Family Memories of Kate Millar

From Scotland – by Sea

When Kate Millar’s father, Pete, died, a diary written by her grandfather was found in a compartment of his writing desk. Previously unknown to any other family members, it records her grandfather’s impressions of their boat trip out from Scotland to Australia aboard the Onderlay, a coal fired ship, in 1906. Here are a few highlights from the diary, where the reader can see that although the journey was an improvement on that of the old sailing ships, it was still a mammoth undertaking:

Some shipping routes from London to Australia

‘We travelled by train to London … could not be put up at the Northumberland Hotel as had been arranged… spent the night at the Scandanavian Sailors’ Home instead… we had to leave early next morning for Kings Cross Station and thence to Tilbury Docks… set sail about 1 o’clock and it was very calm til we got to the Bay of Biscay… on Tuesday morning off Gibralta we saw the porpoises in their hundreds plunging along the sea…had a three hour stay in Gibralta Bay and a lot of the foreigners came aboard to sell lace table cloths, tobacco, cigars, trinkets, and all sorts of fruit cheap… when we came to Marseilles Kate and I (my grandfather) went ashore… 

‘Tuesday August 15th was a very rough day and many of us were sick, women and children gone at the top and the bottom end… the ship was running in the trough of the sea from early morning til night and the waves were breaking over us… forty feet high… Kate (my Grandmother) and Pete (my father who was about 6 years old at the time) and all were sick at the same time… 

‘… Naples… I was up on deck before 6am and Pete was throwing pennies to the little Italian boys in the water. They are fine swimmers and divers. I never saw water dogs like them. When they came up with money, they showed it to all and put it in their mouth. I am quite sure some of them had a shilling’s worth (12) of coppers in each side of their mouth. The Italian dealers were all around and on the ship selling all sorts of flowers, brandy, wine and trinkets, coral necklats (sic), and Camay bracelets. I don’t mean to make your teeth water but the three star brandy was only 2/- per half gill bottle. We lay in Naples Bay about nine hours taking on a cargo of coal. The stewardess was telling me last night we burnt 250 lbs worth of coal in the 24 hours so you have an idea how much we took aboard… the cabin Jack, Jamie, and I are in had eight beds in it and is only about 14 feet long by about 7 feet wide…Pete and his mumma have 6 beds in their cabin. It’s getting very warm at night. We have abundant food – more than we are able to eat… 

‘August 18th we came into the Gulf of Suez at 9 am. They tell me it is 70 miles long and the heat is excessive. Yesterday I caught a fine specimen of a moth aboard ship. It had a head like a rat and small beautiful fish eyes and long feelers like hair and a tail like a young bird. It was a silver blue plush colour. When I got it I stuck it through the head with a hat pin but found in the morning I had lost both moth and pin…

‘August 20thRed Sea… the heat is terrible… Pete and his mumma sleeping on the top deck…  I tried to sleep on my bunk but it was impossible with nothing on but a white cotton sheet. I was kept working all night drying the sweat out of my eyes… 

‘Monday, Gulf of Eden (sic)… we had a splendid day sailing, but rather warm til about 6 o’clock when a very fresh cool breeze struck up and got gradually worse til we were caught in a monsoon. The waves were breaking over the top deck and the ship rolling and heaving over thirty feet. Within half an hour most of the passengers were vomiting.  Kate, Pete, Jack, and I were all very bad. It was a sorrowful sight to see both mothers and infants both sick. That storm kept up all night and we thought we would be pitched out of our bunks. Jack involved in a pillow fight… In the Arabian Sea, still very rough and a terrible lot of people sick… 

‘Wednesday 21st August. When it became dark at night we saw large patches of phosphorus and small patches like stars in the water.

‘Friday, 26th August… We arrived in Colombo about 6 o’clock in the morning. We bought a hatpin and a pair of little black elephants (Kate shows them to me) for Peter. They are ebony and ivory. And a pair of silk handkerchiefs, and silk scarfs, and silk shirts, and half a dozen white shirts, and two pair of lined trousers, and a comb and a lot of fruit.’

‘Friday 26th August (continued). At Colombo we had a good look around… We got into a rickshaw and had a drive out to the public park, then to the museum, the Cinnamon Gardens, then the Buddhist temple. From there to the market (fruit and fish) and through the native quarters where I saw a sight I will never forget. They are a very dirty race. Narrow dirty, smelling streets. Back at the ship, they were taking on a cargo of tea, and the natives that were packing and carrying it into the ship were a wild and dirty looking lot of creatures. It was laughable to hear the sing-song they had when they were working. Pete was so frightened that he would not come out of his bunk until his mother came back. He was looking very white. But his mother took him out and they soon made friends with the darkies…

‘Monday 5th September. We were lying at Fremantle at 6 am waiting for all the passengers to be passed by the Fremantle doctors before landing. They were afraid of trouble amongst the children…but we all passed satisfactory so we got ashore. It was a lovely place – very fresh and clean. We were all ashore for a few hours. It was springtime, and there was a fine display of spring flowers, and beautiful plants. Lily of the Nile and Pansies. There was a great deal of excitement when we came back on board the ship because some of the sailors had become tipsy, and were ill using some of the flower sellers when some of the officers interfered. The sailors got the worst of it and one of them got his kit bag made up, threw it overboard, jumped after it, and swam ashore. There was a cry of “Man overboard!” and in a very short time a motorboat came alongside him and picked him up. There were just two men in the motorboat and they had a job keeping him in the boat as he struggled hard to get out again.

‘Wednesday 7th September. We are getting it just as cold now as it was hot. This morning it was bitterly cold. Any of them that got up on top deck had on their overcoats and did not wait long on deck at that time. We got into the Australian Bite (sic) at about noon today and we were getting it pretty rough. Jamie would not accept his prize that he had won for a race around the deck the week before because it was broken so the committee raffled it today. We are still getting very rough sea and plenty of wind and spray washing over the decks. It was so stormy that most of the women and children were sick and vomiting. It was the dirtiest day we had since we left Tilbury Dock. The sun broke through a little, but still it was patchy and wet.

‘Saturday 10th September. We arrived at Adelaide about 7 am and grounded in the port. We had to wait until 4 pm until high water and then we got into the port. We all went ashore to see Adelaide. It was a beautiful place with fine buildings and great wide streets. The pavements were 20 feet wide and covered with verandahs all along the street. They were wider than the widest streets in Glasgow. It is 14 miles from the port to Adelaide…

‘Sunday 11th September. The ship should have left at midnight but the incoming current was so strong that the tugs could not fetch her out. … we managed to get out of the harbour into the sea about 6 am Monday morning…

‘Monday 12th September. The ship is humming along to make up for lost time. We are getting a nice view of some bits of the Australian coast…

‘Tuesday 13th September. We got into Melbourne at 3 o’clock in the afternoon…

‘Friday 16th September. Sydney! We got into the Heads about 7.30 am and it was a splendid sight going right up the Harbour. We had a view of part of the Dutch fleet…

(The family disembarked at Sydney and then made their way up to Queensland where they settled for them remainder of their lives)

“JESSANARRY” (The Wadsworths of Moreton Island) – Part 3

 In August of 1962 Tangalooma closed down due to a lack of whales. However, this was not to be the end for the buildings at Tangalooma, and in December 1963 the Tangalooma tourist resort was opened.  The old flensing deck where the whale carcasses had been dismembered was converted to a tennis court and the factory below to a shop, squash courts, and laundry.  

            Also in 1963 with the closure of the Cowan Cowan signal station Harry Wadsworth retired from the Harbours and Marine Department.  Erosion of the shoreline had on three previous occasions forced the Wadsworths to move house.  Next to the now deserted signal station was a large cement slab which had previously been the foundation of a club for the officers of the 1000 men who had been stationed there during WWII.  This slab proved to be the ideal foundation for Harry to build a retirement bungalow for himself and Jessie.   They named it “Jessanarry”.  They played bowls on its extensive lawn, while inside, Jessie now had a home for her extensive shell collection, the result of a lifetime’s beach-combing.

            Harry knew Moreton Island like the back of his hand, and, more importantly for his many visitors, where to catch the fish.  This knowledge and news of his catches quickly spread to such an extent that prominent identities from businessmen to the Governor himself would take him fishing with them.

Harry Wadsworth holding Lunar Tailed Rock Cod, Cape Moreton 1978 (photo courtesy Alan Counter)

            Harry and Jessie Wadsworth became known as the King and Queen of Moreton and visitors to the Tanglaooma resort would ask to be taken up the beach to Cowan Cowan for an audience.  Conversely, the Wadsworths would visit the resort once a fortnight to pick up their stores and for a chat.

            When Harry became sick, because he could not see the water from his house, members of the Moreton Bay Boat Club built him a shelter overlooking the Bay.  Adrian Dalgarno, one of the Boat Club members and a frequent visitor to Moreton, recalls Harry sitting there for hours with a tape recorder capturing the sounds of the water, birds, and anyone who came to visit him.

            Harry died in 1979 after 41 years of marriage to Jessie.  She followed him in 1985.

            At age 82, Jessie was to say of her lifetime on Moreton: “It’s the sort of life I have liked – it’s never been too quiet or too isolated for me.  I think you have got to be the type of person who loves Nature and loves the quiet and doesn’t want to be rushing around to discos and all that.  I reckon I am a good advertisement for the lifestyle on Moreton Island.  I can still look after my own house, keep the garden in reasonable order, cook and teach my neighbours how to crochet.”

            During her last years she had campaigned to restrict mineral sand mining on the island and the use of 4 wheel drive vehicles, maintaining that future generations were entitled to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Moreton’s unspoilt bush and beach.  Groups such as the Moreton Island Protection Committee are continuing the fight which she began.

            In his later years, Harry was to sum up the philosophy of his life with Jessie: 

            “We’ve always walked everywhere, and barefoot at that.  This island has been a paradise which for years we had virtually to ourselves.  To live together so isolated for so long, you’ve got to have the right woman.  And if you have your health too, what else do you need?”

            What else indeed.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

“JESSANARRY” (The Wadsworths of Moreton Island) – Part 2

            Liverpool born Jessie Hill first went to Moreton Island in 1903 at the age of four.  As daughter of the assistant lighthouse keeper at Cape Moreton, she recalls the school lessons with a dozen other lighthouse children from four families at Cape Moreton and one at Yellowpatch.  On Sundays, the children were taken for a picnic down to the beach.  After eating, everyone would collect the week’s firewood in the horse and cart. 

            Jessie’s father later transferred to the Department of Harbours and Marine for whom he kept the Cowan Cowan light from 1911 until it became automatic in 1927.  He then took charge of the Cowan Cowan signal station.

            In 1931 Jessie met a young Lancashireman, Harry Wadsworth, who was then holidaying on Moreton Island.  The child of a mill weaver, Harry had been raised in the poorer area of the industrial town of Oldham.  During World War I he had been a signaller, and later in civilian life became an instrument maker.  In 1927, fed up with the tough conditions that existed in England, he migrated to Australia.

            With the Great Depression affecting Australia too, jobs were almost impossible to find, and Harry moved north from Melbourne to Sydney, and then to Brisbane.  It was then that he discovered Moreton Island and Jessie, and fell in love with both.

            Harry’s World War I experience as a signaller was to prove useful at Cowan Cowan, and he would often help out Jessie’s father at the Signal Station.  After numerous temporary jobs, Harry landed a full-time job with the Harbours and Marine Department in 1934.  As relief lighthouse keeper for the Howard Range and Bulwer lights on Moreton, Harry recalls that he had to walk four miles to work, which included a 400 yard wade through a neck deep swamp while carrying a can of kerosene on his back.

            Jessie and Harry were married in 1938 and in the following year Harry was put in charge of the Cowan Cowan Signal Station. The couple’s love affair with Moreton Island was to continue for the rest of their lives.  It was an idyllic existence – the stuff of story books.  A casual, shoeless lifestyle with seemingly endless beaches stretching away in either direction from the door of their comfortable bungalow.

Harry and Jessie Wadsworth in 1978

            Although they had Moreton Island almost to themselves, theirs was not a lonely existence, for quite apart from the constant contact with shipping through Harry’s work as a signalman, Moreton Island played host to a large number and variety of people over the ensuing years.

            A military fort was built at Cowan Cowan between the wars and strengthened during WWII.  A naval station and jetty were also established at Tangalooma then, as well as a road across the island at that point.

            After WWII a huge demand for whale oil triggered a world-wide interest in whale hunting. To help satisfy this demand, a whaling station was opened at Tangalooma in 1952.  Over the next decade Harry and Jessie Wadsworth would often play host to the families of the whalers, notably for christmas dinner.

            The Tangalooma whaling station had an annual quota of 600 Humpback whales.  However, when vegetable oils were introduced to replace whale oil in margarine production, the price of the whale oil fell dramatically.  Quotas were increased to 660 to offset the price drop but the increased cull served only to deplete the whale numbers to such an extent that in the 1962 season, only 68 whales were taken, and in August of that year Tangalooma closed down due to a lack of whales.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)

“JESSANARRY” (The Wadsworths of Moreton Island) – Part 1

Looking seaward from Bribie’s Ocean Beach, the huge shape of Moreton Island sprawls southward along the horizon.  At various points, its vegetation gives way to patches of white: reminding us that the island is mostly sand.  Its tallest point, Mount Tempest at 280 metres is reputed to be one of the highest sandhills in the world.

Between Bribie and Moreton Islands, the wide stretch of water is known as the North Passage, shipping’s gateway to Moreton Bay.  To the south of Moreton Island, and separating it from Stradbroke, is the old South Passage, the original and more dangerous entrance to the bay.  


Following the huge loss of life when the “Sovereign” was wrecked in 1847 while trying to cross the South Passage bar, there was an increasing transference of shipping from the South Passage to the North Passage.  Until that time the bay’s Pilot Station had been located at Amity on Stradbroke.  From here, when a ship entered the bay, a pilot vessel would be dispatched to guide it safely into port.   In 1848 then, the Pilot Station was moved from Amity to Cowan Cowan on Moreton where, by 1860, it was recorded as having in residence two pilots, nine boatmen, and others, all living in wretched conditions.  Later the Pilot Station was shifted still further north on Moreton to Bulwer.

To mark the new entrance to Moreton Bay, the Cape Moreton lighthouse was built on the northern seaward end of Moreton Island in 1856.            Constructed of stone quarried from the island itself, the lighthouse is now under control of the Commonwealth Government, unlike those within the bay, which come under the auspices of the Queensland Government’s Department of Harbours and Marine.

Because of the inaccessible nature of Cape Moreton, stores for the Cape Moreton light had to be offloaded at Bulwer in the early days and hauled across the island on horse-drawn sand sleds.

In the first few years following Queensland’s separation from New South Wales in 1859, a number of lights with large kerosene burners fitted with dioptric apparatus were erected at various strategic points around Moreton Bay, including Comboyuro Point and Cowan Cowan on Moreton Island.  In 1867 the height of the light at Cowan Cowan was increased from 18 feet to 34 feet, so that vessels approaching port would not lose sight of it before the next light was picked up.  In the following year, to cater for navigational changes within Moreton Bay, an additional lighthouse was built at Yellowpatch on Moreton Island.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)