It has often been said that a mutiny occurred on Gayundah, necessitating the involvement of police to settle the matter; and that instigator was Gayundah’s captain H. Townley Wright.
It’s certainly true that a remarkable series of events occurred however, as ‘romantic’ as the idea may be it cannot correctly be termed a mutiny.
In 1930 Gayundah sank at her moorings (discussed elsewhere) prompting a newspaper article regarding the history of the ship. An outline of events was given in that article:
The Brisbane Courier. Fri 17 October 1930
The part played by the Gayundah in a lively little scene compromising the position of her first commander, Captain H. T. Wright, will be remembered for many years to come. In this land action, instead of conquering an invading enemy, the gunboat was herself invaded by a squad of police, her captain taken and dismissed from the service, which he had allegedly brought into disrepute. The case was comprehensively dealt with in a “Courier” leading article on October 26, 1888. Having indulged in reckless expenditure, Captain Wright was ordered by the Queensland Government to resign his command to Lieut. F. P. Taylor. This he refused to do, preferring to arrest his second in command, and, with an attitude which savours somewhat of the Gilbertian touch, he attempted to steal his own ship. At his own instigation 35 tons of coal were placed on board the Gayundah, which, with 15 tons in the bunkers, would enable the ship to take a 12 days’ voyage. Further, under the orders of the captain, the chief steward provisioned the ship for three months. Before he could slip his cables and bid a fond but mute adieu to the bothersome Colonial Secretary, however, the latter gentleman took the wind out of his sails. The Commissioner of Police and a score of fully-armed constables were despatched to take possession of the Gayundah and remove Captain Wright from the vessel. This was done.
Of course such a mere summary cannot convey the remarkable circumstances and events which occurred. I can think of no better way to start to explore these than the 1888 article referred to above. The text of that article is reproduced here in full:
The Brisbane Courier. Fri 26 October 1888
DISMISSAL OF CAPTAIN WRIGHT.
In addition to the information published in yesterday’s issue respecting the difficulty between the Government and Captain Wright, we learn that about a month or six weeks ago Mrs. Wright called at the Under Colonial Secretary’s office and asked Mr. Gray to ascertain from the Premier whether Captain Wright could obtain leave of absence at the end of the year if be applied for it, and if so whether the Government would provide his family with return passages to England. On the matter being brought before the Premier he at once agreed to do this, and said if it would be any convenience to Captain Wright the Government would hand over his pay at once to the end of the year in order to enable him to meet any expenses consequent on his preparation for the voyage. Captain Wright then applied formally for leave as previously stated, and a reply dated 13th October was sent informing him that the Governor-in-Council bad granted him leave to the end of the year. Captain Wright then wrote to the Under Colonial Secretary, asking whether he would be allowed to avail himself of the passages which the Premier had promised to provide for him by the B.I.S.N. Company’s steamer, at any time within the next six months, as he was not then ready to go home. The Chief Secretary replied that he had no objection to his doing so. Captain Wright next applied to Mr. Pollock, the paymaster, for payment of his salary to the end of the year. The paymaster thereupon interviewed the Under Colonial Secretary and asked for authority to make the payment. The Under Colonial Secretary instructed the paymaster that as Captain Wright was not going to avail himself of the passages at once, there was no necessity for him to draw the salary in a lump sum, but that he might draw it monthly as usual. On the lßth instant the Under Colonial Secretary instructed Captain Wright by letter to hand over the Gayundah and all stores to Lieutenant Taylor, and at the same time wrote to Lieutenant Taylor, instructing him to take charge, Lieutenant Taylor being from this time considered the executive officer of the Government. He was addressed for information, and it is to this that Captain Wright took exception.
The Government having considered the matter, decided to dispense with Captain Wright’s services forthwith, and a supplement to the ” Government Gazette” was issued shortly before noon yesterday, cancelling the appointment of Captain Henry Townley Wright, R.N., as a captain in the Marine Defence Force of Queensland, and dismissing him from the offices of Senior Naval Officer and commander of the Gayundah, and from the office of Naval Superintendent in connection with the Marine Defence Force of Queensland, and further appointing Lieutenant Francis Pringle Taylor, R.N., to be Acting Senior Naval Officer and acting commander of the Gayundah in the room of Captain Wright, dismissed, and to be Acting Naval Superintendent in connection with the Marine Defence Force of Queensland in the room of Captain Wright, dismissed.
Shortly before 1 o’clock a letter was forwarded to Captain Wright by the Colonial Secretary informing him of the decision of the Governor-in-Council and enclosing a copy of the “Gazette” containing his dismissal. A letter was also forwarded to Lieutenant Taylor appointing him to act in the place of Captain Wright, together with a copy of the supplement to the “Gazette.” Immediately after the letter was delivered to Lieutenant Taylor it was reported to the Colonial Secretary that appearances on board the Gayundah indicated that the vessel had been got ready for sea. Shortly before 4 o’clock a document signed by the Colonial Secretary was forwarded to the Commissioner of Police, authorising him to take possession of the Gayundah and remove Captain Wright from the vessel, by force if necessary. On learning the state of affairs a representative of this journal hastened on board the Gayundah, and at 4 p.m. he found Sub- lieutenant Russell on deck in charge of the vessel in conversation with Lieutenant Taylor who was understood to be under close arrest while Captain Wright was in his cabin con- versing with an officer of the Colonial Secretary’s Department. The white ensign was flying astern. It appears that shortly before 4 o’clock Sub-lieutenant Russell was going ashore by request, but was met at the Edward-street landing stage by Captain Wright, who immediately forbade him to land, and ordered him to return to the Gayundah. Sub-lieutenant Russell, who is thoroughly versed in naval discipline, complied, and on going on board was placed in charge of the vessel as stated above. The sailors on board, although ignorant of what was transpiring, appeared to guess that something extraordinary was about to take place, and evidently taking the cue from the officers, watched the landing stage with some degree of curiosity. Sometime after4 o’clock a boat was seen approaching, and Captain Wright who had come on deck soon recognised Mr. Seymour, Commissioner of Police and Inspector Lewis, while on shore were to be seen twenty armed constables drawn up in the Queen’s Park within signalling distance from the vessel, and a small crowd who had followed the armed constables out of curiosity Immediately on coming aboard the Commissioner of Police called Captain Wright aside and had a conversation with him which lasted for about a quarter of an hour They then both went below to the captain’s cabin, where they were closeted for about forty minutes It is understood that the commissioner was during this time endeavouring to persuade Captain Wright to accept the situation and go ashore quietly The captain at first was not inclined to yield, but apparently finding there was no other course open, he finally submitted under protest. In the meantime the Under Colonial Secretary and Mr Pinnock came on board and also endeavoured to persuade Captain Wright to leave the ship. Having written a letter to the Colonial Secretary and had a copy made, he came on deck and read this to the Commissioner of Police. In this letter Captain Wright protested formally against the removal of his person from the ship. He also produced and read an Admiralty warrant signed by two of the Lords of the Admiralty, dated 22nd July, 1886, wherein the services of the gunboat Gayundah, belonging to the colony of Queensland, and the officers and men serving therein, were placed at the disposal of Her Majesty. Captain Wright then, under protest, released Lieutenant Taylor from arrest, and informed him that he was free to act as he might think fit. After informing the commissioner of Police that he would report the matter to the vice-admiral, who in due course would bring the matter before the home authorities, Captain Wright said good-bye to those on board and went ashore in company with Mr Pinnock. The Commissioner of Police, Inspector Lewis, and the Under Colonial Secretary also took their departure.
It appears that the Colonial Secretary had grounds for supposing that Captain Wright intended to go to sea yesterday evening and it is believed that his idea was to go to Sydney. Thirty-five tons of coal were shipped during yesterday, and this amount, with the 15 tons already on board, was sufficient for a voyage of twelve days. The vessel had already been provisioned for three months. The Senior Naval Officer was advised by the Colonial Secretary’s office some months ago that he was not to order stores except through Mr. Pollock, the paymaster, and although fully aware of this he gave Mr. Smith, the chief steward on board, written orders to obtain the provisions. The steward, who had been informed that he must obtain stores only through the paymaster, carried out Captain Wright’s order, and for doing so he was dismissed the service yesterday evening by the Colonial Secretary. It is understood that Sub-lieutenant Russell’s services have also been dispensed with for neglecting to obey orders from the Colonial Secretary. On the departure of Captain Wright, Lieutenant Taylor, the Acting Senior Naval Officer, mustered the men and read to them the “Gazette” notices dismissing Captain Wright and appointing him (Lieutenant Taylor) to act in his place. Upon receipt of the letter and “Gazette” notice appointing him as acting senior naval officer, Lieutenant Taylor was at a loss to know how to act, and in conversation with our representative he said, “While the white ensign is flying, unless I have permission from the Admiral Commanding-in-Chief, I cannot see my way clear to take command of the Gayundah so long as Captain Wright from whatever reason he may chose, flies his pennant. As matters are at present this permission must be obtained by the Government from the Admiral.” It is possible that Lieutenant Taylor will be tried by court martial for taking over the command of the Gayundah without instructions from the admiral, and in that case Captain Wright as prosecutor would have to assume the temporary command of the Gayundah. The following letter, and enclosure, are included in the correspondence relating to Captain Wright’s dismissal was presented to Parliament yesterday-
Captain Wright to the Chief Secretary,
Office of the Senior Naval Officer,
Brisbane, 24th October, 1888
Sir, – I have the honour most respectfully to protest against the action of the Under Colonial Secretary, presumably by direction from the Government, in communicating direct with Lieutenant Taylor, and asking him to reply on matters connected with this department, my pennant still being flying, and while I still hold the position of senior naval officer and captain in the Royal Navy under command of the Rear-Admiral Commanding-in-Chief, which is distinctly in opposition to the Queen’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, and the Local Regulations. By the action taken, Lieutenant Taylor is placed in an extremely difficult position, and has rendered himself liable to be tried by a court-martial should the Rear Admiral so direct. Although I have applied for leave of absence to the end of the year, which has been granted, I have not yet taken advantage of the privilege, and before I do so, the ship’s stores, munitions of war, secret torpedo volumes, &c. must be gone through, and a receipt and supply note exchanged in the usual form. In my letter of the 17th instant, to which I have not yet received a reply, I pointed out that I applied for leave at your suggestion, and under certain conditions which it now appears will not be complied with. My only idea in taking advantage of your offer of leave was to sever my connection with your Government at the earliest possible moment, which cannot be the case if the conditions which were offered at the same time are not adhered to. I regret that I cannot but look at the action taken by the Under Colonial Secretary as an intentional slight on my official position, which reflects on the Service for which I have the honour to belong, and, therefore, consider it my duty to report the case to the Rear-Admiral Commanding-in-Chief for transmission to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, I beg to enclose for your information a memo, which I have addressed to Lieutenant Taylor on the subject. – I have, &c.
H. Townley Wright, Captain R.N. and S.N.O
Captain Wright to Lieutenant Taylor.
Office of the Senior Naval Officer, Brisbane, 24th October, 1888
Memo. – Referring to your letter of yesterday’s date in which you state “I have this day received peremptory instructions from the Government to at once take over charge of the Gayundah and all stores belonging to the Naval Defence Force of the colony. In accordance with these instructions it is my intention to do so, and read my authority to the crew and all others attached to the department. Hoping you will see that no alternative is left me under the circumstances”, added to the fact that you informed me you had been in correspondence with the Government direct, instead of through me as your commanding officer, in opposition to the Queen’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, and Art. 293, sec. 35 of the local regulations. I wish to make the following remarks:- 1. Although I have applied for and been granted leave of absence till the end of the year, I have not yet taken advantage of this privilege, and until I do so and formally hand over command and charge of all stores, guns, arms, munitions of war, secret torpedo volumes, &c., I direct by virtue of the commission I hold from His Excellency the Governor, and the Order-in-Council placing the Gayundah and all officers and men serving thereon under the command and orders of the Rear-Admiral Commanding-in-Chief, and by the commission which you hold from His Excellency the Governor, that you will obey all lawful commands from me as your superior officer, and comply in every respect with the regulations which are laid down for your guidance. 2. Recognising the delicate and difficult position in which you have been placed by the cult position in which you have been placed by the action of the Government I am not inclined to take extreme measures in this case, but would like to point out that you have laid yourself open to be tried by court-martial should the Admiralty so direct. 3. As I have already informed you on the quarter-deck, you are to consider yourself under arrest, and as I do not wish to place you under unnecessary restraint, you need not confine yourself to the ship, but clearly on the understanding that while such arrest continues you will comply with the regulations laid down in the Act above referred to. 4. I shall forward this case to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, through the Rear-Admiral Commanding-in-Chief, with the view, if possible, of preventing the slight which, by the present action of the Government in this matter, is placed on the Royal Navy being repeated at any future time.
H. Townley Wright, Captain R.N. and Senior Naval Officer.
The following extract from minutes if proceedings of the Executive Council, at a meeting held on the 24th instant, contains a brief statement of the position taken up by the Government in this matter :-
His Excellency the Administrator of the Government, at the instance of the Honourable the Colonial Secretary, in the absence of the Honourable the Chief Secretary, places before the council a letter which has been addressed to the Chief Secretary by Captain Wright to-day, enclosing copy of a memo, which he had forwarded to Lieutenant Taylor, informing him that he had been placed under arrest for communicating direct with the Government. The Colonial Secretary at the same time informs the Council that, on the 13th and 16th instant, letters were addressed to Captain Wright by the Under Colonial Secretary, informing him that, in compliance with his request, leave of absence to the end of the year had been granted to him, and requesting him to hand over command of the Gayundah and the charge of the naval stores to Lieutenant Taylor. Further, that upon ascertaining that Lieutenant Taylor had been placed under arrest, he requested the paymaster, verbally, to inform him that he desired his presence in the Chief Secretary’s office, and that Captain Wright, upon hearing of this request, caused Lieutenant Taylor to be informed that if he attempted to leave the ship he would place him under close arrest. As the Colonial Secretary is of the opinion that Captain Wright, upon receipt of the letters before referred to from the Under Colonial Secretary, ceased to have any Executive authority as senior naval officer, Lieutenant Taylor, in replying to communications addressed to him by the Chief Secretary, was merely carrying out the directions of the head of his department, and, as the action of Captain Wright is clearly in open defiance of the Government, the Colonial Secretary has no alternative but to recommend that Captain Wright be dismissed from the offices as commander of the Gayundah, senior naval officer, and naval superintendent. The council advise as recommended.
Captain Wright, in his letter to the Government, emphatically protests against the forcible removal of his person from the Gayundah at the command of the Commissioner of Police. He also states that he and his officers and the men under his command are under Her Majesty as represented by the Imperial authorities. With the wish to avoid further scandal he accepts his removal under protest on behalf of the Rear-Admiral, to whom he intends to apply for protection. To this letter no reply has been returned on behalf of the Government.
You are no doubt pondering that ageless question “What happened next? So was I. Fortunately the following day’s edition provides more information.
The Brisbane Courier. Sat 27 October 1888
CAPTAIN WRIGHT AND HIS DISMISSAL.
Yesterday morning Captain Wright wrote to the Colonial Secretary in.reply to the letter received informing him of his dismissal. In his reply Captain Wright acknowledges the receipt of the letter and “Gazette,” and goes on to say –
” I beg most respectfully to protest against such dismissal as being unjust unconstitutional, and illegal, and under protest must accept the notion your Government his taken in regard to the offices of Senior Naval Officer and Naval Superintendent. I regret, however, that I am powerless to accept my dismissal from Her Majesty’s Ship Gayundah, holding as I do a warrant from the Admiralty justifying my action, until I communicate with the Rear-Admiral Commander-in-Chief, and receive his instructions on the subject. I wish again to protest against the indignity to which I, as a captain in the Royal Navy in legal command of one of H.M. ships, was yesterday subjected, by being forcibly removed whilst in uniform from that ship. I would respectfully point out that the unseemly haste with which your Government has acted in this matter has apparently prevented the cause or result of Lieutenant Taylor’s arrest being correctly arrived at. This officer was placed under restraint by reason of his having intimated to me in writing that he proposed to take command of the ship out of my hands, at which time I held both Imperial and colonial authority for holding my command, and by so acting Lieutenant Taylor committed a most serious breach of naval discipline. It is doubtless within your memory that on a previous occasion, when an officer of the ship committed himself, I was informed by the late His Excellency the Governor that the Order-in-Council placing the Gayundah and the officers and men serving therein under Imperial flag was no empty compliment, but carried something much more weighty with it, and that for all matters of discipline the officers and men serving in the Gayundah were amenable to the Admiral in command of the station, and to him only. The opinion of Crown Law Officers and of the law officers of the colony coincided with that of Sir Anthony Musgrave, and I was directed by the Minister at the head of my department to act as though I was in command of one of H.M. ships composing the Imperial squadron, and I acted accordingly. Being guided by those instructions, I have pursued a similar course of action, which I regret has not met with your approval, in this case.”
The ex-chief steward (Mr. Smith) called on the paymaster yesterday morning and asked for his discharge as he said he could not afford to be idle, having a wife and family to support. The paymaster obtained the discharge for him as requested from Lieutenant Taylor.
Lieutenant Taylor, the acting senior naval officer, presented himself m full uniform yester- day morning to the Chief Secretary and to the Colonial Secretary to report himself and inform the head of his department that he had commissioned the Gayundah.
It may be added that the Naval Defence Force is properly under the control of the Chief Secretary, but as the present mutter has arisen dining the illness of Sir T. McIlwraith, it has been attended to by the Colonial Secretary without troubling Sir T. McIlwraith. The whole credit for the prompt steps taken is .therefore due to Mr. Morehead, whose action it is understood, was fully endorsed by his chief when the latter was made acquainted with the facts.
Thereunder was printed:
To the Editor of the Brisbane Courier.
Sir, – I shall feel much obliged if you will insert this letter, with enclosure, in your next issue, to correct some inaccuracies which occurred in the leading article of the Courier of this date.
- Wright’s interview with the Under Colonial Secretary was entirely without my knowledge, nor was I made aware of it until after Mr. Gray’s reply, which I enclose, had been received. It will be observed that this letter alludes to no conditions.
- During this interview Mrs. Wright made no suggestion or allusion with reference to my applying for leave. The idea originated at the Colonial Secretary’s office.
- During my controversy with Sir S. Griffith, as the matter under discussion did not refer to a breach of discipline, I carefully avoided any allusion to Imperial authority or the white ensign, and the inquiry for which I asked was not in any way connected with the Imperial officers. I am, sire, &c,
H. Townley Wright. Captain R.N., Brisbane, 26th October, 1888
Colonial Secretary’s Office,
30 August, 1888
Dear Mrs. Wright, – Shortly after you left me this morning I made a point of seeing the Premier on the subject of Captain Wright’s position.
Sir Thomas informed me that it was not the intention of the Government to retain Captain Wright’s services after the close of the year, and that there was little prospect of his obtaining an appointment in any other branch of the service.
He, however, states that if it would be of any convenience to Captain Wright, or prevent inconvenience, he would be prepared to at once grant him leave of absence to the 31st December, and pay him, in a lump sum, the amount of his salary to that date. – Your truly
From these reports we can see that the Queensland Government was not planning to retain Captain Wright’s services (in any capacity) post December 1888, and that they were prepared to grant extended leave, wages in advance in a lump sum, and steamer passage for the family’s return to Britain. These seem calculated toward encouraging Captain Wright’s departure as soon as possible. When Captain Wright subsequently stated he’d defer his return to Britain the government agreed (they could hardly do otherwise) but reneged on the payment of wages in advance by the logic that these funds were not required by Captain Wright to facilitate his return, if he was not yet departing.
So why was it that the Queensland Government was so keen to rid themselves of Captain Wright? This is referred to, briefly, in the Courier’s 1930 article (quoted above) where it is stated “her captain taken and dismissed from the service, which he had allegedly brought into disrepute” and “Having indulged in reckless expenditure, Captain Wright was ordered by the Queensland Government to resign his command”.
So it seems that the matter of his personal finances had become public, and possibly an embarrassment to the Government. Was it Captain Wright’s own behaviour that was bringing the Navy into disrepute, long before the allegations he himself made regarding the Governments actions at his removal?
Digging further we find….
Captain Wright, an Englishman, was appointed Senior Naval Officer of the Queensland Defence Force in 1881, after retiring from the Royal Navy.
His four-year career in Queensland was marked by several controversies, including an apparent lack of discipline amongst the Gayundah crew. Reports from the time say some residents of Kangaroo Point lived in fear of unruly sailors.
Wright himself was an undischarged bankrupt. His capacity for high living exceeded his salary of £600 a year. He had also been accused of misappropriating public money. A wine and spirits debt of £165 is noted. It’s also said that he had numerous items of the Gayundah’s crockery in use at his residence. By 1887 the state of his local debts had became so bad, the Queensland Government requested his resignation. Captain Wright refused.
The situation was further exacerbated in 1888 as above. There would seem, therefore, to be other motives in Captain Wright seeking advance payment of his salary other than the necessity to make preparations for departure from the Colony. The settlement of accumulated debts appears the most likely suspect.
The following article appeared in the Australian Town and Country Journal, 10 November 1888:-
Henry Townley Wright, whose name has been brought forward in connection with the dispute between the Queensland Government and himself in respect to the gunboat Gayundah, has been connected with the Royal Navy since the year 1859. He joined the old Britannia at Portsmouth in that year for his training ; and among the other young aspirants to fame at that time was Captain Lindeman, now secretary of the Marine Board of New South Wales. Mr. Wright was appointed a midshipman in September, 1865 ; a lieutenant in April, 1868 ; and a commander in January, 1876. In September following he retired from active service with the rank of captain. His war services have been as follow : As first lieutenant of the Modeste he served with the Naval Brigade during the operations against the Malays in the Straits of Malacca (1875-76). When commander of the Active, in 1876, he was engaged with the Naval Brigade in the Kaffir war. His name was mentioned several times in the military dispatches with great commendation; and he received the Zulu medal, with two clasps, and the Perak medal.
After retiring from active service Captain Wright accepted an appointment under the Queensland Government as commander of the Naval Defences of that colony for a certain term, which, it is said, would expire next month (December).
The extraordinary circumstances relating to the abrupt termination of this period of service were mentioned in the TOWN AND COUNTRY JOURNAL of last week. Opinion differs very much about the correctness of the course taken both by Sir T. Mclwraith and Captain Wright. As far as can at present be understood, the Queensland Government obtained from the Admiralty permission to fly on the colonial gunboats the white ensign, which is the peculiarly distinctive flag of the Royal Navy. It is probable that a similar permission would be granted to any of the other Australian colonies, if requested. But Captain Wright seems to have thought that this privilege brought the Gayundah and himself, as commander, under the direction of the Admiralty, and freed him from obedience to the colonial government, at any rate in matters relating to naval etiquette. The Ministers think otherwise. They hold that Captain Wright is purely a government officer, and that the white ensign has nothing to do with the matter. It was for them to give orders, and for their naval officer to obey them. Certainly this contention seems to gather some weight from the undisputed fact that Captain Wright applied for his salary to the local Government, and that it was not until some question arose on the subject that the local authorities were set at defiance. But the rights of the whole affair will doubtless be duly settled in time between the Admiralty and the Government of Queensland.
1888 ‘The Queensland Naval Service.’, Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), 10 November, p. 25, viewed 29 July, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71104457