The Queensland Maritime Museum is situated at South Bank Parklands and within walking distance from the South Bank railway station. It is also accessible by walking from the Brisbane CBD using the Goodwill Bridge.
The Queensland Maritime Museum was founded in 1971 and is staffed by volunteers and a Chief Executive Officer and an Operations Supervisor. It has an extensive collection of historical maritime artefacts, including books, documents and photographs. The collection is displayed in the galleries and in the grounds adjacent to the South Brisbane Dry Dock. Major categories of the collection include: lighthouses, ship models, marine engines, navigation charts, photographs, shipping documents, ships’ plans, wooden boats and major vessels.
The museum is in an elbow of the Brisbane River. Work began on this dock in 1876. The excavated rock was tipped on to the low-lying areas of South Brisbane to raise them above expected flood levels. Granite was brought from Victoria to be used on the dock’s floor and the walls were built of rock quarried near Helidon in the Lockyer Valley. The dock was the first building project in Queensland where concrete was used.
The first ship to enter the dock was the British barque Doon. In April 1881, she left Brisbane with a cargo of coal for Portland, Oregon but about a week after leaving port, she ran into a gale and was dismasted. She returned to Brisbane, had new masts fitted and entered the dock on 10 September for an inspection of her hull. She was in the dock when the official ceremony to open the dock was performed.
Near the dock, there is a memorial to civilian and service personnel. It states: ‘… [Dedicated to those] who worked at the South Brisbane Graving Dock and to the Crews of the ships repaired and maintained in the Dock during the Pacific War from 7 December 1941 to 15 August 1945. The Dock was built by the Queensland Colonial Government in 1881 to service the Colonial Navy and the Dredge Fleet together with the passenger and cargo ships that played a key role in the development of Queensland. The Dock also played a major part in World War I servicing both Naval and Merchant Shipping.’
The dock now is home to the retired HMAS Diamantina and the lighthouse ship Carpentaria.
HMAS Diamantina is named after the Diamantina River in Queensland. It is a River Class frigate, designed in Great Britain for anti-submarine warfare. The Diamantina River was named after Countess Diamantina Roma Bowen, wife of the first Governor of Queensland, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, when that State was proclaimed in 1859.
Sir George Bowen had a distinguished academic career at Oxford and then read Law at Lincoln’s Inn. From 1847-51, he became the Rector of the Ionian University at Corfu after which he joined the colonial service as political secretary to the government of the Ionian Islands. He married Diamantina, daughter of Count Candiano di Roma who was President of the Senate of the Ionian Islands.
After Queensland, he held appointments as Governor General of New Zealand from 1868. Sir George then returned to Australia to become Governor of Victoria from March 1873 until February 1879. He then became Governor of Mauritius until 1882 and then Governor of Hong Kong, 1882-86. He retired from the civil service. His wife Diamantina died in 1893 and he remarried in 1896. He died in 1899.
The Diamantina was launched from Walkers Limited Shipyard at Maryborough on 6 April 1944 and commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on 27 April 1945. She was one of eight River Class frigates built for the RAN during World War II. The others were Barcoo, Barwon, Burdekin, Gascoyne, Hawkesbury, Lachlan and Macquarie.
She had a short but distinguished career in New Guinea and the islands during WWII and is one of only two surviving WWII ships throughout the world on which surrenders were signed. Japanese forces at Nauru and Ocean Islands signed the articles of surrender on her decks. She is also the only survivor of the 140 ships of her class that saw extensive service as convoy escorts in the Atlantic during WWII. Finally, she is the largest WWII ship surviving in Australia.
She returned to Sydney in December 1945 and was then recalled to do patrol duty in New Guinea. In June 1946, she was back at Garden Island and put into reserve on 9 August that year.
In June 1959, she was recommissioned as an oceanographic survey ship and carried out her first oceanographic cruise in August of that year. On 20 September, she performed the first survey of the Montebello Islands following the British atomic tests. In October she carried out the first survey of the waters around Christmas Island and in 1961 while working in the Indian Ocean, surveyed the deepest trench in that ocean. The sea trench was named the Diamantina Trench in her honour.
In March 1963, Diamantina acted as escort vessel for the Royal yacht Britannia during the Queen’s tour of Australia. She remained an oceanographic survey vessel until 1980 when, on 20 February, she was laid up pending disposal. She was the last WWII River Class frigate to serve in the Australian Navy.
In September 1980, Diamantina was presented to the Queensland Maritime Museum. She steamed to Brisbane in October and was placed in the South Brisbane Dry Dock where she is now permanently berthed and used as a self-touring museum ship.
The other vessel in the South Brisbane Dry Dock is the light ship Carpentaria. This vessel was designed in Scotland and built at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney in 1917 for the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. There were four vessels of this design built at Cockatoo. When on active service these ships acted in pairs. While one was on station, the other was in port under maintenance. They were anchored at their station for twelve months and the light was illuminated by the flow of acetylene gas that was automatically turned on at night. The light had a range of 10 nautical miles.
The Carpentaria operated out of Cairns but spent time in the Gulf of Carpentaria that has led to CARPENTARIA being writ large along her hull. The light ship was retired from service in 1985 and later in that decade, became part of the collection of the Queensland Maritime Museum.
Another ship on display, and usually available for trips on the Brisbane River, is the steam-driven tug Forceful, built in Scotland and launched in November 1925. She sailed from Glasgow in December 1925 and reached Brisbane on 7 March 1926. Her work was mainly on the Brisbane River but from time to time, she was called upon to go to the aid of stricken ships along the Queensland coast.
She entered the Australian Navy as HMAS Forceful on 16 February 1942 and worked around Fremantle until she was posted to Darwin. Here she worked as a tug and also acted as a rescue vessel for aircraft and crews in distress and returning from bombing missions. In 1943 she towed a landing ship to Brisbane and on 11 October 1943 was paid off and returned to her owners. Forceful was the last coal burning tug on the Brisbane River and her workload gradually decreased until she was retired in September 1970. In June 1971, she was handed over to the Queensland Maritime Museum.
There are many engrossing and fascinating artefacts in the grounds of the museum including a small, chubby ‘yacht’ named Happy II, built by a Canadian, Howard Wayne Smith. The minnow on display is the rebuilt version of Happy, the original was lost after she had sailed from the east coast of the USA, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to be wrecked on a reef off Noumea.
Smith built Happy II and continued his voyage. He made landfall in Australia near Ballina and because he didn’t have a visa, Happy II was seized by Customs. The story twists and turns but the upshot was that Smith lost Happy II that was eventually passed on to the Maritime Museum by Customs. It was restored by Museum volunteers.
As I was in the ‘yard’, I now entered the museum from the riverside ground floor. The displays are excellent and very informative and, as one wanders through the galleries, there is just so much to see. I spent hours trawling through the displays.
When I left the museum, I headed for a sandwich at one of the cafés nearby and situated within the beautiful garden environment of South Bank. As I sipped my coffee, I couldn’t help but reflect on this gem, the Queensland Maritime Museum.
* Gregory Blaxell is an historian and author. His latest book is The River: Sydney Cove to Parramatta.