THE OLD AND THE BOLD … Stephen Dearnley: survivor, publisher, motorcyclist, yachtsman and boatbuilder


Stephen Dearnley: survivor, publisher, motorcyclist, yachtsman and boatbuilder

(This article first appeared in NOCN 84, 1 March 2011.)

stephen dearnley pic original contrast up bw

Stephen Dearnley’s life has been full of excitement, variety and adventure — yet on first meeting, this calm, courtly and articulate man can seem like a person whose life has been measured, placid, predictable and very run-of-the-mill. Nothing could be further from the truth.

He was born in Shropshire in 1922, the son of a country parson.  The regular house moves necessitated by his father’s vocation didn’t interfere with Stephen’s traditional classical education. World War II had begun when he finished school, but by then he’d already started patrols with the Local Defence Volunteers, predecessor to the Home Guard.

Stephen was working in Manchester when he had a close experience with the blitz: walking home from work, he heard a bomb coming and dived into an adjacent pill box. The bomb landed on the other side of the road; it ruptured a gas main and created a spectacular fire.


Joining the navy

In August 1941 he joined the Royal Navy and completed basic seamanship training at HMS Ganges. His first ship, HMS Fitzroy, the RN’s last coal-burner, was leader of the 4th Minesweeping Flotilla. The flotilla was working from the Faeroe Islands, Danish territory.Later they moved to the southern extremity of the North Sea, sweeping out-dated “friendly” mines off the Dutch coast. Fitzroy never finished the job.

hms fitzroy

Minesweeper-leader HMS Fitzroy — sunk


Stephen was on the bridge when it happened. He heard a loud explosion from aft; he looked and saw the ships boats hanging from their davits and a large hole in the deck. Everybody around him was already blowing up their lifebelts; the ship was clearly going down — and it did. It was late May, but still cold. And rough. Stephen was in the water about 45 minutes, and was revived with a very large tot of rum when he was safely on board one of the other ships in the flotilla. They had probably been sunk by a “friendly” mine.


Promotion, and


Soon, Stephen was sent on officer training at Lancing College. He graduated as Midshipman RNVR on November 1942. Pilotage training followed, from RNC Greenwich. In January 1943 Stephen, now a Sub Lieutenant, began submarine training in Northumberland.

His submarine career started in depot ships as spare crew. In Dundee there were some Dutch submarines that had escaped from Java and made their way back to Europe to fight on the Allied side. They had been built in Germany, and carried a strange device called a “schnorkel”. Local experts examined this gadget, declared it inherently unsafe, and welded up the holes it had made in the pressure hull.



Eventually Stephen was posted to HMS Maidstone, stationed in Algiers. His first operational patrol was in HMS Universal, in the western Mediterranean. After she torpedoed a large merchantman, the counter-attacking escorts forced Universal well below her designed depth. Fortunately they found a good layer and lurked beneath it for four hours.

Maidstone was ordered to the east; Stephen disembarked in Alexandria (where he celebrated his 21st birthday), and travelled from there by train to Beirut to join his new depot ship, HMS Medway. A quiet patrol in HMS Upholder followed, then he was sent to Haifa for sick leave, and took recreation leave in Damascus.

u class submarine 7 cm

U-class submarine, similar to HMS Universal and HMS Upholder



An eventful patrol

Stephen joined his new submarine, HMS Sportsman, in Port Said in January 1944 as 4th Hand; an eventful patrol around the Greek coast followed. With a well-drilled gun’s crew, they had several successful surface actions against local caiques (wooden-hulled sailing vessels) that the Germans were using to supply their more remote coastal outposts.  (After a warning shot, they always allowed the Greek crews to take to the boats before proceeding with the sinking.) They were ordered to intercept a German troopship off northern Crete; the trooper came through on time, but was very heavily escorted. Sportsman fired from outside the screen and sank the target. Finally, they were ordered to attack shipping in the tiny port of Monemvasia in the Peloponnese. As well as being navigationally difficult, the port was protected by a boom. Sportsman’s skipper found a gap in the boom, fired through it, and sank a 5000 ton freighter.

s class submarine

S-class submarine, similar to HMS Sportsman


They returned to Malta, and soon were homeward-bound for Britain via Gibraltar. In Gibraltar, they heard news of the D-Day landings.

Their new depot ship was HMS Forth in the Holy Loch near Glasgow. A new captain and crew came on board, but Stephen stayed on for the new commission as navigator.

Soon they were at sea again, making a trans-Atlantic surface passage to Philadelphia, for a major ‘first’: refit, then working up with USN submarines out of New London CT. The return passage across the Atlantic was enlivened by a stop in the Azores en route. They arrived in the Holy Loch in March 1945; VE Day was only a few weeks away.


Winding down

Having been fully refitted, Sportsman paid off. Stephen, last to leave the boat, took its Jolly Roger flag. He re-joined his first submarine, HMS Universal, operating out of Larne in Northern Ireland. They were used as a “clockwork mouse”, or mobile target, to train escorts in anti-submarine tactics. The personal importance to Stephen of this relatively short period was that during it he met Jo, then in the Wrens. She soon became a permanent part of his life and they were married in December 1945 — but Stephen still had another six months to serve in the RN before demobilisation.


Publishing, and migration

As a civilian, he moved into publishing with some help from a fellow-submariner, Teddy Young — well known as the only Reserve officer to command an operational submarine — who was also in the business. Stephen worked with the publishers William Collins, but within a year or so he and Jo became concerned about prospects for bringing up a family in Britain; recovery from the war was slow, and economic signs were not good. He applied to be transferred to the Collins operation in Australia. He and Jo migrated here in October 1947, with permanent employment already secured. This has been his home ever since. He retired from Collins in 1979.


Boats …

Stephen’s life away from work has been full of variety, in two main fields. Firstly, he became a keen small-boat sailor and a boat-builder as well. He was instrumental in getting the Heron and Lazy E classes established in Australia, and in forming local Class associations for both of them. He built two Herons, a Lazy E, a Northbridge Junior, and two Moths. He raced when he could; he took out the Herons National Championship once in the early 1960s, and freakishly, twice won from a huge field of all-comers the Imperial Services Club’s annual race from RSYS  Kirribilli to Quarantine in Sydney, once in a Heron, once in a Lazy E.


… and bikes

Stephen’s other major extra-curricular activity has been in a very different field: on two wheels — with an engine between them. He has always loved motor bikes, though not always has his domestic situation permitted him to indulge his passion as much as he’d have liked. Most of his demobilisation gratuity went on ‘Dora’ the ex-US Army Indian Scout seen in the picture overleaf, taken in Glasgow with Stephen and Jo the year after they were married. But motor bikes don’t mix well with raising children, and Dora didn’t come to Australia. So Stephen stuck to four wheels for about 20 years, until the offspring were independent.

stephen jo  dora cropped 9

Jo and Stephen Dearnley with ‘Dora’, the ex-US Army Indian Scout which absorbed most of Stephen’s demobilisation gratuity.


When he returned to motorcycling in the early 1970s the scene had changed somewhat. There was by this time some quite attractive Japanese machinery around; he had several Japanese bikes, which he used to commute to work for the very convenience of it. Soon, as a mature-age motorcyclist, he got involved in long-distance touring as well.


Ulysses Club is formed

And so it was that, through a light-hearted correspondence through the pages of Bike Australia, an Australian motor bike magazine, Stephen ended up as a founder member, and for four years, President, of the Ulysses Club – whose motto is “Grow old disgracefully”.  The club was formed in December 1983 with just five people at the inaugural meeting at a Sydney pub; by the time Stephen vacated the chair in 1986 there were several hundred on the books. The club has continued to prosper ever since, with membership over 29,000 in 2010.

The basic objectives of the club were threefold: foster contact and mutual support between older motorcyclists; show by example that motorcycling can be fun for all ages; and let other institutions know the views of older riders. The club has its AGM in a different spot each year, usually pretty remote, and riders converge from all over the country. The club magazine, Riding On, has been a significant factor in the club’s success. The club is a formidable charity fundraiser, devoting funds raised to arthritis research.  Stephen thinks that the atmosphere of consensus and goodwill in which the Ulysses Club began, and continues to function, are the cornerstones of its success. Stephen says: “It operates in an atmosphere of organised anarchy — but it works”.

Another extra-curricular activity that occupied Stephen in recent years was proof-reader for this Newsletter, in which he provided invaluable and expert service drawn from his long experience in publishing. He withdrew from his responsibilities in that field only last year, when he moved into serviced hostel accommodation on Sydney’s northern beaches.


Queen’s birthday honours

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 1999 Stephen Dearnley was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia — OAM — for “services to sailing and motorcycling”. Columnist and veteran reporter David McNicoll described the award as “a victory for larrikinism” and Stephen as “the leader of the largest motorcycle gang in Australia”. Stephen regarded the coverage as a compliment and great publicity for Ulysses.


Stephen Dearnley has had a rich and full life. Sadly, he lost Jo in 1996 after her long struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, but their four offspring and 12 grandchildren are constant reminders of her.

Stephen has put more in to everything he’s been associated with than he has taken out. With his organisational flair, common sense, and abundant energy he has made a difference to things and initiated change and development in several fields for the enjoyment and benefit of many others. In his highly individualistic way, he has made the world a better place — and, importantly, he’s had a lot of fun doing it. 


Reference: Dearnley, S; The Ulysses Story; Ulysses Club Revised Ed, 2003.


(The photograph with the motor bike is from Stephen’s own collection, and those of the three RN units are from the 1939 and 1944 editions of Jane’s Fighting Ships. The assistance of the Naval Historical Society of Australia with this article is acknowledged with thanks.)













Commander Rohan Edwin (Ted) Lesh RAN Rtd; 21 May 1925 – 28 November 2010

Commander Rohan Edwin (Ted) Lesh RAN Rtd; 21 May 1925 – 28 November 2010

(This obituary was first published in NOCN 84, 1 March 2011.)

rohan lesh11 7 cm

Ted was a soft touch for voluntary organisations needing a Treasurer (he undertook Accountancy studies from 1961 to 64 whilst in the RAN).  “Are you sure that you can take this on Ted?” various Committees in Canberra would query.  “As long as I can”, would be the immediate response from Ted, known to all in Canberra as the gentleman officer.

Academically Ted Lesh was amongst the top of his class.  On graduation from the RANC in 1942 he was awarded “maximum time” for promotion and the prizes for Physics and Chemistry and  for Navigation.  During ‘Subs’ courses he was awarded a prize of £10 and the Ian Macdonald Memorial Prize (IM), now the Prize for the most improved trainee during the Junior Warfare Application Course (JWAC) at HMAS Watson; and later the Jackson-Everett Prize (JE) for topping his Communications qualification course in England.

With such academic ability Ted was well suited to ably lead, as Superintendent, the RAN Experimental Laboratory at Rushcutters Bay in 1966, and to cross swords with the many brilliant and well known naval scientists there such as Mal Buckham, Jack Lonergan and John Waller.

After graduation, from 1942 to 1945 as Midshipman and Lieutenant, Ted served in HMS Devonshire (Heavy cruiser) , HMS Renown (Battle cruiser), HMAS Quickmatch (Destroyer) and HMS Emerald (Light cruiser) before proceeding on Courses in May 1944.  On completion he was appointed to HMAS Norman (Destroyer) for a short period and to HMS Wessex (Destroyer) in January 1945, in which ship he was serving off Japan at the conclusion of hostilities.

Ted and his wife Jill married in 1952 on his return from service in HMAS Warramunga off Korea and near the Yalu River.   He is survived by Jill, their four children, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.  The grandchildren have been the source of immense pride to them both.  “My word –  I‘m proud of them all”, he would often say.

Amongst them the eldest, Hannah, is an RAAF Squadron Leader and was Dux of her ADFA Graduation Class and University Medal winner.  Dimity is a ballerina currently dancing with the Australian Ballet; Thomas is a clarinetist at the ANU School of Music whilst Michael (who has a BEng  with First Class Honours for Aerospace Engineering from RMIT)  graduated from the Naval College as a Sub Lieutenant three days after Ted died.  For many months prior, attendance at Michael’s graduation has been Ted›s dearest wish.  Michael intends to apply to become a Naval aviator.

Of all Naval postings, Ted had most pride in his work as Director of Naval Communications 1959-1965.  During this time he studied to become a Chartered Accountant and passed with an Australia-wide prize for an essay on Inflation Accounting. Then he was posted as Commanding Officer at HMAS Rushcutter (and RANEL) and later to the Joint Staff Communications Directorate, from where he retired.

During his second career in accountancy Ted eventually became the Chief Internal Auditor of the Australian Industry Development Corporation (AIDC) from 1983 to 1990; and the Institute of Internal Auditors 1991-2002.  Ted and Jill retired to Canberra in 2002, where he voluntarily became the Treasurer for four local organisations: ACT Legacy, the Defence Force Welfare Association, the Friends of the ANU’s School of Music and the Naval Officers Club ACT Division.


His many friends, colleagues and family remember Ted Lesh as self-effacing, modest, loving and deeply attached to his family.  In summary, he asked that on the back page of his Funeral’s Order of Service the following be printed:

I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me.     [Winnie – the- Pooh     (A.A.Milne, 1926)]


(Mike Taylor )


The Old & The Bold


A.J.“Nat” Gould, aviator

(This article was first published in NOCN 83, 1 December 2010.)

As a teenager in Queensland during the 1930s, Arthur ‘Nat’ Gould picked mushrooms in nearby fields and sold them. His earnings paid for flying lessons at Archerfield, Brisbane, and he got his ‘A’ licence at the age of 17.

When World War II began he joined the RAAF. He completed the first pilots’ course under the Empire Air Training Scheme, and graduated as Sergeant. He sailed for Britain and on arrival was posted to RAF 17 Squadron, flying Hurricanes in Scotland.

Events now took a strange turn; his introduction to naval aviation was imminent. He was transferred to a new Hurricane squadron, 134, and together with 81 Squadron they embarked in a very old aircraft carrier, HMS Argus, and headed north for three days. They were ordered to take off from the Argus and head for Russia.

Magnetic compasses didn’t work that far north and there was no land in sight. With doubtful navigation, no wind and a slow ship, the take off was worrying. An escorting destroyer obligingly showed them the direction to go. Their briefing had been “Keep heading south and after 30 minutes you will see Russia. You can’t miss it. Turn right. When you come to a big river, follow it; you will come to Murmansk.” Fortunately, it worked; though Nat was greeted with AA fire. A ‘friendly’ welcome indeed!

They were in Russia to help train the locals in both tactics and aircraft maintenance. They stayed there five months, fighting alongside the Russians and escorting their bombers. “Nat” became “Natski”.

Back in Britain in time for Christmas, the squadron re-equipped with Spitfire Mk Vs, and was based in Northern Ireland. Part of the squadron’s role was convoy protection.

But the Japanese had now entered the war and Australia was soon under threat. Transiting via Canada and USA, Nat arrived in Melbourne in May 1942. His new RAAF squadron, No. 75 (Kittyhawks) had had a torrid time in Port Moresby. The squadron was brought back to Australia to reform and was based at Kingaroy, Q. Nat, by now a Pilot Officer, joined them there.

The squadron moved back to New Guinea, and occupied a forward position at Milne Bay. The Japanese forces were about to land from the sea, and the Kittyhawks aimed to prevent that. Nat dive-bombed through heavy AA fire and sank a ship.

Despite the staunch defence of the area, the Japanese landing succeeded; the squadrons found themselves very close to the front line. Ground support sorties would last about 10 minutes, strafing through the jungle canopy to enemy positions marked by flares sent up by army forward observers. Enemy ground fire was a hazard, and they had enemy aircraft to deal with as well. Quite apart from hazards posed by the enemy, living and working conditions were horrendous too.The constant heat, rain and humidity created ideal conditions for malaria, dengue fever, tropical ulcers and insects of all kinds to flourish. The muddy ground was constantly waterlogged. It was hellish.

History records that the Kittyhawks were a major factor in the allied success in the Milne Bay land battles, which saw the Japanese land forces decisively beaten for the first time in WW II. It would be the beginning of the long Japanese retreat.

Then 75 Squadron was withdrawn, and Nat was transferred to Mildura for operational training of new pilots. In October 1943 he moved to 457 Squadron (Spitfires) at Darwin, but was soon moved to Drysdale in the Kimberley. It was the closest RAAF base to Timor, and once Nat was involved in the interception of a Japanese ‘Dinah’ reconnaissance aircraft.

By this time the impact of the war on Australia was winding down; operations had moved far to the north. In mid-1944, Nat was back in a training role at Mildura. He longed to be in the front line, which he reckoned was safer than being stuck with unpredictable trainee pilots.

gould 1 3 crabs

Nat Gould and mates just before transfer to RANVR

L to R: Bob Davies; G.F. Spencer-Brown; A.J. ‘Nat’ Gould

In June 1945 Nat shaved off his moustache, swapped his Flight Lieutenant’s uniform for the darker-hued one of a Lieutenant RANVR, and began loan service with the Royal Navy. In the final stages of WW II, Nat saw service in the big RN carriers HMS Indomitable, Indefatigable and Implacable, flying Seafires – the naval variant of the Spitfire.

gould 2 firefly  9 implacable

A Firefly, and a group of aviators, on board HMS Implacable in 1946. Nat Gould,

newly commissioned into the Royal Navy, is front right.

He and other transferees were initially based at Schofields for type conversion and deck-landing training. His squadron, 801, with 36 Seafires, was briefly embarked in HMS Indomitable, then for longer periods in both HMS Implacable and HMS Indefatigable in the north-western Pacific. Each ship had over 80 aircraft embarked, and when the ships operated together they put up a formidable strike force. In August 1945, Nat’s ship was north of Truk and heading north for the expected invasion of Japan when word came that the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. At war’s end, Nat was offered a short-service commission in the RN and moved to England for three years.

Nat transferred back to the RAN to join the newly-established Fleet Air Arm In September 1948, . He and W.G. ‘Jimmy’ Bowles were the first Australians to be appointed to squadron command in the RAN; initially Nat led 816 Squadron (Fireflies) and Jimmy had 805 (Sea Furies). Later Nat took over 805, and saw more operational service in the Korean War, with his squadron embarked in HMAS Sydney.  But it was brief; the Korean armistice was imminent. Nat had a total of 17 years service in the RAN, and retired as a Commander in 1965.


gould 3 raaf to ran conversion schofields 1946

Schofields NSW: the first air force-to-navy pilot conversion course, 1945. Nat Gould second

from right and Bob Davies second from left, both in back row; Spencer Brown left, front row.

Nat Gould’s service flying career achievements included qualifying as a flying and instrument instructor. Having completed over 20 jumps, he is also a fully-qualified paratrooper, and is entitled to wear those distinctive wings. These days, he and his wife live quietly and comfortably in Killara. At 90, he’s entitled to slow down a bit. But he still retains the self-confident air of a man who could, if he had to, wrestle a crocodile and placate an angry grizzly bear.

(Thanks to The Spitfire Association for the use of material on its website, and  to Nat Gould for further background and the loan of photographs.)


VADM Sir Richard Peek, KBE CB DSC RAN ret, 1914-2010

VADM Sir Richard Peek, KBE CB DSC RAN ret, 1914-2010

(This obituary is drawn from the reminiscences of Malcolm Baird, Ian MacDougall and Ian Richards, from a report by Mike Taylor, and from information provided by CN’s office.)

vice admiral sir richard peek

Richard Innes Peek (who called himself  ‘Peter’ because he disliked the ‘RIP’ monogram) was born in Tamworth, NSW. He joined RANC in 1928. During World War II he served in HMS Revenge, HMAS Hobart (at the Battle of the Coral Sea) and HMAS Australia. As Australia’s gunnery officer at Leyte (where he was wounded) and Lingayen, he was awarded  in quick succession the OBE and the DSC.


His commands were the frigate HMAS Shoalhaven, Tribal-class destroyer HMAS Bataan, Battle-class destroyer HMAS Tobruk (twice), fast troop transport HMAS Sydney and aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. For service in Tobruk during the Korean War he received the United States Legion of Merit.


Promoted Rear Admiral in 1964, he commanded the fleet during the height of the Vietnam War. He became CNS, as Vice Admiral, in 1970. Further honours came: a CB in 1971, and a knighthood (KBE) in 1972. He retired in 1973.


The relatively few souls still with us who knew Peek well recall his crystal-clear mind and devotion to the welfare of those under his command. He had an exceptional ability to read people and recognise potential:  in 1963 he supported a young supply officer’s application for transfer to submarines, but at the same time encouraged the officer to stretch his talents to the limit by assigning him to  tasks well outside his comfort zone.  So began the unlikely path by which Ian MacDougall later himself became CNS.


But Peek was an innocent in some ways too. On assuming command of the Fleet he invited a selection of journalists to join him in the cuddy for an informal chat. The refreshments included a plate of prawns,  which received the lion’s share of the press coverage. Peek was disappointed that matters of substance failed to receive more coverage than the prawns did.


A stickler for discipline, when the occasion required it he could observe the spirit rather than the letter of the law. In Tobruk he learned that a ‘shady’ investment scheme was operating in a mess deck, with contributions each pay day. Peek stopped the scam but took no disciplinary action; the investments, and their earnings, went to a worthy charity in Victoria.


After retirement he continued to contribute to defence policy until very recently, with experienced commentary and, when he thought it appropriate, trenchant criticism. He was one of a small and select group of prominent people who publicly opposed Australia’s involvement in the second Iraq War.


The pungency of Peek’s buggy old pipes is well remembered, and even stronger were his Borneo cheroots. His love of the weed didn’t seem to shorten significantly his long life.


He is remembered as gentle and considerate with his juniors, both officers and sailors. He stood no nonsense and would fight tooth-and-nail for something he believed in – including on occasions protecting his staff against criticism from above. His morals were impeccable; he observed Christian ethics. He was a man of principle and moral courage.


Peter Peek married Margaret Kendall in 1943; she died in childbirth in 1946. Later he married Catherine Stops, who predeceased him in 2005. He is survived by three children, six grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.


Sir Richard died on 28 August, and was privately cremated on 6 September. His life was celebrated at a memorial service at HMAS Harman on 22 October 2010. CN, VADM  R H Crane AO CSM RAN was one of four eulogists; the others were all  close Peek family members: daughter Jane, son Matthew, and grand-daughter Catherine. The service was informal and well-attended; several retired officers of flag rank who knew Peter Peek well were among the mourners.




(This obituary was first published in NOCN 83, 1 December 2010.)



A Relative in Peking: MIDN Arthur Leslie Walker

A relative in Peking: MIDN Arthur Leslie Walker

by John Ellis (Leslie Walker was a cousin of John Ellis’s grandmother.)


(This article was first published in NOCN 82, 1 September 2010.)


As the 19th century was drawing to a close, China had attracted many representatives of Western countries eager to trade.  With the trade missions came western influences and local resentment of these influences grew.  By 1898 organisations emerged to challenge these foreign influences of missionary evangelism, imperialist expansion and cosmopolitanism.


The boxers

They called themselves the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. To the British they were Boxers.  The Qing Dynasty suppressed the Boxers initially and attempted to expel Western influence.


June 1900

In June 1900 the Boxers beseiged the foreign embassies in Peking (presently Beijing).  The embassies were in a quarter known as The Legations and were defended by diplomats, soldiers and some Chinese Christians.  VADM Sir Edward Seymour, who had been Commander in Chief, China Station, since 1898, led an eight-nation alliance of 20,000 troops and relieved the Legations.  They had held out against the seige for 55 days.


These events did not pass unnoticed in the Australia where most colonies had a Naval Brigade, a forerunner of the Naval Reserve.  South Australia declared HMCS Protector would be despatched to join the fray.  The Government of Victoria did not have a warship suitable for such operations, but declared they could send  a contingent of the Naval Brigade.  This spurred the Government of New South Wales into action and by August a contingent was ready to sail from Sydney.  SS Salamis, with the Victorian contingent aboard, called in to Port Jackson to allow the NSW contingent to embark.  The NSW contingent was under the command of CAPT Francis Hixson.


Contingent sails

The Salamis sailed from Sydney on 8 August 1900.  One of CAPT Hixson’s junior officers was MIDN Arthur Leslie Walker.


Leslie Walker, as he was known, was born in 1880 at Bega, NSW, where his father, Henry Walker, was the branch manager of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney.  Young Leslie Walker was just nine when his father died and 15 when his mother died.


Living with older siblings, he settled in Mosman where he completed his secondary schooling at Mosman High School, leaving when he was 15.  He joined the Sydney office of Colonial Sugar Refinery as a junior clerk when he was 16 and remained with the Company until he was 34.


Records lost

Records of the New South Wales Naval Brigade, a forerunner of the RAN Reserve, have been lost and the following information comes from two books published on the involvement of Australian colonial naval detachments in the Boxer Rebellion. The books are based on diaries and accounts from magazines and newspapers.


Walker probably joined the NSW Naval Brigade in 1898, aged 18. By 1900 he was a midshipman and would have trained at the site that later became known as HMAS Rushcutter.  Following the call to arms, Walker took leave of absence from CSR and was appointed to D Company of the NSW contingent, which totalled 20 officers and 242 men.


Legation relieved

Salamis touched at Hong Kong, where CAPT Hixson and five others were landed, declared medically unfit.  The ship reached Taku, China, on 9 September 1900, to learn that the Legation in Peking had been relieved over three weeks previously.  On 19 September, 300 men from the NSW and Victorian contingents landed to attack and capture Chinese fortifications at Peitang.  On arrival they found the Chinese had destroyed the fort and the Russians, under VADM Seymour’s command, had captured the position.  The NSW contingent arrived in Peking on 20 October, where their garrison duties included policing and firefighting. There were some punitive expeditions and raids on Boxer villages.


NSW contingent returns

Although the Boxer Protocol, ending the uprising, was not signed until 7 September 1901, the NSW contingent departed five months earlier.  They embarked in SS Chingtu at Taku on 29 March 1901, and returned to Sydney four weeks later.  Quarantine regulations delayed their landing until 3 May, when a belated march through Sydney was held.  Two years later the officers and men were presented with the China medal at Government House in Sydney.  Officers and midshipmen were given honorary membership of an unofficial award, the Military Order of the Dragon.


European forces looted Peking extensively and Walker brought home two large vases that he presented to a sister-in-law.

On his return to CSR, Walker moved to North Queensland and became an Assistant Inspector of Cane, a job involving visits to plantations to check growers’ methods at different stages of growth, note complaints and report on environmental aspects considered harmful to cane development.  He left CSR to grow cane on his own account at Gordonvale near Cairns, where he also owned a service station.  Leslie Walker died in 1945 at Edmonton, QLD.



Atkinson, J. J. Australian contingents to the China field force, 1900-1901, New South Wales Military Historical Society: 1976.

Nichols, R. Bluejackets and Boxers.Allen & Unwin: Sydney.1986.

Notes on the Walker Family. J.N. Walker, AM, OBE. October 1975.



Prince Alfred

Prince Alfred and Australia’s first Royal Tour

by Mackenzie J. Gregory
DukeEdinPrince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh (left), was noted for two significant events in the history of Australia. He was the first member of the Royal family to tour the colonies that became the Commonwealth of Australia and he was the first assassination target in Australia.

The second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Alfred joined the  Royal Navy and passed his midshipman’s examination in 1856. Appointed to HMS Euryalus, he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1863 and advanced rapidly to Captain by 1866, when he was also created the Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Ulster and of Kent in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of May that year. In the same year he was appointed in command of the wooden steam frigate HMS Galatea, to prepare for a world tour in January 1867.

He departed Plymouth on 24 January 1867, calling in at Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope before crossing the Indian Ocean. He landed at Glenelg, South Australia, on 31 October, the first Australian port of call for a planned five-month visit that included Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Tasmania. In Victoria, a special royal train was made up for the occasion and the Duke travelled in it to provincial towns, such as Bendigo, Geelong, and Ballarat.

OFarrellOn 12 March 1868, while visiting Sydney for the second time, the Duke was enjoying an Australian picnic on the beachfront at Clontarf, when he was attacked by an Irishman, Henry James O’Farrell (right), flourishing a revolver. Shot in his back to the right of his spine, the Prince swiftly recovered, returned to his ship, and departed for the UK in early April.

It was alleged that O’Farrell, who had a history of hospitalisations for mental illness, first claimed that he acted on instructions from a band of Melbourne Fenians. He later disputed that and, in a deathbed confession that Colonial Secretary Sir Henry Parkes initially attempted to suppress, wrote:

“I was never connected with any man or body of men who had for their object the taking of the life of the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Never was I in any other than an indirect manner connected with that organisation in Ireland and elsewhere which is known by the name of the Fenian organisation.
“I wish moreover distinctly to assert that there was not a human being in existence who had the slightest idea of the object I had in view when carrying into effect the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
“I had no foundation for saying there was a Fenian association in NSW. From continually thinking and talking of what I may still be allowed to call the wrongs of Ireland, I became excited and filled with enthusiasm on the subject.
“And it was when under the influence of those feelings that I attempted to perpetrate the deed for which I am most justly called upon to suffer.
Found guilty of attempted murder, and despite the Prince’s recommendation that the sentence be reviewed by the Queen, O’Farrell was hanged at Darlinghurst gaol on 21 April, less than six weeks after the shooting. He was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery.

Galatea 1867Galatea 1870
HMS Galatea carrying the Duke of Edinburgh, enters Sydney Heads (left) in 1867. (O.W.B. Brierly watercolour 1868.) In a later visit, in 1870, Galatea docks for routine maintenance in the new Fitzroy drydock, Cockatoo Island. (Frederick Garling watercolour 1870.)

Influential citizens of Sydney met on the evening of 23 March 1868, 11 days after the assassination attempt, to vote for a memorial to be built “to raise a permanent and substantial monument in testimony of the heartfelt gratitude of the community at the recovery of HRH.” This led to a public subscription that paid for the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s construction. A similar movement contributed to the building of the Melbourne Alfred Hospital.

However, sectarianism and bigotry were never far from the political surface in Australia in those days. What followed became an example of how an astute politician could manipulate public hysteria and xenophobia for his own political benefit. Henry Parkes used the shooting to advance public support for his personal prejudice against the Irish and the Catholics. Anticipating obstruction from Irish elements in the police force, he swore in a small army of private detectives, including ex-convicts, to track down “Fenian conspirators”. None were ever found.

Queensland visit

In 1868, before the shooting, the western railway line reached Jondaryan in Queensland, one of the greatest achievements of the government of the time. Prince Alfred was taken there to open the new extension.

The visit was reported to be a disaster right from the start. The special train carrying the Prince and his retinue of dignitaries ran hours late, arriving at Jondaryan after dark, upsetting all the arrangements for the official welcome and opening celebrations.

According to John Eggleston, of the Jondaryan Woolshed Historical Museum, the following is attributed to a Reverend John Milner, who accompanied Prince Alfred on his Australian tour:

Because of the lateness of the arrival of the train, all the welcoming arrangements had to be reorganised, causing some two hours further delay.
The Duke was confined to a small room at the railway station with his attending staff, while the squatters and other gentlemen who had assembled to welcome the Duke, took possession of the vacant carriages and settled down to their pipes and conversation, it being unclear what the next move was to be. The Duke was highly amused by the oddness of the whole affair and asked, “What came we out to see?”
The Commodore went to see what was going on and found that preparations were being made for a dinner, as it was so late.
About 10 o’clock in the evening, dinner was announced, by which time everyone was afflicted with considerable hunger pains. Some 50 guests sat down with the Duke’s party in a large tent decorated with flags and flowers.
After the Governor had made the Royal toast, the manager of Jondaryan station, Mr Graham, made a very amusing speech, presenting the Duke with a very large damper that had been especially made on the station for him, as a gift from the station people.
The Duke, in accepting the damper, said that he could not possibly eat it all himself and received it as eaten.
At this point another gentleman proposed the health of His Excellency, the acting Governor. He took the opportunity of saying how desirous the squatters were that he should be confirmed in the appointment, appealing to the Duke to use his influence with the Queen for that purpose. At that point a voice desired him to sit down, but this request made him persevere the more, as he saw that the majority was definitely with him.
After the dinner was concluded, Mr Graham invited the Duke and his party to accompany him to the Jondaryan homestead, some two miles distant, where he offered to put the party up for the night.
However, an over-zealous government official insisted that the Duke should spend the night in the accommodation that had been arranged for him at the railway station.
So the remainder of the Duke’s party departed with Mr Graham for Jondaryan, leaving the Duke to the enjoyment of his dreary quarters.
The following morning, Mr Graham invited the Duke and his party to spend the day hunting, as there were plenty of kangaroos, emus and plain turkeys to be had on the Downs. The Duke being a keen sportsman, expressed his delight at the invitation, adding that it would help to loosen up his cramped muscles from the past night’s sleep.
However, the official organising the tour said the Duke’s schedule could not allow him the time to do that, as so much time had been lost on the previous day.

Prince Alfred was not impressed with his visit to Jondaryan, for on his return to England, he is reported as having told his mother, Queen Victoria, “In New South Wales they shot at me, in Victoria they mobbed me, but in Queensland they sent me to Jondaryan and inflicted me with over-zealous officials.”


On 23 January 1874, Prince Alfred married Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, second daughter of Tsar Alexander. They had four daughters and one son, Prince Alfred Alexander.

Prince Albert
Prince Alfred in later life.

Prince Alfred senior remained an active and highly successful naval officer. He served with distinction in many appointments, promoted RADM in 1878 and ultimately FADM 1893.

When the Prince’s uncle Ernst died in August 1893, Alfred succeeded to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. At first he was regarded with a degree of coldness as a foreigner, but by the time of his death he had essentially won over his subjects.

Prince Alfred Alexander, the much indulged only son and heir to the Duchy, became entangled in a scandal involving his mistress and shot himself in a suicide attempt in January 1889, during his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary celebrations. He briefly survived the shooting, but was banished to Meran, a spa in the Italian South Tyrol, ostensibly to recover. He died two weeks later on 6 February.

Prince Alfred senior died on 30 July 1900. He was buried in the ducal cemetery outside Coburg, Germany. A nephew, Prince Charles, succeeded him to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Diver blown up, sir

Diver blown up, Sir


Another distinguished entry in the Naval Officers Club Literary Prize competition, 2001, this essay was published in the Naval Officers Club Newsletter No 48, March 2001, pp 4-5.

I had often wondered what it would be like to put on one of those – now old fashioned – diving suits and explore the bottom of the sea and it was while serving on a West African station, during World War II, that the chance arrived for I happened to mention it to the Base Diving Officer over a couple of pink gins.

“Of course you can have a go,” he replied, and fixed it for three days time.

The morning arrived and I stepped happily into the small launch that whisked me off to the diving-boat stationed in the centre of the harbour. I arrived, grinning away and imagining myself, in a few minutes time, tripping lightly over the ocean bed and gambolling with the mermaids – or what you will.

“It’s simple…”

“It’s simple,” said the Diving Officer. “Just go down, walk around a bit, and come up when you’re tired.”

Ha! So might an Indian Fire-walker nonchalantly explain his act to an innocent bystander. One look at the diving boat filled me with misgivings. It was stacked with pipes, poles, horrible looking bits of steel and other instruments of torture. Over this, stared five villainous faces, grinning, a mixture of black and white. This was the Diving Officer’s crew, my harbingers of doom.

“Now, we’ll just get you dressed,” said a smiling sailor, with what looked like an evil glint in his eye. So, like Sir Galahad arming for the tilting green, I was surrounded by minions eager for the fun. Dressing? Sir Galahad could not have suffered more. First, I had to step into a one-piece suit, through the neck, which was much too large and I consequently got lost inside. It took some time and a lot of swearing before it was finally adjusted to my size.

Small wrists

Next, my feet were strapped into two large wooden boots that had obviously survived the Spanish Inquisition. Then, I was told to force my hands through the small rubber openings at the end of the sleeves. They needed no forcing. The mouth of the rating curled with scorn. “What small wrists you’ve got!” he remarked, and had to fix on two rubber bands, which almost stopped my bloodstream for the rest of the morning. Then came a pad for my shoulders on which was placed a large steel plate, which was clamped down with nuts and bolts.

Finally came the helmet, which was screwed down on to the plate. It had three little windows; one on either side and one in front, the glass of which was not yet placed into position, so I could still breathe God’s good air.

helmet“How do you feel?” asked the Diving Officer.

“Fine,” I managed to choke out through my little window. In fact I felt completely cut off from everyone and everything.

“Well, just sit there a minute until the other diver comes up,” he said, and I began to hope the other diver would never come up.
Just sitting there, doing nothing, had a dreadful effect. I began to think about the possibilities of sharks. I could imagine air pipes breaking, boats getting wrecked, air raids that would leave me forgotten down below, and my emotions were working to a climax when one of the crew yelled out, “Diver blown up, sir!”

I shot to my feet expecting to see a horrible mass of blood and bone, when I realised it was just his quaint way of reporting that a diver had come to the surface.

“What’s the matter, sir?” asked a grinning sailor. I mumbled something about cramp, and prepared for the worst.

The next feat I had to perform was getting over the side of the boat on to a steel ladder. When I tried to step briskly over, I found that my feet were rooted to the deck.


“You can’t lift your feet over with those boots on,” said the sailor, sighing. “You have to swing each one over the side.”

So I swung one foot over with such violence that I was nearly precipitated into the water there and then. Luckily it landed on the ladder. I swung out the other foot, which went too wide and left me standing crossed legged. However I managed to stay in this position while they fixed on two heavy weights; one on my back, which pulled me back towards the sea, and the other on the front, which shot me up again.

“You now weigh over two hundred pounds,” said the Diving Officer cheerfully. He then tried to explain the intricacies of the air valve at the side of my helmet. Apparently one let it alone until one wanted to return to the surface and then one pushed the button and screwed it in.

“Now,” continued the Diving Officer, “when you get beneath the surface, push in the button for a moment. We want to see if your suit’s leaking. If you’re O.K. we’ll tug your lifeline once and you can carry on down.”

I was just about to enquire what would happen if my suit was leaking, when he fired his parting shot. “Don’t worry,” he said. “When you get to the bottom, Petty Officer Jones is waiting to take you around.”

Sea monster?

He could not have created a better effect had he told me that a sea monster was awaiting me. For it was only yesterday that I had put Petty Officer Jones on a charge for smoking whilst on duty and I could imagine him waiting for me with a certain amount of satisfaction. However, before I could abort the mission, the front glass was screwed into place and I found myself in what seemed like a small cage, breathing rubbery air.

I was given the signal to dive and, murmuring a short prayer, I jumped into the sea. Forgetting all about the button, I sank, whether the suit leaked or no, and landed fair and square in the mud. Opposite me a shape appeared: Petty Officer Jones.

Now, I don’t know if it was an air pocket or something wrong with my suit but my left arm shot up in a magnificent Nazi salute and nothing would keep it down. Jones tugged at it but it floated gracefully up again. He tried shifting weights, did funny things to my air valve, which made a nasty noise. He even hit it in a fit of temper, but it was of no avail and I was forced to proceed like a fanatical German officer expecting all the fish to shout, “Sieg Heil!”

… leading the blind

Up to this moment, the pressure on my legs hadn’t worried me and it was not until Jones signalled me to walk forward that I became acutely conscious of it. I reeled on my heels like a drunken man for a moment and then fell flat on my back like an actor executing a spectacular death scene. I could do nothing until Jones put a rope around me and hauled me to my feet. Then, adjusting my air valve until I was buoyant enough to walk, he took both my hands in his, as though leading a blind man, and I started off.

Alas, after a few steps I found I had no control. With the extra buoyancy I was bobbing around like a balloon. I grabbed at Jones and we twirled round and round like a couple of mad dancers until our air pipes and lifelines got hopelessly mixed up and I had to stand while he untangled the mess, and I was certainly grateful that I couldn’t hear what he must have been saying. I couldn’t see much because, by now, the mud was so churned up that it resembled a heavy mist.

For something to do, and to keep my courage up, I explored my helmet. I found a little tap and turned it. This produced a sharp jet of water in my face. To this day I don’t know what it’s for. Unless it’s a trap for mugs like me.

Finally the signal came for me to return to the boat: two sharp tugs on my lifeline, which scared the hell out of me. I can imagine the sigh of relief Jones gave as he screwed down my air valve. I slowly rose to the surface, my left arm still extended, as though presenting a sword to King Arthur.

Now, some kind person could have explained beforehand that all I had to do was to let out some air to keep me vertical. But, no. My suit inflated to bursting point and I floated horizontally, incapable of doing anything. They pulled at me with boat hooks, pushed me with poles, threw ropes, screamed and shouted, while I could only wait until a sailor would cry, “Diver blown up, sir!”

At last I was deflated, dragged aboard and sent ashore, being quite definite in my mind that it would be a long time before any other ambitions were going to be realised.