• Richard Lancaster

The Last Word: A Tale of Two Ships


This is a tale of two ships. Unlike the Charles Dickens novel, `A Tale of Two Cities’, this tale is true, but it has all of the novel’s intrigue and drama. Both ships were to play important but quite different roles in our Australian and Queensland history.

However, the uncaring way in which these ships ended their days, reflects poorly on how we Australians preserve our history and value our icons. While other nations cherish and preserve their historic icons and revere their heroes, we seem uncertain of their importance to our culture and to our future as well.

Both the magnificent Queensland Government Steam Yacht ‘Lucinda’ and the heavily armed gunboat HMQS ‘Gayundah’ were built in 1884. The former, in Dumbarton in Scotland, and the latter in Newcastle upon Tyne in England. Both were commissioned by the Queensland colonial government, and both arrived at their home port of Brisbane in 1885.

The Gayundah and her sister ship, Paluma, (translated from the local aboriginal meaning, Lightning and Thunder), were built to counter a perceived Imperial Russian/German invasion of the 60-year-old colony. The yacht Lucinda (named for the second wife of the then Queensland Governor, Sir Anthony Musgrave) had a much more sedate workload.

The QGSY Lucinda was initially used for government business. Cabinet meetings were held on board, dignitaries and school children were carried on excursions around Moreton Bay, and mail was delivered along the Queensland coast. As the threatened invasion of Queensland failed to materialise, the Gayundah became the newly established Maritime Defence Forces training vessel and patrolled the coastline.

Nothing much happened with the two ships in the next couple of years. Then in 1888, an incident occurred that was to rock the Queensland government. Captain Henry Townley Wright of the Gayundah applied to the government for a year’s overseas leave with full pay to be given in advance. The leave was agreed to, but the salary in advance was not. The infuriated captain, with his ship’s guns loaded, sailed up the Brisbane River and threatened, that unless the government paid him the money, he would fire on parliament. The police boarded the ship and the captain was arrested. The incident became known as the Gayundah Mutiny.

In 1903, the Gayundah became the first Australian warship to successfully operate ship-to-shore wireless telegraphy. During WW1, she sailed under three separate flags, the Queensland, British and Australian. Whilst the Gayundah did not fire a shot in anger, her war service in West Australian waters was noteworthy.

In contrast, life progressed smoothly for the Lucinda. The government hosted functions on board the yacht, and the Premier Sir Samuel Griffiths and his cabinet were regularly transported to Townsville via the vessel. Parties, soirees and regattas were regularly hosted on the yacht’s decks, but the Lucinda’s real claim to fame was about to be realised.

Federation was in the air, and in 1891, Sir Samuel Griffiths travelled to Sydney in the Lucinda. He invited the other state premiers on board, and it was on the vessel that the Constitution’s first draft was drawn up. Eight years later, the Lucinda was again the location for the final draft of the Australian Constitution to be completed. Among the many dignitaries to travel on the yacht were the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) in 1901.

But as the 1920’s rolled around, the good times were running out for both the Lucinda and the Gayundah. In 1921, the Gayundah was decommissioned, sold and degraded into becoming a sand and gravel barge on the Brisbane River for the next 37 years. The Lucinda’s fate was no better. Two years later in 1923, the magnificent vessel was sold, only to become a coal carrier. She was only to last another 14 years, before being finally dumped as a breakwater on the shores of Bishop Island in 1937.

The Gayundah’s fate was equally squalid. With worn out engines, she was stripped and sold to the Redcliffe Town Council as a breakwater for 400 pounds. The same amount that the government had sold the Lucinda for 21 years earlier.

Little is now left of the Lucinda. Only a faint outline of the vessel can be seen in the sand at low tide. But the candle still flickers, however feebly, for the Gayundah. A group of concerned Redcliffe citizens have banded together to preserve what is left of the badly degraded remains of HMQS Gayundah for posterity’s sake. The Gayundah Preservation Society Inc, with support from the Moreton Bay Regional Council with a $10,000 preservation grant, are currently negotiating with the State Government’s Marine Parks and Wildlife Department for permission to commence the preservation process. The negotiation is now in its second year.

Standing close to the Gayundah’s skeletal remains, a 12-year-old girl was recently heard to say, ‘I wish I could have seen this ship when it was real!’


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