SHF – John Oxley

John Oxley’s delivery voyage logbook located

We are fortunate to have obtained a copy of the official Board of Trade logbook for John Oxley’s delivery voyage through Queensland Government archives. This provides a fascinating insight into the operation of our largest steamship from1927.

John Oxley delivery voyage logbook

The delivery voyage Master appears to be a Captain A. Williamson (his handwriting has flair, but is not so easy to interpret). It is clear that a stewardess was carried and she is recorded with the same surname as the Captain. No detail was provided, but the logbook mention suggests the stewardess might have been the captain’s wife – Research has shown that the Williamsons delivery voyage of John Oxley was one of a number of voyages they undertook. (See note below)

The log lists the delivery voyage deck officers as Master and 1st mate. The Masters cabin was located close to and under the wheelhouse while the mate had a cabin portside just aft of the well deck.

A bosun, one AB and three sailors signed on as deck crew and were housed in the forecastle.

The engine room complement consisted of Chief Engineer, second engineer and a third engineer. Regular watches of would have been 4 hours on, 8 hours watch system, although on  small ships, the crew describe a ‘24 hours on’ system.

No greasers to oil the machinery were carried, so the engineers would have “slung their own fat”. There was also the stokehold to supervise, along with the steam steering engine in the wheelhouse and steam / ammonia fridge set on the main deck starboard side to look after.

In the stokehold 3 firemen fired the boilers and would have worked the same “4 on 8 off” watches.  Two trimmers were also carried to bring coal from the bunkers to the stokehold. This would have partly eased the work of fireman on this long voyage to Brisbane.

The cook / steward and the above-mentioned stewardess completed the crew complement. Normally the cook and steward had small cabins located down aft in the pilot accommodation.

Normal mealtimes would have been observed, however, the firemen on coal burners usually had the traditional benefit of a ‘black pan’, which was basically leftovers from the evening meal left on the galley stove for the benefit of the firemen coming off watch.

In the days of coal, firing was hard work and on a ship like John Oxley, it would be normal at sea to have burnt about ten tons of coal each day. This means each fireman would be shovelling just under 2 tons of coal each watch plus removing 1/4 ton of hot ash each watch and getting it overboard.

John Oxley was fitted with a Sees ash ejector, which is basically a cast iron bowl into which ash is shovelled. Close the lid and turn on a high pressure jet of sea water and the ash is ejected overboard. Normal for 1927, but a certain an EPA problem for today.

John Oxley’s delivery voyage commenced 8th October 1927 from Greenock. First port was Oran, then Malta, Port Said, and Suez.

There is not much account of the delivery voyage in the logbook, but there is mention of towing a disabled tug, the Jackstay, into Valetta Harbour, Malta at 10.30 p.m. on 20th October. The crew was also mustered for a lifebelt drill on October 25th just before Port Said.

Batavia was reached on 19th November and John Oxley departed for Brisbane on 22nd November. At 4.05 a.m. on 7th December, John Oxley stuck an “unknown submerged movable obstacle” near Pine Island (Whitsundays). The log entry reports the engines were stopped and put astern, with the vessel getting back underway at 4.20 a.m.

After a voyage of just over 2 months John Oxley reached her new homeport on 9th December 1927. This sturdy pilot steamer would go on to serve the Queensland Harbours and Marine until transfer to the fledgling Lady Hopetoun and Port Jackson Steam Museum (now Sydney Heritage Fleet) in 1970.



Research into Capt. Alexander Williamson has since verified his name through finding records via his Master’s certificate number. It has been discovered that he and his wife had a business delivering ships from the UK to Australia.

John Oxley after arrival in Brisbane – Some will notice the builder’s lifeboats are in place. Also, the reinforcing frame for the bridge deck has not been installed.