Family History HMAS Gayundah

Family History HMAS Gayundah

It’s hard to believe the rusty hulk at the foot of the cliffs of Woody Point was in the 19th century Navy’s proud premier warship. A ship wreck sitting for years at Redcliffe is Gunboat Gayundah, a ship my great grandfather served on 12th April 1912 till 30th April 1913, then again 1st May 1913 till 31st December 1913, then again 3rd August  1914 till 31st January 1915.

As one of the newly established Australian Navy’s first ships, a flat-iron gunboat Gayundah was built in Newcastle-on-Tyne in the 1884 at the behest of the Queensland Maritime Defence Force, commissioned to protect the many bays, inlets and estuaries along the east coast from the enemy-of-the-day which at the time was believed to be the Russians.

By 1886 it had been acquired by the fledgling Australian Navy as one of its ten ships. In its short lived defence career the ship never encountered the enemy, although other achievements included the first warship in Australia to use wireless telegraphy.


In 1911, Gayundah spent several months on a ‘special cruise’, aimed at enforcing Australian sovereignty in north western waters. It was the first such operation for the nascent Australian Navy.

Gayundah continued to provide reserve training and on occasion a venue for entertaining senior officials. At the 1913 ‘Henley on Brisbane’ aquatic carnival, HMAS Gayundah as well as the Queensland Government vessels Lucinda and Cormorant carried the Governor of Queensland, Sir William MacGregor, and other dignitaries.

on board

Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

“Henley on Brisbane” Aquatic Carnival held for several years prior to World War One, was one of Brisbane’s principal social events. With an effort to emulate “Henley” at home, Brisbane’s gentlemen’s outfitters advertised yachting whites and club blazers whilst dressmakers and hatters advertised similarly for the ladies attending the carnival. Various stalls were set up in riverside parks and grounds, particularly in New Farm and many dignitaries attended.


Gayundah’s chief duties were the protection of Moreton Bay and as a training ship for the Queensland Maritime Defence Force. In between time on the Gayundah he spent time on Depot Ship HMAS Penguin (1) berthed at Garden Island, Sydney until 1st January 1923 when she was paid off for disposal.

My great grandfather was then stationed on HMAS Fantome. HMAS Fantome was recommissioned on 27th July 1915, under the command of Commander Lewis T Jones RN, for service in the Persian Gulf. However, on arrival in Singapore on 4 September, she was detached for Blockade Patrol service operating mainly in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

hmas phs

On 16 July 1917 he transferred to HMAS Psyche which returned to Singapore where she remained, apart from a brief cruise acting as escort for the merchant vessel Tantalus, awaiting the arrival of her relief, the cruiser HMS Suffolk. Suffolk arrived on 11 August and Psyche departed Singapore on 31 August for Sydney via Dili, Thursday Island, Townsville and Brisbane. She arrived in Sydney, in dire need of a refit.


On the 17th October he move to HMAS Cerberus, which played a key role in the numerous mock naval battles and military exercises with the shore forts near Williamstown, Queenscliff and Point Nepean. Its remains are a lasting memorial to the times when Victoria feared the threat of foreign attack or invasion in the latter half of the 19th century, and to the overall defence preparations – in which it was a key element of our integrated defences – made to counter such threats.

australia 1

There was a call in February 1918 for volunteers for a special service. In April, one officer and ten ratings from Australia (I) found themselves among 1300 other volunteers taking part in a bold commando raid on the occupied Belgian ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge. The Australians acquitted themselves well, with six receiving awards for bravery. On 11 November 1918, the signing of the Armistice brought the fighting in Europe to an end. On 21 November, the Grand Fleet came out from the Firth-of-Forth in two divisions to meet the German High Seas Fleet steaming across the North Sea to be interned at Scapa Flow.

australia 2hmas australia

Australia (I) had the honour of leading the port line at the head of her squadron. Melbourne (I) and Sydney (I) were also there, taking their place among the light cruisers. After anchoring, each enemy ship was allocated a guard-ship. Australia (I) was given charge of the latest German battle cruiser Hindenburg. On 23 April 1919 Australia (I) sailed from Portsmouth arriving in Fremantle on 28 May for a four day visit. As she prepared to leave, a body of more than 80 ratings assembled on the quarterdeck and requested that the sailing be delayed so that they could entertain civilian friends and repay their generous hospitality. The men’s request was conveyed to the commanding officer, Captain Claude Cumberlege, RN, who indicated that delay was impossible; the group dispersed, muttering their displeasure.


When Cumberlege gave the order to ‘let go aft’, a report came to the bridge that the stokers on watch had left the boiler rooms. The incident spread no further, but some time passed before the ship could sail. After an internal investigation, twelve men were arrested and charged with mutiny, although only five were subsequently court-martialed and gaoled. Australia (I) finally reached Sydney on 15 June 1919 after an absence of 1775 days.

To know what has made our family so strong. Learning about family history is important. It is essential to understanding ourselves and basic humanity and diversity. Family history also helps to keep memories alive and allow each generation to have an idea of who they are and where they come from.





Information found State Library Of Queensland, National Archives of Australia and Australian Navy Websites


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