SHF – John Oxley

Colin Penrose

Relieving Mate on board John Oxley, 1962-1964

From an interview with Andy Munns, AM – 31-05-04.

Colin served on board as relieving mate, filling in for the regular crew on leave. He does mention that the Queensland Harbours and Marine employed a number of permanent relieving positions and it was common for ships like John Oxley to carry a crew of mixed permanents and relieving crew. Colin mentions that the relieving crews were all skilled men and could be relied upon to work the ship’s boats properly.

The mate was given the cabin on the portside midships, just aft of the well deck. Colin reports it was a very comfortable cabin.

John Oxley as the relieving pilot vessel would depart Brisbane each Friday afternoon and return hopefully some time on Tuesday. Pilot vessel for the Port of Brisbane, the Matthew Flinders would steam out to Moreton Bay each Tuesday.

As a pilot steamer, John Oxley would steam out into Moreton Bay where she would anchor waiting to collect pilots from outgoing ships and send pilots out to incoming ships.

While waiting for ships, John Oxley would lie at anchor. To meet a ship requesting a pilot, she would weigh anchor and steam towards the ship. Pilot transfer was by 22′ clinker whalers, which were of a design that was easy to row, manoeuvrable and light enough to be hauled back on board John Oxley.

Four deck crew were on oars and the Mate was in charge of the boat manning the sweep or steering oar. The pilot would board the whaler as it was being lowered.

The John Oxley would be steaming very slowly as the whaler was dropped into the water. The crew would release the boat falls (blocks and tackle – pronounced taykel) and row over to the incoming ship.

Better skippers would place John Oxley so close to the incoming ship, that a pull on the guest warp or painter that hung down from John Oxley plus a few strokes on the oars was all that was needed to close the distance.

The pilot would leave the whaler and climb up a rope ladder, clamber over the bulwarks and make his way to the bridge. The whaler would return to John Oxley and secure to the guest warp. The crew would hook the falls onto the lifting hooks in the whalers. Two hands would clamber up lines, get on board and go to the boat deck where they would commence to haul the whaler up under the davits.

Friday nights were busy for the boat crews as up to 14 ship movements would take place. Saturdays were almost as busy. Sundays nights were quite busy as ships would enter Moreton Bay, timing their berthing in Brisbane with tug availability on Monday morning.

Hopefully incoming and outgoing ships would roughly balance, and the numbers of pilots would remain constant. Sometimes however, this would not be so, and John Oxley would have too many or too few pilots available on board. If this happened, pilots numbers would be adjusted via the Captain Heath, which was a smalle

r service vessel of timber construction used also to transport newspapers, mail and provisions out to the pilot vessels.
John Oxley also had an arrangement with Thursday Island Pilots, a private company that supplied pilots to ships in the Barrier Reef. Southbound or northbound TI pilots (as they were called) would be ferried across in the usual way, however pilots inbound to Brisbane would remain with the ship and a Brisbane pilot picked up to work the ship into Brisbane.

John Oxley would also supply provisions, mail and stores to the lighthouses in Moreton Bay. Again, they would use the boats, simply running them up onto the beach and unloading the stores onto the sand.

John Oxley had two boats that were used for pilot transfer. These were located in the usual drop down chocks located on port and starboard side of the boat deck. At sea, these boats would hang from their falls and were lashed to the bowsing spar (called gryping spar in other accounts).

Most of the time the weather was good and the whalers could be got away without trouble. Pilot transfer would also take place in any sort of weather such as rain or wind. However, if seas were very rough, the mate might decide with the Master not to take the boats out – instead, incoming ships would follow the Oxley down the northwest channel to more sheltered waters near what was the fairway buoy. Here safer pilot transfer could take place.

Colin described John Oxley as a powerful little ship. Indeed, she could work up to 14 knots if required. He described her as an excellent sea boat and very comfortable. Colin also described her as very good to workboats from, with everything well positioned and proportioned.

On the matter of working hours, Colin said that John Oxley‘s complement of master and mate meant that they were on duty 24 hours a day and could be called out at any time. Sleep was snatched when possible and in turn.

During pilot transfer when the mate was away, the master would man the bridge alone, attending to wheel and engine room telegraph himself. Two deckhands would remain on board to assist with retrieving the boats, helping to position the falls and the guest warp.
Boats were manned by 4 deckhands and the Mate. One of the deckhands, the leading hand, was a day worker, however, he could be called out at any time to transfer pilots.

When not transferring a pilot, John Oxley would lie at anchor. As a result, the anchors and windlass were used a lot. This also made sleep for the foc’s’le crew very difficult as the anchor chain made a lot of noise in the hawse and spurling pipes.

In any case, the regular call-outs at all hours of the day and night meant that the crew rarely enjoyed steady sleep.

Anchor watch crew consisted of master or mate, one engineer down below, one fireman in the stokehold and one deckhand on lookout.

In good weather, the boats would be hauled up to gunwale level, however, if conditions were rougher, they were hauled up to the bowsing spar and lashed with a fender.

Quality of the fishing was an important determinant when choosing a spot to anchor. Much of the bottom of Moreton Bay was detached reef, hence Colin reports the fishing was usually very good. The off-watch crew and often the pilots would fish as well. The result was a steady supply of excellent fresh fish to the galley.

Colin also reports that the crew in government ships were usually well fed and the standard of cooks was high. The result would be good meals, often a feed of good fish, otherwise conventional meals from the galley.

Colin reports the galley was oil fired, not coal. Hence, there was no “black pan” or meal for the 4-8 watch firemen who usually missed the normal evening meal. (The black pan was normal on other ships, sometimes an extra meal on a coal burner being a seconds helping for the firemen on watch.)

On John Oxley, firemen bunked down in the port foc’s’le. Deck crew likewise in the starboard foc’s’le. The crew’s mess was forward of the welldeck. Master, mate and engineers had cabins on deck and used the officers’ mess just aft of the welldeck. Pilots used the pilots’ mess aft and berthed in their cabins below.

A steward looked after the meals, setting tables, etc. for the pilots and officers.

The crew usually appointed a “peggy” from their own to do this task. On John Oxley, it was usually tasked to the day worker to carry meals forward, look after the table, etc.

Colin was never on John Oxley when she steamed north to work on buoyage. He reports that in the hold, a range of spares were kept including spare buoys, ground tackle, chains, 2 ton concrete dumps, rope, shackles.

Colin related how the larger buoys would be loaded into John Oxley‘s hatch and she would carry them out into Moreton Bay. These would be swapped with the working buoy, which was brought back into Brisbane for repairs and overhaul by shore workers.

It was also practice to lift the entire buoy, mooring chain and dump to inspect and ensure that all parts were in good condition before setting the buoy back in place.

When carrying a buoy back to Brisbane, it was normal for the crew to clean off the marine growth while it was still “green”.