At the September 2005 meeting of the Redcliffe Historical Society, I listened to the lecture by Peter Ludlow on Peel Island. It brought back memories to me of some of the Bay islands, when I was a very young boy, about seven or eight years old. I was born in 1910, so this would have been around 1918. By then, the Otter, the Government vessel, took supplies over to the three islands, St. Helena, which was the penal settlement; Peel Island, the lazaret; and to Stradbroke Island, at Dunwich, where there was a home for the elderly.
In those days you had to obtain a permit from the relevant department to travel on the Otter. I think if you had relatives at Dunwich you could travel more often, but other people were limited to visiting there once a year. I distinctly remember going there one day with my grandmother. We sailed firstly to St Helena where a trolley was rolled out along the jetty by men who I take it were the ‘residents’. The supplies were loaded onto this trolley. Then we proceeded on to Peel Island where the same procedure was followed, the trolley perhaps rolled out by the healthier patients, or possibly staff. Then the boat sailed on to Dunwich where I think we stayed for about two hours. This gave you time to visit residents or walk around the area. Then of course the Otter returned to Brisbane at North Quay. I understand that it made this trip about twice a week.
It’s marvellous how listening to Peter’s lecture has revived my memories about these events. Also, referring to old memories, I think it must have been in late 1914 or early 1915 that my father took me to Redcliffe. I would have been four or five. I remember going there on the Koopa. Now the Koopa, to us young boys, was the pride of the Brisbane River. It had to be because it had two funnels, and any ship with two funnels was marvellous, you know! I remember pulling in to the old Redcliffe Jetty, walking along this long jetty and coming to this house in the middle – I think we called it the halfway house – then stepping ashore at Redcliffe. That was my first visit.
The second visit to this area was landing at Woody Point, on the Lucinda. This boat used to bring the children of the State Schools there, for a picnic once a year. Once again, I was with my grandmother. We left Queen’s Wharf to sail down the Brisbane River, and then cross Bramble Bay to Woody Point. We never came to Redcliffe for these picnics, just Woody Point. I remember doing this trip a couple of times. They were my early memories of Moreton Bay.
My memories of Bribie Island were when the Brisbane Tug Company who owned the Koopa and the Beaver had a lease of the island. There was a caretaker there, and little huts on the Passage side. I remember staying there with my grandmother. The huts were simple, one room, with beds, a wood stove and a sink. There was no running water. You had to use the pump at the caretaker’s house and carry the water in a kerosene tin back to your hut. I think the rent was two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) a week. That’s all there was at Bribie. There was nothing over at the main beach. We walked across, about three miles, on a sandy track. I remember my mother and me doing this walk carrying drinking water in a billycan, which was always very warm on arrival! There was only one vehicle on the island, which belonged to the caretaker, who was the only permanent resident. It used to be amusing. We’d sail to Bribie on the Koopa, which was equipped with a bar. The people holidaying on the island would be waiting for us to tie up, then, as we went ashore, they would board the boat and enjoy the bar facilities. This procedure was reversed when we were about to leave in the afternoon. In later years, when people came to live on Bribie, a bowling club was formed. In those days, Brisbane had no hotels open on a Sunday. The bowling club had a liquor license, but could sell alcohol to members only. This resulted in many Brisbane people joining the club, which was reputed to have the largest membership of any bowling club in Queensland!
The old Koopa kept on running, year after year. Then the Second World War broke out in 1939. I was in the Navy, and I came across the Koopa at anchor in Milne Bay in New Guinea. She was the mother ship to the Fairmile class of small Australian patrol boats. I never heard of her after that, and don’t know what happened to her – whether she lies somewhere still or has been broken up for razor blades.
Later when I was about fourteen, I sailed the bay with my family and friends. I remember that we always skirted around Peel Island, afraid that we might get washed up there. Then we sailed on to Dunwich, where we would get lovely fresh bread and stores. We would travel down the Canaipa Passage, on to the Broadwater and Southport, where we anchored. Altogether we spent a lovely two weeks around the southern part of the bay. We lived on the boat, but went ashore for events such as the New Year’s Eve festivities at Southport. Unlike some events today, with young people running wild, these were orderly yet enjoyable occasions. In those days, too, the waters were quiet, not crowded with the shipping that there is today. There were no ‘tinnies’ with outboard motors, no jet-skis. The Bay was peaceful as you sailed across, and plenty of fish for dinner!
Anyway, these are memories I like to think back on, and when you hear a lecture, someone else talking about these items, it brings back more recollections. So to have people such as Peter Ludlow revive these memories for me is indeed a real pleasure.
Redcliffe Historical Society
Editor: Like my lecture to the Redcliffe Historical Society, I hope this blog will invoke many such memories of our Moreton Bay for you, my reader. But if you have none to invoke, then I hope my words will stimulate you go down to the bay and collect some of your own.
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)
(Evelyn was a relative of Jim2, a former patient at Peel Island Lazaret)
What the HD1 patients hated most about their Lazaret at Peel Island, and what was the worst thing was their segregation away from their families, which were broken up – not just for months but for years – and in many cases the other spouse went their own way. Probably under the circumstances you couldn’t blame them. To be sent to Peel Island was virtually a lifetime sentence in the early days.
I could never understand why segregation was imposed because there were people living and working there amongst the patients, without any ill effect – and the conditions weren’t hygienic by any means. They used to boil the instruments on a primus (kerosene) stove in a dish. Can you call that hygiene?
A Relative’s Visit
One of my first visits to Peel Island as a patient’s relative was on board the Otter – the Government steamer that used to service the island. It cost us a shilling (10 cents), which probably was quite cheap, really. To catch the boat, we used to leave home at about 6.30 in the morning. It used to depart from William Street in the city and then travel down the Brisbane River. Then, when we got to Moreton Bay, we’d call into St Helena to deliver the stores to the prison that was still operating there. Then we’d sail across to a point just off Peel Island, and they’d bring out the launch Karboora. We’d be transferred onto that, and many a time then have to be transferred again onto a dinghy because the tide was too low. Sometimes it was very rough, so that we really and truly knew that we were in a boat.
We took our own lunch down with us, so when we met our patient relative at the jetty, we could sit down under a tree and have lunch with them. We’d stay there until the boat came to pick us up in about an hour. We weren’t allowed to go up to the hospital section on the island.
Then, of course, we’d have the same procedure coming home. If it were really rough, we’d have to have the dinghy to get to the Karboora, but if it was good they could get the Karboora right into the jetty. Of course, this was the old stone jetty on the eastern end of the island. Later they did build a new jetty on the western side of the island, which was a lot better.
The Otter returned to Brisbane about 6 pm, and by the time we got home it was 6.30. It was a lot of travel just to spend one hour with our relative on Peel Island. It was worse for people who had to travel all the way from the country, just for an hour. It was especially tiring for elderly people.
This was in the 1930s, and we were allowed two visits per month. In later years they gave us extra visitation rights, and we then were allowed two passes a week. No kiddies under 14 were allowed to go down, so therefore a lot of the patients never saw their children.
To get a pass we had to apply to the Health Office in William Street. We couldn’t go without one; nor could we land on the island. The Superintendent there would collect the passes when we went ashore. It was thought that the passes were one way of controlling the patients’ behaviour – if the patient misbehaved, his relative wouldn’t be given a pass. On top of their segregation, that there were a lot of rules and regulations that the patients didn’t like either, and of course they used to renege against it, and because they did that, the authorities would say, “Well, you’re not getting visitors,” you know.
So they were kept on Peel under these circumstances like little children to a lot of extent until the latter years.
The Patients’ Committee
Then a Patients’ Committee got together, and they stirred things up quite well. They formed a big committee down there amongst themselves and laid the law down implacably to the Government. They hadn’t been allowed to have anything of their own on the island, but then the Health Department under Dr Fryberg, did give them quite a few things that they wanted. They were allowed to have chooks or ducks or whatever. This was a really good help for them, because it gave them something to do.
Originally the patients weren’t allowed boats, but they eventually did allow them a boat amongst themselves. They were only supposed to be small boats or rowing boats – but the Health Department relaxed the conditions a bit towards the end. The boats were difficult to police all the time, because there was no one there to do it. The patients weren’t allowed to leave the island. They could go out fishing on the reefs, but they weren’t supposed to go onto the mainland. Some did, though. They had quite a few parties away from the island. You’d meet them all at the Exhibition (Brisbane’s Royal National Association show held annually in August), where they had quite a good time, and then they’d go back to the island. I don’t think the authorities ever knew, or if they did, they didn’t say anything.
The Patients Committee used to write letters to various people. They even got in touch with the Carville Clinic in Louisiana, America, who gave them all the particulars about the discovery of the new sulphone drugs, and that’s where they all started on the new treatment. It was through Carville, and through the patients getting in touch with the patients there, that they got the idea of this new treatment. In fact, I don’t know that it was even known to the authorities today, but at that time there were patients at Peel who were having the treatment from Carville. They bought it themselves – it was by injection, and they were doing their own injections, unbeknownst to the Health Department here at that stage.
Up until that time they didn’t have any variety of treatment. They just gave them the same old chaulmoogra oil and all those sort of things, but I know for a fact that three of the patients on Peel were on the new treatment, and they leapt ahead in health. The authorities here couldn’t understand that all of a sudden they were doing so well. It was the start of the cure, because after that the Government got onto the new drugs and they brought them into the place. That’s when the patients started to get their ‘clean’ monthly blood smears. It was a wonderful feeling to realise that there was finally a cure for our relative.
There was a big problem with drinking down there on Peel Island. It wasn’t only the patients who were drinking. The staff were every bit as bad. I have been on the boats with them, coming back from leave so drunk that you would wonder how they could get off the boat. However, when the Patients’ Committee was formed, they demanded that the problem be attended to. They brought down staff from the Head Office at the Health Department, and from the newspapers, and something was done.
It did seem to be the turning point, and I suppose the new treatments did come about this time, or just after. It gave them a new hope.
Supplies and Pilferage
Maybe they say it was shortage of supplies. That could have been right, but a lot of the supplies that probably should have been down there and were probably billed for being down there, let’s face it, three parts of them probably never got there – or they might have got there, but they went away again.
Pilferage was always a problem – and don’t say it was the patients, because they couldn’t even get them – although I’ll admit some of the patients used to abuse the privileges, too. They were allowed so much toothpaste and so much soap, so much this and that. They’d maybe go over to the store today and get a tube of toothpaste, and the next day go again and get another tube of toothpaste because they’d thrown the one away or dropped it or something. But sometimes the goods didn’t even get to the store. Of course, after the patients formed their committee at Peel they got a lot of things then, and as I said, things didn’t go so bad after that. They were more accountable.
I have heard of some of the patients’ relatives experiencing ostracism from their neighbours – not myself personally, I never felt anything at all about that, but others had reported that they wouldn’t let their children play with a relative’s children, if they knew the patient was on Peel Island, or they would call out to them, “Leprosy! Leprosy!” That has been said, I believe, but as far as I’m concerned they never said anything to me, and I never worried.
I think probably when you look around it’s like TB. If a patient knew he had TB, he didn’t like it to be known everywhere because the simple reason was that they wouldn’t let their children play with fathers and mothers that had TB.
But that’s few and far between, thank God. There was always that fear, though. Well, I don’t think any patient on Peel Island was ever sent a letter in their right name. They would have been all under a nom de plume of some description, and more so in the country where a lot of them came from, or up the North, where the postman knew everybody.
The Relatives and Friends of Peel Island
One day quite a few of us had been visiting patients, who at this time were very aggressive about something, and we were just about sick of having to get onto boats and get onto dinghies. A couple of times when the weather was rough we had to stay there at Peel. So we decided we’d all get together and we met down at the Botanical Gardens, where we formed our committee, which we called the Relatives and Friends of Peel Island.
We were quite an active committee. I was secretary in the latter part, but in the first stage the secretary used to write to every Leprosarium practising in the world, and got all the different data from the different places to find out how they were, and how they were on the treatment and everything else like this.
At one stage just after World War II we even got a chap from down in Sydney, and he just about blew the place wide open. He had the newspapers, the editors down there, Lord knows what – but we had to get it across to the public, and get it across to the Health Department that the patients needed attention.
We also organised parties for the patients on Peel, and we used to run a Christmas Appeal. That Christmas Appeal was well organised, and it was very well received. We got a terrific amount of money from different people who used to send in for the Christmas Appeal. We used to take down our Christmas parties to the island, and we used to give the patients a Christmas party that they never forgot.
Of course, we all put in a certain amount of money ourselves. We had a lot of people in our organisation who were not relatives of patients. They used to come in, just as friends, and they’d help out in lots of ways. It was really good.
I think we did get a lot of privileges for the patients: importantly, they were finally allowed their own access to a phone. Before that they used to write to the Health Department, and probably when the Department did get the letters, they tore them up.
Then the patients were allowed to have their own things – well, one chap had ducks. Another bloke had goats. They used to do fishing. Then we were allowed to take the concert parties down to Peel, which the patients used to look forward to. We took them down a couple of times a year besides the Christmas.
After the Lazaret was closed and they shifted the remaining patients from Peel to the PA Hospital, the organisation broke up because we had done our part by this time.
1. Because of its stigma, the name Leprosy has now been replaced with the term Hansen’s Disease, or just HD.
2. Because of the stigma that surrounded Leprosy and to which some family members are still sensitive, I have used the pseudonym ‘Jim’ to denote this patient – the same one that I had used previously to record some of his reminiscences in my 1987 book “Peel Island – Paradise or Prison”.
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)
Raising the “Maid of Sker”. (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)
Further to my previous post of 28.04.2018‘Kleinschmidt’s Depot at Grey Street’, Frank Willoughby had also given me the above photo.
The Kleinschmidt’s vessels had long been transporting sand from Stradbroke Island for the Brisbane Glassworks at South Brisbane/West End. Eventually some of their boats such as the “Maid of Sker” and the “S’port” were converted to gravel barges working the Brisbane River. In the above photo, the “Maid of Sker” had sunk where the Merivale Street rail bridge is now situated.The vessels from left are: “Regina”, “26”, “Maid of Sker” (underwater), and a barge “Glen Iris”.In the background (from left) are Carmichael’s sawmill, Foggitt Jones (meatworks), and QGM Glassworks.
Frank Willoughby had also supplied the following photo of the “S’Port” (a shortened form of Southport, where the Kleinschmidt’s depot was situated in the south of Moreton Bay.)
“S’port” at Depot under Grey Street Bridge (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)
and of the “Maid of Sker” in more happy circumstances above the surface of the water:
“Maid of Sker” loading sand at Canaipa (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)
Kleinschmidt’s depot at Grey Street (photo courtesy Graham Day)
Robin Kleinschmidt writes:
The wharf, office and a house were on the upstream site of where the William Jolly Bridge is now. This photo is of the bins and storage areas of Moreton Sand and Gravel approximately where the Kurilpa Bridge enters the parkland today. It was the secondary part of their operations, but when the shipping on the bay began to lose out to the road and rail transport, this became their mainstay. They acquired it from a consortium of hardware retailers whose building company customers wanted a one stop shop which including the sand and gravel for their concreting. It was run poorly and without enthusiasm until Uncle Ted and his son Ray bought it. They had long been transporting sand from Stradbroke Island for the Brisbane Glassworks at South Brisbane/West End, and eventually some of their boats such as The Maid of Sker and the S’port were converted to gravel barges working the Brisbane River.
Communities often choose to remember their pioneers by naming a bridge in their honour. Caboolture did this with its Captain Whish Bridge that spans the Caboolture River. I have always attributed his name to a sea captain, but further research revealed that he was a Captain in the British Army in India. Claudius Buchanan Whish was born in London in 1827 into a military family. After serving in India and Persia he travelled to NSW and SA to buy cavalry remounts for the Indian Army.
After his marriage to Anne in about 1858, Whish migrated to Queensland on the ‘Young Australia’ and began the Oaklands sugar plantation in Caboolture on 15 August 1862. He became chairman of the local planters’ association and hired Pacific islanders to work on the crop – a move that lost him favour with the people when a committee on Pacific island labour was informed that whippings had taken place on Whish’s estate. This evidence gained little credence as Whish was a justice for peace and a deeply religious man.
Whish was appointed to the Queensland Legislative Council in June 1870. Although he is known as the first successful sugar-producer in Queensland, Whish’s estate lost its worth and he resigned from the Legislative Council in March 1872, sold his machinery and became a surveyor of roads. By September 1873, Whish was bankrupt with a debt of £5598, although he was promoted to inspector of road surveys for the southern division in 1875 and for the colony in 1880.
In 1889 Whish took his leave by setting out for England. He was aboard the fated RMS Quetta on the day it sank in the Torres Strait. His wife Anne perished with him.
Drawing of ‘Quetta’ sinking in Torres Strait
There is another memorial to Captain Whish, his wife Anne and to the other 132 souls who perished with them: the Quetta Memorial Cathedral Church, Thursday Island.
When I was six, maybe even younger, my father used to take me down to the lowest deck on the SS “Koopa” to watch the two stokers at work shovelling in the coal; we would also pause further along the passage-way at the half-door which allowed a small child, partly hoisted up by their father, to peer down into the gleaming engine room. The engine was painted red and green; the brass plaque that would have said when and where the S.S. “Koopa” was built truly shone. It must be fifty years since the “Koopa” last sailed across the Bay to Bribie – after stopping at Redcliffe jetty. I can remember a Thursday trip in 1950 or 1951 which would have been close to when it stopped running, but my earliest recollections go back to before its service elsewhere during the Second World War.
However, if I shut my eyes, in my imagination I can curl my hands around the varnished, curved railings still.
‘Koopa’ at Bribie Jetty 1920s (photo courtesy Ian Hall)
What wonderful stories that “old girl” could have told! May I share a couple of stories that come to mind? First, we were told an enormous groper was supposed to have its home under the shelf just where the “Koopa” berthed at Bribie. Legend had it that once some foolhardy soul did not heed advice and dived into the water off the “Koopa”. He went straight into the jaws of the waiting groper!
There were bottles of oysters that could be purchased by passengers from a little kiosk (which was painted black and sat between the two runways that led out to the wharf) as they returned to the Koopa after their three hours’ stay on Bribie. Three short toots signalled the vessels immediate departure back to Brisbane. Life on Bribie revolved around the arrival and departure four times a week of the “Koopa”. (I think there may also have been some night trips at one time.)
One has to be a little careful here, though the lady of this story was most respected by my family. She still, I believe, would have many relatives around Moreton Bay. The lady grew carnations which she would take to the “Koopa” for them to be sold in Brisbane. She had also been left by her former employer a motor car (possibly one of the very few cars – not trucks – on the island. One needs to think “Model T” now) and driving this car she would automobile (“drive” as a word seems inadequate and there were not really roads anyway) to the jetty all dressed up in flowing white wearing a large hat and carrying her big, big bunch of carnations.
Occasionally, on her return home could one say the warmth of the day would overcome her and she would stop for a little snore!
Just before the final journey of the “Koopa” to Bribie, Bribie’s Lady of the Carnations made her last trip as well. She had passed away and the captain of the “Koopa” had the task of the dispersal of her ashes from the “Koopa”’s deck. Now, I only heard this story but it goes like this: there was a sudden wind change at the critical moment of the dispersal ceremony. Bribie’s Lady of the Carnations did not return immediately to the Bay but to the “Koopa”’s decks! Her spirit furious, that was the end of the “Koopa”!
‘I was on the fishing boat that towed the hulk of the ‘Cormorant’ to its final resting place on Bribie Island. The ‘Cormorant’ had been purchased by Bribie resident, George Sharp, with the object of using it to stop the erosion of Bongaree foreshore frontages. As planned we arrived at Bribie at 5:00pm at the top of the tide. Arrangements had been made to meet up with Council employees, who would help put the hull in place, but there was no sign of anyone from Council, after a short time, we decided to go ahead and beach the ‘Cormorant’ ourselves. We fitted ropes to the shore, attaching one to a tree and the fishing boat guided the hull into position. The ‘Cormorant’ rested on the bottom about half way up the beach. Billy Woods had been engaged for the following morning to blow a hole in the hull, ensuring it was stay where it was placed. He arrived as planned and assuming the hull was where the Council put it, proceeded to place the explosives in the hull and detonate them. The ‘Cormorant’ would remain exactly where me and my mate, Ron Duell, had beached her until 1990 when its remains were removed for safety reasons.’
‘I was four years old in 1919 and my family lived in Terrace Street, New Farm. It was just after WWI and Brisbane was in the grip of the Bubonic Plague. So bad was it that the authorities had a horse and wagon which used to go round the suburbs to collect the dead. It was reminiscent of the Black Plague in Europe centuries earlier.
‘One morning dad heard the wagon in the street outside our house and the call of “Bring out your dead.” When he looked out the window he saw four bodies from the house next door being loaded on the wagon. It was all he needed to make up his mind and he called to my mother, Elsie, to pack a port. Then our family caught the S.S. “Koopa” down to Bribie Island.
‘We had no money and nowhere to live, so we went up about a mile south of the jetty where the RSL Club now is. It was all bush then and dad had packed a small tomahawk in the port which he used to strip bark from the pine trees and build a little humpy for shelter. Fortunately food was plentiful. We’d put a lasso out with food to attract goannas, which we’d skin, fillet and cook. Or we would boil up a bucket of yabbies. Fish were also plentiful which we caught using bent pins on a line.’
‘I visited Bribie’s reclusive artist, Ian Fairweather’s hut many times. If we happened to meet at the shops, I would have a cup of tea with him at Joe’s Jetty Café. Fairweather was then heavily involved with his translations of ancient Chinese novels, a task which required enormous concentration and perseverance.
‘So fine were his translations that the Buddhist Society of America, of which he was a member, honoured him by sending him an exquisite rectangular seal. Although Fairweather was not a man to receive honours gladly, But I remember that he was especially pleased with this seal, and the recognition of his Buddhist peers.
‘Best known of these translations was THE DRUNKEN BUDDHA, which had been accepted by University of Queensland Press for publication. Fairweather needed a typist and approached me to do the job for him. Although I couldn’t type myself, I did refer him to another resident of the island who proceeded with the task. However, as the work progressed the woman’s husband became alarmed with Fairweather’s accounts of the main character’s somewhat unorthodox personal habits and thought it best if his wife passed on the task to someone else. As Fairweather himself was a bit of a mystery to the other residents on Bribie, the typist’s husband was probably equating Fairweather’s habits with those of the drunken buddha!
‘Another typist was duly found.’
Ian Fairweather and hut (Photo courtesy Ron Powell)
‘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 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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
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
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
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.
‘Just after the war, when I was 18, I began work at Rheems, but my real desire was to work on boats, so I obtained a Launchmaster’s Licence, and managed to get permission to leave Rheems. It seems strange these days to have to seek permission to leave a job, but it was just after WWII and manpower was extremely short, especially in essential industries.
‘I began work on the ferry at Bulimba which ran from 4 pm until 9 am. There were two shifts: 4 pm to 1 am, and 1 am to 9 am. The “Hetherington”, a vehicular ferry, ran during the day. During my shift, I ran a regular shuttle service until 2 am, after which time I’d tie up at Bulimba and do maintenance work on the boat. Any prospective passengers on the north bank would have to ring a bell to attract my attention. These were mainly Courier Mail shiftworkers and party goers.’
Royal yacht Britannia’s welcome on Brisbane River 29 Sep 1982
‘I’m a river rat from Bulimba. We were Reliance River Rangers and we sailed out of Watt’s boat building business next to the Apollo Ferry. We sailed in the sailing season and rescued little boys in the overturned moths. We had an old English-style sailing boat, clinker hulled, sixteen feet (4.8 metres) – a scream of a boat. We used to sail down to Bishop Island and back in it.
‘When Britannia came with Queen Elizabeth II, who was a Ranger in her day, we went to welcome her, along with a whole flotilla of small craft. Our ship put up a message in flags and someone on the Britannia’s bridge read it, quickly ran down and told the Queen, and she came around to our side of the ship so she could see our message, gave us a wave, and actually strung up a message in flags in reply to us.’
‘In the 1950s the Brisbane River was a wonderful river! We knew when the blue and black funnel ships came in that we’d get rain, and sure enough it would bucket down! Even the teachers would look out when it was raining and see the blue and black funnels moored across the river.
‘Flying boats used to land at what we called the old hockey fields.
‘For a kid coming from the coal mines at Ipswich, the river was a fascinating scene. All the ships coming in and turning. I remember the Himalaya – a large ship – turning in the river, and it just made it around in the limited space for a ship of its size.
‘I lived at the industrial end of Bulimba – there was some noise from the Cairncross Dockyard but it was aircraft that were noisiest. The people at Hamilton got a reduction in their rates because of it but we at Bulimba – just across the river – never got a bean.’
‘I grew up at Bulimba and was apprenticed as a boat builder at Milkraft in 1958. It was just about all timber boatbuilding then. We built a lot of fishing boats after World War II as there was a bountiful supply of prawns and fish.
‘Milkraft also built cruise boats and recreational boats. In any one year they’d make 15 or 20 timber boats, which were either sharpie (V) or carvel (round) hull designs. Most of the trawlers were sharpies, which were cheaper than the carvel type. The bigger cruise ships were carvels. By the time I got out of boat building in 1967 they were starting to find new materials to build with. Aluminium and fiberglass were just starting off. Until then, we had only used fiberglass to sheathe battery boxes and iceboxes rather than using metal, which would corrode.’
‘I’ve always thought tugboats were the coolest looking boats. I really loved them because when they got a job they’d have to steam down from the Customs House and pick up the ship at the mouth of the river and bring it back up and were always making good way coming down the river.
‘When me and my buddies saw one coming down the Hawthorne Reach, we’d paddle our surfboards like crazy out onto the mud flat at Bulimba Point. As the tug came round the corner the stern wave would hit the mudbank, and because the tug was turning the corner it would tighten the wave up even more and we used to get waves up to three feet high. There would be three or four of them come off the stern of these tugs because of the amount of draught that they had. The first waves I ever rode as a surfer were at Bulimba Point! That was how I satisfied my surfing lust when I wasn’t at the beach.
‘The other sad thing that’s missing now from the Brisbane River is the sailing. When everyone was coming home with spinnakers up, the Brisbane River was just fantastic. In the winter they played footy; in the summer, if they weren’t playing cricket they went sailing. Of course, the guys that had a bit of money had boats, but a lot were built under people’s houses. It was the workingman’s sport and there was a huge following, with spectator boats taking people out to watch it.
‘I think Brisbane lost part of its identity when the sailing clubs moved away from the river, and I really would love to see it again. If there’s anybody out there reading this that wants to do something really neat for Brisbane, work out a way to bring sailing back onto the river, and our river will come back to life again.’
‘Although both my wife, Joan, and I were born in Toowoomba, we purchased a general store and news agency in Bulimba soon after our marriage. The store, Balmoral News, was initially situated at the old tram terminus, which is now the roundabout on the corner of Bulimba and Oxford Streets.
‘When we opened for business on 8 November 1959, there was no sealed footpath outside, and entering the shop required a high step up from the dirt pavement. To make entrance easier for our customers we quickly had a wooden platform build at the entrance. Soon after opening we discontinued the grocery side of the business, and expanded the newsagency side to include a Golden Casket agency, as well as selling stationery, books, and greeting cards. In those days, there used to be three caskets drawn per week, and our shop was allotted four books each of twenty tickets to sell. Each ticket sold for about $1. In our first year of operations the shop sold one first prize of $30,000 as well as numerous other prizes.
‘Being at the tram terminus, we had a lot of trammies with headaches coming in to the shop to buy a packet of Bex or a Vincents to take with an Indian Tonic or a Coke.
‘Joan and I were to ride the last tram on 13 April 1969, the date the Brisbane City Council ceased their tramway’s operation. We still have thei souvenir tickets from the ride.’
Reference: Don Campbell in conversation with Peter Ludlow 2014