Reception in Brisbane

The arrival of the Gayundah met with mixed reactions. Much comment was made regarding the supposedly displeasing lines of the craft.

The Brisbane Courier, Sat 28 March 1885 stated

This gunboat, the first of Queensland’s projected navy, arrived in the river yesterday, and cast anchor in the Garden Reach about 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  A very ugly craft she is to look at, with none of the trimness of fine lines one naturally associates with vessels of her Britannic Majesty’s Navy. Of course it is understood that the days of majestic beauty and symmetry have for ever departed from the Royal Navy, and in their stead utility reigns supreme, but nevertheless some of the British ironclads in their severe simplicity of outline possess a terrible beauty of their own. These remarks are, however, by no means applicable to the Gayundah.
Viewed from the water she is ugly enough in all conscience in appearance. A two-masted vessel painted a grayish colour with a dirty yellow funnel springing from amidships, she strikes the eye at once as being something out of the run of ordinary craft, so that one is tempted to ask “What sort of a vessel is that?” and on being told that she is a gunboat, all wonder ceases, for to gunboats and hopper barges alike is granted the privilege of assuming shapes quite contrary to the generally received idea of what a symmetrical vessel ought to be. “She walks the water like a thing of life” (a hackneyed phrase, tis true, but yet how valuable to launch and shipping reporters!), could never be said truthfully of the Gayundah.

The reporter went on to describe the vessel:

A side view of this craft reveals a stumpy vessel some 120ft. long, high out of the water, and as has been mentioned above, painted of a grayish hue. She is very broad in the beam, being no less than 26ft in breadth. Her stern is rounded, and protruding over it is seen the long, lean, and cruel looking barrel of a 6in. Armstrong gun with its muzzle stopped for the time being with a brightly-polished plug of glittering brass. The gun is also painted gray, with the exception of the brass-work about it, which is polished to the pitch of perfection.  Forming a semicircle round the gun with an embrasure through which the muzzle protrudes is a shield of iron rather more than an inch in thickness, covered with a roof of iron sloping at an angle of almost forty-five degrees upwards from where it is joined to the perpendicular sides. The fire of the gun can be trained an entire semicircle – that is, it can fire at right angles to its present position parallel to the ship’s keel either on the starboard or port side. The gun itself on closer acquaintance is a thing of mystery to a peaceable citizen. At its side and rear are several levers and wheels, which he is informed are used for raising and depressing or wheeling the gun. He accepts the information thankfully, and retires as wise as when he came aboard. The shield works round with the gun, so that in whatever direction they are firing the gunners are to some extent protected, but it seems sufficiently fragile, and, though probably proof against bullets, would be of little use against the projectiles of a heavy gun.

The most curious feature to an unsophisticated observer about the Gayundah is the peculiarity of her bows, which seem cut away for the space of some 15ft. or 20ft. from the cutwater. A space of about the size indicated forms a level platform not far above the water’s edge, and over which the waves can wash freely. At the extremity of the ship’s bow is a small flagstaff with a gilt head, from which floats a miniature Union Jack. Behind this platform rises a perpendicular wall of iron, through whose circular embrasure projects the muzzle of an 8in. 12-ton Armstrong gun. The sight of the gun at once suggests the raison d’etre of the low-lying platform in front. It is to give the huge engine of destruction a clean sweep before it, so that it can fire with no obstructions in its way. True there are the foremast stays and iron stanchions of the temporary railings that run round the sides, but these would be removed when the vessel was cleared for action,   so that the gun could have full scope. Its range, we believe, is about eight miles.

Over this gun is the upper deck, which forms an enjoyable though somewhat circumscribed promenade, and on this deck is a kind of conning tower protected by an iron shield in front and at the sides, but open and unprotected in the rear. Inside this conning tower is a wheel whereby the vessel can be steered. There is also pneumatic communication with the fore-and-aft magazines and engine-rooms, in addition to which there is an apparatus for starting, stopping, or regulating the engines and a compass, so that one man in action could work the ship alone from the conning tower. On the upper deck were hanging at the time of our visit two canaries in separate cages, whose cheery twittering revealed that they at any rate were not aware that they were inmates of such an instrument of destruction, and loudly proclaimed that they were very pleased at seeing green grass and trees once more after their long voyage of so many thousand miles over the sea.

Descending from the upper deck and going aft to the poop or quarter-deck, where the 6in. gun, with its shield, reposes in the majesty of unruffled might, two machine guns may be noticed, fixed to the bulwarks, one on the starboard and one on the port side, working on a swivel, and firing either fore or aft or broadside on, as the exigencies of the case may require. These guns are both of the Nordenfelt type, the one on the starboard side being of a large bore, and the one on the port side having a bore very similar to that of a Martini-Henry rifle. The larger bored gun carries a large heavy steel bullet capable of piercing the armour of any ordinary torpedo boat, while the smaller Nordenfelt is more adapted for repelling boarding parties, its projectiles being intended more for men than for iron or steel.

Going forward, one noticed in the racks above boarding pikes and cutlasses, and axes on the walls. The mail had just come on board, and it was interesting to observe the eagerness with which the men crowded round to receive their letters – some from wives, some from friends, but the large majority from sweethearts, judging from their very audible comments. In this part of the ship the large gun forward is served, and a carpenter’s bench is fitted up with every appliance for sudden and necessary repairs. A spare propeller is also to be seen on the port side. But taking it altogether, the interior of the ship gives one the impression more of a workshop than of a man-of-war. The confined space, the smell of oil, paint and pitch and the dirtiness apparent everywhere, save on the guns and arms, seem quite out of keeping with the general idea of what a man of war ought to be and one leaves the Gayundah with a feeling akin to disappointment.

and ended without resisting the opportunity to again malign the vessel with a back-handed compliment.

As a vessel for river service, or assisting troops on land, she would be invaluable, but her shrift would be short if she came within the range of a modem ironclad, for an 18-ton gun would blow her clean out of the water It is true that on the occasion of our visit everything was in confusion, as she had just arrived in port, and doubtless after a few days at anchor she will look more trim and neat after her long voyage, but still the long and the short of it is that she is an excessively ugly craft, both inside and out, although on the principle of a bulldog – the uglier the better – she may turn out of considerable service in time of war. She will only be able to use one gun at a time, and consequently will be of little account in the face of a heavily armed enemy. But, nevertheless, she is the nucleus of what may in the future be a powerful navy, and as such should be admired and respected by all true Queenslanders.

…Additional content to come…