Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Thursday Island Jubilee - 1927, pt . 1

A four part series on the Thursday Island Jubilee in 1927. This is part 1

Telegraph (Brisbane), Saturday 17 September 1927, p. 14


1. Story of Its Settlement: Scenic Beauty: Strategic Importance

Fifty years have elapsed since Thursday Island first was settled. It was a very small village port then, but it afterwards rose to the dignity of a municipality, became the administrative centre of the Anglican Diocese of Carpentaria, and had a trade output which was greater in proportion to its population than any other port in Queensland, or perhaps in Australia.

Scenic beauty

It is a revelation to these who have not seen Thursday Island to find that it possesses great scenic charms. The harbour is commodious, safe, and pretty, and the town nestles snugly on a slope of the island, with a panorama of tropical follaged adjacent islands which appeals very strongly to the lover of the beautiful in nature. Approaching the island in fine weather, when the water of the strait is for all the world like a crystal sea here and there in the pearling days dotted with the luggers used in the industry, one realised that there was a beauty in the tropics not to be found elsewhere.

Strategic Interest

The fact that Queensland's north-most port is situated on an island instead of on the mainland is accounted for by the fact of the island strategic importance. It is the key to the entrance to the inner route of Torres Strait. The first settlement was at Somerset, on the mainland, but it was not long before the advantages of the island were recognised, because of its fine harbour, as well as of its sentinel position. Mr. E. B. Kennedy refers to this fact In his "Early Days in Queensland."

First Officials

A reference to the blue book of Queensland for 1877 shows that Mr. H. M. Chester was appointed police magistrate at Thursday Island, with the subsidiary offices of sub-collector of customs and harbour-master on July 20 of that year. Mr. Allan Wilke— the name given in the blue book as Wilkin— was appointed pilot on September 14 of the same year.
The first reference to Thursday Island as a settlement in Pugh's Almanac is contained in the volume of that important Queensland publication for the year 1884. The passage reads thus: "Thursday Island lies some 625 miles to the northward of Townsville, off the extreme northern point of Queensland. It is the rendezvous of the pearl shellers, where they meet the mail steamers, etc., and tranship their cargoes. It is also a harbour of refuge. Burns, Philp and Co;, of Sydney, have the only store there. There is a police magistrate (H. M. Chester), who acts as harbour-master, also as a sub-collector of customs (F. G. Symes), and postmaster (D. Cullen). The sub-collector of customs acts as savings bank officer, shipping master, and registrar for the district of Somerset. The London Missionary Society makes this their headquarters for receiving their provisions. The E. and A. Company makes this their first port of call, and have a fine hulk— the Belle of the Esk — as their receiving ship, where there is always a plentiful supply of coal. The B.I.S.N..Co, also used their hulk. The Truganini or Gunga take all the Normanton cargo from here. There are two hotels, the Torres Strait (G. Cockburn) and the Thursday Island (T. McNaulty)."

The reference to the London Missionary Society is in regard to that society's operations In New Guinea. The mail service mentioned, then run by the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company, was that which had its eastern terminus at Singapore, where it picked up mails from Europe and delivered these from Australia. As showing the importance of Thursday Island's trade, even in these days of its infancy, Pugh's for the year mentioned states: "The Customs collections alone from this district arc between £9,000 and £10,000 per annum; for the year 1883 the total receipts from Customs and licenses were £10,412.”

Healthy Climate

"The climate," Pugh's proceeds, "is very healthy, and the year is divided into two seasons, the dry season, southeast monsoon, from March till after full moon in December, and the wet season, north-west monsoon, from full moon in December till the end of February." In his book, "The Never Never Land, Mr. A. W. Stirling, B.C.L., F.R.S., refers to the salubriousness of the climate of Thursday Island, and to the beauty and usefulness of the harbour.

A Pioneer's Reminiscences

Mr. James Clark, so well-known as a pioneer in the pearl shelling industry in Torres Strait, at present, is in the East Indies. Mr. P. P. Outridge, now living at Redland Bay, however, has kindly furnished the following reminiscences of his many years' association with Thursday Island: — "I arrived in Thursday Island in October, 1882; the settlement had been in existence for five years, and there were very few buildings outside of these which were owned by the Government. The magistracy was situated on top of the hill at Vivian Point, and commanded a fine view of the three entrances to the harbour; the house was the largest of a row of five. Mr. H. M, Chester was the Government Resident, and had charge practically of all the Government departments. Next to the residency was the Court House, the rear part of which was used ns the Post Office and Custom House. The chief officer in this department was Mr. D. H. Duff. The Post Office was under the control of Mr. D. D. Cullen, who also was junior customs officer. The next house in the row was occupied by the water police, the force consisted of a sergeant and four constables. The next building was the residence of the principal officer of customs. The last building of the row was occupied by the harbour master and pilot, Captain Alan Wilke, whose duty was to pilot vessels into the rather difficult harbour, also to attend the various buoys and beacon's in the vicinity.

On the island there was one general store, owned by Mr. James Burns. This business was later formed into one of the branches of Burns, Philp, and Co. Ltd., whose establishments are all over Australia and the islands. The manager of the firm at that time (1882) was Mr. Vivian R. Bowden, now the head of a well-known firm trading In Japan.

Annexation Expedition

It was In March, 1882, that the Government Resident left for New Guinea in the Government schooner Pearl to hoist the British flag, and, under instructions to take possession of that part of New Guinea not claimed by the Dutch. The schooner was laden with large quantities of the trade for distribution amongst the natives of Port Moresby. The position of the Imperial authorities in repudiating the action is well known, and as events proved it was a matter of the greatest regret that the annexation was not completed.

Early Pearling Vessels

In the early 80's the communication with Brisbane was by the steamer Coren (Captain James Lawrie), of the Q.S.S. Company Limited. She made monthly trips, taking supplies to the various pearling stations, and bringing pearl shell on the return trip. It was very interesting to observe the doings on the arrival of the steamer. In those days the pearling stations, or as they were called, shelling stations, were located on the various Islands round Thursday Island, and each station had a smart little fore-and-aft schooner yacht of from 30 to 50 tons register to transport the shell from the stations and carry the provisions back. Some of the shelling firms were Mr. F. L. Jardine of Somerset, with the schooner Victory; Captain George Pearson, of Marbiag Island, with the schooner Lord Loftus; Messrs. Kelly and Cussen, of Prince of Wales Island, with the schooner Regent Bird; and Captain J. A. Riddel, of Prince of Wales Island, with the schooner Dairymaid. This vessel, which was of 30 tons register, was a topsail schooner with a large wooden centreboard and was a very fast sailer. Then there was the firm of Messrs. Scott, Henderson, and Co., with the schooner Osprey. The largest firm of shellers at one time was the Queensland Pearl Fishery Company, Limited, which had one station at Wai-Weer Island, with a schooner of the same name (Wai-Weer). It also had a station at Roko Island, near Possession Island, where Captain Cook landed and hosted the British flag.  Roko station schooner was the Two Brothers. Another large station was owned by Captain Joseph Tucker. It was located at Goode Island, and possessed a beautiful little vessel called the Dauntlett. There were several other shelling stations on the various islands, owned respectively by Messrs. James Clark, George Smith, Albert Collis, George Kerr, Captain Parkyne, Captain W. R. Mogg, and others. On arrival of the Corea the various schooners would manoeuvre to get alongside the steamer first, and it was a revelation to witness the skilful handling of the vessels on getting their lines aboard, and so secure the best berths. Eventually there would be half a dozen vessels alongside.

Pearling Boom

At that time shelling was very brisk, a new and very rich patch of shell was discovered west of Torres Straits. It was locally known as the old ground, was very extensive and very prolific. Largo quantities of shell were obtained each fortnight. Everyone was doing well and much money was circulated. The water was shallow, being from 6 to 10 fathoms in depth, and the ground extended out to sea. The fleet was not very large at that time, but on discovery of the old ground all haste was made by the progressive shellers to increase the fleets. Mr. James Clark, then in Brisbane, purchased the oyster cutter Amy, and loading her up with stores and shell cases, left Brisbane in September, 1882, with a crew consisting of Messrs. John Tolman, Wm. Wilson, and P. P. Outridge. After a very fine run of 11 days, Thursday Island was reached and the Amy was soon in commission. Speed was the first consideration, because fine, weather prevailed in the last four months of the year, and consequently good catches, were made. Later two boats were built for Mr. James Clark in Brisbane by Mr. Harry McCleer,  one was called the Banana, the other the Cocoanut.

Noted White Diver

Jack Tolman was given a trial as diver of the Banana and was very successful. He turned out to be one of the very best white divers in Torres Straits, and was always known as "Jack Banana." A fairly large number of white divers were engaged in the industry in those days, because the money was large and easily earned. Any young fellow possessing physique and grit could dive successfully in the comparatively shallow water of the old ground. Although there were many white divers employed, the majority of divers were South Sea Islanders (from Rotuneah principally). Malays and Manilla men, a few Japanese were employed, but not in such numbers as today.

Ships That Passed

In those times it was most interesting to observe the sailing ships passing through the straits. A good view of them could be obtained by climbing the hill to the signal station, at Goode Island, where Captain Walter Powell (afterwards stationed at Cape Moreton) was light keeper and signaller. It was the day of sailing ships. Coal was convoyed to the East from Newcastle, large quantities being sent to Java, Singapore, and China. The route being very dangerous, several ships would sail in company, so that if one got into trouble the other could render assistance. Frequently six full-rigged ships would he passing at one time generally under easy sail. When off Goode Island, with the most dangerous part of the route passed, full sail would be set and the vessels would soon disappear out of sight to the westward.

(To be continued on Saturday Next).

Part 2 is here