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The little ship that could

Recreational boating is an avidly pursued pastime in the tropical waters around Mackay, and this was as true 100 years ago as it is today. In 1914, local carpenter Henry Charles Rose completed his 22ft (6.7m) motor launch Eleanor and launched her at Cremorne.  Rose had built two other boats – the Rosebud and Rosebud II – but it was the Eleanor, named after his mother who had died the previous year, that he kept for himself.

Eleanor did not have to wait long to show off her style. The Port Denison Sailing Club in Bowen announced an aquatic carnival would take place over Easter 1914, and the Mackay Regatta Club was well represented with 65 people making their way north by various watercraft. Little Eleanor was tasked with transporting the official time keeper for the event, and made the trip to Bowen in an impressive 15 hours. Eleanor placed second in her division, winning £1 in prize money, although “…in the opinion of the Mackay officials and the Bowen official, who accompanied the Eleanor, that she was really entitled to first place, the Regatta Club is officially writing the Bowen Club on the subject.” (Daily Mercury, 16 April 1914). Although the protest was carefully considered, it was resolved that it was not received in time and the placings stood. Eleanor nevertheless had a pleasant trip back to Mackay a few days later, overnighting at Lindeman Island on the way.

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Port Denison Sailing Club Easter Regatta, April 1914, in which the ‘Eleanor’ took part. Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland, 26749.

Henry Rose continued to enjoy his little craft around Mackay. Shortly after the excursion to Bowen, the Eleanor was again in the news. On the 18 May, 1914, the Daily Mercury reported “Quite a number of launches and auxiliaries were out yesterday. The Electron, Lassie, Swan, and Rob Roy went to Round Top, while the Eleanor went to Slade Rock. The Eleanor called in at Slade Point, and shipped a large “knee” to be utilised in the big motor launch being constructed by Messrs. J Fourro and J. Phillips. Fishing, oystering, and sea bathing were indulged in, and all the boatmen appeared to put in a good time, the weather outside being fine.” The following year the Eleanor returned again to Bowen for the now annual Easter regatta, but this time appeared as a spectator vessel only.

It was, however, following the devastating cyclone of 1918 that the Eleanor really came into her own. All vessels in the Pioneer River were sunk or grounded and the little Eleanor, found outside the police station in Brisbane Street, was the only vessel to survive in tact. She was quickly put to use in making contact with areas cut off by the flood, and in ferrying messages between the town and ships which started to arrive off Mackay in the weeks following the disaster. The Eleanor became a vital link between the north and south banks of the river, and with the outside world.

Henry Rose retained ownership of the Eleanor until his death in 1977, when she was sold to some fisherman. Some time later however, she was abandoned and neglected in Eimeo Creek. In 1987 she was retrieved by the Maritime Archaeological Association of Mackay and donated to the Mackay Museum. Eleanor can still be seen on display here, a significant part of the important maritime history of the region.

“In the Path of the Storm” – Mackay’s 1918 cyclone

Last month four museums in the Mackay region collaborated on an exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the cyclone which struck the region on January 20th 1918. The exhibition was valuable in not only gathering together information and objects to commemorate this devastating event, but also in acting as a timely reminder of our continued vulnerability to severe weather events.

The cyclone, considered a category 4 in today’s system, caused widespread devastation from Mackay and down the coast as far as Yeppoon and Rockhampton. It was responsible for substantial losses in the sugar and beef industries, and claimed 30 lives in Mackay.  Mackay Museum, Greenmount Homestead, Pioneer Valley Museum, and Sarina District Historical Centre collaborated with the assistance of Mackay Regional Council and the MDO programme to gather together information, photographs and objects to create “In the Path of the Storm”. By combining in this way to produce the exhibition, the museums were able to present a region wide interpretation of the event and its impacts.

By the very nature of the event the museums were commemorating, objects were going to be hard to come by. But the museums demonstrated what treasure troves community collections can be. Greenmount Homestead contributed a diary kept by Albert Cook at the time of the cyclone as well as an impressive print by Tom Roberts which had been water damaged at the homestead during the cyclone, and which still bore the watermarks. Mackay Museum contributed a model of the brave little Eleanor, the only vessel to survive the cyclone intact and which was crucial in the recovery efforts in the days following the cyclone, when Mackay was completely isolated from the rest of the world. The original vessel is on display at the Mackay Museum. On loan to Mackay Museum from the Queensland Museum collections were the twisted remains of the Brinawarr, a steamship which broke free from its moorings during the cyclone and crashed into the bridge over the Pioneer River, severing communications between north and south Mackay. The remains of the Brinawarr were only rediscovered during the construction of a new bridge in 2009.

The exhibition was held in the Jubilee Community Centre and was the first major exhibition in this new space created from the former library. Community response to the exhibition has been enthusiastic, with many visitors engaging through opportunities to tell their own family’s story of the cyclone. One hundred years on, memories of the event passed down are still painful and vivid.

The exhibition banners have now left the Jubilee Community Centre and begun a tour of the region, first stop Melba House at Marian. So keep a weather eye for the banners coming to a venue near you!