The Schooner ‘Young Dick’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published
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The Burton Stather was not the only one of Wray's ships to find adventure in the South Seas. The topsail schooner Young Dick also found a new home in Eastern Australia after a spell in New Zealand. With an even more dramatic story to tell, of adventure, drunkenness, conflict and violence, eventually ending in shipwreck.

The arrival of the labour schooner Young Dick at Maryborough yesterday afternoon placed us in possession of details of one of the most eventful voyages yet recorded in the annals of the Polynesian traffic, and perhaps the bloodiest tragedy yet associated with the South Seas.

Maryborough Chronicle, 3rd June 1886.
National Library of Australia.

The story begins in the relatively calm and familiar setting of The Stather. The ship was launched from Wray & Sons' yard on the 28th of June 1869, built for Richard Hickman of W. Cass & Co in Goole. With a length of 106'5", a beam of 23'8" and depth of 12'9", the registered tonnage was 162. The hull was carvel built with a round stern, clad with felt and yellow metal (Muntz metal) and fastened with iron bolts. The ship's first master was R. Redman.

Although the ship was registered locally in Goole, she went to some far off places, making frequent trans Atlantic passages, to locations such as Newfoundland, Baltimore, Jamaica, Bahia (Brazil), Uruguay and Buenos Aires. She also traded about Europe the Mediterranean, and visited South Africa.

A Move South

There were a series of owners and masters over the years, by 1875 she was working out of New Zealand under the command of Mr George Henwood Symonds. In January 1876 the ship was bought at auction by Messrs Beck and Tonks for £2075. The new master was Robert Armitt who commanded the schooner through another change of ownership to Henry Green & Co early in 1879, until late in that year when A Moir took over as master, followed by George Greenwood in 1881, who became part owner of the vessel and in 1883, Captain Owen Lewis from Hobart, Tasmania took command.

During this period the Young Dick traded between New Zealand ports, such as Wellington, Timaru and Mercury Bay, and Eastern Australia: Sydney, Newcastle, and Hobart. Common cargoes were grain, flour and fruit among other farm produce, or timber and coal. The ship could also accommodate a handful of passengers. One rather unusual passenger was reported in 1877.

TASMANIAN DEVIL - One of those interesting creatures, of tender age, brought over from Hobart Town by the schooner Young Dick at present lying in the roadstead, was landed yesterday afternoon, having been purchased by one of our fellow townsmen. What price the enterprising individual in question paid for the young devil we did not hear; nor have we the foggiest idea what he intends to do with the little one; but we hope he will take great care of it, and not let it make too free use with it's jaw.

Timaru Herald 14th April 1877
National Library of New Zealand
The Schooner Young Dick
The Schooner Young Dick in Timaru Harbour, NZ.
Photograph from South Canterbury Museum.

A Change of Trade

View of Maryborough
View of Maryborough from the Customs House.

Then in May of 1884 master mariner John Hugh Rogers, of Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, bought all 64 shares of the ship, from John Jackson and former skipper George Greenwood. She left Newcastle on the 17th of May under Captain A Skillen, laden with her last cargo of coal for Sydney, where she would receive a thorough overhaul in preparation for a cargo of a very different kind. She left Sydney with Skillen for Maryborough on the 14th of June to start a new career in a different trade under the command of owner-skipper, John Rogers. The business for which Rogers intended using the ship was the south sea labour trade.

The South Sea Labour Trade

To put the rest of the story into context, a brief explanation of the south sea labour trade. By this time, in the late 19th century, slavery had been abolished throughout the British Empire. However this did not change the fact that many settlers and landowners in the colonies needed cheap labour in great quantities to drive their industries, which in Queensland were largely sugar cane and cotton plantations, among others.

The natives of the Polynesian islands in the South West Pacific, referred to as Kanakas, were seen as a valuable resource of labour for Queensland. It was considered that people of colour would be better suited to working outdoors all day in the heat of the Queensland sun. In order to harness this labour force a new system was devised that would not contravene the slavery laws. This was the birth of the South Sea Labour Trade which started in 1863 and continued until 1904. Like the slave trade it became a huge industry its self.

The trade was based around a system of indentured labour. Recruiters would travel to the islands and persuade natives to enter into a contract of work to which they would be tied for three years. During the term of their indenture they would work for their masters and be paid albeit scantily for their efforts. When the term was over they would be shipped back and repatriated to their homeland. On their return they would be rewarded with a box of trade goods, items that would be valuable back home.

Recruiting Natives
Recruiting Natives

The front line of the trade was the labour ships, schooners were the preferred vessel for the job. The recruiters would sail to the islands, often the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) or the Solomon Islands, anchoring near settlements and going ashore on smaller recruiting boats that the ships carried. Here they would try to encourage the natives to sign up and come onto the ship. This was usually done by bargaining with senior tribesmen or chiefs. The boats carried a trade box for this purpose, filled with sought after items such as tobacco, clay pipes, textiles, beads, knives, tomahawks, fish hooks and mirrors. Recruits would be offered in exchange for such items. One might say the recruits were effectively sold for the goods, but it was seen as a means of compensation for the loss to the tribe. A chief would not allow part of his tribe to leave for nothing. In the early days they traded with rifles and ammunition too, which were very tempting for the natives, but this practice was later outlawed by the British in an amendment to the act.

Recruit's Quarters
Recruit's Quarters on a labour ship.

The recruit's quarters were in the ship's hold. A typical hold of a labour ship was fitted out with two 6ft wide shelves on either side, running the full length and was divided by a bulkhead to make a smaller compartment for women which were in lesser demand by the trade.

As well as bringing recruits back to Queensland, the labour ships also took returns on their way out. These were workers who had come to the end of their indenture and chose to be repatriated. The trade was a profitable one, with masters being paid a given sum for every recruit signed on, and a lesser sum for every return taken home.

Blackbirding, The Darker Side of the Trade

Of course this is how the trade was supposed to work. In reality it was not always so easy, civilized or lawful. Particularly in the early days, language barriers and hostile natives made the recruiter's job a difficult one in some parts. But the potential for financial gain was such that recruiters might opt for more unscrupulous tactics in filling their hold with recruits. Tales of kidnapping and trickery to get natives on board against their will were widespread in the trade. As well as ill-treatment, cruelty and sometimes murder of islanders. These illegal practices by labour traders became known as blackbirding. Famous examples of blackbirders are William Bully Hayes who was portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in the 80's flop Nate & Hayes (Savage Islands) and Dr James Murray on the brig Carl, the man responsible for what was possibly the greatest atrocity committed by the blackbirders, but that is another story.

Daphne Blackbirding
Seizure of the Daphne, a blackbirding labour ship.

Blackbirding brought the trade into serious disrepute, some considered it was no better than slavery. The Government put measures in place to try and control, oversee and regulate the trade, to make sure it was worked in a proper, legal and humane manner. The first being Polynesian Labourers Act of 1868, further restrictions were made in subsequent years to protect the rights and welfare of the natives. A number of Royal Naval vessels patrolled the islands to police the trade, dealing with crimes, resolving disputes and conflicts. In addition to this, each labour ship was required to carry a government agent on board throughout the voyage, to oversee the recruitment process and ensure everything was done by the book. A good idea in theory, however the agents also were susceptible to corruption within such a lucrative business. Being paid bonuses on successful recruiting trips or being kept permanently drunk throughout voyages, helped them to turn a blind eye to malpractice. There were even accounts of the agents themselves being involved in blackbirding and abuse of recruits.

It was not all one sided, the islanders had a strong tribal culture of proud warriors who were not afraid to stand up to Europeans with their superior firepower and technology. Many Europeans saw them as little more than wild men and savages, a reputation they weren't afraid to live up to. Head hunting and cannibalism was still rife in the islands at this time. They would not think twice about killing a white man, either in revenge for the wrong doing of others of their kind, or if there was something to be gained from it, such a trade box full of goods, firearms, or a healthy bounty offered for his head.

Attacks by natives on Europeans would often lead to reprisals by the Naval ships on their settlements. You may assume that the labour traders would be glad to have the might of the Royal Navy behind them, but some traders derided such reprisals. Not only were they often ineffective, (natives would have ample warning and retreat into the bush during a bombardment, returning afterward to find only a few damaged huts and trees) but they only served to perpetuate a cycle of revenge, set in motion by the blackbirders. Such acts made the jobs of the more lawful traders more difficult and dangerous. It was in this climate of hostility that the recruiters had to work.

The First Recruiting Voyage

The Coral Sea View Larger Map

The Young Dick's new owner and master, John Rogers was an extravagant red-haired Irishman from Rutland Island, County Donegal. On the 22nd of July 1884, two months after buying the schooner, he set off for the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) from Maryborough. George Bell was the mate. Edward Austin was boatswain, the 25 year old newly-wed had previously worked as able seaman on the Stanley, another labour schooner which was wrecked, stranding the crew and recruits on the Indispensable Reef, south of the Solomon Islands. Robert Mann was the carpenter. The government agent assigned for the voyage was Thomas Barry, who was one such agent that had a reputation for heavy drinking, corruption and generally unpleasant behaviour. They had 33 return labourers to repatriate and one passenger forward working his passage, an Italian, Carl Sicca.

Even before they got out to sea, while being towed down the Mary River, master John Rogers and mate George Bell were drunk and started a scuffle. Boatswain Austin intervened and led Bell away, fearing someone would be hurt. Austin got no thanks from Rogers, he only abused him for interfering. Austin complained to agent Barry, saying he wished to be put ashore before they got to sea because the voyage had started so badly. Barry just laughed at him and dismissed the request. Throughout the voyage across to the New Hebrides most of the crew were drunk and quarrels were frequent, in spite of the ship's articles which stated no spirits allowed.

The government agent Barry had taken a dislike to the boatswain Austin. He told Rogers that he was incompetent, which led Rogers to relieve Austin from recruiting and go out on the boats himself. This was humiliating for Austin and cost him £4 a month off his regular pay.

What Happened at Ibo

On the 23rd of August the Young Dick anchored at Ibo, North of Epi Island. Here they found the German ship Agnes Edgell from the Samoan trade anchored. That night Rogers received guests from the other ship. The mate George Bell and Austin felt somewhat unwelcome with Rogers and Barry, so they, with the Italian passenger Carl Sicca, took a boat across to the Agnes Edgell where they were treated to gin and larger by their German hosts. Throughout that evening boats came and went between the two ships, with parties on both, which Bell described as a Saturday night's jollification. While returning to the Young Dick, they were hailed by one of the Agnes Adgell's boats, in which they met a very drunk trader called Peter Cullen from Liverpool. Known in the Queensland trade as Brocky Peter, he was a man of some notoriety with a reputation for kidnapping and ill-treatment of natives. He was working as agent for a German company from Hamburg with a base in Samoa.

Epi Island, Vanuatu.View Larger Map

On the three men returning to the ship, Sicca retired to his bunk in the forecastle. Austin and Bell found the master, Rogers alone on deck leaning on the bulwark. Bell went across to speak to him about Barry's behaviour toward him and Austin. Austin kept his distance. After a little while Bell turned away from Rogers to Austin and said Our company's not appreciated here.

Then Austin himself confronted Rogers, The Government Agent's been too hard on me. he protested.

But Rogers was having none of it. You're a useless bugger and no more fit to recruit than a child.
I didn't sign as recruiter. I signed as boatswain to go in the boats when required.
I wish to Christ I had signed you on as recruiter in the articles.
You've not given me a fair show.
Clear off you son of a whore. Rogers raised his hand and pushed Austin stumbling across the deck.
You're a whore like your wife and quite incompetent to recruit.

At this Austin saw red, he grasped a belaying pin and struck Rogers hard on the side of the head. He raised the pin again but Rogers parried the blow with his arm and the two men fell wrestling on the deck.

Rogers shouted, Mr Bell, Mr Bell, this man has done for me.

Bell was getting himself a drink of water, but came back and helped Rogers to his feet, noticing the blood pouring from his head. He took the belaying pin from Austin and said Get away out of it. You might have killed him.

Austin went down into the forecastle while Bell helped Rogers to his cabin in the deckhouse. But Rogers soon recovered and went back on deck shouting after Austin. In the Forecastle Austin said to Robert Mann, the ship's carpenter, Don't say I'm here. I've had a row with the captain and went for him with a belaying pin. I want no more trouble, don't say I'm here.

But Bell came down and asked him to go aft, which he did without question, Mann followed. In the cabin Rogers was leant over a basin bleeding and Barry the Government Agent was there, just back from the Agnes Edgell. Barry ordered Bell to chain Austin to the mast, which he did, while the carpenter Mann, who has spent some time as a medical student in London, tended to Rogers' injury. The wound was about two inches long with a ragged edge, gaping right to the bone. As Mann was cutting away his hair Rogers said It was cowardly of the boatswain to strike me in the dark. I don't want to get him into trouble with the authorities, I'd just like to have a fair fight with him.

But Barry had other ideas, suddenly becoming very officious. He formally notified Rogers that he found it impossible to perform his duties because of the frequent altercations aboard the vessel. An extraordinary statement considering his failures as a government agent to deal with such altercations and contributing factors such as spirits and grog issues, as well as his attitude to Austin and Bell were partly to blame for the situation. He ordered Rogers to Port Sandwich on Malekula where HMS Miranda was anchored.

HMS Miranda

Recruiting in the New Hebrides
Doterel Class Screw Sloop HMS Miranda.

On the 24th of August the Young Dick sailed into Port sandwich and found the 1120 ton composite screw sloop, HMS Miranda there. Commander Dyke Acland was the man in charge of the 140 crew. His duties included investigating outrages in the islands, visiting trading and mission stations and supervising the actions of labour vessels. As a Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific he had a range of judicial powers.

Agent Barry went aboard and made his report to Dyke Acland who in turn ordered Lieutenant Lionel Tufnell to carry out an inquiry and sent the ship's surgeon to examine Rogers' injury. Statements were taken from those involved and a number of the crew. The surgeon reported The wound is a dangerous one and evidently inflicted by a heavy blunt instrument. After consideration Dyke Acland wrote to Rogers:

In consequence of the want of discipline on board the labour vessel Young Dick, of the gross assault made upon you by Edward Austen, Boatswain, of the said vessel, of the infringement of the Ships Articles in which it states that No spirits allowed and in consequence of the infringement of Article 18 Queensland Regulations in which it states that no grog is to be issued to the natives.

It is my direction that you land all the return labour now on board, and then return direct to Maryborough, you will then prefer charges against Edward Austen, Boatswain, I have sent two letters, one addressed to Commodore Erskine, the other addressed to the Immigration Agent Maryborough which I request that you will forward by the first opportunity.

You may recruit at the places where the returns are landed, but as it is advisable that an enquiry should be held as soon as possible you are not to go to any other places.

Commander Dyke Acland,
Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific.

The letter to the immigration agent that Rogers was to deliver read:

I have the honour to inform you that the labour vessel "Young Dick" arrived here yesterday morning.

The Government Agent came on board and reported that the Boatswain was in irons in consequence of a gross assault on the Master.

I sent an Officer on board to investigate the case, and have had statement of the Master, Mate, Boatswain, and some of the crew, verified on oath in my presence.

The result of investigation discloses such a want of discipline on board the ship, that I decided to send her to Queensland in order that the charges and counter-charges may be investigated and the offenders dealt with according to law.

Commander Dyke Acland,
Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific.

Dyke Acland had the powers to set up court and hear formal criminal proceedings against Austin right there onboard ship, but instead chose to send them home.

Return to Maryborough

On the 3rd of September they landed the remaining return islanders and left the Banks Islands, north of the New Hebrides for Maryborough with only 26 recruits. They reached Woody Island, just inside of Fraser Island, on Tuesday the 9th of September. The following day, Wednesday, they were towed up the Mary River and Austin was charged and put in Maryborough police station lock-up. On Thursday he went before H R Buttanshaw, Police Magistrate with the charge:

...that he the said Edward Austin on the 23rd day of August 1884 on board the British Ship Young Dick on the high seas near Apii unlawfully and maliciously did inflict upon one John Hugh Rogers grievous bodily harm with an instrument called a belaying pin.

H R Buttanshaw, Police Magistrate.

Austin was remanded on bail for 24 hours before the committal proceedings the next day. He was committed for trial at the next meeting on the Thursday 25th of September. There was little doubt about Austin's guilt, but Mr J M'Grath did his best for his defence and convinced the crown witnesses that Austin was a good seaman, normally well behaved, who would not easily be provoked into violence and the incident occurred in the generally disorderly environment onboard the ship, provoked by grossly insulting language toward him. Sir Charles Lilley the Chief Justice said that Austin had probably been severely provoked and that he was treating him mercifully. He was sentenced to 6 months hard labour in Brisbane gaol.

John Rogers suffered no legal consequences for the breaches of the ship's articles concerning spirits onboard and grog issues to native crew, which had come to light in the inquiry. Thomas Barry, whose incompetence as a government agent, turning a blind eye to ill-behaviour and drunkenness and whose back-stabbing antics had lead to the assault, did not even attend court as a witness.

The Second Recruiting Voyage

Recruiting in the New Hebrides
Recruiting in the New Hebrides.

Rogers wasted no time in getting back to work. As soon as he had finished giving evidence at Austin's trial on the 25th of September 1884, he was back on the Young Dick, down river for another voyage to the New Hebrides. The government agent this time was Edward Battersby; there were three returns for Aoba and a license for collecting 120 new recruits. In early October they worked the southern islands of the New Hebrides, Fatuna, Tanna and Erromanga, with little success. It seemed the natives would not recruit without trading for firearms and ammunition, which the British ships were forbidden to do after a restriction in a new act. The French and German ships still traded with firearms, which made the British recruiter's job even harder. Firstly some would insist on only trading for firearms, and secondly, the possession of firearms made any hostile islanders more dangerous, which was one reason the British stopped it.

Murder at Malekula

They had more success further north at Epi and Ambrym. On the 24th of October, at Malekula (Malampa) they got another 5 recruits and were told by the islanders that two Europeans had been killed at Lenore, a small island to off to the south, an Englishman and a German along with their native workers. Rogers sailed the Young Dick to Lenore Island, where they found the mutilated bodies and buried them. The Englishman was Brocky Peter Cullen from the Agnes Edgell, who some crew had met on the last voyage while at Epi. The German was a man called Klein who worked for Cullen. They also found the one survivor of the attack, one of the native workers who they took aboard Young Dick.

On the morning of the 14th of December, they met the labour schooner Flora, under Captain Roberson, recruiting for the Johnstone River. Agent Battersby went aboard to get supplies of calico bandages. They had on board a native boy called Sam. The Flora had previously returned Sam to Malekula after he had worked a term of labour. They had met him again on this voyage and took him on as interpreter. When they picked him up he told them about the murder of Peter Cullen. The German firm based in Samoa had established a station on Lenore Island, of which one Peter Cullen was manager. He had with him a German named Klein as carpenter and several islanders as assistants. The natives of the main island had induced Cullen to go on shore to buy pigs. Immediately on his landing he and his two boys, who accompanied him, were tomahawked. The natives then proceeded in their canoes to Lenore Island, and killed the carpenter and two boys. The third boy escaped, the one taken on board the Young Dick. The attack was apparently in revenge for Cullen, who had burnt down the villages on Tommy Island and taken natives forcibly onto the ship. Cullen used small islands like this as holding stations. When recruits were taken only a few at a time, they would be dropped off and left there until they accumulated a sufficient number, then a large ship would come and take them all at once. This worked to an extent, except when other recruiters, knowing Cullen's reputation as a blackbirder would see his recruits as fair game. Landing at the island the recruits would wilfully come aboard another labour vessel not connected with Cullen.

Weapons of the New Hebrides
Weapons of the New Hebrides.

There had been other recent complaints against Cullen. George Wright, Government Agent aboard the labour schooner Albatross had received reports that he had taken women against their will, shot pigs belonging to local inhabitants and shot men who had opposed him. So notorious was Peter Cullen, that after reports of his murder, the Royal Navy officers working in the area made the decision to make no reprisals against the people of Malekula, the consensus being that he got what was coming to him, his murder being more an act of justice than of injustice. The Germans however took a different view, Klein being a German national and both men in German employ. In 1886, well over a year after the killings, they sent the gunboat Albatross to Lenore Island, where they opened fire on natives, burnt villages, destroyed plantations and reclaimed arms and property belonging to the dead men.

Apart from this the second recruiting voyage of the Young Dick was considered to be uneventful but successful. With 101 recruits onboard, most of which had already worked in Queensland and were coming back for a second term, they set sail back to Maryborough on New Year's Day. They arrived back on Sunday the 11th of January 1885.

Further Recruitment Voyages

Landing Returns
Landing return islanders.

After only a fortnight in port on the 31st of November Rogers and the Young Dick were off again down river for the New Hebrides. He had 13 returns to drop off and Mr W J Murray was the government agent. During the voyage the ship was shot at from the shore by natives, once at Port Sandwich, and again at Malekula. There was no provocation and on both occasions they returned fire, although they were almost out of range. They returned on Tuesday the 12th of May with 94 recruits.

The Young Dick made one more voyage to the New Hebrides in 1885, then in November they tried in the Solomon Islands returning with a full ship of 120 recruits after only a short trip. Just before Christmas that year, they went again to the Solomons, returning on the 4th of March 1886 with another ship full. Rogers was making good money at £20 a recruit and £6 for a return.

The Seventh Recruitment Voyage

Roas Bay, Malaita
Roas Bay, Malaita, The Solomons.

On the 7th of April 1886 the Young Dick sailed out of Brisbane for the Solomons on what would be her penultimate and most notorious voyage. John Hugh Rogers had in his crew Charles Marr as first mate, John Hornidge as second mate and recruiter. There were able seamen: Thomas Crittenden, Alfred Lovett, Thomas Donnelly, James Toohey and Largerblom who was also sailmaker. Bean was the carpenter, Harry Merlin was the cook and steward. The government agent this time was Mr Charles Home Popham, a permanent officer with a good reputation. As usual the rest of the crew was made up of Islanders, which included Jack Api, Brogan and Bash.

They reached Guadalcanal on the 24th of April, but recruiting was not going well, so Rogers took the Young Dick around Cape Zelee, the southern tip of Malaita, to work on the east Malaita coast. On Friday the 30th of April they reached Roas Bay. There was a man called Radi who acted as interpreter for the recruiter, having learned English while labouring in Fiji. They recruited six men and another two the following day, when Radi the interpreter was paid off and put ashore by Hornidge in the recruiting boat. Returning to the ship, Hornidge reported that bushmen were coming to the coast and convinced Rogers to stay in Roas Bay for more recruits tomorrow.

Attack at Roas Bay

Men of Roas, Malaita
Men of Roas, Malaita, The Solomons.

Early in the morning of Sunday the 2nd of May the Young Dick's two boats were launched again. Hornidge and Donnelly went ashore in the leading boat, while Crittenden and Lovett stood off in the covering boat. The interpreter Radi appeared from the bush and beckoned Hornidge to follow him to the village, saying the recruits were coming.

As they walked up the beach a second islander joined them, both were carrying long handled tomahawks. Hornidge asked how soon the recruits would appear, Radi said they would not be long, Hornidge said he would wait in the boat. As he tuned the two islanders swung for him with their tomahawks, knocking him down. He got up only to receive another two blows, knocking him down again. In spite of his injuries he managed to get up again and draw his revolver. The attackers made off as he fired at them before climbing back into the boat. At 10am Rogers got the ship under weigh and they headed north to Port Adam where they could anchor in the shelter of two small islands that lay off the coast. There they anchored with a Fiji labour schooner, Meg Merrilies. Their agent, Bevan came aboard and helped Popham dress Hornidge's wounds. While at Port Adam, they managed to get 8 recruits, then on the 6th of May HMS Opal arrived, a 2120 ton screw corvette under the command of Captain Brooke. The signal in want of medical assistance was raised and Staff Surgeon Brereton came aboard to treat Hornidge while Agent Popham went aboard the Opal to report on the attack. Staff Surgeon Brereton reported:

He was suffering from four wounds, which were evidently with a small axe or tomahawk. They were as follows:- A wound across the nape of the neck 2 inch long, and so deep as to expose the vertebrae. Secondly, a wound on the back of the right shoulder 3 inch long and about 1½ inch deep. Thirdly, a wound the same length as the last through the muscles of the back on the left side almost exposing the ribs; and lastly on the right side of the spine a scrape about 8 inch long, half an inch deep at either end, but very shallow in the middle.

Staff Surgeon Brereton, HMS Opal.
HMS Opal
Screw corvette HMS Opal, pictured in Sydney.

Brereton got permission to have Hornidge moved onto the Opal where he could receive the attention he needed until another ship could take him back to Queensland. A guest on board the Opal was Reverend Richard Comins from the Malanesian Mission at Saa. He offered to send some of his people to Roas to find out about the attack from their side. The missionaries spoke to Radi and the tribe's chief, Tarakoke. Radi said that on his return from Fiji he was taunted for his friendliness with white men who they held responsible for kidnapping the former chief, Mahu four years earlier. Mahu apparently died in Fiji. Although Radi claimed to have no ill will himself toward Hornidge, he had to bow to the pressure of his tribe to be accepted by them. Tarakoke declined the invitation to come aboard the Opal and speak with Captain Brooke, nor would he surrender Radi to him. Brooke wrote in a report:

After carefully weighing and considering the facts of this case, I could not but believe that the attempt on this man's life was one of a most treacherous and cruel nature. The man Radi had been at Fiji for three years, spoke English had been three days on board the Young Dick as interpreter, and was evidently only waiting his chance to kill a white man to get a head, for the reason given in Mr Comins' letter. By his friendliness to the man Hornidge, he unfortunately put him off his guard and enticed him a few yards from the boat. I feel sure that there was no provocation given at the time.

Taking all these facts into careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that this was a case that it was necessary to inflict punishment by an act of war; that it was impossible to expect, under the circumstances, to have it tried at any time by any civilized tribunal, and that it was of a nature to demand punishment. Accordingly, after returning Mr Comins and his native boat's crew back to Saa, I weighed on the morning of the 8th May from Port Adam, taking the schooner Young Dick in tow, and anchored both vessels in the bay opposite Tarakoke's village. I considered by having the schooner with me it would impress on the natives around more forcibly the object of my visit.

The country around all this part of Malayta is one dense, high and thick forest, and no house or village could be seen from the ship; but I had the position of the village where this tribe lived clearly pointed out by some recruits on board the Young Dick. I also got a good description from the native crew of Mr. Comins' boat.

I feel sure I hit upon the right spot, and fired some well directed shell at the place, and as the country was so impenetrable, and neither canoes or cocoa-nuts to be seen, I considered it prudent not to land any men, but thought that this mode of punishing them would meet the case. On communicating afterwards at Saa (where I took Mr. Comins on board, as I did not consider it safe to leave him there), I heard that the visit of the man-of-war, and her subsequent movements, so soon after the attack on this man, has impressed and astonished the natives all round very much.

Captain Brooke, HMS Opal.
Archer, Roas Bay, Malaita
An archer, Malaita, The Solomons.

In spite of Brooke's optimism about the effectiveness of the attack, it later transpired that after a bombardment of 19 shells no one was killed, only a few huts and coconut palms were damaged. The Opal towed the schooner out of Roas Bay after the attack and on parting company Captain Brooke advised Rogers not to continue recruiting on the east coast of Malaita. Advice that Rogers soon ignored as he went further north up the coast.

On the 11th of May they anchored off the shore near two small islands known as The Sisters, near Honoa Passage. In the absence of the injured Hornidge, Rogers himself took on the role of recruiter, going ashore on the boats. They gathered three recruits there, one of them said there was another man who wanted to come. At about 6pm a man appeared on the beach and waited for the recruiting boat. Rogers went ashore with seaman Donnelly and three of his native crewmen. As the boat touched the sand, the man signalled for them to stay where they were then disappeared into the bush. Rogers got suspicious and ordered the crew to pull back out. His instinct was correct, two men with bows emerged from the bush and shot arrows at them. Bash, one of the native crewmen was hit, his arm pinned to his side by the arrow. Rogers fired twice back at them.

They continued recruiting northward up the coast with moderate success. At mid day on the 19th they reached Sinalangu, AKA Port Diamond, an almost landlocked natural harbour with a narrow entrance, surrounded by high cliffs and wooded hills. Rogers waited until the sun was in a favourable position before navigating the schooner in through the narrow entrance as there were hazardous reefs and rocks to look out for. Once inside they anchored and launched the recruiting boats. Rogers went ashore in the recruiting boat with seaman Toohey, while Lovitt and Donnelly followed in the covering boat. Rogers spent some time talking with the natives who he found relaxed and friendly, although none present at the time wished to sign up. While they were ashore, a few of the natives had swum out to the ship, some were still there as they returned, but there was not trouble. Rogers would try recruiting again in the morning when more bushmen may have come down to the coast having seen the ship arrive.

Charles Marr's Story

At half past nine on the 20th of May the boats went in again. First mate Charles Marr was left in charge the schooner while Rogers was recruiting, attending to the recruits they had already aboard. Also onboard was Agent Popham, who should really have been overseeing the recruiting, but instead sat in his cabin reading a novel. Largerblom and Bean were repairing rigging. Merlin the cook was in the galley. Able seaman Thomas Crittenden was in the forecastle sleeping of last night's watch. Bash the native boat crew stayed aboard too, having been injured by the arrow earlier.

Marr observed a canoe with six men coming out to the ship. He recognised the men, who came aboard, from yesterday's visit. One of them spoke English: One boy want to go along Maryborough.
Marr went round to Popham's cabin, There's a boy who wants to sign.
Fetch him round and I will sign him at once.

Marr went back on deck and spoke again with the English speaker, then reported back to Popham The chief is coming to take trade for the boy.
Popham nodded in acknowledgement and continued reading.

Canoes, Malaita
Canoes come along-side and board a ship in Malaita.

Two of the men went back in the canoe for the chief. Marr saw more men coming out to the ship, some swimming, others in canoes or catamarans. He went to the Boatswain's cabin, in the aft section of the deckhouse, next to his own cabin. The cabin was used as a trade room to store the trade goods, which he began to lay out on the dining table, in the middle section of the deckhouse. There were now about 25 natives onboard. The speaker said to Marr This fella come now and make paper.
Marr led him and the boy to the door of Pophams cabin to sign up. The Agent's cabin and Master's cabin made up the forward section of the deckhouse. All four cabins opened up into the central dining saloon which was covered on top, but had open sides. The chief and some natives were now in the saloon, as was Bean the carpenter and Merlin the cook. The natives were naked and greased up from head to toe in coconut oil. None of the crew currently onboard had worked in Malaita before, so the significance of this was lost on them, meaning they could not have pre-empted what was about to happen. More savvy recruiters would have known that this meant trouble. As strange as it may seem, this was how Kwaio warriors went into battle, with no clothing to get purchase on and skin as slippery as an eel, they were virtually impossible to hold and could evade capture.

The speaker came away from Pophams door, around the table towards Marr and made an unreasonable demand for three more tomahawks. Marr stepped back and shut the door to the trade room and stood leaning against the upright. He pointed to the goods on the table and said to carpenter Bean Chips, look out for the trade.

The chief let out a yell which was echoed by the others as chaos broke out. The chief grabbed Marr's left arm while another grabbed his right. The chief bit hard on his finger as he managed to get his right arm free and punched the chief square in the face. He then reached into his own cabin with his right arm, pulling with all his might against the two men now tugging his left. As he struggled, Marr saw other natives rush for Bean and Merlin. He managed to reach across his bunk to his revolver and shot the two men holding his arm. Among the commotion he heard Agent Popham scream out Murder, murder. As he was about to fire the third and final bullet in his revolver, a native snatched the gun from his hand. He retreated into his cabin and grabbed his Snider rifle and found a couple of cartridges on his desk. Through the half open cabin door he saw a native with a tomahawk coming at him. He shot and the attacker ran out on deck and fell overboard. As he reloaded the room turned dark, he turned to see another native with a tomahawk trying to get him through the side window. But sooner than he could take aim, he was gone.

Marr was aware he had only one shot left and the natives who earlier had appeared to be unarmed now had tomahawks. He peeked through the door, then darted across to the trade room where cartridges were stored. Again with the cabin door half open he spotted another native with a tomahawk coming along the rail on the port side. He fired and saw him fall overboard. He tried to reload again, but the empty cartridge case would not eject. As he desperately worked with a knife to pry the shell from his Snider he heard a voice calling Come out, come out. They're retreating.
Is that you Tom?

Thomas Crittenden's Story

Sinalangu Harbour. View Larger Map

Able seaman Thomas Crittenden was awakened that morning by a commotion on deck. He went up from the forecastle to see what was going on. On the starboard side of the main hatch he saw Largerblom the sailmaker scuffling with a number of natives. He immediately went back down to fetch his revolver and dressed only in a singlet went up on deck.

Largerblom was gone and he could see no other white man. He moved aft along the port side. when he reached the galley a native jumped in front of him and tried to grab hold of him. He shot and the man fell. He moved further aft toward the main deckhouse, as he did natives crowded around him on all sides. He could hear scuffling, screams and the sickening sound of tomahawk blows coming from the deckhouse. As the natives tried to get a hold of him he fired four more shots. One fell dead, others drew back wounded. Knowing he was still outnumbered with only one shot left in his revolver, he went back to the forecastle for his Snider rifle.

Crittenden put on his trousers and filled his pockets with cartridges before going back on deck. He climbed the port lower rigging of the foremast as far as the foreyard where one of the recruits named Taria had already retreated to safety. From this vantage point he could see the natives running about the deck with their tomahawks. He shot at as many as he could see, firing around two dozen shots in about five minutes. Many natives went overboard wounded or frightened, some went under the awnings aft, out of sight. He heard occasional shots fired in the deckhouse, so knew he was not the only crewman alive and fighting.

With no more living natives visible on the deck and only two cartridges left Crittenden descended the rigging. By now a few of the recruits had ventured out of the hold, onto the deck and stood around the forward hatch. Bash, the injured boatman appeared with a Snider. Crittenden motioned for them to escort him as he went aft to flush out any remaining natives. He got on top of the deckhouse and spotted three of them running around the house. He shot one by the wheel, the other two jumped over the side to escape.

Come out, come out. They're retreating. he called to the deck house.
Is that you Tom?
Yes. Come out, I think the deck is cleared.

Massacre on the Young Dick
Massacre on the Young Dick, as depicted in the Illustrated Sydney News, 15th July 1886.

Aftermath of the Massacre

Marr emerged from the deck house tying up his badly bitten finger, Crittenden jumped down from the roof and said Look, there are some aboard yet.

As the two men searched the ship for any remaining natives, they told Bash with the Snider and the recruits armed with bows and arrows to keep any more natives from boarding, as there were still some canoes and catamarans alongside the ship which had not yet retreated.

In the saloon they found the bodies of Bean and Merlin with their heads smashed in, splattered with brain tissue. Agent Popham's body was laid on its back in his cabin. The lower part of his face was hacked in and his teeth were scattered around the deck. An unsigned labour agreement from lay beside him in a pool of blood. Largerblom, who must have resisted the men attacking him beside the main hatch when Crittenden saw him, was laid half way in the Master's cabin where he had tried to find refuge. His left arm was severed, one side of his skull was sliced away exposing his brains, his jaw was broken and his back badly slashed. Astonishingly he was still alive and even attempted to speak, before he died. There were also the bodies of three natives on the starboard side and two more on the port, plus one dead recruit who had tried to defend the ship.

As they continued to search the ship, Marr said I hope the boats are all right. and went into the deckhouse for his binoculars. He noticed the curtain over Popham's cabin was drawn back, he then noticed some movement and saw a man with a tomahawk crouching behind the curtain. Marr tried to grab him by the wrist but he could not keep hold of his oiled skin and he slipped away. There's one still here.
Crittenden came in with his Snider Where is he?
The man had moved from behind the curtain and was spotted hiding behind Popham's greatcoat.
Stand back. Crittenden shot the man through the coat.

Back out on deck, Marr ordered Signal the boats to come back at once.
Crittenden climbed the rigging and placed the Ensign Union down on the fore truck. He gave Bash some cartridges and told him to fire at regular intervals to attract attention. Marr scanned the water through his binoculars, after about ten minutes he announced They're coming.

Marr and Crittenden stood forward on the starboard side as the boats approached. Rogers shouted to them What's wrong?
We're the only white men left.
When Rogers came back aboard his ship and saw the carnage he was repeatedly sick over the side and descended into a state of nervous prostration with the shock. This left Marr with the burden of working the short handed schooner back to Queensland.

The deck and cabins were scrubbed clean of blood and the bodies of the natives thrown overboard. The crew's bodies were sewn in canvas, weighted and buried in deep water. The Young Dick got under weigh at 2am Friday the 21st of May 1886.

The Enquiry

On the Young Dick's return to Maryborough in the late afternoon of the 2nd of June answers were sought as to what had happened, why, and what should be done. The following day the Police Magistrate at Maryborough was ordered by the Chief Secretary Sir Samuel Griffith to hold an enquiry. Mr H R Buttanshaw began hearing evidence at Maryborough Court House on Saturday the 5th of June. It did not start very well. Charles Henry Marr was called, but was too drunk to give evidence. Alfred Lovett, James Donnelly and Thomas Toohey were all called but did not appear. John Rogers and Thomas Crittenden did give evidence that day. Marr appeared on Tuesday the 8th, when he had sobered up and gave a very full statement. Some of the boats' crew and some recruits also gave evidence and the enquiry was completed.

Maryborough Court House
Drawing of Maryborough Court House.

Buttanshaw submitted the testimonies and a report to Griffith on the 9th. In his report, it seemed that Buttonshaw believed that the attack was premeditated, not spontaneous or sparked by provocation by the ships' crew. However he was critical of the lack of caution shown towards the natives, especially in the light of recent hostilities towards the crew on that coast. Griffith forwarded the papers to the Administrator of Queensland Sir A H Palmer who referred them to the Commander in Chief, Rear Admiral Tyron leaving him the decision on action to be taken. Tyron consulted Captain Brooke from the HMS Opal, who of course mentioned that Rogers had defied his advice not to recruit further on the east coast of Malaita after the attempt on Hornidge's life. Brooke questioned whether Marr had in any way provoked the natives on board into attack. He also questioned whether any precaution was made to prevent numbers of armed natives coming aboard the ship.

Rear Admiral Tyron was veering toward taking no punitive action against the people of Sinalangu. He wrote to the Assistant High Commissioner to get his views on the matter. He makes the point that the recruiters took their lives in their own hands for the purpose of gain in defiance of the obvious warnings they already received. He also believed there was no evidence to suggest that the attack was premeditated by the natives. He believed it was effected on the spur of the moment.

The Truth About the Attack?

The only people who really know the reason behind the attack and if it were premeditated or not, were the natives themselves. They of course were not part of the enquiry and no evidence from them was heard. Nor were they literate at that time, so nothing was written of the events from their standpoint. Their culture does however have a strong oral tradition whereby knowledge of past events and battles are passed on from generation to generation through story telling and song. It is through this medium that we are now able to see the native's side of the story.

Kwaio men of Malaita
Kwaio men of Malaita, The Solomons.

In the 1960s Roger M Keesing visited the Sinalangu area of Malaita and asked Kwaio tribesmen about the Young Dick attack. Being about 80 years after the event there were few people alive that were even born at the time, let alone anyone who could give a first hand account. But there were some who knew the story having been told it by their elders decades earlier.

One may be inclined to question the accuracy of these accounts being given second hand so long after the event, but they do bear a striking similarity to the testimonies given by the men from the ship. There are accounts of the arm tugging struggle between Marr and the natives when he reached his revolver and shot them. They all recall the man with the gun climbing the mast and shooting at the warriors from above and foiling the attack. Marr found three blood soaked tomahawks on the deck afterwards, one still had a leaf attached to disguise the blade. The stories mention that the attackers only had three tomahawks between them when they boarded. There are even small details, such as mentioning the display of a red flag after the attack, the ensign to signal the boats back in. This correlation adds a strong validity to the accounts on both sides.

Maeasuaa, The Chief of Quoi.
Maeasuaa, The Chief of Quoi.

The story begins with two similar, but more successful attacks on labour ships in the area, previous to the Young Dick. The Borealis in September 1880 and the Janet Stewart, 12th of February 1882. Both these attacks were led by a warrior named Maeasuaa. According one story Maeasuaa decided to attack the Borealis after he had been on board to find out what they wanted, but could not be understood by the crew and he could not understand them either. He consulted the spirits of ancestors and sacrificed pigs in their honour to ensure his victory. He then took a band of warriors to the ship. He instructed the men to each pick a crew man to stand by while he spoke to the captain. His attack on the captain would be their cue to attack their victim. The attack was a success, all the crew were killed and the ship's stocks of food and trade goods was offloaded before the ship was set alight and burned. The second attack by Maeasuaa, on the Janet Stewart, was described exactly the same way, a glorious victory.

Weapons of the Solomon Islands
Weapons of the Solomon Islands.

The accounts given of these are not entirely accurate when compared with contemporary reports from Queensland. It claims the whole crew were killed on both ships. On both occasions there was one surviving crewman on board who had hidden from the attackers, although the natives would not have known this. Also on both occasions the crew out on the recruiting boats survived. In the case of the Borealis, the ship was not burnt out, it was damaged, but did sail home after the attack. The Janet Stewart was burnt and the surviving crew had no option but to leave in the recruiting boats which were rigged with a lug sail.

Attacks by natives on Europeans were usually fuelled by any of three motives:

  • Revenge, They had a very strong sense of vengeance which was always punished by death. This could be on a personal level or tribal one. To the islanders white men, regardless of which ship they came in on, whether they were based at Queensland, Fiji or Samoa, whether they were British, French or German, they were all the same. One or a group could be a target for vengeance for any other.
  • Plunder, The labour trade had fuelled a greed for trade goods, firearms and ammunition among the natives, they could not get enough. If recruiters made themselves in any way vulnerable, they would not hesitate to exploit the opportunity for such gains.
  • Bounty, An indirect form of revenge. One who seeks vengeance may offer blood money to anyone willing to commit an act of revenge on their behalf.

The story says Maeasuaa was not angry, he just wanted to do it. I would probably put the motives down to plunder and glory in these cases. In the case of the Young Dick attack, the motive appears to be a combination of them all.

Abandoned labour schooner
An abandoned labour schooner on the coast of Malaita.

Some time inbetween the attacks on the Janet Stewart and the Young Dick, a blackbirding ship had taken an islander named Boosui from Leli Island, a small island to the north of Sinalangu. Boosui's father, Taafana'au, believed that Boosui had died in Queensland after being kidnapped (it later transpired that he had not died, but was working). Taafana'au was understandably angry at this. He offered a bounty for the capture of a labour ship to avenge his son's death.

Another Kwaio warrior named Arumae from Tetefou had heard about Maeasuaa's exploits. Arumae considered himself to be a brave warrior who had done all there was to do, but he had never taken a ship. Maeasuaa had taken two, how hard could it be? Arumae wanted that kind of glory, he decided that the next ship to visit would be his. Arumae prayed to his ancestors for a ship to come to him so he could attack it, and of course, one came in the form of the Young Dick.

So Taafana'au and Arumae were the two men who plotted the attack, even before the ship had arrived. With Taafana'au putting up the blood money and Arumae leading the attack.

When the ship first arrived Arumae went aboard to speak to the captain. The natives assumed Marr to be the captain (Understandable under the circumstances, where Rogers was filling in the recruiting role and the first mate was left in charge of the ship.) He played at being friendly to put them at ease and gain their trust, hoping they would let their guard down. After this initial ground work, he went back ashore and met with his allies to plan the attack. According to custom, pigs were sacrificed to the ancestors.

The following day the attack would take place. They waited until the boats left the ship so there would be fewer crew onboard to contend with. Among the warriors were Arumae's son and twin brother, as well as Taafana'au, who had offered the bounty for taking a ship.

An epic chant or 'ai'imae, recited by one Kwaio man to Keesing, gives the names of thirteen Kwaio warriors who were killed in the massacre. Arumae's son and twin were among the dead, this angered Arumae and he too now sought revenge. The blame was put upon Taafana'au, because he had offered the bounty and encouraged them to attack the ship to avenge his own son. As a result Arumae had lost a son and a brother. Arumae ordered the death of Taafana'au, he was seized and a warrior named Lamoka killed him with a tomahawk to the neck, the fourteenth native to die in the massacre.

More Revenge

Revenge for Kwaio losses did not end there. The people of Sinalangu offered a generous bounty of 100,000 porpoise teeth for the capture of a ship, and a lesser amount for the head of a white man.

War canoe of the Solomon Islands
War canoe of the Solomon Islands.

In 1888 the labour schooner Ariel called at Manaoba Island at the northern tip of Malaita. A canoe came alongside carrying a man named Lakkida who once worked as boat crew for the schooner Fearless. Lakkida said that the chief at Warlo village had a bad leg and needed some bluestone. The government agent on the Ariel was Thomas Seymour Armstrong, he had no fear of the natives on Manaoba, having landed returns there before. However the captain, William T Wawn, was very mistrusting of Manaoba people, advising caution which Armstrong ignored. Armstrong went ashore with the bluestone at Warlo where they were met by natives. He went up the beach ignoring warnings from his companion in the boat, a native boatman named Joe Enau, who followed reluctantly behind. The mate stayed in the other boat. As they approached the village, Joe saw a number of men jump out at Armstrong and hold him while others hacked at him with tomahawks. Joe turned to run back to the boat and was almost captured himself, escaping only by jumping out of his trousers which they had got a hold of and defending himself with his sheath knife. Shortly after the crew of the Helena witnessed Armstrong's head being transported from Manaoba to Sinalangu on a large war canoe for collection of the blood money.

The Final Voyage of The Young Dick

Just a month after the return to Maryborough from that fateful voyage, Rogers had recovered from the ordeal and left the port for Dungerness on the 3rd of July 1886, to collect 117 returns for New Britain and New Ireland. The government agent this time was the newly appointed James Townsend Fowles, the Young Dick was the first assignment for the 26 year old.

He was the first Queenslander who had ever held the position of Government Agent in the Island Labour Trade; and to get the appointment he gave up an important position in the post and telegraph department. As a man, James Fowles was as handsome and fine-looking a young fellow as any one could wish to see, and his character was of the very highest order. Undoubtedly he was one of the most popular officers in the whole Service. Not only respected, but highly esteemed and loved by all who knew him; and his circle of friends was wide and extensive.

Douglas Rannie
My Adventures Among the South Sea Canibals

Douglas Rannie and The Flora

In Dungerness they met the Flora which had just retuned from The Solomons with recruits. The Flora's government agent, Douglas Rannie was a good friend of James Fowles and came aboard the Young Dick to visit. Captain Rogers showed Rannie around the ship, pointing out the marks in the woodwork made by the bullets and tomahawks, then handed him a report on the attack that he had written for the press.

Douglas Rannie was also a close friend of Agent Popham. Before embarking on his voyage with the Flora they had spent some time together in a boarding house in Brisbane while they were both inbetween assignments. On Rannie's leaving a farewell party was held with the guests at the house, during which, ironically Popham made jibes about Rannie's safety in his work. He had drawn in the household journal a comical sketch of Rannie being tomahawked by natives and in a fondly facetious farewell speech said he never expected to see him again, for he was sure to fall victim to the treachery of savages, as he would go fossicking, hunting and exploring in all sorts of dangerous and out of the way places. The following day as Popham saw off his friend on board the Flora in a more sober and serious mood, he offered the advice of caution while among the islanders as he considered that Rannie was too foolhardy and trusting of natives. As it turned out Rannie, also a friend of Thomas Armstrong, the murdered agent on the Ariel, was the only one among these men to survive his employment as a government agent, later going on to become the curator of Brisbane Museum and writing about his experiences in the trade.

Recruiting Team
Douglas Rannie with recruiter, captain and native boat crew.

Rannie now knew the horrific details of his friend's death, but he had already suspected that Popham had become a victim very soon after the massacre. The Flora was on the East of Malatia at the same time and saw the Young dick sail out of Sinalangu, though they could not identify the ship in the distance. As they anchored at Qui, natives came alongside in canoes and told them the ship they saw leaving was the Young Dick and there had been a big fight onboard where many natives and white men had been killed. Rannie was anxious to find out more. Having set sail on the Flora first, Rannie would have no idea who was the agent on the Young dick.

One of the natives said they feared reprisals from a man-of-war and many would wish to recruit to escape bombardment, he also offered his service as interpreter, which was accepted.

The following day Rannie, with the two recruiting boats and the new interpreter made a visit to Sinalangu, after advising the captain to show caution with the natives here. He knew the locals had a reputation for violence and treachery, sailing by the charred remains of the Janet Stewart was a stark reminder of this. As they neared the harbour, the boats' crew became increasingly suspicious about the interpreter who appeared unduly anxious. He asked to be put ashore so he could make the rest of the journey by land. Rannie refused, saying he must remain in the boat with them.

On reaching the harbour they found a number of men under the trees. Rannie ordered the interpreter from the recruiters boat into his, and pointed out that there were only men present on the land. The absence of women and children was often a sign they intended to fight. He replied Oh, altogether finish fight now, no more fight.
Rannie ordered him to remain in the bottom of the boat while he went alongside to speak with the natives and if he tried to leave the boat or tried any tricks, he would shoot him dead. With this the interpreter then changed his opinion of the native's intentions, saying he was afraid they would fight and they should return to the ship. Rannie replied that he would not go back until he had spoken with the Sinalangu people. He told the natives that the Flora was recruiting for the Herbert River. One man replied that he thought that many of his men would like to go to Queensland. Rannie then noticed that one of the natives was wearing a long gold chain and locket around his neck which looked rather familiar, just like one that his friend and fellow agent Popham owned. At that moment the interpreter cried out Look out!
He threw himself flat onto the bottom of the boat, the men on the bank went down too, the boats' crew all ducked, just in time. A flight of arrows went over their heads, this was immediately followed by a volley from the rifles of the recruiter's boat which was covering them. Rannie and the crew leapt ashore with their rifles and opened fire on the natives who fled into the bush.

Rannie took the gold locket from the body of the man wearing it, his suspicion was confirmed, it was Popham's. They saw nothing more of the natives that day, so returned to the Flora and landed the interpreter.

During the next couple of days the Flora managed to get thirty recruits in the Qui area, who seemed very eager to come to Queensland. Twenty of them stipulated that they would recruit only if the ship left the same day. It later became apparent why they were so eager to leave home. The English speakers who had acted as interpreters informed them that the thirty men were all from Sinalangu and had been implicated with the Young Dick attack. In fear of a visit from a man-of-war, they felt that Queensland may be a safer place to reside.

It was some time afterwards, when the Flora was leaving the islands for home that Rannie knew for certain that Popham had been killed in the massacre. They met with the schooner Fearless and were boarded by the Government Agent Robert McMurdo.

The labour schooner Fearless
The labour schooner Fearless

The Fearless had just come direct from Maryborough, where the Young Dick had arrived a few days before the Fearless sailed, and reported the attack and massacre committed by the savages at Malayta. McMurdo then told me that among those murdered was my very dear friend and comrade Home P. Popham. The sad intelligence affected me acutely, as ever since he entered the Service Popham and I had been the closest of friends and companions. He was the last to shake hands with me when I started on the present cruise, and he was the man who so urgently warned me against the very fate by which he was himself overtaken.

It was poor consolation for me that I took poor Popham's chain and locket from the neck of one of the robbers and murderers implicated in the massacre.

Douglas Rannie
My Adventures Among the South Sea Canibals

A Familiar Face

Back in Dungerness, Charles Marr, first mate of the Young Dick paid a visit to the Flora. While on deck, in conversation with Douglass Rannie, he recognised one of their recruits. With a loud exclamation he pointed to him. As soon as the recruit saw Marr, he swiftly vanished down below. Marr told Rannie he was one of the leaders in the attack. Marr went below and searched the ship, but was unable to find the man. It later transpired that he was hiding in an empty beef cask and remained there for much of the time until the Young Dick sailed out of port, no doubt fearful of what Marr would do if he got his hands on him.

Returns on board a labour ship
Returns on board a labour ship, ready for home.

This was the first time they had taken returns to New Britain. The men having finished their term of indenture would have been recruited in the early days when the trade was less strictly regulated and blackbirding was rife. They may have come to Queensland not understanding what they had signed up for or where they were going. Some may have been taken against their will. But they were now heading for home with a box full of trade goods each, western clothing and items they had bought with their earnings. These were a cheery bunch in good spirits. The records, bags and boxes of all returns had to be checked which took a whole day to do. Some forbidden items, rifles and ammunition, were found and confiscated. Some unscrupulous traders would happily take the worker's hard earned cash for the firearms knowing full well that they would be confiscated upon boarding the ship home.

On the morning of the 15th of July 1886 they set sail from Dungerness for New Britain. The weather looked dull and threatening, with squalls from the sout east. Rogers would have to negotiate his way through the Great Barrier Reef, a passage not familiar to him. He intended to go through near Bramble Reef, to the north east of Dungerness. Rannie joined the pilot to sail with them as far as the fairway buoy. The pilot advised Rogers to anchor for the night under Great Palm Island to the south east, and wait for the weather to clear.

The memory of poor Jim Fowles will long be held sacred by his many old comrades in the Service. A sadness seems to come over me when I think that I am the last living being who felt the warm, strong hand-clasp of Jim Fowles before he went to his doom.

As we sheered off from the ship's side in the pilot boat the Young Dick dipped her ensign three times. We waved adieu. The return islanders and all the ship's company gave three rousing cheers, and they sailed away never to be seen in this world again.

Douglas Rannie
My Adventures Among the South Sea Canibals

Wreckage Found

Around the same time that July HMS Lark had been carrying out survey work near Port Moresby, to the south of New Guinea and the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, under the command of Lieutenant Commander T F Pullen. Nine of the crew had become sick with fever and the ship's surgeon was in need of hospital treatment, so they set off for Cooktown, Queensland.

While they were off Cape Bedford on the 22nd, wreckage was spotted inside of the reef. A boat was lowered and Lieutenant Cawston went to investigate. Commander Pullen reported to the collector of customs in Cooktown on the 23rd of July.

Sir, I have the honour to forward to you the enclosed description of a portion of wreckage visited yesterday floating in latitude 15° 12' S, longitude 145° 45' E, the wreck having occurred apparently quite recently.

I also forward you the portions of shirt and trousers (the latter will be seen to have quite recently been made), and an iron 5½ in spike nail, showing signs of friction, and with a small portion of blue paint on it.

P S - I shall be obliged if you will inform me should it become known what wreck this may in time come to be considered to be.


1 Part of the upperdeck of a vessel of about 16ft beam.

2 Two sides of the deckhouse belonging to the same.

The deck was painted dark red. On what appeared to be the starboard and after side of it were two small prismatic illuminators about 8 x 2½". On the opposite side of the deck was what appeared to be a ventilator shaft surrounded by a brass rim. A hatchway 5ft. by 3ft. was in the centre of the wreck.

The portion of deckhouse had been tilted over, and was lying on its after side. In this side were two small portholes, each about 1ft square. There were appearances of there having been three fore and aft cabins or compartments, the central one being the smallest. In the outboard side of the deck house was one small porthole, and it was darkly grained on the outside.

The inside of the deckhouse was painted green on the starboard side, light blue on the port, and was unpainted in the centre. This piece of wreck was about 18ft by 10ft the height of the deckhouse being about 7ft. It had apparently been only a short time in the water. The fastenings were iron.

Portions of a pair of unbleached calico trousers and of a white shirt were found entangled round some broken bolts.

Lieutenant Commander T F Pullen,
HMS Lark.

Pullen made a second report on the 30th of further pieces of wreckage found.

Sir, I have the honour to forward herewith a list of pieces of wreckage picked up outside this port, to the north and north eastward of Turtle Reef, on the morning of Tuesday, 27th.

Seeing that five days had then elapsed since I first saw signs of the wreck I conclude that it must have taken place in this vicinity, and that the portions of wreckage now referred to have but lately been freed.

The portion of painted decking, the colour of the bulk heading and apparent cook's galley fitting, the boxes marked 1, 2, etc, which looked quite new, and the piece of planking showing the vessel to have been painted white outside, give abundant signs by which any vessel overdue or supposed to be lost might be recognised. The thickness of the side planking would indicate a large, or a small and very strongly built, vessel.

The wreckage will be sent to the Custom house, or any place you may desire.

Lieutenant Commander T F Pullen,
HMS Lark.

The report goes on to list various items found, mainly parts of the ship: planking, timbers, sections of bulkhead and deckhouse. Also some items from the ship, a wicker covered six gallon stone jar and a preserved fruit case with the marking W Y & Co over an M.

Speculation was mounting to the identity of the wreck. It was thought to be a labour vessel as trade boxes were found among wreckage, the two main candidates were the Meg Merriles and the Young Dick. Noakes & Co, the managing owner of the Young Dick, denied it was their ship as it was not in that area, about 200 miles north of Dungerness where she last sailed from.

More wreckage was turning up all over this part of the coast, from Cooktown to Cape Flattery. Mr Theodore Knoll from a mission cutter found a large clothes chest and drawer as well as another piece of ship with iron bolts and a number of unmarked trade handkerchiefs. Messrs Forbes and Baker made a search in the customs boat Eileen and found more. Washed up on an island was a newly painted spar about 36ft long which appeared to be the topmast of a square rigged vessel, Young Dick was a top-sail schooner. They also found part of a board with the letters N and G painted in black on grey.

The customs sub-collector traced the preserved fruit case to be from W Young & Co of Maryborough. The company had just fitted out the Young Dick during her months stay in port. She was the only ship they had fitted out. It was reported that the Meg Merriles had arrived safely in Lekuva on the 4th of August.

By mid August there was little doubt that the wreckage washing up was that of the Young Dick. This was finally confirmed when the piece of broken name board was shown to the painters in Maryborough who recognised their own work.

Although the ship was evidently broken into pieces, there was still hope for survivors as the ship was carrying three boats. It was also possible for people to survive for some time stranded on a reef, waiting for rescue, as in the case of the schooner Stanley, which was wrecked on the far more remote Indispensable Reef with Edward Austin (former boatswain on the Young Dick) and agent Robert McMurdo onboard. So the searches continued, but without success.

It was thought that the ship would have been wrecked on the Barrier Reef to the north east of Dungerness and the wreckage had drifted all the way north west to the Cooktown area, so the search should be made in that region. This was confirmed by a beche-de-mer fisherman, Alexander Carstairs, who knew this part of the reef as well as anyone and was probably the last man alive to have seen the ship in one piece. He had been fishing the area from the 14th to the 19th of July and had seen a ship with many people onboard, beating about as if trying to find an opening in the reef. When the weather worsened she ran back toward Hinchinbrook Island and anchored under Cape Sandwich. When the weather had improved she resumed on an east north east course, as if trying to force a way through east of Kennedy Shoal. He said if that vessel had been wrecked, it would have been on the outer edge of the reef.

The searches continued but no survivors were found. Throughout the rest of the year wreckage continued to wash up on the Queensland coast and small islands of the reef. One vessel spotted the body of a red haired man, fitting the description of Captain Rogers, floating in the sea. There was evidence that some had attempted to build rafts from the wreckage. On the 20th of October the harbour master at Cooktown reported finding a portion of the port broadside of the schooner and a similar portion of the starboard broadside with chain plates attached. It had been cut transversely with an axe to be used as part of a raft. On the 27th of November the officer in charge of customs at Cardwell reported :-

I have the honour to report for your information that Alexander Carstairs, beche-de-mer fisherman at present camped at the South Barnard Islands, reports to me having found on the east side of that island three airtight casks, on which were firmly lashed with rope two pine spars, each 18ft long, and forming together a raft. A line ran from end to end of one of the spars, and had the appearance of having been used in steadying and restraining those who had sought refuge on this structure. Attached to the small end of one of these spars was the cordage and remnants of two flags known in the International Code as N.C. and indicating in distress; want assistance, The thick end of this spar, for about 3ft upwards, is deeply indented with marks of sharp pointed stone or coral, and it is conjectured it had been erected in a pile of coral on one of the reefs as a flagstaff displaying the signals above mentioned. These articles, in all probability, are waifs from the ill-fated Young Dick. It has also been reported that the body of a kanaka, or person of colour, has been seen floating on the eastern shore of Hinchinbrook Island. A search will be made without delay.

Officer in charge of customs at Cardwell.

According to Douglas Rannie's book, the raft was first found by Aborigines on Hinchinbrook Island, with two surviving Islanders on board. One of them died straight away, the other fled into the bush. The Aborigines tracked him, only to find him dead too. In desperation of hunger he had eaten part of a poisonous root.

On the 29th of October 1886 Sir Samuel Griffith the Chief Secretary, stated that the Government did not intend to make any further search for the missing crew of the Young Dick.

CHARLES MARR - Who was first mate on board the trading schooner Young Dick, when attacked by kanakas in Sirago Bay, 20th May, 1886, or any of his friends, - His brother would like to hear from or of him. Address ROBERT MARR, Mosgell, Otago, New Zealand.

The Queenslander Saturday 23rd April 1887


Map showing the approximate location where the vessel was thought to have been lost, or the last known position.

Vessel Details for Young Dick

Official Number:58732
Code Flags:JFPRCode flag - JuliettCode flag - FoxtrotCode flag - PapaCode flag - Romeo
Vessel Name:Young Dick
  • Richard Hickman of W Cass & Co in Goole
  • Robert Allen of Timaru NZ
  • Beck and Tonks 1876
  • Henry Green & Co 1879
  • John Jackson and George Greenwood 1884
  • John Hugh Rogers of Maryborough 1884
  • Noakes & Co of Maryborough
  • R Redman
  • George Henwood Symonds 1875
  • Robert Armitt 1876
  • A Moir 1879
  • George Greenwood 1881
  • Owen Lewis 1883
  • A Skillen 1884
  • John Hugh Rogers 1884
  • Goole
  • Wellington NZ
Construction:Carvel built with round stern. Clad with felt and yellow metal. Fastened with iron bolts.
Trade:Coastal trade in UK North Sea and Europe. New Zealand and Eastern Australia run. Queensland South Sea Island labour trade.
Incidents:The scene of a bloody massacre when attacked by Kwaio warriors at Sinalangu, Malaita, Solomon Islands, 20th May 1886. Fatalities 3 crew, 1 Government Agent, 1 recruit, 14 Kwaio warriors.
Fate:Wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef off Dungerness July 1886, all hands lost and 117 return labourers.
Image:View Image Picture


  1. The South Sea Islanders and the Queensland Labour Trade - A record of voyages and experiences in the Western Pacific, from 1875 to 1891. By William T Wawn Master Mariner, 1893.
  2. The Young Dick Attack - Oral and Documentary History on the Colonial Frontier. By Roger M Keesing, 1986.
  3. McMurdo of the Schooner Stanley. By Wilfred Fowler for Queensland Heritage, 1968.
  4. The Young Dick. By Wilfred Fowler for Queensland Heritage, 1969.
  5. My Adventures Among South Sea Cannibals - An account of the experiences and adventures of a government official among the natives of Oceania. By Douglas Rannie, 1912.
  6. Jock of The Islands. John Cromar, 1935.
  7. A Lincolnshire Shipyard - Burton upon Stather. R Clapson, 2007.
  8. Lloyd's Register of Ships. 1869 to 1883.
  9. The National Library of Australia. Various newspaper articles, from 1875 to 1887.
  10. The National Library of New Zealand. Timaru Herald 14th April 1877.

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© 2017 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

© Background Photograph by South Cantebury Museum & National Library of Australia.