The Bells of Eventide

 The casual visitor to Eventide Aged People’s Home at Sandgate may wonder at the connection of the two bells now on permanent display in the grounds near the main entrance. In fact, they represent a tangible link with the institutions past.


  Older of the two is that of the Queensland Government Steamer “Otter'”.

The Otter at Dunwich Jetty (Photo courtesy Ossie Fischer)


            Twin screw steamer.               271 tons gross 

            Hull construction:                               steel

            Length                                                                         128.6ft (39.2 m) 

            Beam                                                                           21.2 ft (6.46m) 

            Depth                                                              10.1 ft (3.08m) 

            speed                                                                           12 knots

            In 1884 the “Otter” arrived in Brisbane. It was built by Messrs.Ramage and Ferguson of Leith, Scotland, for Websters and Co of Brisbane for excursion and tugboat service of that company. In 1885, however, it was purchased by the Queensland Government’s Marine Defence Force for ₤15, 000 ( $30, 000) and was overhauled and armed because of the threat of a Russian invasion. The arms took the form of a ’64 pounder’ mounted on a race forward. This muzzle loading cannon had belonged to the sailing ship “Young Australia” and fired chain shot. Thus the “Otter” became a unit of the Queensland fleet which at that time consisted of the “Gayundah” and “Paluma”. In World War I it was requisitioned for the RAN and posted as an examination ship in Moreton Bay, and in 1939 she again saw RAN for about two years.

            However the “Otter” was better known as a means of transporting passengers and stores to the prison St Helena, the Leprosarium at Peel Island, and the Benevolent Asylum at Dunwich.

            By 1945, after sixty years of service she still had the original engines which delivered a top speed of 11 knots. Like her engines, her crew was also long serving, R. R. Robinson being her steward from 1911 until 1945+ (the year of this reference); her captains being Page, Henderson, Junner (1898 – 1932), Jack (1932 – 1934), and Thrower (1934- 1945+).

            In 1946 the condition of the “Otter” had deteriorated: water was leaking onto the crew’s bunks so that they could not be used.

            Government inaction about repairs to the vessel resulted in strike action by the crew. Premier Ned Hanlon was so incensed by this work stoppage that he set about buying the old RAAF Sandgate Station that was on the market for the ridiculous price of £25, 000 ($50,000). The quoted price to replace the steamer “Otter'” was in the vicinity of ₤200, 000 ($400,000).

            Rather than replace the ailing “Otter”, the Government shifted the Benevolent Asylum from Dunwich to Eventide at Sandgate, thus rendering the “Otter” superfluous. She later became a timber dumb barge on the Frazer Island – Maryborough run.

            In 1969, the Hervey Bay Artificial Reef Committee retrieved her hulk from a sandbank at South White Cliffs on Frazer Island, towed it to a point just off Big Woody Island in the Great Sandy Strait and sank her to form part of the Roy Rufus Artificial Reef. Today she is visited by many scuba divers to view the rich profusion of marine fauna and flora which have made the “Otter” and her sister wrecks, ” Pelican”‘ and ” Lass O’Gowrie”, their home.


            During WWII a RAAF base was built on the present site of  “Eventide” at Sandgate, and a bell served this establishment. When in 1946 the Dunwich Benevolent Institution was transferred to the site, the bell served for a further 35 years as a dinner bell.

            On completion of the re-development of Eventide in 1985, both bells were put on permanent display. For the curious, the RAAF bell has the higher pitch.

The bell of the ‘Otter’ at Eventide, Sandgate (photo Peter Ludlow)

The bell of the “Otter”, long time supply vessel to the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum and which ceased operations when the institution was transferred to Eventide at Sandgate. It was used as a dinner bell there for many years.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.