On the evening of 28 February 1890, the Royal Mail Steamer
Quetta, hit an unchartered rock in the Adolphus Channel, between Cape York Peninsula and Thursday Island in Torres Strait, and sank in under three minutes, losing 134 of its 292 passengers and crew. Considered the finest and most luxurious ship on the Queensland to England route for saloon passengers, its sinking was the worst single maritime disaster in ’s history and one that deeply shocked the inhabitants of the colony. In Queensland , manifestations of sympathy were prominently displayed. Brisbane
Flags trailed from their standards at half-mast on the principal buildings and on the shipping in the port; shopkeepers had their shutters up draped in mourning.
The 3,500 tonne Quetta, built in Scotland in the early 1880s, had successfully transported thousands of immigrants to the colony. Following its sinking, after sailing from
Brisbane on 17 February 1890, two boatloads of survivors were able to row to Albany Island and from there one proceeded to Somerset at the tip of Cape York, arriving the following morning. At 2 pm, a telegram addressed to Douglas, sent from the Paterson telegraph station, 24 km south of Somerset, was received at the Thursday Island telegraph office.
Quetta struck an unknown rock last night. Filled and sank within three minutes. About 100 souls rescued on
. Anticipate appalling loss of life amongst European passengers. Islands in vicinity should be thoroughly searched for crew and passengers. Mount Adolphus
John Douglas, the government resident, immediately organised a rescue mission. 158 survivors were picked up, brought back to Thursday Island, and billeted, swelling the island’s population by 25 per cent: “every house was ready to receive survivors and supplies of food, clothing, and money were given for necessities.”
A permanent memorial to all those lost in the disaster was erected on Thursday Island in the form of the
. At the time of the disaster, the only church building on the island belonged to the Catholic Church. Anglicans relied on periodic visits by clergymen and held their services in the school of arts building. The idea of a memorial church was conceived by Alexander Maclaren, an Anglican missionary then on the island and was strongly supported by Quetta All Souls Memorial Church Douglas.
Donations to raise the £3,000 required for the project were solicited, and the public generously responded. The foundation stone was laid by Douglas on Queen
’s birthday, 24 May 1893, and the building’s consecration took place later that year. At this ceremony, Victoria Douglas took the opportunity to reaffirm to those present that this was to be a church not only for Anglicans.
On behalf especially of the Presbyterian body, and of others not belonging to the Anglican Communion who have subscribed to this church, I claim that it shall, subject to the sanction of the bishop of the diocese for the time being be freely used by the ordained ministers of any recognised congregation.
Douglas continued his deep involvement with the Anglican Church on Thursday Island and in 1896 represented the district at the General Anglican Synod in Sydney. Despite being a dedicated parishioner, his faith was of a personal and spiritual nature, and he was never comfortable with outward shows of devotion. For instance, he complained to Edward that the 1902 Good Friday church service on
Thursday Island was too long.
Nearly four hours, and I was dead beat. I came away before the finish. I cannot think that there is much justification for these tedious functions. They really were not the spirit of devotion.
Douglas’s quick thinking actions following the sinking of the Quettta demonstrated his ability to act in a crisis and the subsequent construction of the church was testament of his resolve and commitment to commemorate a terrible disaster in a meaningful and enduring manner. Over a century later, the church still stands on
Thursday Island, a memorial to those who perished and a reminder to the present generation of that tragic night long ago.
 John Foley. The
Quetta: ’s Worst Disaster. Queensland , Nairana Publications, 1990, p. 1. The uncharted rock hit by the steamer was subsequently named Quetta Rock. Brisbane
 Foley (1990), p. 26
 “Wreck of the
.” Queenslander, 8 March 1890, p. 442.) For more information on how deeply the loss of the Quetta affected the colony, see Foley (1990), chapter 9 Quetta
 “Expressions of Sympathy.” Queenslander, 8 March 1890, p. 446
 Foley (1990), pp. 25 & 45
 Ibid., pp. 63-69
 Ibid., p. 70. 100 of the 115 European passengers on board perished.
 Ibid., p. 74; John Douglas to his children, 8 March 1890. Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of
Queensland, OM 89-3/B/3/13
 Foley (1990), pp. 96-97. Douglas himself billeted several survivors. “In addition to the press of business I have had a house full of people,” and “We have got nearly 120 extra men from the crew and passengers of the
camped.” (John Douglas to the Quetta Douglas children, 8 March 1890. Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/3/13)
 Bishop George Stanton. “Statement by the Bishop of
North Queensland.” In, . Haddon Papers. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) M2737, no. 1048 Quetta Memorial Church
 The Church became a cathedral in 1900 following the establishment of the Diocese of Carpentaria and the relocation of the Episcopal seat of the Bishop of Carpentaria to
 The Thursday Island Catholic Church was built in 1886.
 Foley (1990), p. 72. On settling on the island in 1885, Douglas conducted the Divine Service in the court-house until his transfer to
. (“The All Souls Memorial New Guinea Cathedral.” The Carpentarian, vol 8 no 30, 1 April 1908, p. 239) Quetta
 Foley (1990), pp. 114-16: “
.” Haddon Papers. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) M2737, no. 1048; “ Quetta Memorial Church Thursday Island.” The Carpentarian, 1 April 1902, p. 46. Douglas was the chairman of the island’s Anglican Church committee, which established a Quetta Memorial Church committee to oversee the project, with Douglas as its chairman.
.” Haddon Papers. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) M2737, no. 1048 Quetta Memorial Church
 Bishop George Stanton. “Statement by the Bishop of
North Queensland.” In, . Haddon Papers. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) M2737, no. 1048. Quetta Memorial Church Douglas donated £20 to the memorial fund. However, the funds raised were insufficient, and the debt was only cleared in 1895. (John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 7 October 1894. Andrew and Lorraine Douglas Papers; John Douglas to his children, 22 January 1895. Andrew and Lorraine Douglas Papers)
 John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 11 June 1893. Andrew and
Douglas Paper Lorraine
 Foley, pp. 117-19; “The All Souls Memorial
Cathedral.” The Carpentarian, vol 8 no 31, 1 July 1908, p. 251 Quetta
 Foley, p. 119. John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 11 June 1893. Andrew and
Lorraine Douglas Papers. This practice of allowing ministers of various denominations visiting Thursday Island to preach in the church was discontinued following the appointment of Bishop White. (“The .” The Carpentarian, vol 4 no 13, 1 January 1904, pp. 101-3) Quetta Memorial Church
 “The Primate’s Garden Party.” Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 1896, p. 6; The Carpentarian, vol 4 no 16, 1 October 1904
 John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 30 March 1902. Andrew and
Lorraine Douglas Papers