The kegs were being loaded at Cleveland on a wet and windy Friday night onto the Flirt to be consigned to the Buffaloes’ Stradbroke Lodge. One keg had been carried down the stairs of the Paxton Street Jetty and placed on the landing prior to being loaded. The other keg was being carried down the steps when the carrier slipped in the wet conditions and the keg he was carrying knocked the first keg, so that both kegs finished in the Bay. The Lodge advertised to let it be known that finders could have the contents as long as the Lodge got the kegs back, because there was a £7 deposit on each keg. One was returned very promptly but the other remained missing for some time until a party returning from Cleveland to Dunwich found the keg embedded on Cassim Island and which had been exposed by a very low tide. The contents were said to be in good condition.
In the early years of Moreton Bay’s European settlement, it was customary for vessels to use the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. However, the loss of the paddle steamer Sovereignon 11 March 1847 led to the closure of the South Passage, with the shipping lane being moved to the bay’s northern entrance between Moreton and Bribie Islands. Poor visibility and rain, however, could continue to deceive ships’ masters into mistaking Point Lookout on North Stradbroke for Cape Moreton, and during 1853–1889 no less than half-a-dozen vessels came to grief on the South Passage. And it was such a fate that befell the American Liberty Ship Rufus Kingduring the night of 7/8 July 1942, as it approached Brisbane with a cargo of vital war materiel from Los Angeles.
Aboard Rufus Kingwere nine crated B-25 Mitchell bombers plus aviation fuel, and medical supplies and equipment sufficient to outfit three army field hospitals totalling more than 4,000 beds (or more than 17,000 boxes in all). At this time, the Japanese were on Australia’s doorstep to the north, and the Battle of Midway had been fought only the previous month; the Second World War still hung very much in the balance.
Captain Muller, his crew of almost 40 and vital cargo aboard a ship less than four months old, came to an abrupt halt in less than four fathoms (7m) of water, barely 18 miles (30km) from their destination. As rescuers began taking off her crew, 12 hours later the Rufus Kingbroke in two.
A 200-strong team of Australian and US Army Medical Department personnel in the recovery of the ship’s cargo, the Americans based at Amity and the Aussies on Reeder’s Point. The drifting 330ft (100m) long forward section was taken in hand for salvage; and within four months, it had been sealed, towed into the Brisbane River and converted into its surprising second life.
The Courier-Mail newspaper reported Captain Muller was taken back to America under arrest; others said he was incarcerated there for the rest of the war. Graham Mackey who had worked on the salvaged section, heard at the time: “we were told by a Yankee officer that the skipper … was a German descendant and had run her aground purposely.”
Whether the wreck of the Rufus King was just an accident or a deliberate act of war still remains a mystery. Perhaps the answer can be found the fate of Captain Muller back in America.
In 2010, I interviewed Jennie Phillips of Southport about her discovering the remains of Moreton Bay’s legendary Spanish galleon. I recorded our conversation in my book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (which is now out of print):
‘In about 1968/69, my husband, Bill, and I had been fishing in our boat at Jumpinpin with our two small children. On an impulse, we landed on North Stradbroke Island on the north bank of the bar, and decided to take a walk along the ocean beach. We also had a fishing mate, Peter, with us. The children being very young, Bill and I had to carry them, and so we had probably gone only about half a kilometre along the beach and were walking in the sand hills amongst the light undergrowth such as Pigweed, when Peter received what he thought was a bite on the foot. We all gathered round for a look at the wound (and a rest – the kids were getting heavy by that time), but found that Peter’s ‘bite’ was actually a puncture from a sharp object.
‘Naturally we searched amongst the dunes for the sharp object, and found an old square nail sticking up from a piece of weathered wood about 2 inches by 4 inches in width. The nail was green with verdigris, indicating that it may have been copper or brass. More surprising was that there were a lot of other pieces of wood protruding through the sand. It then became obvious from their distribution that that they were tips of the ribs of a wooden ship. They had all been burnt off from bushfires over time.
‘We scratched further amongst the sand and then found a couple of metal coins, which from their appearance were either of Spanish or Portuguese origin. We could even make out part of a date 15??
‘Could this have been the legendary Spanish Galleon whose remains we had just stumbled upon? If only we had a camera!
‘We kept the coins and resolved to return in a few weeks time, armed with a camera to record our find for posterity. Unfortunately a cyclone hit the coast just after our visit, and when we were able to return to the spot, the elements had rearranged the dunes, and the sands had once more reclaimed their treasure. We still had the coins, though, which we placed in an old tin box with a lot of other coins and curios that we had collected over the years. Unfortunately, a ‘friend’ of ours took the collection along to a collector for a valuation, and returned to us empty handed with the news that the box and its contents were worthless. We suspect that he had gambled whatever he was paid for them.
‘And the Spanish coins? Their fate is unknown – swallowed up, like the Spanish galleon in the sands of time.’
Recently at our local Probus Club, one of our members, Graham, happened to mention that he, too, had seen the Spanish galleon. In about 1934, as a young lad, he had been fishing with his father in Swan Bay on the southern tip of North Stradbroke Island. They had then waded through swampland to the sand dunes on the eastern side of the island. There they came across a timber skeleton of a ship some 60 to 90 feet long. Only the wooden ribs remained. Its position seemed to corroborate that described by Jennie Phillips.
What a pity they didn’t have mobile phones with cameras back then.