- Letter Writer
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW1, Letter to the Editor
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2014 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I am a volunteer researcher of the Society making sure what may become history, and ensuring an extension of past facts is correct, which is important.
Each issue of the Review is enjoyable, however, in the March 2014 edition there is an article about the ‘Capitulation of German New Guinea’ on which I wish to take issue. In particular, on page 18 it mentions the mutiny by stokers aboard SS Kanowna which had embarked approximately 1,000 Queensland troops.
My father (Eric A. Wrigley) was Chief Officer of Kanowna and later served as Captain of the same ship. I well remember him telling me what had taken place during the 1914 incident. This is more accurately covered in the book “Mutiny” written by Tom Frame and Kevin Baker.
Kanowna later became HMAHS A62, a hospital ship with a capacity to embark 452 wounded in cots. Less than half the number of soldiers etc. embarked in August 1914. She made at least 12 voyages to Australia repatriating wounded, including Gallipoli casualties. Her sister ship Kyarra also became a hospital ship, but was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel in 1918.
My father continued in command of Kanowna into the first half of the 1920s but had relinquished command before she sank after grounding on rocks near Cleft Island in Bass Strait in February 1929.
Ian Wrigley, LCDR RANR Rtd
By Editor: The subject article does not actually use the word ‘mutiny’ but says her stokers had refused duty, and would not take the ship out of Australian waters. This is the interpretation given by Jose in the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, Vol. IX. Jose inter alia states an investigation by HMAS Sydney showed the firemen had mutinied, flatly refusing to take the vessel outside Australian waters and Captain Glossop (Sydney) ordered her back to Townsville with the troops onboard volunteering to assist with stoking duties.
Tom Frame and Kevin Baker state that Jose’s account is inaccurate. They expand upon the reasons behind this incident, noting that Kanowna was poorly provisioned with a lack of adequate stores and shortages of fresh water. The ship’s Master felt obliged to reduce the allowance of fresh water to all onboard to one gallon per day for all purposes. The stokers working in intense heat demanded more than this allowance noting that condenser water available from the engine room could be used for washing. When their demands were ignored the men refused to work.
The exasperated Master then raised a signal calling for assistance as his crew were in a state of mutiny. This was followed by a second message stating the firemen (only) have mutinied and were in custody of an armed guard. Kanowna returned to Townsville on 10 September 1914 when the firemen were placed under civilian jurisdiction and arrested pending trial.
An inquiry was conducted in Brisbane by ex-police magistrate Mr H.T. MacFarlane. The results were tabled in the Parliament by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) on 13 May 1915 – the following is taken from the Argus (Melbourne) of 14 May 1915. After perusing the report and the evidence the Minister decided: (1) that there was no mutiny of either crew or firemen, (2) that the naval officer, on receipt of the signal that the crew had mutinied, and later ‘firemen only’, was justified in taking the steps that were taken, (3) that the captain of the Kanowna acted hastily and without judgement, in dealing with the situation, particularly in reporting that the crew had mutinied, (4) that upon the firemen being placed under arrest, the military officer-in-charge should have satisfied himself he was justified in keeping them under arrest, that he did not do so, and in consequence some of the firemen were unjustly treated in being arrested at all, and others for being continued under arrest without due cause, and (5) that there was no evidence to prove the charge of want of food, and etc., for the firemen after their arrest.
As the Minister for Defence stated there was no mutiny it is reasonable to speculate that there was no case to answer and the men were released from bail.
In summary what constitutes a mutiny may have different meanings dependent upon time and place. In dealing with a critical situation in difficult circumstances, Captain Ward of Kanowna calls this a mutiny. Some time later in the calmer arena of Melbourne’s Parliament House the Minister for Defence, Senator Pearce, says this was not a mutiny. You the reader, a century later, can be the judge.