.

The remnants of Fort Lytton in 2008 (Photo courtesy Karen Ludlow)
The remnants of Fort Lytton in 2008
(Photo courtesy Karen Ludlow)

In 1963 it was included in land sold to Ampol (now Caltex) to build an oil refinery. Ownership of the Fort was transferred back to the Queensland Government in 1988 under the management of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.3

(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’)


1. Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay People-The Complete Collection. privately published, Stones Corner, 2000

2. Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Letters. privately published, Stones Corner, 2003

3. Heritage Parks of Moreton Bay – Visitor Guide. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 2007

Play It Forward


Mac Millar's book - Play it Forward
Mac Millar’s book – Play it Forward

At our Toondah Probus meeting this month’s topic ‘Play It Forward’ was presented by Mac Millar, who at 13 years of age must surely be our youngest guest speaker yet. Mac is also one of most experienced, for over the last three years, as a Rotary speaker, he has raised enough money to be able to present 4,000 soccer balls to underprivileged children in 22 countries around the world. Mac began his talk by showing the audience his specially signed soccer ball – not by soccer stars, but by children from the Refugee Immigration Centre in Brisbane.

Mac demonstrated that when you kick a soccer ball to someone they will kick it back: it has its own universal language, The idea for Mac’s project began in Afghanistan with the encouragement of the Australian Army, who presented the balls to the children in local schools. This was followed up by the Salvation Army in the detention centres on Manus and Nauru Islands. All Mac’s projects are carried out under the auspices of Rotary International.

Other children to benefit from Mac’s soccer ball programme include Syrian refugees in Jordan, orphanages in North Korea, 50 schools in Gaza, Papua New Guinea (with the help of the Australian Federal Police). Mac has also conducted extensive speaking tours of China and India: in India alone he visited 8 schools a day and spoke each night for 2 weeks.

Mac has also written a book, aimed at 10 year olds and upwards, to help fund his passion: soccer. Copies of it are now included in the Disaster and International Family Survival kits.

Mac likes to quote British philosopher Bertrand Russell: ‘War does not determine who is right – only who is left.’

Mac ended with a challenge to his audience: ‘Soccer is my passion. How can you use your passion to make a difference in the world?’

Stories from the Brisbane River – 2 (Thomas Welsby’s Home, ‘Amity’)

Just upstream from the US Submarine Memorial at New Farm (see blog of 02.07.2016) is the former home of an early prominent Queenslander, Thomas Welsby. It’s easy to miss it nestling amongst its trees and the crowding apartment blocks on the riverbank.

Tom Welsby's house viewed from the river
Tom Welsby’s house viewed from the river

To anyone who is in any way familiar with Moreton Bay history, the name of Thomas Welsby is synonymous. Welsby loved history and sport. He was foundation honorary treasurer (1913), president (1936-37) and vice-president (1917-36, 1937-41) of the Historical Society of Queensland. He advocated that government subsidise the society to collect Queensland’s early records, and he bequeathed his large library to the society and his portrait hangs over the entrance. Welsby also wrote seven books about the history of the Moreton Bay region.

In 1882 Welsby had been manager and half-back for Queensland’s first intercolonial Rugby Union team which played in Sydney. He helped to revive the code in 1928, was a life member of the Queensland Rugby Union (president 1929-39) and donated the Welsby Cup. He was foundation secretary of the Brisbane Gymnasium in 1882, sponsored boxing matches and formed the Queensland Amateur Boxing and Wrestling Union in 1909. Welsby had a house at Amity on Stradbroke Island and was patron of the Amateur Fishing Society from 1916. He was also a founding member of the Royal Queensland Yacht Club in 1885, later being commodore in 1903-19.

Tom Welsby (centre) and fishing crew
Tom Welsby (centre) and fishing crew

Welsby married Margaret Gilchrist Kingston in February 1893. They had two daughters, a son, and a young Torres Strait Islands girl named Jane whom they had fostered. Their son died in 1902 aged two months, and Margaret died the following year from tuberculosis. Jane later became Welsby’s housekeeper and remained with him until his death in February 1941 at ‘Amity’.

‘Amity’ was constructed by Welsby just prior to his marriage, and for the rest of his life was his only Brisbane residence.

Welsby moved into the house in December 1892, and in February 1893 endured the disastrous flood which came within 8 inches of the verandah flooring. Welsby marked the height of the flood on the entrance stairs, and the marker still survives.

(Reference: Queensland Heritage Register)

Stories from the Brisbane River – 1

Next time you visit the former Wool Stores at New Farm for a meal, it’s worth making a visit to the small riverbank park opposite Hastings Street to reflect that during World War II, New Farm housed a major US submarine operation and maintenance Base.

The US Submarine Base memorial park at New Farm
The US Submarine Base memorial park at New Farm

In the peace of a crisp sunny winter’s morning it’s difficult to imagine this wartime activity ever existed, but to honour this important event, the New Farm and Districts Historical Society Inc. have erected the following plaque:

‘New Farm Wharf became one of the largest US naval bases in the Southwest Pacific area, with the total of 79 submarines, which operated over a period of three years.

Under the command of Gen Douglas MacArthur, Capt Ralph Christie established a forward operation and maintenance base for the US submarine task force 42 (later to become task force 72) which operated against Japanese shipping the Southwest Pacific area.

The U.S. Navy took possession of New Farm Wharf and its associated wool stores on 15 April 1942; the resident unit was known as the U.S. Navy Repair unit 134. The first submarine tender to establish an operation base in Brisbane was the USS Griffin followed by the USS Fulton and USS Sperry. These tenders carried out maintenance and refits, while major repairs were performed at the South Brisbane Dry Dock.

Seven submarines, based in Brisbane, where built in Manitowoc, located on Lake Michigan in the USA. The submarines travelled by barge down the Mississippi River, a distance of 2000 km before reaching the Gulf of Mexico to make the journey non-stop to Brisbane.

The first submarine to make this journey was the USS Peto, which sailed on five war patrols from Brisbane.

Seven of the Brisbane-based submarines were lost in the Pacific conflict, five with all hands.At any one time, they could be 800 personnel and officers based at this unit. The entrance to the Submarine Repair Unit 134 was at the southern end of Macquarie Street.

The unit comprised of personnel barracks, stores, workshops, refrigeration, two-storey medical and dental building and other facilities.

The last U.S. Navy unit relocated to the Philippines on 30th of March 1945.’

Plaque commemorating the US submarines that operated out of Brisbane during WWII
Plaque commemorating the US submarines that operated out of Brisbane during WWII