SHF – John Oxley



(Notes on this interview date from 18th September 1984 and were discovered recently in old SHF oral history files. Mr. & Mrs. Robert Dick visited the museum on 18th September 1984 to see the JOHN OXLEY, which they had seen on television.)

Mr. Robert Dick served as deckhand on JOHN OXLEY 1940 when he was 20 years of age, for about 18 months.

Master was Captain McIntosh (Mac). He was a very experienced seaman and was very knowledgeable about the fishing grounds in Port of Brisbane.

He had such confidence in handling the ship that he would leave the bridge and go and have a cup of tea. He never asked the steward to bring him one.

Once he rang the engine room, full away, when the anchor was still in place. Called Bob (Dick) to take the wheel and steer according to compass. As Bob didn’t understand at first that the compass needle wasn’t moveable, he kept turning the wheel to try and keep a straight line. Master abused him; however, one of the Pilots understood his difficulty and instructed him on how to steer.

CREW – (About 22)
1 Peggy
2 Cooks
1 Boiler hand
3 Firemen
4 Deckhands
Chief Engineer
Second Engineer

When ship went on pilot duty, they picked up an extra engineer, extra cook and extra deckhand. These were casuals. As soon as the ship tied up, they went off duty.

Firemen took 4 bunks on the port side. Deckhands took the 4 bunks on the starboard side.

Bob’s bunk was up against the anchor chain (spurling pipes), which ran between the deckhead and the deck. The anchor chain would rattle each time the anchor was lifted or lowered. Rope yarn was stacked in a corner and when stowing of the anchor chain was finished the rope yarn would be stuffed into it to stop it from rattling. This was done from the anchor chain locker below. The present opening in the spurling pipe was not there in 1940 when Bob served on JOHN OXLEY. Said it was a good idea – an improvement.

CHAIN LOCKER – Crew had to go into the chain locker to stow anchor.

Lockers installed for crew starboard side against crews mess. Bunks had curtains and electric lights over bunk. Bob thinks curtains were red. Ship’s sheets, woollen blankets, counterpanes were green and blue with a little bit of white mixed in. Bob remembers one long table in crew mess instead of the two halves there now.

Peggy would get stores for the crew from the steward. Crew mess could take 9 (boiler hand, 3 firemen, peggy and 4 deckhands). Crew washed up dishes for themselves.

JOHN OXLEY did 7 days on pilot duty, while MATTHEW FLINDERS did 15 days service. Noted that crew did not need good clothes for pilot boat duty and also worked barefoot.

In 1940 the galley stove was oil burning. There was an urn in the officers’ mess where they made their own tea as needed, though the steward made the morning and afternoon tea, and tea at mealtimes.

Commented that the ensign staff aft was painted white and the engineer’s quarters were on the boat deck.

Bob said that the engine room was the shiniest and cleanest he had seen – kept that way by Mr. Auld (Aub) Binnie, who was an older gentleman. When some of the firemen came back to the ship after drinking at the Port Hotel near the wharf where the ship tied up, they were too much “under the weather” to work effectively. Aub Binnie kept his peace, and usually on the following day, the firemen would work to make up for what they had missed.

The chief engineer was a big man with a beer gut. He lived for his golf and would roll up toilet paper into balls and throw them down on to the engine room treadplates and use them to practise his golf.

Bob considered the JOHN OXLEY had always been the best ship he’d been on. There was always harmony on board and he had thought conditions were good for the time he had worked on her.

After tea of an evening, the men would take their teacups outside on the main deck and sit on the hatch and yarn. He said he missed the atmosphere, the outdoor life of the ship, and the wooden deck where one need not wear shoes.

Bob commented that modern-day ships have crew accommodation in tiers with air-conditioning, situated aft. There is only the TV lounge to go to for respite and that is also situated with the cabins.

Bob remembers he used to polish the JOHN OXLEY bell. He also remembers a vegetable locker with 2 louvered doors on the main deck aft, between two upright stanchions.

Two buoys (each with 3 gas cylinders and ready for service) were refilled and painted. They were picked up from the wharf and loaded aboard ready to replace buoys in the water as required. The ship’s steam winch was used to lift up the buoys and then the chains and mooring dumps. The chains on the buoys were inspected and replaced where required.

JOHN OXLEY would service the lighthouses and buoys when MATTHEW FLINDERS was on pilot duty. Lighthouses in Moreton Bay were serviced when MATTHEW FLINDERS was on pilot duty.

Bob remembers one pilot who mistimed his jump into the JOHN OXLEY whaleboat and fell into the water. Fortunately, he was saved. Sometimes large ships had so much way on (speed), the whaleboat crew had to chase after it. A rope would hang in an elliptical semi-circle from the ship for the men to catch hold of.

When pilots returned from Torres Strait and the ship they had piloted by-passed Brisbane, they would bring with them the officer’s mail for posting in Brisbane. Crews of these ships would lower their mail in a bucket to the crew waiting in the whaleboat. As these ships were foreign-owned, payment was made in the form of cigarettes to make this work worth their while.

Tom the cook would fish from his galley whilst preparing tea. He tied a line from the rail opposite the door of the galley, and would have a tin on the line, which would bang against the ship’s side when the bait was taken. Often sharks would get to it first and all that would be left for the cook was a fish head. Often as soon as the anchor was dropped, sharks would swim around aft in wait for scraps.

When pilots were asleep in their cabins and the fish were running, notice was given to them by making a sound with the flat of a hand on the main deck directly above their accommodation, whereupon they would come on deck with their fishing rods. Sometimes when pilotage was quiet, the pilots would ask Captain McIntosh to take the ship to the West Bank of the Port of Brisbane for fishing.

Sometimes to play a trick, the square top off kerosene tin would be placed on a line already in the water to make it appear as though a snapper had been caught.

Sometimes sharks would be caught and would be found to have large paint or caustic soda tins inside their stomachs when opened. When catching sharks, a turn of the line would be placed around the ensign staff aft, which would take the burn off the line when it was running with the catch.

A smaller vessel, CAPTAIN HEATH, about 50’ long and diesel engine would bring stores and pilots out to JOHN OXLEY and MATTHEW FLINDERS.

Most of the JOHN OXLEY crew lived in Brisbane, so when the ship tied up they could go home; however, Bob Dick lived about 12 miles away. On one occasion, they were late back to the wharf and it was to be an early start the next morning, so he and a fireman decided to sleep on board. It was a Thursday. Bob was awakened by the ‘peggy’ (who looked after the crew) calling out “Fire, Fire”. The ship was shut down and in darkness. The fire department had been called. Evidently, the ship’s fireman had gone to sleep smoking and his mattress had caught alight, and as it was kapok it was smouldering. When the mattress was picked up it burst into flames, so they threw it overboard where it floated, coming to rest against a wharf and nearly setting it on fire.