Hugh Smith – “The story of one seaman who lived and died for Moreton Bay”

Lyn Kathwrites…

My Father Hugh Smith was born in the small coastal town of Nambucca Heads in New South Wales and was the third youngest of nine children. His love of the water came early in life with his Father taking an active role on a vessel conveying logs in and around the Clarence River area. His older brothers owning fishing boats encouraged the process. As a teenager he joined the Nambucca Heads Life Saving Movement and, according to his siblings, he was never too far away from the sea.

In the War Years he joined the Merchant Navy serving on a small vessel called the S.S. “Dilga”. He then joined the American Small Ships and became Master on one of their vessels serving in Port Moresby, Milne Bay, Finschaven, Lae and surrounding areas of conflict in New Guinea. The men who served in all Merchant shipping have never really been recognised for their heroism which included shuttling between areas of very high conflict, in unarmed vessels, sometimes carrying dangerous cargo, provisions, and on secret missions to enable the war effort to continue. Merchant shipping has been vital to all theatres of war, yet in my opinion, they still have not received the recognition they so rightly deserve.

Hugh Smith in ‘Echeneis’ (photo courtesy Lyn Kath)

In 1945 he returned to his family in Australia and made his home in Brisbane joining up with the Harbours & Marine Department and soon became Captain of the small vessel “Koala” which was heavily involved in attending to the wrecked Pile Light in Moreton Bay. In the early 1950’s he became Captain of the 1100-ton Suction Dredge “Echeneis” where he remained until the year 1964. It was the Suction Dredge “Echeneis” and “Groper” that were largely involved in dredging the Hamilton Reach as large shipping had to negotiate the river as far as Bretts Wharf and ANL at Newstead because these were pre-Fisherman Island days. It was the “Echeneis” that was largely responsible for reclaiming unused swampy land at Pinkenba which is today a highly sought-after industrial complex at the base of the Gateway Bridge. It was on the “Echeneis” that my father, as Captain, reclaimed 9 acres of tidal mud flats for the BP Oil Refinery in Gladstone. In 1958 the “Echeneis” together with the vessel “Groper” dredged the outer bar of the Bundaberg Port and the Bundaberg Deep Water and Sugar Terminal was opened on the 20th September 1958.

In late 1964 and with the “Echeneis” in Dry Dock for much needed maintenance the Queensland Government contracted the help of the 1599-ton Suction Dredge “Kaptajn Neilsen” to help with the heavy workload at that time maintaining the safety of our waterways and reclaiming land. Although Dad was officially contracted on board as the pilot, he was to Captain one of the crews as the ship had to operate 24 hours a day, with two crews to keep the heavy workload under control. It was totally manned by an all-Danish crew except for my father, the lone Australian on board. At approximately 11.25 p.m. on the night of Friday 18th September, 1964 the Dredge capsized killing nine of the innocent crew including my Father. In his last conversation to home, he made mention of the fact that he was eagerly waiting to return to the “Echeneis” and his crew who he held in high esteem. I do not wish to elaborate further, but I believe the “Kaptajn Neilsen” was an accident waiting to happen and it was only a matter of time before that vessel came to grief Unfortunately when it did, it took with it nine innocent men. However, a very happy note to the story is the fact that due to the very courageous efforts of our Water Police Divers and recreational divers who apparently put their own lives at risk, they were able to save 11 of the trapped and very frightened men in an air pocket in the hull of the Ship. It was a remarkable feat of heroism in its day – the rescue of 11 trapped men from the hull of an up turned ship.

The upturned hull of the ‘Kaptajn Nielsen’ off Tangalooma (photo courtesy Rob Poulton)

The years went by, some 38 in fact, when fate took a strange twist. In approximately November 2001 another generation of sea-lovers unaware of the events of 1964 were to come across the upturned sunken 12 metre by 7 by 4 wheelhouse. I can just imagine the excitement of Trevor Jackson, Master of the Dive boat “Esperance Star” when he tried to unravel the mystery and put all the pieces together which were all played out before his time. In fact, it was Trevor’s discovery that was the catalyst for me to record Dad’s marine history for his three grandchildren, Jason, Cameron and Leisha Kath. Trevor and I have made contact and plan to meet shortly to discuss the finding of the upturned wheelhouse of the “Kaptajn Neilsen” in Moreton Bay.

Meanwhile the “Echeneis”, meaning ‘sucking fish’, and built by Walkers Maryborough at a cost of 750,000 pounds now forms part of the artificial reef in Moreton Bay off Tangalooma and now gives pleasure to the numerous recreational divers who use our beautiful Moreton Bay.

Lyn Kath

November 2002.

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ Peter Ludlow 2003)

A Young Woman’s Life in Early Wynnum

Mena O’Neill (nee Mackrell) writes….

I arrived in Australia in December 1924 and spent my first Christmas here in Glenora Street Wynnum.  In 1929 my father bought a Ford truck (we didn’t say ‘utility’ then).  So, I went to Wynnum Police Station for a licence to drive it.  Sergeant Proud told me that women didn’t drive trucks in Australia.  I was amazed, as I had driven cars in Canada in 1922.  Anyway, we drove around the block, and he was very relieved to get back!

I attended the Horticultural Show, like most people in the district. I still have prize cards for cooking and artwork that I won there.    I also went to the Drill Hall dances where they held heats for dancing competitions.  Mrs Bernie Stoff used to play in the band.  The Dance Hall Committee used to pay the local bus owner, Mr Garrity, a lump sum to give us a free bus to dances at Wynnum West and Capalaba.

Our Shop

My father owned a shop in Wynnum and horses and drays used to bring produce from Brisbane’s Roma Street markets.  We were not allowed to take our truck into the markets until after lunch because it would have frightened the horses.  Later we had carriers.  Manufacturers used to send travellers to our shop for orders once a month.  These came from Simpson’s Flour, Morrow’s Biscuits, Harpers, Nestles and MacRobertson’s Chocolates, Hoffnungs, W.D. & H.O.Wills Tobacco.


Bon Ami

No groceries were allowed to be sold after 5.30pm.  These had to be partitioned off at one side of the shop. We had a list of exempt goods that we were able to sell after 5.30 and these included fruit and vegetables, cakes and biscuits, ice cream cones, walking sticks, tobacco and lollies.

            We only had ice boxes for refrigeration and bought butter in 56 lb blocks, which we had to cut into 1 lb blocks with a wire frame, then wrap.  Sugar came to us in 70 lb bags and had to be weighed out.  There were very few prepacks of anything.  We had a traveller from Marchants selling us paper bags.  Kerosene, metho, and honey all had to be measured and put into bottles.

            We used to buy a lot of fruit locally: custard apples from Lords in Preston Road, bananas from Salways at Hemmant, carrots and beets from Ricketts on Wondal Road, strawberries and paw-paws from Hardies, jam from Hargreaves.

Barilla soap

            Electricity came to houses in the early 1920s.  We had one electric light in the shop and one in our adjoining house.  Elsewhere we had lamps.  Everyone had tanks, some had showers in outside laundrys, with chip heaters to warm the water by burning paper or chips of wood.   We had no detergents, just Barilla soap and other brands such as Sandsoap and Monkey Brand to clean wooden kitchen tables, Bon Ami for glass.  Some people had no sinks but washed up in tin bowls on kitchen tables or in a kerosene tin cut in half.  Clothes were boiled in a 10-gallon copper in the yard.  We had long wire clothes lines propped in the middle with a wooden forked pole.

Monkey soap

            The streets were mostly dirt roads with horse water troughs here and there.  Cows, too, roamed the streets, and then there were bakers, milk, ice and fish carts.  Mr Legge, Poulton, and Powell had smallgoods rounds.  We didn’t have bottled milk either – you supplied your billycan, which we filled for you. Most people kept fowls so we didn’t sell many eggs from our shop, but we did sell lots of corn, bran and pollard and wheat.  Also pannikin seed for budgies.

            Women wore white cotton or calico underwear, camisoles, petticoats and drawers and corsetry, lisle or silk stockings with lace up boots, later shoes, black satin shoes for evening wear.  The petticoats had a depth of crochet or lace on the hems.  Black georgette or sober colours for older ladies.  We also wore big black hats of georgette on a wire base.  We always wore new clothes to go to the Exhibition.   Later we graduated to Fuji silk, it was pale cream.  Hessian sugar bags were made into aprons and decorated with print cotton.  We used to plait dennisons crepe paper into strips and sew it on buckram shapes for hats.

Fort Lytton

Fort Lytton army camp early 1900s (photo courtesy Rob Poulton)

            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.  During the war, petrol was rationed by the issue of a set number of purchase tickets per month.  Also, some food was rationed, and we had tickets for tea and other items.  Cigarettes were under the counter for regular customers.

The Great Depression

            During the early 1930s there was a Depression.  If you were out of work, you received a ticket for 8/- worth food, tea, sugar, butter, and jam.  In our shop, we had to itemise the items supplied.  Some men had to work with pick and shovels on the roads to earn something.  Food tickets were our unemployment relief then.  There was very little money about to buy anything.  Trade was so bad that my sister and I got jobs in Brisbane serving in fruit shops and then in Anne Hathaways Café in George Street.  It closed down.  I then opened a cake shop but had to mix everything by hand and serve as well.  We had no Mix Masters then, but I did have an electric stove.  The City Council had to put power lines in the street specially, because no one else had an electric stove, and there were only power lines for lights.  

Eventually, I closed the shop and got married.

Editor’s Note:

This letter is an edited version of a transcription of Mena’s reminiscences given to me many years ago by Manly Historian, Merv Beitz.

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ Peter Ludlow 2003)

Neil McMillan Todkill – Deep Sea Diver

Val Knox writes…

Neil McMillan Todkill was born on June 8th 1921 in Maryborough, to Norman and Mary Todkill, the fourth of eight children, Mina, Alexander, Bon (William Norman), Neil, Ronald, Ashleigh, Robert and Beverley. The family moved to Brisbane in 1924 living at 50 Coutts Street, Bulimba.  Along with his brothers and sisters he attended the Bulimba State School until 7th Grade and had his first job at a Sweet Factory near the Bulimba Avro Picture Theatre and then obtained a job at Hardie Brothers at Newstead.  While growing up he and his brothers spent their spare time swimming, fishing and sailing in the Brisbane River. 

He married Valma Ruth Thompson in 1939 (the youngest daughter of Les Thompson) and they lived at 47 Love Street, Bulimba.  They had eight children, Valma, Mary, Neil, Stanley, Donald, Suzanne, Phillip and Amanda.  In 1962 the family moved to Barton Road, Hawthorne and in 1986 Neil and Ruth retired to their house at Bribie Island which he had bought in the 1950’s.  In July 1991, they returned to live in Brisbane at Tarragindi.  He lost Ruth, his partner of 59 years, on the 2nd March 1998.

Neil was well known to the sailing fraternity on the Brisbane River and raced in the 22-foot restricted yachts, 16-foot skiffs and 18-foot skiffs.  He was a Life Member of the Brisbane Sailing Squadron and a Life Member and Vice-Patron of the Brisbane Eighteen Footers’ Sailing Club.  After his retirement, Neil enjoyed playing bowls and when he lived on Bribie Island, looked after the greens for a period at the Bribie Island Bowls Club where he became a Life Member. He was also a member of the Wellers Hill Bowls Club and the Colmslie RSL.

Salvaging Wrecks

His salvage career began in July 1942 when the “Rufus King” ran aground on South Passage Bar near Point Lookout.  The salvage team on the “Rufus King”, which included Neil Todkill, was under the control of Captain Jim Herd, Master of the tug, “Tambar”.  Neil rejoined the vessel when it sailed to Darwin to salvage the ships sunk by the Japanese and he worked as a diver with The Marine Salvage Board over a period from 1942-1946 working on the wreck of the “Koolama” off the coast of Western Australia, and also on the “Portmar”, “Kelat”, “Meigs” and “Mauna Loa” in Darwin Harbour.

During the war, he walked from the Edward Street Ferry to the Story Bridge underwater clearing debris from the area to be ready for dredging.

In 1946 he formed a partnership in wharf construction and diving with Harry Fennimore who died shortly afterwards while diving in the Brisbane River.  He carried on as a Marine Contractor and the business was known as N Todkill and Sons changing to Todkills’ Marine Services when his sons Stanley and Donald joined the business.  Many of the pipelines crossing the Brisbane River and marine constructions in the Brisbane River, Moreton Bay, and in ports up and down the coast of Queensland, were the result of work carried out by him.  His son, Donald, carries on the business as Todkill Marine Services.

The stricken ‘Marietta Dal” on Smith’s Rock. Behind can be seen Les Thompson’s “Warrior” (Photo courtesy Val Knox)

When the “Marietta Dal” ran aground on Smith Rock off Cape Moreton in June 1950, Neil formed a syndicate with Norm Wright and Bill Morgan and bought a tug to salvage the cargo.

In 1951, a three-engined Drover plane crashed in the Huon Gulf, New Guinea, and Neil established the fate of the crew and worked to salvage gold from the wreck over a period in 1951/52.

Some of the notable shipwrecks he has worked on are the “River Burnett” – Port Phillip Bay; the “Palana” – holed off Townsville; and the “Eifuku Maru” on Wreck Reef, East of Mackay in 1957.

When the Whaling Station was established at Tangalooma, he built the Slipway for the Whaling Station and was there when the first whale was pulled up to the flensing deck.  He later dismantled the deck when the Whaling Station became a tourist resort.

He carried out a survey of the Queensland Coast from the coastline to the Continental Shelf, from 1963 to 1965 for the Commonwealth Government with his vessel, “Pacifique”.

Neil skippered the “Olive R” for fishing charters in the early 1960’s before it went to the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria and was renamed “Tambo Lady”. He bought the “Tambo Lady” in May 1965 and sailed her back to Brisbane where he was contracted to run the Ferry Service to Tangalooma on Moreton Island from 1965 to 1972.  He was Manager of the Tangalooma Tourist Resort for three years during that period.

He took part in many Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Races and skippered various boats up and down the Queensland Coast as well as doing delivery trips along the eastern Australian seaboard.  He also skippered the Game Fishing Mother Ships, “Melita” and “South Pacific II” in North Queensland.

In 1997, Neil was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation and plaque in recognition of valuable diving assistance provided to the Queensland Police Service from 1944 to 1964.

Sadly, his last few years were marred by ill health.  He is remembered for his many daring diving exploits in helmet and suit, his fine seamanship and his great love of the sea.

Neil Todkill with his diving gear, 1952 (photo courtesy Val Knox)

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ Peter Ludlow 2003)

Three Generations of Auctioneers – 3 – Anthony (‘Tony’) Love

Compiled from family history material supplied by Judy Noble (nee Love)

Nim’s son, Tony, has also joined the firm founded by his grandfather, now trading as McGees National Property Consultants. From his grandfather, he has also inherited a love of boats, with his own yacht “Sweetheart” recalling the name of his family’s pride. Also following his grandfather, he has served as Commodore of the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, and President of the Brisbane Club.

Nim had always mentioned to Tony that following the passing of ‘The Skipper’ he spread his ashes in his favourite place in the Bay – Myora, and expressed the wish that when his time came, he would like the same resting place. Upon Nim’s death in 1999, Tony was able to fulfil his father’s wish.

As a result of submissions made by the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, the Department of Transport renamed the Port Lateral Beacon immediately to the south of Myora ‘The Nim Love Beacon’ in memory of one of its longest serving members who spent a lifetime of recreation in nearby waters.

Tony Love at the Nim Love beacon

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ Peter Ludlow 2003)

Three Generations of Auctioneers – 2 – James Peile (‘Nim’) Love

Compiled from family history material supplied by Judy Noble (nee Love)

Born in 1906, the youngest of ‘The Skipper’’s five children, Nim acquired his nickname because from infancy he could not pronounce the word James (Jim) – a nickname that stuck to him for all of his 92 years.

It was from his brother, Russell, that Nim developed his interest in mechanical things, and so he soon found himself in the role of ship’s engineer, responsible for maintaining and operating the machinery aboard “Sweetheart” whose Brooke petrol engine was always kept spotlessly clean and all brass and copper pipes were highly polished during each trip.

Sweetheart at Dunwich jetty (Photo courtesy Antony Love)

As a young boy, Nim remembered seeing the capture of a shark (pictured below) which when opened up was found to contain a young girl’s head. (Editor’s note: Although it is known that this incident followed the wreck of a vessel, the name of the vessel has not been recorded. Could this have been the girl that Captain Dudley Scott heard was taken by a shark at the wreck of the “St Paul” in 1914? Nim would have been 8 years old then. I am inclined to think it was). 

Getting jaws Tangaluma 1914

At the age of 17 in 1923 he joined Isles Love and Co. as an office boy learning his way around the growing town of Brisbane and his trade as an Auctioneer. One anecdote Nim passed on about finding his way about town was that his father had always told him that if in doubt, ask a policeman. When given a delivery to the office of Nicol Robinson Fox and Edwards and being unable to find them, he asked the policeman on point duty at the corner of Queen and Creek Street, to which was the reply “Gees son, do you want the whole of Queen Street!”

In 1958, Nim Love was to purchase own his own boat “Mollie II” which he, his family and his friends used as a pleasure and fishing craft for many years. 

Nim Love aboard ‘Mollie II’

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ Peter Ludlow 2003)