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Queensland Maritime Defence Force



One of the many outcomes of the Jervois-Scratchley reports was the formation of the Queensland Maritime Defence Force in 1883. Its purpose was to assist in the defence of Queensland's extensive coastline. To equip the new force, the colonial government purchased two gunboats and a torpedo boat. Queensland then went on to buy eight more vessel to create the second largest fleet in the Australian Colonies behindVictoria. With thefederation, those vessels still in service joined theCommonwealth Naval Forcesin 1901 and then became part of the Royal Australian Navywhen it was formed in 1911. No Queensland ship ever met the enemy in battle despite the fact that most went on to have long careers.

Kangaroo Point

Port facilities and headquarters were established at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane.

Kangaroo Point is located directly east across the Brisbane River from what is now the Brisbane central business district. Before British settlement, Kangaroo Point was occupied by the Turrbal People. In 1823, explorer John Oxley described Kangaroo Point as a "jungle, fringed with mangroves with the higher land open forest, covered with grass".

It is one of the earliest suburbs settled in Brisbane, and subsequently it has a rich history and character. During the time of convict settlement (182541), Kangaroo Point was cleared and used for cultivation of crops. Subsequently, the area was opened up for free settlement, with the first land sales taking place on 13 December 1843. For many years the suburb was dominated by the factories of heavy engineering businesses, particularly those involved in the maritime industry; and stone was quarried from the cliffs and used as a building material. It had a reputation for violent and rowdy street gangs in the 1900's.

Until the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901, the Queensland Navy's main storage facility was located in the suburb.

The first ship-based radio transmission in Australia was made between HMQS Gayundah and the buildings at Kangaroo Point in 1903. The naval stores buildings were occupied by the Royal Australian Navy until 1959, and then by the Australian Army until 1984. The heritage-listed buildings are now used by an adventure company focussing on river activities and rock climbing.

The Fleet

As the foundation of the Queensland Maritime Defence Force, the gunboats HMQS Paluma and HMQS Gayundah were ordered from the shipyards of Armstrong, Mitchell and Company. They featured a shallow draft capable of operating in the many bays and estuaries along the coast. Gayundah served as a training ship, while Paluma was loaned to the Royal Navy to carry out survey work on the Great Barrier Reef and along the Australia's east coast.

The torpedo boat Mosquito was then ordered from Thornycroft of Chiswick. Mosquito was never commissioned but simply placed into service when required.

Five government steam-propelled twin screwed "hopper barges" were then modified to act as Auxiliary Gunboats. These ships were built by Walkers Limited in Maryborough, and at 450 tons they appear to have been the largest warships built in the Australian colonies before federation. The ships had already been ordered for the Queensland Department of Harbours and Rivers, but given the number of ports along the Queensland coast, it was realised that additional naval ships were required to adequately defend the coast, and thus the decision was taken to convert them to serve a military purpose. This resulted in most of them being fitted with of a 5-inch gun, except the Benito, which had a 64-pounder gun. Also, they all had their boilers relocated below the waterline. These ships were named Bonito, Bream, Dolphin, Pumba, and Stingaree.

The torpedo launch Midge, mining tender Miner and patrol vessel Otter made up the rest of the Queensland vessels.

The Queensland Government also established Naval Brigades in the major ports along the Queensland coast.

The depression of the 1890's ruled out any further thoughts of expansion and greatly curtailed operations. Most of the vessels were placed in reserve only to be re-activated for annual training at Easter. Despite this, most went on to have long careers in both naval and private hands past World War II. The wrecks of many can still be seen around Moreton Bay today.

The Queensland Maritime Defence Force was not without controversy and difficulties. In October 1888, after a disagreement with the Queensland Government over conditions of service, Captain Henry Townley Wright R.N. commanding officer of the Gayundah, was ordered to hand over to his second-in-command, Francis Pringle Taylor.

Wright's response was to place his subordinate under arrest. He then coaled and provisioned the ship and threatened to sail her to Sydney. The Queensland Government ordered a police squad to relieve Captain Wright of his command. During the incident Captain Wright enquired from his gunner as to the best line of fire for his guns to hit Queensland Parliament House.

The situation was eventually resolved. However, of interest was Captain Wright's insistence, that although Gayundah was the property of the Queensland government, it had, by Admiralty Warrant been accepted into Royal Navy service, and thus, as her captain, he was only answerable to Rear-Admiral Fairfax the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Station.

The 1893 Brisbane flood ripped the Paluma from her moorings and left her well above the high-water mark in the nearby Brisbane Botanic Gardens. Fortunately as locals considered how to return one of the colony's most powerful and most expensive assets to the Brisbane River another major flood just two weeks later refloated the gunboat and she was pulled clear.

Whilst these incidents may have been a source of mirth for those in the southern colonies it is important to note that Queensland officers went on to provide the backbone of the Commonwealth Naval Forces. In 1904, when a permanent Naval Board was established, it was Captain William Rooke Creswell of Queensland, and previously South Australia, who was appointed as the Director of the Commonwealth Naval Forces and First Naval Member. At this time, 49% of the new force's officers had served with the Queensland Maritime Defence Force.

The Queensland Marine Defence Force was the only Australian colonial navy not to be involved in a foreign conflict.

Queensland Navy stores base
The Queensland Navy's main stores below the Kangaroo Point cliffs, with the gunship Paluma moored in the Brisbane River in the 1890s.