Monday, July 11, 2016

Thursday Island Jubilee - 1927, pt . 2

A four part series on the Thursday Island Jubilee in 1927. This is part 2

Part 1 is here

Telegraph (Brisbane), Saturday 24 September 1927, p. 14


2.  Reminiscences of Pioneers

The Old Hands and early Wrecks

In this article is continued the stories of pioneers of Thursday Island who have much to say of interest concerning the early history of the Island, the jubilee of which was celebrated there on Saturday last, the day on which the first article of this series appeared in "The Telegraph."

In the article referred to, it will be remembered, Mr. P. P. Outridge, of Redland had commenced his reminiscences, which he now concludes. The narrative, however, is taken up by Mr. C. D. Savage, an ex-inspector of the Queensland Police Force, and will be continued by others. Mr. Outridge confesses that he has a soft spot in his heart for "The Telegraph." which, many years ago, took up the case of the island when a bill regulating the size of pearl-shell was in danger of being numbered among the "slaughtered Innocents" at the tail-end of a Parliamentary session, and by its advocacy succeeded In spurring on the Government of the day to pass the measure at once.

Mr. Outridges Story

Mr. Outridge further writes; "Besides being the centre of the pearling industry in Torres Straits, Thursday Island in the 80's also was interested in the beche-de-mer fishery as well as to a smaller degree in the collection of black-lip pearl-shell and tortoise-shell. Trochus shell was not fished in the early days; it is a comparatively recent development. Beche-de-mer was found, in prolific quantities on all the reefs from Cape York southward, but the most famous ground was the Warrior Reef, which extended for a considerable distance towards New Guinea.

Beche-de-mer’s Influence

Beche-de-mer was locally called fish, and these engaged in the industry fishermen, rather a misnomer. There were several varieties of fish the most valuable was teat fish; others were red, black, sandfish, and prickly red. The last named had been the most popular on the China market, but one largo shipment which was forwarded to Hong Kong and sold there had boon improperly cured. Results were disastrous to the Chinese epicures. Prickly red fish immediately fell into disfavour, and values dropped to a merely nominal price of £20 per ton, against £120 for other kinds. The beche-de-mcr was shipped at Thursday Island or Cooktown, and those engaged in the industry generally made a good living. Beche-de-mer is responsible for changing the character of the inhabitants of the northern coast of Australia. For Centuries Malay proas from the Dutch Indies have visited the coast as far east as the Gulf of Carpentaria, and as far west as King Sound on the north-west coast. Their object was to obtain beche-de-mer or, as it also is called, trepang. Several months of each year were spent on the- Australian coast, the proas came over with the north-west monsoon, and returned home towards the end of the southeast monsoon. The principal part in the Indies for fitting out these expeditions was Macassar, in Celebes Island.

The visits of Malays had a distinct effect on the aboriginal natives. Right along the Northern Territory coast the natives understand the Malay language, and have adopted some of the visitors' customs. I do not think the praows visited Torres Straits to fish, hut I remember seeing one Malay vessel at Thursday Island, which had been blown out of its course by the strong north-west winds which prevailed at the time.

Some Old Hands

Most of the beche-de-mer fishermen had stations on the various Islands in Torres Straits, where they cured the fish, generally proceeding once a month to Thursday Island to procure stores and sell the fish, or despatch it to Hong Kong. Those engaged in the Industry led a hard and somewhat adventurous life. I might mention some of the old hands, such as Edward Mosby, generally known as Yankee Ned of Yorke Island; Jack Walker, of Dalrymple Island; Tom Randolf, of Stephens Island; Douglas Pitt, of Halfway Island; Andrew Johnson, of Stephens Island; Paddy Wilson, of Warrior Island; John Williams, of Daru Island; Billy Wilson, of the Sisters (Daru); Charlie Mogg, of Yam Island; Captain W. Walton, of the brig Lady Denison; Captain Colin Thompson, of the schooner Coral Sea; Captain Soren Christensen, of the schooner Terrigal Packet. These fishermen were not the only ones engaged in the Industry, but they used Thursday Island as their home port. Many more sailed out of Cooktown principally to the Great Barrier Reef off that harbour.

Old Time Wrecks

Thursday Island, in the early years, was a port of refuge for the crews of many vessels wrecked on the Barrier or on the numerous reefs in the straits proper. Of course, there was no wireless In those days, and for a considerable time no telegraphic communication, until the overland line was stretched along Capo York Peninsula to Cooktown. Vessels getting ashore could not communicate nor could the master get into telegraphic communication with his owners. The master had to act on his own responsibilities. An instance of this type was the case of a large sailing ship laden with coal, which got ashore on the Sisters, she was abandoned, by the crew, who arrived safely at Thursday Island on another vessel. The ship and her cargo were eventually sold for the very small sum of £5, Steps were immediately taken to salvage the vessel, and the salvers being favoured With fine weather she was refloated and sailed Into harbour, having sustained little damage. The master was subjected to some criticism for abandoning his ship, but the sailing directions of the time were obsolete and therefore misleading. Mariners were warned against the natives, who were described as treacherous. They may have been in the very early days, but on many of the Islands white missionaries or native teachers were located and the natives were quite trustworthy. Most of them, in fact, were employed in the pearling or beche-de-mer- fishing Industries.

Many, many wrecks have occurred In Torres Straits, and their crews have found Thursday Island a port of refuge. One large wooden ship, named the John da Cor-, flying the American flag, became a total wreck on Torres Reef about 10 miles from Thursday Island: She was laden with horses, shipped St Melbourne for Calcutta. Shortly after the ship got on the reef, a syndicate at Thursday Island brought the vessel and cargo, successfully landing 117 of the horses, besides large quantities of fodder. The ship, however, soon -broke up, as she was in an exposed position.
A few miles away from the scene of the wreck another vessel got ashore. This was the brig Jemima, bound south from Thursday Island, in ballast. Missing stays, she drifted broadside on to Hammond Rock, and hung there till the tide turned. She then floated off, but had a big hole in her side. Making water fast, she was in danger of sinking. The captain decided to beach her, and ran her on to the sand at Hammond Island in a nice sheltered position, where she settled down, the water flowing in and out of her with the tides. The vessel was purchased at auction by Mr. James Clark, who very soon had her temporarily repaired, and sailed her to his shelling station at Friday Island, where permanent repairs were effected. Eventually she sailed south again in ballast for Brisbane, a cargo of limestone being picked lip at Marble Island. The Jemima afterwards was moored in the Brisbane River as the houseboat of one of the rowing clubs. Her bones lie at low water just below Victoria Bridge, on the North Brisbane side. Another vessel just about this time got ashore on a reef in Endeavour Straits. She was the wooden barque Joseph, loaded with kerosene shale, bound to the East. Sho was abandoned by the crew, who look to the boats and reached Thursday Island n safety. A party headed by Captain K. L. Brown, got out, and very soon had the vessel afloat, but when bringing her into the harbour she got on a reef just at the entrance and became a total wreck. This happened but a few miles away from Thursday Island.

Treasure Trove

Pearl shell and beche-de-mere were not the only exports from Thursday Island. Treasure trove at times was Included. Ono of the earliest wrecks was a foreign ship, evidently a Spanish vessel bound from South America, probably to the Philippine Islands. A beche-de-mer fisherman came across the wreck on the Barrier Reef near Murray Island, and found a large number of silver dollars, principally Spanish. The latest date was 1820.

Other Disasters

Another vessel got ashore on Orman Reef, about halfway between Thursday Island and New Guinea. Her cargo consisted of Ingots of copper. These were apparently thrown overboard as the vessel was driven over the reef. The natives of Marbiac Island, diving for pearlshell in the vicinity, found the ingots, which were taken to Thursday Island, and sold profitably. No one seemed to know anything about the vessel, and the natives, an intelligent class generally, could give no information. Evidently it was a ship passing through Torres Straits, in the early days of last century.

On March 5, 1899, a frightful hurricane swept the vicinity or Cape Melville, bringing disaster to 73 vessels and 302 men, Including seven Europeans. Amongst these were Harold Arthur Outridge, a son of mine, and Alfred St. John Outridge, a son of my brother (A. HI. Outridge), who was head teacher at New Farm State School some time ago. The other white men who perished in that disaster were Captain Robert Brown Murray, master of the Sagitta, Captain Edward Jefferson, master of the Silvery Wave, also Robert Cameron, and John Henry Nicholas.

Then, of course, there was the Quetta disaster. This vessel was wrecked In the vicinity of Thursday Island, on February 28, 1890. One hundred and thirty-eight of her passengers mid crew wore lost and 150 were saved. But the history of that tragic affair is well known. Numerous other wrecks occurred, but as the sailing ships passing through the straits lessoned because of the spread of steam, so the wrecks became fewer In number. Vessels even now get ashore occasionally, but Thursday Island, having a powerful wireless installation, can always receive SOS signals and arrange for assistance.

Mr Savages’s Recollections

Mr. Savage, now living in well-earned, peaceful retirement at his homo at Eliza Street, Clayfield, was one of a party of officials which was sent to Thursday Island along with the late Hon. John Douglas, who was appointed Government Resident of the Island In 1885. "There were very few whiles on the island then," said the ex-police veteran, talking with a representative of the Telegraph. There were two stores, Burns Philp and Bennett's, and a shop run by a Frenchman. Apart from officials (there were not many Europeans, but there was a considerable coloured population on and around the Island. I was a sergeant at the time of my appointment to the place, and was sent there to look after police matters, which up till then had been under the control of the water police, who also assisted the Customs. I afterwards was appointed sub-Inspector. I asked the department to send two men to assist me, and they sent two really fine fellows— Constables Conroy and Bain.

A Constable Murdered

Poor Conroy was killed by a coloured man after I left there when in the execution of hid duty. He had a great influence amongst the coloured people, and as I said, was a really good fellow. Bain left the force and started a store, but took seriously ill some time afterwards, and coming to Brisbane for treatment he died here. Speaking generally we had no trouble with the aliens. Gambling, however, was very prevalent amongst them, though, and took some watching.

Some Early Residents

Dr. A. E. Salter, a Sydney man, was the health officer when I was on the island, and a very good man too. In fact, we were very fortunate in the officials and others we found ourselves among at the old island. Mr. Douglas, of course, was a statesman and a very fine gentleman. Mr. F. G. Symes, the first Sub-collector of Customs, was in charge of that department there. Associated with him, amongst others, were Messrs. McMah and Cullen. The latter was a son of Mr. Cullen, the then Under Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. F. W. Raymentt, the first to hold the position was in charge of the little school. In charge of the garrison was Colonel Byron, who afterwards went to South Africa. He was a good disciplinarian, and although somewhat reserved a really fine man. The late Mr. George Cryle, afterwards well-known in Brisbane, was inspector of works for the fortifications. In addition to the officials, some of whoso names I cannot now recall, were some excellent business men, such as Mr. V. R. Bowden, the then manager of Burns Philp's store. Mr. H Bowden, his brother, who was a sort of general agent, Mr. P. J. Doyle, a commission agent, Mr. George Gummo, undertaker, now a big lumber merchant in Cairns, and Mr. and Mrs,. T. McNulty of the Grand Hotel, also Captain Allan Wilkie, senior pilot and harbour-master, Pilots Fawkes, Thompson, and Reid, who afterwards was in charge of the Government steamer 'Albatross.' Then, of course, we had the pearl-shellers. The outstanding man amongst these was Mr. James Clark, who has made good in other pursuits as well of late years, and. who is so well and favourably known in Brisbane.

The Quetta Wreck

"Yes, I was there when the Quetta was wrecked," said Mr. Savage, in answer to a question. "I did not go out in the rescuing boat, the Albatross, but I went out in her afterwards, and passed over the submerged pinnacle on which the vessel struck, Captain Reid succeeded in locating the wreck at the first cast of the lead, which showed some of the red paint from the vessel's bottom, but we cruised around for half-an-hour, casting the lead from time to time before we again got into touch with the hapless vessel. There was a great depth of water all-around that isolated pinnacle, which, as you know, was uncharted at the time the Quetta struck it.

Beauty of the Tropics

Although it is over 30 years since Mr. Savage left Thursday Island, he is not forgetful of the scenic charms of the Island and its surroundings. "I have been all over these islands," he said, as a parting word of the questioning Pressmen. "When Mr. Douglas was unable to go, I made an inspection of them on his behalf, and I saw their beauty. I wonder that they were not become the resort of tourists long before this. The people of Queensland apparently have not realised yet what wonderful attractions there are in the islands of Torres Straits."
(To be continued on Saturday next).