The Atkin Family

Two Irish Patriots

Dr Kevin Izod O’Doherty

Kevin O’Doherty was born on 7 September 1823 into a Catholic family in Dublin.

Kevin Izod O’Doherty

O’Doherty first arrived in Australia in 1849, when he was transported to Tasmania from Ireland for advocating the cause of a free Ireland. After his pardon in 1857, O’Doherty became a doctor. Eventually he and his wife, a radical nationalist poet, Mary Eva, known as ‘Eva of The Nation’, settled in Brisbane, where he became a leading surgeon. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly, O’Doherty introduced Queensland’s first public health Act, the Health Act of 1872, and contributed to public education.

Robert Travers Atkin

Robert Atkin was born on 29 November 1841 into a Protestant family at Fernhill, near Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland. 

After the early death of Robert’s father, his mother took the family to France where Robert was educated. Back in England, Robert was found to be suffering from early indications of consumption (tuberculosis). So, Robert, with his family, decided to emigrate to Queensland on medical advice to seek a warmer climate. They arrived in Brisbane in March 1865. Robert worked as a campaigning journalist and Member of the Legislative Assembly, and promoted the cause of liberal democracy.

Robert Travers Atkin

In Brisbane

The Fenian (Irish Nationalist) Dr O’Doherty and the Protestant Robert Atkin became friends and made common cause to make Queensland a more democratic and fairer place. Robert Atkin and Kevin O’Doherty may have had their differences over Irish independence, but as public figures and unpaid Members of Parliament, these friends had a shared vision about Queensland’s future. They and other reformers, like Charles Lilley, opposed the vested interests of the squattocracy. Robert Atkin argued for fairness towards people in the North, for new railways, and for new industries of cotton and sugar. Atkin described the Polynesian Labourers Act as a legalised system of kidnapping. He and his colleagues did not want Queensland to become a plantation state, built on slavery, like the Deep South of the United States had been.

ON 28 November 1867 in Tank Street, Brisbane the birth on Robert’s son, Richard, was attended by Dr Kevin O’Doherty. Robert Atkin’s career as a campaigning journalist, newspaper editor and MP was short. By late 1871 his health was in terminal decline, and he died at Sandgate in May 1872, aged only 30.

Robert’s widow took his son, Richard (Dick), back to Wales where he was raised in Wales by his loving mother and by his grandmother, Mary Anne Ruck. He won scholarships and was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. Lacking connections in the law, Dick struggled financially at the junior Bar. However, his intelligence and work ethic were recognised and he became a successful barrister. In 1913, he was appointed as a judge, and shortly after was elevated to the Court of Appeal. His judgments were of exceptional quality and in 1928 this led to his appointment to the highest court in the United Kingdom – the House of Lords.

Dick Atkin

The Robert Travers Atkin Restoration Project

The original St Margaret’s church at Sandgate. Both Robert Atkin and his sister, Grace Atkin donated 50 pounds each toward the building of a church on the hill at Sandgate. The first stone was laid by Walter Barrett, the Mayor of Sandgate on 9 August 1891. In 1892 the building was rendered unsafe due to strong winds. The Atkin memorial can be seen on the right.

The original St Margaret’s Church at Sandgate

The memorial was restored in 1937 and is currently undergoing a further restoration. It is to dedicated on 29 May 2022. Full details available here

See also the Robert Travers Atkin Restoration Project on Facebook:

The Atkin Family Memorial today

Working at the Hamilton Facilities

Hamilton facilities (photo Rob Poulton)

Kerry Atkins writes: I worked at BW&WD (Brisbane Wharves and Wool Dumping) & P&O  at Hamilton Wharves from 1977 – late 1979. I worked in the container operations building, where we had a room full of container planners, which people may not be aware of. Their job was to arrange containers on ships, per weight/load, which with thousands on containers coming in and out of the port each day, was a huge task. There was a tower in the building where traffic controllers oversaw the movement of containers on and off ships using huge gantry cranes and the movement also of straddle cranes around the wharves, which are very dangerous machines. After many earlier accidents and deaths from straddles, which are impossible to see from when being driven, manned crossings were installed, where the crossing guards used walkie talkies to communicate with each other and it was mandatory that everyone on the wharf had to wear hard hats and I guess these days, also hi-vis. I worked as one of two switchboard operators, for both the wharves and P&O, but part of my job was as a relief operator on the telex machine, where it was our job to transmit and receive very long telexes with individual container numbers listed. This was a job which required extreme accuracy. One day we had very high winds and one of the gantry cranes took off on its rails, it got to the end, where huge bollards were in place, stopped with a thud, nearly overbalanced, but just in time, righted itself. I enjoyed working here and only left as I was due to have my son.

Straddle crane (photo Rob Poulton)

World War II Comes to Brisbane

Australia followed Britain into war against Germany when World War II began on 1 September 1939, but it was not until Japan bombed the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 that America retaliated and joined its allies Britain and her Empire against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

As the Japanese military pushed southwards towards Australia, Brisbane suddenly found itself in the front line of defence. 

The Port of Brisbane was important to the Allies during World War II, as it was used for General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Headquarters, from which he managed the one million United States troops that passed through Australia. His office was situated in the AMP Building (now called MacArthur Central) on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets in the city. MacArthur had previously rejected use of the University of Queensland complex as his headquarters, as the distinctive bends in the river at St Lucia could have aided enemy bombers. Also used as a headquarters by the American troops during World War II was the T & G Building on the corner of Queen and Albert Streets in the city.

General MacArthur with Admiral Nimitz in his Brisbane Headquarters (Photo from the US National Archives and Records Administration, Bethesda, MD courtesy of the MacArthur Museum Brisbane)

Brisbane’s population before the war was 350,000, which increased to 750,000 with troops during the war. Some friction between so many troops in so small a city was inevitable, and in 1942, the so-called Battle of Brisbane resulted from a violent clash between US personnel and Australian soldiers and civilians. 

The proximity of enemy shipping to Brisbane was brought home when, in 1943, the Australian hospital ship Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine off Cape Moreton with the loss of 268 lives.

To protect the entrance to Moreton Bay, the RAN No 2 mine control station was established at Fort Bribie and the RAN No 4 antisubmarine detection loop station became operation at Woorim on Bribie Island in 1942. There were also three Forts built at the commencement of World War II to protect the entrances to Moreton Bay. The main shipping channel, via the North West Channel between Bribie and Moreton Islands, was guarded by Fort Bribie, a garrison situated on the northern end of the island where the channel passes closest to the beach, and by a similar Fort at Cowan Cowan where the channel passes closest to Moreton Island. Fort Rous, on the southern end of Moreton Island guarded the bay from any shipping attempting to enter via the South Passage. At each of these Forts was a pair of six-inch guns. Bribie was sea firing, Rous was sea and bay firing, while Cowan was bay firing only because the height of Mount Tempest proved too large an angle for the guns to fire over to sea.

The effects on the Brisbane River and its shipping were profound. In1939 the Commonwealth and State Governments cooperated with the firm of Evans Deakin & Co to set up the Evans Deakin shipyard at Kangaroo Point for the building of large ships. From 1941 the South Brisbane Dry Dock was used by the US as their submarine base and World War II blockhouse. In 1945 reclaimed land between Hamilton, the training wall, and the back water was extensively developed for the Royal Navy as a naval repair base. For the repair of American vessels too large to fit into the South Brisbane Dry Dock (e.g aircraft carriers) the Cairncross Dockyard was constructed on the Brisbane River opposite the Hamilton wharves. This was opened in 1944. Nearby at Apollo Road in Bulimba, approximately 800 Chinese evacuees from Nauru and Ocean islands in the Central Pacific were involved in building landing barges for the Americans.

There was also a US submarine Base at New Farm wharf where the US Navy’s submarine tender Fulton was moored.

‘During World War II, seventy-nine US subs operated out of Brisbane, sinking over 100 enemy ships, supporting coastwatchers, carrying out rescues and training local forces. Seven Brisbane-based US submarines with their 426 crewmen were lost.’

David Jones

co-author of US Subs Down Under. Brisbane 1942-1945 

The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. World War II was over and Brisbane could revert to peacetime activities.

(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane – Its People and Its Personalities’ Peter Ludlow 2012)