A Tale of Two Ships

This month, columnist Richard Lancaster tells us ‘A Tale of Two Ships’

Richard Lancaster

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

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

Both the magnificent Queensland government steam yacht Lucinda and the heavily armed gunboat HMQS Gayundah  were built in 1884. Both were commissioned and paid for by the Queensland colonial government and both arrived at their home port of Brisbane in 1885. 

The Gayundah and her sister ship, Paluma, [translated from the local aboriginal meaning, Lightning and Thunder] were built to counter a perceived  Imperial Russian invasion of the 60 year old colony of Queensland. The yacht Lucinda had a much more sedate workload.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little is now left of the Lucinda. Only a faint outline of the vessel can be seen in the sand at low tide. Over a four year period from 2014, a candle flickered briefly for HMQS Gayundah’s remains. The community  unsuccessfully negotiated with both the State government and the Moreton Bay Regional Council to preserve the ship’s remains for posterity. Sadly only the rusted skeletal outline of this iconic vessel remain. Once again, Queensland ignored an opportunity to  preserve our glorious historic past.

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