Monday, July 25, 2016

Thursday Island Jubilee - 1927, pt . 3

A four part series on the Thursday Island Jubilee in 1927. This is part 3

Part 2 is here

Telegraph (Brisbane), Saturday 1 October 1927, p. 18


3. On and Around the Island

Custom’s Officer Letter and First Mayor’s Memories

In the following letter, written by a Customs officer at Thursday Island shortly after it was proclaimed a municipality, is given a description of life on and around the island in these days; To this are added the recollections of the first Mayor of the island.
The customs officer referred to is Mr. A. S. Booker now in the Brisbane office, who had two terms of service on Thursday Island. His second period was that of sub-collector there.

Custom’s Officer’s Story

Mr. Booker, writing to a friend at the time, described a trip which he made in the steamer John Douglas to the picturesque Albany Pass, through which Thursday Island is approached from the southward. Captain J. A. Bruce was in command of the steamer, which was named after the late Hon. John Douglas for many years Government Resident at the Island. The letter fortunately was published in a newspaper at the time and thus preserved

"Somerset House," wrote Mr. Booker "Is beautifully situated on a hill overlooking u bright little bay, about halfway through Albany Pass. This pass is unquestionably one of the sights of Australia. We visited Saville Kent's cottage on Albany Island. It seems sad to think that he will never return to the spot which he had grown to love so well.

A Griffin Relic

''At Somerset, on Sunday evening, Frank Jardine and his guests were discussing, among other subjects, Australian literature. I happened to mention that the first Australian novel I had read was written by the sister of the late Hon. H. E. King, once member for Maryborough, and was entitled 'Lost for Gold. Frank Jardine immediately produced Griffin's- sword. The night before Griffin, the gold warden, was hanged, he sent for Frank Jardine and gave him the sword he had worn as an officer of the British army, saying: ‘this is clean, Frank, and I hope you will accept it.' At that time Frank Jardine's father was P.M. at Rockhampton. Frank Jardine Is now 76 years of age, has lived 50 years at Somerset and last week rode his horse 60 miles in one day. Most hospitable people are the Jardines, and the old gentleman is a wonder considering what he has gone through."

Amongst the Islands

''On a still, calm sea," writes Mr. Booker further, "last evening, Major Cox Taylor and family, with my family and myself, were the guests of Mr. J. R. Arthur on a launch run. We visited Goode Island, Waiweer Island, Black Rock, and other places of Interest, returning before midnight. Such outings as these are frequent here, and are very enjoyable.

"Life here is deeply interesting, and there is a change of constantly visiting ships, both ways, nearly all calling at the Government Jetty.”

Sprinkling of Whites

"The white population is very small, the ratio being, say, one white to 20 blacks.' Japanese predominate, but the Malays are gradually replacing them so far as I can see. The stores are nearly all open every evening till 10. o'clock, and at this time of the year the coloured people appear to live in the main street after sundown, Gaily-decked-out ice-cream vendors and their handcarts are a feature. The niggers do like ice creams. The Torres Strait Fresh Food and Ice Company has a fine establishment, with ample cold stores. One can always obtain a rabbit or hare off the ice, not to mention fish, fruit and. vegetables. Cattle are killed at Red Island and brought into cold stores once a week. Red Island is 20 miles away. In the old days all cattle were killed on the Island. Burns, Philp and Co. run a fine store here— needle to anchor sort. They also have a private bond built of concrete — a fine structure.

Seventeen Years’ Progress

"Since my time of 17 years ago living is much more comfortable. Coconut palms are all over the Island, making the settlement very picturesque. I believe that within the next six or seven years the Commonwealth Government will spend £200,000 on defence works on this and the adjoining Islands."

"Thursday Island was proclaimed a municipality a fortnight ago (January 12, 1912); The Torres Straits Hospital is a splendid institution, with a large sum at fixed deposit, brought about in this way. The Government compelled every person employed in the pearl-shell fisheries to contribute a shilling a month to the hospital fund. The Government has appointed its representative on the Hospital Board. There is a really good town hall and entertainments take place very frequently. The School of Arts is run by the Municipal Council, and the town clerk is librarian.

"The military barracks are a fine block of buildings, and the occupants are regarded as a great protection to the whole population of the Island.

"Fish is very plentiful, and is hawked around every morning. To-day I purchased three fine lobsters just taken from the reef for a shilling the lot. The lobsters in these waters are very fine food. The Customs quarters are the best on the island. When I saw my chief (Mr. E. J. Hennessy) planting mango trees, coconut palms, etc., in the sub-collector's garden nearly 20 years ago I little dreamt that someday I would be enjoying the fruit of his labours. We have been enjoying the mangoes for quite a month now.

"We are all very sorry to lose Mr. Millman, late Government resident here. He was a really fine type of man, both officially and socially.

"The sub-collector's duties here have a somewhat unpleasant side — namely, the identification of dead coloured divers by photographs and indent documents. The duty of identification falls sometimes three or four days after decease. Twenty years ago 30 fathoms was considered dangerous diving; now the Japs go down 45 fathoms for pearlshell."

First Mayor's Recollections

Thursday Island's first Mayor (Mr. W. M. Hayne) for many years past, has been a. prominent citizen of. Brisbane. He is the present president of the Stock Exchange. He went to Thursday Island as a school teacher in the eighties, but resigned from the department, and subsequently went back there to engage in business. He had an interest in pearling, and was just married when the hurricane referred to in last week's article occurred, constituting Australia's most serious disaster to date. The disaster was a serious one, not only for the families of those who lost their lives in it, but for these who wore interested in the Industry otherwise.

Mr. Haynes spent some 20 years on the Island, and like all who lived there speaks in glowing terms of its natural beauty, its salubrious climate, and the charm of its people. Even the coloured people were law-abiding folk, Mr. Haynes says. In all his time there he did not remember one white, woman being molested by them. He [recalls a fight] between Manilamen and South Sea Islanders, but that, he says, was due, [he] certainly recalls one serious fracas as he understood, to a misunderstanding by the Manilamen, when they interviewed an official[1], who told them to come back and see him at. 4 o'clock, that they could commence an attack on the Kanakas at 4 o'clock. They waited until the tick of 4, when they started the fray, and a right willing one it proved, and not at all one sided, although naturally the islanders were taken somewhat unaware.

Mr Hayne recalls that there were three pilots stationed at .Thursday Island in the olden days — Captain Hannah, Commodore Keating, and Binstead. It was pilot Keating who was on the Quetta when she struck the unchartered pinnacle which sent her to her doom. The first medical man on the Island was Dr Salter, who afterwards figured as a leading authority on plague at Sydney. Dr. Tilston followed Dr. Salter. Then came Dr. Wassell, a son of the late Mr. J. Wassell, so well-known in Brisbane for many years. Dr. White followed Dr. Wassell.

No reference to residents of the Island would be complete, says Mr. Hayne, which did not include the name of Frank Summers. Mr. Summers at one time was practically the uncrowned king of Thursday Island. He did well in the pearling Industry, for some years, but he was a big-hearted man, and spent his money freely. He was a great supporter of local institutions and charitable causes. When a piano was wanted for the School of Arts it was Mr. Summers who gave it. Nor did he buy a cheap one, but the best that could be got. It cost him 110 guineas, which was a very high price for those days.

Mr. Hayne remembers the vessel to which Mr. Outridge referred in his last week's list of shipwrecks as being sold for £5. He adds that she was an Australian ship, and that huge holes were found in her hull. The buyers got the ship, which was named Le Jubirod, and her cargo of 100 tons of coal, worth £3 a ton at Thursday Island, for the modest "fiver" mentioned.

[1] The official was John Douglas!