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A ship's life - The Kanowna Story




blog-0834501001402557042.jpgShe was ‘said to mark a new era in the Australian coastal trade’, a magnificent steamer with ‘superb accommodation for 270 passengers, and having a cargo-carrying capacity equal to 7,000 tons weight and measurement’. The SS Kanowna, built in 1902, was a sister ship to the SS Kyarra (1903); both having been built by Messrs W. Denny & Co of Dumbarton, for the A.U.S.N. Co, and both became popular, plying their trade along Australia’s coast in the decade to follow. Visiting Melbourne on the 15th May 1903 on her maiden voyage from Sydney to Fremantle, the Kanowna began a fascinating career that would span 26 years of ups and downs.


Some of her ‘downs’ included the loss of one of her young seaman in the March of 1913, when he drowned after falling from the top spar onto a wharf and rolled into the water. This was followed less than a week later by the loss of hatch coverings and damaged railings in stormy seas. In May 1914 she was involved in a collision with the Mt Kembla in the Brisbane River, and the following month was delayed in her voyage by a sudden strike of firemen, after one of their members was involved in an altercation with the Second Engineer. Then, only a couple of months later the Kanowna was ‘almost’ steaming to war.


Having been hastily requisitioned by the Kennedy Regiment, who’d embarked at Townsville on the 8th of August 1914, she had deposited them on Thursday Island to patrol the wireless station and guard the Torres Strait.

Volunteers were then called for to join the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), and 500 of the regiment who answered the call were soon back on board and heading to Port Moresby, to rendezvous with the rest of the AN&MEF in readiness for the capture of German New Guinea.

However, when on the 4th September, Colonel Holmes inspected both the Kanowna and the men she carried, he found everything lacking. The ship and the men were ill-equipped, the officers inexperienced and the troops mostly trainees. And to make matters worse the crew, who had not volunteered for active service, were showing signs of discontent. Yet it was decided that they would continue on – the troops to be employed in garrison duties only.


The convoy, which included the Sydney as part of her escort, set out on the 7th September, and had not gone far when it was realized that the Kanowna was lagging. It was soon reported by her captain, John Lewis Ward that the firemen had mutinied. Captain Glossop, on the Sydney, ordered that the offenders be restrained and the Kanowna return to Australia. The disappointed troops then stoked the ship back to Townsville, where many of them joined the AIF. One of note being Captain Hugh Quinn, later promoted to Major, before being killed in action at Quinn’s Post on the 29th May 1915 (and in a quirk of fate, his kit bag was later returned home to Australia on of all ships, the Kanowna).


The firemen protested their innocence and demanded an inquiry into the alleged mutiny, meanwhile the Kanowna returned to her trade along the Australian coast. The finding (which eventually came through in the same month that Major Quinn was killed) was that no mutiny had occurred, and that Captain Ward had ‘acted hastily and without judgment in dealing with the situation.’

Her next trip for the war effort, carrying various reinforcement troops, saw the Kanowna travel to Egypt having left Australian waters at the beginning of July 1915, now under the command of Captain William Smith. Not all on board made it that far however, as Private Paul Jones (1735) was lost overboard on the 12th July whilst suffering a fit of delirium during a bout of measles, and Trooper Alfred Cox (1081) of the 10th Light Horse succumbed to heat apoplexy in the Red Sea on the 25th of July. Both are commemorated on the Chatby Memorial in Egypt.


From Egypt the Kanowna then sailed to England, where along with the Karoola (No.1 HS), she was converted into a hospital ship. The transformation had some faults, but the work had been carried out in almost half the usual time, and many problems could be rectified during and in between future voyages. For now, she had received an exterior paint job of red crosses on a white hull encompassed with a green band, and was fitted with numerous hospital wards to accommodate approximately 450 patients; an operating theatre, X-ray department and dental surgery. Plentiful fresh water taps and steam sterilizers were fitted throughout the ship, and her hold was filled with bulk hospital stores. No. 2 Hospital Ship Kanowna, then took on her new hospital staff, who had arrived in England at the end of August on the A67 Orsova.


Heading up this team was Lt Col Archibald Brockway, a 52 year old, South African born Doctor from Brisbane, while the Matron in charge of nursing staff was Ethel Strickland; both of whom were to stay with the ship until mid 1918. An insight into Matron Strickland’s dedication was shown whilst awaiting the fit-out of the Kanowna – rather than accept a free pass to travel anywhere in the UK, she chose to stay in London and visit all the hospitals and convalescent homes, ‘and was most impressed with what she saw’. The staff of Medical Officers, Nurses and Orderlies had been finalized when the Orsova had docked at Suez, following changes made due to some member’s propensity to seasickness. Over the course of the Kanowna’s time as a hospital ship, staff would come and go, but some remained with her through all 10 voyages. Amongst these were Melbourne surgeon, Capt John Sandison Yule, and medical orderly Pte Ernest Philip (295) from Willaura in country Victoria. As per all military units, the Kanowna staff were issued with a distinguishing colour patch, theirs consisting of a vertical red rectangle centred on a brown diamond.


1st Voyage as No.2 HS:

The new hospital ship eventually left England on the 26th of September and travelling via Malta, where passengers were landed and patients embarked, they arrived at Alexandria on the 8th October. While in dock a few problems were sorted out as more refitting took place, before traveling via Suez where the majority of their 450 patients were boarded. Some of these men were severely wounded, which resulted in a few serious operations during the voyage, but only four never made it home. The first death occurred only a day out from Suez, while the other 3 men held on till they were almost home – all being buried at sea by Captain Chaplain James Hanrahan.

It was Pte Gordon Maxwell (730) suffering from cerebral thrombosis who succumbed first on the 21st October 1915 in the Red Sea. It must have seemed he would be the only casualty, when mere days before reaching the west coast of Australia Pte Edgar Robards (2228) died on the 11th of November from a Cerebral abscess, the result of an earlier GSW to the head. Then having disembarked the WA patients and en-route to Adelaide, Pte James Kerr (218) of the 8th Light Horse died on the 19th of Diphtheria, having been originally evacuated from Gallipoli with influenza. And finally, the Canadian born Pte Victor Reston (2343) died on the 24th of November of Pulmonary TB the day before reaching Sydney.

The Kanowna was also carrying amongst her sick and wounded, 4 men who had lost their sight. Two of these having also lost a limb, Sgt Hugh Ball (966)of the 9th Light Horse and Lieut Edwin Maurice Little – Lieut Little was traveling with his new wife; the English missionary who had nursed him back to health in Egypt.


Lavished with Red Cross comforts and well cared for by the hospital staff; despite the deaths, this first voyage to Australia in her new role as a hospital ship was considered a great success. However, after spending three weeks at Garden Island undergoing more alterations and repairs, before leaving Sydney on the 22nd December for her next trip to Egypt, the Kanowna became part of an experiment that sadly ended in controversy. 14 women had joined the staff as ‘Ward Assistants’, freeing up their male counterparts (Orderlies) to take on fighting roles. Unfortunately, as these ladies were given nurses uniforms and often referred to as probationary nurses, a misunderstanding with the Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) ensued. They argued that it was unfair to allow this when there were so many trained nurses waiting to fulfill rolls in overseas service, as well as the fact that using untrained women was a danger to sick and wounded men.


2nd Voyage as No.2 HS:

During the voyage from Australia to Egypt and back again, these women quite capably carried out duties that had little to do with nursing. Although a few did have some nursing training, most had come from previous occupations as ‘Domestics’ and their skills were utilized in similar ‘housework’ on board ship. Unfortunately, the pressure from the A.T.N.A prevailed, and on disembarkation in Sydney in the March of 1916, all 14 women were discharged. These ladies who had put their lives on the line were left high and dry, even though they had been highly praised by all the medical staff, including the O.C. and Matron Strickland, who went so far as to supply each of them with a letter of appreciation for their work. Perhaps Lt Col Brockway could be forgiven for not standing up to the pressure, when it’s considered that one of those 14 was his daughter Amy, and he may have faced an accusation of nepotism. It’s interesting to note that there appears to have been no deaths during this voyage, although this probably had more to do with the fact that they carried a higher degree of convalescent patients compared to the previous trip.


3rd Voyage as No.2 HS:

The Kanowna sailed again in early April staffed with male orderlies once more, and carrying reinforcements for the AAMC (Medical Corps) to Egypt. Her 3rd journey home to Australia as a hospital ship, which arrived mid June 1916, was also highly spoken of by the patients who greatly appreciated the concerts and various entertainments, along with other little kindnesses bestowed on them by the ship’s crew. Inevitably though, death could not be escaped a second time and three occurred. Two of these men were buried at sea, Pte John Peace (2404) & Cpl George McKnockiter (455, MM). George’s parents were notified of his Military Medal a year after his death, and it gave his father some form of comfort: “This is gratifying news & I am especially pleased & proud to know that the lad did his duty so well & that his services have been recognized.” The third casualty, Pte Jack de Boer (1133) died, and was buried ashore while the ship was docked in Colombo. Jack, who had been born in Holland, had been wounded during the Gallipoli landing on the 25th April 1915 – a gunshot wound to the spine causing paraplegia.


4 Voyage as No.2 HS:

Destined this time for England (via Egypt), the Kanowna re-sailed from Sydney on the 4th of July 1916 with some interesting passengers. These included 5 of the German Emden prisoners who had been interned in Australia, but due to severe incapacity were being repatriated. She also carried a group of 20 Red Cross nurses who had volunteered to work in France, and were known as the ‘Bluebirds’ because of their distinct blue uniform. Among their number was ex-Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) nurse, Elsie Cook, who was married to the son of ex-Prime Minister Joseph Cook. In the ship’s hold were 50 tons of Red Cross goods, and another 200 tons were loaded when she docked in Melbourne.


Embarking 400 invalids at Alexandria, they continued on, collecting a few more patients from Malta and Gibraltar along the way. Arriving at Netley (Southampton) on the 26th of August, they unloaded all their patients, along with Sister Alice Bull who’d been on staff since September 1915. Sister Bull was admitted to Vincent Square Hospital with enteric fever, and then served in England and France before her return to the Kanowna in July 1917.

New patients were taken on board on the 8th and 9th of September and they set sail for Egypt once more, where many of the patients they embarked at Suez were suffering either Nile fever or Bilharzia (a tropical, parasitic disease). They left Suez on the 23rd of September, and the return to Australia was almost a de ja vu of her previous return from Egypt. Once more 3 men died with two being buried at sea and one at Colombo. Boer War veteran Lt-Col Harold Bean, a doctor with the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance succumbed first on the 25th of September, being followed 2 days later by the Irish born Pte Patrick Donovan (2093) of the 3rd Battalion. Pte Walter Johnson (3139) from NSW, died whilst they were in harbour at Colombo on the 6th of October, from a wound he’d received at Pozieres on the 22nd of July. He was taken ashore and buried at the Kanatte General Cemetery with Jack de Boer.


Lt Col Brockway reported that “The trip was as smooth as a river from Southampton to Colombo, but the heat in the Red Sea was unspeakable. The devotion of the nurses under these trying circumstances was wonderful, for the slightest effort was sufficient to make one feel as if one were in a Turkish bath, but the nurses never flinched from duty throughout. They are women to be proud of. Stormy weather was experienced from Colombo to Cocos Islands, but the Kanowna is a fine sea boat, and little discomfort was felt, even among the patients. From Cocos Islands to the Heads the weather was fine and the sea smooth. On the order of the High Commissioner in London a professional musician accompanied us during the voyage, and arranged three concerts each week, either in the wards or on deck. These entertainments were hugely appreciated by all on board, and I might add that the gratitude of us all is due to the stewards, who in every instance materially assisted in the concerts.”

One of these stewards unintentionally left the ship not long before she once more sailed out of Circular Quay on the 8th November. John Campbell had been working on the top deck, when he fell between the ship and the wharf into the water. He was admitted to the Sydney Hospital suffering from shock, immersion, and a severely lacerated leg.


5th Voyage as No.2 HS:

Captain Smith didn’t sail this time either, and the command of the Kanowna was taken over by Captain Sam Gilling. Travelling via Bombay, where a boiler was repaired and 150 Imperial patients were embarked, they continued on to Egypt, losing a mental patient overboard en-route. More Imperial patients were brought on board at both Port Said and Alexandria and they sailed for England on Christmas Eve, reaching Southampton on the 5th January 1917.

Her new batch of invalids on board, she departed for Australia once more on the 14th of January. Among the many patients were two members of the AANS, Sister Ursula Carter and Staff Nurse Nellie Allworth, both were being returned home ‘for a change’ to help alleviate their illnesses. Although 3 patients were ‘lost’ during shore leave at Durban (possibly having deserted), it appears there were no actual deaths this trip. However, it was noted that as the Kanowna docked at No. 1 wharf Woolloomoolo, Sydney on the 11th March, that both she and the many faces that lined her rails appeared rather weather-worn after the long journey.


6th Voyage as No.2 HS:

When the Kanowna departed again from Fremantle at the end of March 1917, she was carrying a small group of AANS nurses to Egypt. Travelling again via Bombay, they picked up 260 Imperial patients, one of whom, Lieut Rogers, died from head wounds en-route. Upon their arrival in Egypt at the beginning of May, the ship’s female nursing staff was reluctantly sent ashore with the other AANS nurses. They had orders to travel on the faster ship Saxon to England via Marseilles, while the hospital ship, regarded as too slow at this time for the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean, sailed the long way around the Cape of Good Hope. Reaching their destination by mid-May, the Kanowna nurses were then temporarily attached to hospital duty until time to rejoin their Unit. Matron Strickland was attached to the 2nd Australian Auxillary Hospital (2nd AAH) at Southall, while the other nurses were dispersed between both the 2nd AAH and the 3rd AAH at Dartford. During this stay in England, Ethel Strickland received the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) at an investiture in Hyde Park on the 2nd of June.


Following the Kanowna’s safe arrival in England towards the end of June, she lost her chief steward Frederick James Folkes, who had been with the ship since at least 1914 and the A.U.S.N. Co. for over 30 years. From Dulwich Hill, NSW, he died of pneumonia on the 2nd July 1917 at Newport, aged 49.

Finally, with a new batch of patients, and all staff back on board, including the long absent Sister Alice Bull, the Kanowna departed England once more in mid July. Unfortunately Sister Bull had just left a ward in the early hours of the morning of the 31st of July, leaving a slightly disturbed patient in the care of a night orderly. Lieut Maxwell Stewart, who’d been badly wounded by a shell at Messines the previous month, took this opportunity to rush past the orderly and leap overboard. Lieut Maxwell’s only brother George had been killed in action in 1915 whilst fighting with the Imperial Army and his sister Elsie, a Staff Nurse with the AANS had been returned to Australia in 1916 medically unfit. The 2nd death occurred 10 days later when Gunner Charles Kettle (29741) succumbed to a malignant growth that had originally appeared on his tongue in the April of that year. Then only a day out from Fremantle, nineteen year old Pte Reginald Wilkins (4271) gave in to TB on the 30th of August. On reaching Fremantle they were greeted with industrial strife, and a guard was supplied to the Kanowna to prevent any damage from ‘strikers’ while voluntary labour re-coaled the ship. She finally docked in Sydney on the 14th September and as per previous voyages all staff was granted leave.


7th Voyage as No.2 HS:

The strife continued to dog them, when on the 25th September with all hospital staff re-embarked and prepared to leave Australia’s shores once more, they were refused a crew by the Firemen & Seaman’s Union. However, a volunteer crew was quickly advertised for, and by 4pm the next day they were on their way. Only four days out from the WA coast and tragedy struck when Sgt Albert Anderson (14156) died suddenly from a ruptured aneurysm. He had been with the Kanowna since April 1916 and his was the first death amongst the hospital staff.

Embarking British patients at Cape Town, they deposited them at Avonmouth on the 29th November. They then collected their return patients on the 16th December and sailed 2 days later. During the evening of the following day Sgt William Alexander (104) died of Phthisis (TB). Cpl Thomas Toogood (4011) joined him 2 days later, succumbing to a head wound he’d received on the 2nd October at Ypres – a veteran of the Boer War he left behind a widow and four children.


Christmas day 1917 saw them safely through the danger zone for submarines, and after a special dinner, staff members went from ward to ward singing carols. All good cheer came to an end on the 30th December when they lost the first of their ‘mental patients’, after Pte Alfred Anderson (856) slipped out of the section of the mental ward known as the ‘Bird-cage’, walked to the railing of the ship, said “Well here goes. Goodbye and God bless you,” and threw himself over before anyone could stop him. Two hours later after a fruitless search, the Kanowna continued on her way, and a couple of weeks later, whilst in port at Durban, another mental patient escaped ashore; not to be found before the ship sailed.

A fair bit of rough weather was encountered between Durban and Fremantle, at one stage overturning an entire block of double tier cots in one of the wards. Two more patients died during this time, Pte Cyril Castleden (532), and Pte Edgar Burchell (6848); the last casualty for the voyage being Pte Ernest King (109) from NSW, who succumbed to his wounds on the 9th February 1918, between Fremantle and Melbourne.


8th Voyage as No.2 HS:

More problems with the Fireman’s Union saw another delay in sailing, while the volunteer crew from the previous voyage was replaced with men more acceptable to the Unionists. The Kanowna sailed again on the 27th of February, heading straight to Bombay to pick up Imperial patients. She also took on board an Australian nurse, Narrelle Hobbs, who had fallen ill whilst serving with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) in Mesopotamia, and been invalided to Bombay. Travelling with Narrelle was her sister Elsie, who had gone to India to bring her home.

The Imperial patients were disembarked at Suez and replaced with Australian patients, most of who were being invalided home from hospitals in England, and had travelled thus far on the Wandilla. Three days after leaving Suez, Pte Alfred Chapman (1630) of the 1st Australian General Hospital (AGH) died from a spinal cord disorder, followed another three days later on the 21st of April by Cpl Ormond Hoyes (942). Cpl Hoyes had enlisted in the first month of the war in 1914. On the evening of the 9th of May, Pte Harry Reid (6090) succumbed to his wounds and was buried at sea at 9am the following morning. An hour after his funeral, Sister Narrelle Hobbs also died, and the ship was slowed for a second burial that afternoon. They were only four days out from Fremantle.

Arriving at Fremantle on the 14th of May, they lost their last patient for the voyage. Driver Robert Cutts (834) from NSW died whilst they were docked, and was taken ashore and buried in the Fremantle Cemetery. Continuing on, they reached Sydney on the 25th and the following day the Kanowna’s sister ship, the Kyarra, was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel.


9th Voyage as No.2 HS:

Her second last voyage as a hospital ship saw a major change in the staff, with the replacement of both Lt Col Brockway and Matron Ethel Strickland. Both were transferred to AMC Details, and Lt Col Brockway returned to civil life soon after. Ethel terminated her appointment with the AANS on the 22nd of September in order to marry the following day. The groom, Major Ronald V.S. McPherson (8th FAB) had been a patient on the Kanowna on her 7th voyage home.

Taking over from Brockway was Lt Col Arthur MacKenzie, a 35 year old doctor from NSW. Ethel’s successor was Matron Violet Mills, who had served on transport duty in the first 2 years of war. They departed Sydney on the 5th June 1918, and experienced some fairly rough weather for the entire round trip. Even before reaching Albany, they had lost parts of the ship to the winds, and the operating theatre was wrecked. Once again most of the invalids they took on board at Suez were from the hospital ship Wandilla, and they departed with them on the 22nd of July. Despite the bouts of unbearable heat and seasickness, all came home safely, as the majority of patients were convalescent, although many operations were still performed throughout the trip. On reaching Sydney on the 4th of September, the Kanowna entered dry dock for repairs, alterations and restocking.


10th Voyage as No.2 HS:

She was ready to sail again from Sydney on the 17th September, but Matron Mills wasn’t. Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, she had been struck off strength the day before, and was replaced by Matron Janey Lempriere. Janey had originally sailed with 24 other AANS nurses in the 1st Convoy to leave Australia in 1914, and had previously served in the Boer War. At least one staff member would have departed Sydney this day with a very heavy heart; Pte Henry Nobbs (19785) who’d been with the ship since February, had attended the funeral of his baby daughter Kanowna Pauline earlier that morning.

Now under the command of Captain P.H. Day (who had played a part in the capture of Count von Luckner of the German raider Seeadlar in an incredible bluff in 1917), the Kanowna eventually left Fremantle on the 27th September. She docked at Colombo on the 9th of October, where they embarked Imperial patients before heading on to Suez, arriving on the 23rd. A change in orders moved them on to Port Said, where they were informed they were to be sent to collect repatriated British prisoners of war from Turkey. Shunted from Port to Port, their final destination was Phokea (Foca) in the Gulf of Smyrna. Here they embarked approximately 700 (including 20 civilians) on the 1st of November and sailed for Egypt later that day. One of those they took on board was Able Seaman John Harrison Wheat, who’d been captured from the AE2 in 1915. Another was John Still (Imperial Army), the gifted poet who penned ‘The Ballad of Suvla Bay’ whilst in captivity in 1916; he stated they were given a royal welcome by all on board. Freedom was to be short-lived for a few however, as 2 men died before reaching Alexandria, and another while they were in the process of disembarking on the 6th of November.


On the 9th of November they left Alexandria for Malta, receiving wireless news of the Armistice whilst en-route. Along with the joy of the end of the war, came the beginnings of something even more deadly – the influenza virus. By the time they embarked their patients on the 14th, they had 6 staff members sick. Stopping at Gibraltar on their way to England, they left behind Staff Nurse Amy Simpson, whose illness was complicated by pneumonia. Amy, on staff since March 1917, survived and was soon returned home, but unfortunately died within a few years of her return. Along with the invalids they disembarked in England on the 24th & 25th November, were 4 more seriously ill staff members. Of these, Warrant Officer Leo Thomas Tyrrell (240) didn’t make it, passing away on the 3rd of December 1918. Tyrrell had been with the Kanowna since her first voyage as a hospital ship, but sadly would not be a part of her final trip home. He was buried with full military honours in the Hollybrooke Cemetery, Southampton.


The Kanowna went into dry dock for more repairs and the staff was granted leave. It was the 5th of January 1919 before she was ready to return to Australia with her wards once again full of patients. Four men died on this final journey home, the first being Pte Albert McGarry (3414) only 2 days after boarding. Pte William Barwick (6547, MM) died as they docked at Port Said, and was taken ashore the following day and buried in the Port Said Military Cemetery [though this is under investigation by the CWGC]. On the 28th of January it was necessary to amputate the lower part of (6580) Pte Bertram Scott’s right leg, damaged by a shell in April 1918. Unfortunately Pte Scott collapsed and died a few days later. Finally, in the early hours of the 19th of February, before the Kanowna reached Fremantle later that day, Pte George Beck (1081) died as a result of a head wound he’d also received in April 1918 – George was an only child and his parents were heartbroken.


Travelling around the Australian coast disembarking her patients into quarantine along the way, the Kanowna reached Sydney on the 8th of March, and was herself held in quarantine until the 14th. Following her release, the NSW invalids were disembarked and the crew immediately refused to continue on to Brisbane. Their six-month contracts had already expired, and they feared being held up in quarantine yet again. As the Kanowna was due to be demobilized as a hospital ship when she returned to Sydney from Brisbane, it was arranged to disembark the Queensland invalids and train them home, and by the 18th of March 1919, the crew, all stores and the hospital staff had gone ashore for the last time.


A month later, SS Kanowna departed Sydney with passengers for India, and on her arrival collected troops for England. Although she was no longer officially classed as a hospital ship, she still had one more batch of patients to return home from England to Australia. With Matron Adelaide Kellett, yet another AANS nurse who’d sailed with the original convoy in 1914, in charge of the nursing staff, these soldiers were embarked on the 28th of August 1919. Among them was flying ace Lieut Leonard T.E. Taplin, D.F.C., who had been shot down and taken prisoner of war in September 1918. Taplin was one of the many who had married whilst in England, and his new bride would sail a couple of months after him.

In the early hours of the 4th of September as the ship was nearing St Vincent, off the west coast of Africa, Provost Sgt Albert Burt (2159) wandered from his bed and was lost overboard. He had been suffering mental and physical slowness after a bout of influenza, and a Court of enquiry found that as he had shown no signs of suicidal tendencies, he could quite easily have stumbled and fallen overboard, as jumped.


Arriving back in Sydney on the 26th of October 1919, the Kanowna ended her war service and was stripped of all troop fittings and temporarily used as a cargo carrier, until she could be reconditioned and returned to her owners and her old life in the Australian coastal trade. Travelling around the coast in July 1923 she carried a very important passenger to Sydney; none other than ‘the girl with the flags’, Miss Ethel Campbell, who was visiting Australia on the invitation of the Returned Services League.



Sadly, after surviving all those dangerous years of war, the Kanowna was to meet her end in February 1929, after she ran aground on Cleft Island (aka Skull Rock) near Wilson’s Promontory in bad weather. Captain Robert Sharland had taken command of her in 1921, and he had just handed over that command to Captain Newberry, whilst he took a holiday. A court of enquiry found that “prior to the casualty the ship was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.” Fortunately however, no loss of life occurred, as a daring rescue in choppy seas on the night of the 17th saw all passengers transferred to the freighter, Mackarra, and the following day the crew were also picked up before the Kanowna finally sank.


In 1931, Mrs Ina Powels, who had served on the hospital ship as a masseuse, presented the newly formed branch of the Returned Soldier’s League at Austinmer, NSW, with the original Red Cross flag flown by the ship. The first reunion of the hospital ship staff was held in September 1935 at Scott’s Hotel in Melbourne. Among the 37 in attendance was the previously mentioned Sister Alice Bull. It was noted on the night that four of the orderlies who’d served on staff had since qualified as doctors. The gathering was such a success that it was decided to meet annually, and eventually the Kanowna Association was formed. Colonel Brockway was a noted guest of the Association at the 1938 reunion.


The wreck of the Kanowna was discovered in 2005.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2012


* Links to the Service Records of the mentioned staff of the Kanowna can be found at the following link: http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/groupstories/3400



Recommended Comments

Thank you for this fascinating and sobering story. My ancestor Private James Edward Hatte was on the Kanowna in the autumn (Sept 1916). He was picked up from Weymouth (presumably) where he had been in the Anzac hospital recovering from neurasthenia. He never recovered and I can't help wondering whether the rigours of the trip home did not help? May I confirm which hospital trip James (bound for Sydney) would have been on?

Many thanks


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Hi FenClare

I'm glad you found the Kanowna story fascinating, as I did researching it...

Your ancestor Pte Hatte was on the 4th Voyage: leaving Southampton on the 9th of September 1916 - they reached Suez, Egypt on the 21st, leaving again on the 23rd - docking at Colombo on the 5th October where all those who were able, went ashore to be entertained by the Red Cross Society.  They sailed again the following day reaching Fremantle on the 21st, Melbourne on the 27th, and finally Sydney on the evening of the 30th, where Pte Hatte was disembarked the following morning.


As well as Colonel Brockway's comments on the 4th voyage noted in the story above - he also mentioned that many of the severely wounded patients improved enormously due mainly to the long and pleasant sea voyage.


But it's always possible that Pte Hatte didn't benefit in the same way....something that sadly, we'll probably never know....


Cheers, Frev

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Many thanks - that is the clearest picture of the Kanowna I've seen.  My grandfather sailed to Thursday Island and Port Moresby on the Kanowna in August 1914.  He was with the Yungaburra Rifle Club, as was Hugh Quinn.  Ill-equipped, ill-trained and with no mosquito nets and little fresh water, it was hard training in Port Moresby.  Yet there was enthusiasm to participate in the capture of Rabaul and when the firemen (stokers) mutinied, they were ordered up onto the deck and guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets.  It was a tense atmosphere.


For years afterwards, formal dinners concluded with a toast to the Kennedy Regiment.



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Hi Bill - glad it was of some interest...


I'm guessing your Grandfather re-enlisted in the AIF...and came home safely!

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Posted (edited)



My GF in law, according to his repat record, was shipped back to Oz on the Kanowna during March 1916, although his B103 form says he came back on the Nestor.  So no idea which record to rely on!


A lot of 26th AI Bn men were part of the "Dirty 500" on board the ill-fated Kanowna trip during September 1914. One of their stories is in the following article.



Edited by jay26thBn
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Hi Jay


Glad you found it interesting - I think we might have sorted this one?

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