Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thursday Island Jubilee - 1927, pt . 4

A four part series on the Thursday Island Jubilee in 1927. This is part 4

Part 3 is here

Telegraph (Brisbane), Saturday 8 October 1927, p. 15


Quetta Memorial Cathedral
In the following article, the last of the series on Thursday Island the jubilee of which recently was celebrated, some further recollections of the olden days of the island are given.

Before it was a Town

Mr. E. B. Harris, vice chairman of the Telegraph Newspaper. Co., who for some years was associated with the British-India and Queensland Agency, Co., lived on Thursday Island in the "eighties." It was a very primitive settlement in those days, Mr. Harris says. There was no town, no streets, no horses, and therefore, no wheeled traffic, even a bullock or a cow there. Tall rank grass, some, of it 7 ft. high, grew all over the place, except at the back of the island, where there was a tropical jungle.

There was not even a wharf there in those early days, but the British-India Steam Navigation Co.'s ships, which were employed in the Queensland Royal Mail service between London and Brisbane, berthed alongside an old hulk which was kept there for that purpose. In Mr. Harris's day the James Patterson, which at one time was employed on this coast, was the hulk, and later the Star of Peace.

The staff lived ashore in a small four-roomed cottage with a kitchen. The framework of this small building was of hardwood, and the sides and root were of galvanised iron. The doors and windows were never closed, for although there were doorways and openings which served as windows, they were mere blanks in the walls. There was a veranda all around the little place, but no steps. The cottage belonged to the staff, and not to the company, and it served as a protection from the heavy tropical rains and from the fierce heat of the tropical sun. Howbeit, conditions within were pretty much as sultry as those without very often, for tho galvanised iron became intolerably hot. Mr. Harris recalls such well-known ships of the mall line as the Merkhara, the Roma, the ill-fated Quetta, and others of the company's own line, and tho Duke of Sutherland, the Duke of Westminster, and others of that line which also at times were employed in the service. The cargoes inward were largely composed of "rough stuff" such as barbed wire and grog  with a sprinkling  of "plum duff" ingredients and other dietary items, as a mate of one of tho ships remarked to Mr. Harris on one occasion. 

A Lonely Grave

Exploring the back of the island one day Mr. Harris came across a lonely grave. On it was a wooden cross, on which was inscribed, "Sacred to the memory of William Buist, master of the Rober, ‘drowned’ (then came the date - Mr. Harris thinks some time in 1848); erected by his crew. Mr. Harris made Inquiries but even, the best-informed public on the island knew nothing of the grave. Nobody seemed to be aware previously that it was there.

The Smallest Town

One of those who were associated with Mr. Harris in those days was Mr. W. J. Graham, who afterwards for many years was prominently associated with the business and civic life of the town, which Mr. Graham says is the smallest in the British Empire, consisting as it does of an area of only 188 acres, Including 88 acres of streets. The total area of the place, including the Commonwealth's part at it, used for Defence purposes, is only 500 acres. The Island also has the smallest newspaper in the Empire, or the world, for that matter, Mr. Graham says. This, consists of a dally publication of a slip containing telegrams, and tiny local Items which may be available.

Quetta Memorial Cathedral

Mr. Graham lists among the many extracts from newspapers which he has preserved concerning tho history of the Island the following from a Church of England publication, describing the interior of the Quetta Memorial Cathedral: —
"A Quetta lifebuoy, draped with the British-India Company's house flag, hangs over tho pulpit. Her stern riding light, recovered by a diver after 18 years' submersion, gives light for evensong. The barnacles and coral incrustation on the brasswork of the lamp tell their own tale. The ewer at the font was given to the church by a Mr. McLeod, of Thursday Island. In the chancel hangs another flag and a lifebuoy, hearing tho name, "Kanahooka Sydney." This was a steamer which foundered in the Gulf of Carpentaria two years after the loss of the Quetta.

"The seats at one end of the church are from the wrecked barque Volga, now lying off Goode Island, with one of her musts still plainly visible at high-water mark. A chart, given by Mr. McKenzie, showing the exact locality of the wreck hangs on one side of the main door, and opposite is one of the port holes of the Quetta, the outline and details plainly to be seen under beautiful coral growths. This was given by Mr. Graham, Hotel Metropole, and is one of the most striking relics In the church.

“An altar, erected near the gates is the gift of a Rotuman boy, from the South, Sea Islands, named Tom Mann, who desired thus to keep his memory green among his South Sea friends here after his return to his own island.
"The larger of the two bells was first used in Townsville Cathedral, and the smaller is the Quetta's ship's bell."

In addition to the Quetta memorial tablet, there also is a tablet to the memory of the 302 men who lost their lives in the great hurricane off Cape Melville on March 5, 1899, to which reference previously has been made in these articles. At the foot of this tablet are the words, "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee."

School Teacher’s Recollections

Living In retirement at Kent Street, New Farm, Is Miss O’Brien, who for some years was in charge of the Thursday Island State School. Miss O'Beirne treasures her recollections of Thursday Island and its many splendid people. Of the late Hon. John Douglas, as he was invariably called, she speaks in the very highest terms. "He was a splendid man," said Miss O'Beirne, "a most upright and just man; everyone respected him and his word was law in the Island, not only because of his position of authority, but also because we all trusted his knowledge and judgment. The coloured people shared our respect and even our affection for him.

An Island Wedding

Miss O'Beirne recalls with particular pleasure an island wedding in which she took some little part. It was that of the Rev. J. G. Ward, who afterwards died when in charge of the Presbyterian Aboriginal Mission at Mapoon in 'the Gulf, to his bride who had come up to help her betrothed in his good work. Mr. Ward stayed with Mr. Douglas until the wedding arrangements were completed and Mrs. Ward as she became, was the guest of Miss O'Beirne at the school residence. Miss O'Beirne suggested to the mothers of half-a-dozen girls attending the school that they should dress the girls as bridesmaids for the occasion, and this was done. The late Rev W. Maitland Woods, who was the founder of the Quetta Memorial Church, officiated. As illustrating the interdenominational spirit of such places, here was a Presbyterian missionary married by an Anglican clergyman, whose bride went forth to the ceremony as the quest of a member of another faith, with bridesmaids drawn from other denominations. Miss O'Birne said her heart went out to Mrs. Ward and also to Mrs. Hoy, who heroically accompanied their husbands to that wild part of the coast in which the missions were located, not knowing what was before them. Mr. Ward died, but Mrs. Ward continued there in the good work, and Mr. and Mrs. Hey retired after 20 odd years' service there.

Quetta Memories

Miss O'Beirne was at the island when the Quetta was wrecked, and never can forget the thrill of horror which passed through that little community when the awful fact became known there. She remembers well little Quetta Brown— as she was afterwards called — the ill-fated ship's foundling,  coming ashore, and tho loving care which was bestowed upon her by Captain and Mrs. Brown who adopted her, and by others.