While Paluma was still under construction an agreement had been reached between the Admiralty and the Queensland government for the Admiralty to fit out and employ Paluma for survey work in northern Australian waters. This was announced by the Admiralty on 28 July 1884. Consequently, following Paluma’s trials, her main deck armament was removed and replaced by facilities for the surveyors, a deckhouse on the quarterdeck replacing the 6-inch gun and a work room forward replacing the 8-inch gun.

Paluma commissioned in the Royal Navy on 28 October 1884 under the command of Lieutenant George E. Richards, RN. She reached Brisbane on 7 May 1885.
For the next ten years, Paluma was engaged charting the waters of northern Australia, primarily within the Great Barrier Reef.

In 1893, Paluma, was under the command of Captain Pirie, RN, and undergoing refit between surveys.  A great flood on 5 February left her left high and dry in the Botanical Gardens.

The Brisbane Courier. Sat 13 December 1930


By the layman the Paluma is, perhaps, remembered best by the strange part she played in the disastrous floods of 1893, when she was flung by flood waters into the Botanic Gardens, and. by a reverse trick of the waters, lifted back into the fairway a few days later. All shipping in the ’90’s ran into the Gardens Reach to avoid the swing of the current. In 1893 the Paluma was moored there for her annual overhaul. Her engines dismantled, she was fully at the caprice of the main flood wave when it surged down to the sea. With the first force her moorings snapped, and the crest of the flood lifted and piled the ship high on to the roadway which skirts the outer walk of the Gardens. A contract was quickly called for the salvage of the vessel, and the Port Office boat, the Advance, attempted the task. Nature aided her greatly, for when her hawsers were coupled to the joining lines a few days later down came the second flood, which lifted the Paluma back into the river passage. The Gayundah, stationed near by, was more fortunate. She was in mid-stream at the time, but, having steam up, she was able to slip away and make for safety.


Paluma. High and dry
Paluma. High and dry during the 1893 Brisbane floods.


Naturally, such a spectacle was bound to attract the crowds


The Queenslander (Brisbane) Sat 18 February 1893


Thousands of persons visited the Botanic Gardens on Sunday afternoon for the purpose of seeing the dreadful havoc the late flood played amongst the shipping moored in the vicinity. On entering the garden gate at Edward-street H.M.S Paluma is visible through the bunya trees, but on approaching the vessel two loaded coal punts are the first of the craft met with. These are fully twenty yards from the bank. Next to the punts is the Paluma, which has been safely ” shored” by spars which were fixed with considerable labour before the water had left the vessel. These supports have now been supplemented by large pine shores, and cables and hawsers are made fast from the deck to neighbouring trees. The ground has been dug away from her bow, and wedges have been fixed to form an even keel in order to minimise the liability to straining. The Paluma was some what knocked about by the coal punts and discharging lighters which were moored close to her, and a few dints and the absence of paint in places show that Captain Pirie must have had a very anxious time. When the Paluma’s cable parted there were only Captain Pirie, the chief engineer, and three men on the vessel, the remainder having left the ship with the longboat and a cable, which they intended to fasten to a tree. Before this could be accomplished, however, the vessel’s cable parted, and she floated downstream, when several lighters by degrees forced the Paluma to where she now lies. Three discharging lighters are close to the Paluma’s bow, and close to the lighters is the coal hulk Mary Evans, which is very high on the bank. Then finally comes the Elamang, which has her stern only in the water.

Ships ashore in the Botanic Gardens
Drawing of ships ashore in the Botanic Gardens


Photograph of ships ashore in the Botanic Gardens



Paluma high and dry at Brisbane
Recovery Efforts


Paluma was re-floated when a second flood on 19 February enabled the government steamer Advance to haul her into the water. Fortunately Paluma had sustained no significant damage.

A fascinating and evocative first had account of this episode was written by the Paluma’s commander Capt, G. Pirie R.N. and published in The Navy and Army Illustrated, Feb 11 1899 (pages 511-512).

The following short account of the stranding and remarkable floating of the “Paluma” in the Brisbane river during the unprecedented and disastrous floods of February, 1893, cannot fail to be read with the greatest interest by everyone.

In February, 1893, Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, was visited by exceptionally heavy floods, which beat all previous records, the water in the river rising 24-ft. above high-water mark, and 12-ft. higher than the highest flood three years previously, which flood had risen 5-ft. higher than any recorded before.

The amount of damage done to property was enormous, and hundreds of people were left homeless and destitute owing to their houses and property being washed away; the loss of life, too, was considerable, though fortunately not so great as was at first reported.

Two bridges were washed away, viz. Victoria Bridge, connecting North and South Brisbane, a strongly-built and handsome structure about 400-yds. Long, and the railway bridge at Indooroopilly, a strong iron girder bridge consisting of a centre span of “hogback” character, 160-ft. in extent, six 80-ft. spans, and one 40-ft. span.

During the first flood the “Paluma” of which I was the commander, was stranded in the Botanical Gardens, Brisbane, but was eventually floated off by a third flood, which rose to within 10-in. of the first flood.  There was an intermediate or second flood, which fell short of the first flood by about 9-ft.; and as the circumstances of the grounding and floating are very exceptional I propose relating them.

The “Paluma” was a twin-screw iron gun-boat belonging to the Queensland Government, and hired from them by the Admiralty as a surveying vessel to survey the coast of Queensland inside the Great Barrier Reef, and, being manned by officers and men of the Royal Navy, was commissioned as tender to the flag-ship on the Australian Station; so to all intents and purposes she was one of her Majesty’s ships.

The “Paluma” had been in dry dock at Brisbane for her annual overhaul, which this year was on rather a large scale; all the tubes had been taken out of the boilers and portions of the machinery landed for repairs; so, as far as propelling power was concerned, the ship was quite helpless.

Owing to one of the British India mail steamers having met with an accident, she had to be placed in dry dock, so the “Paluma” was taken out and towed to the Naval Depot, where she was secured to the wharf.

She had not been here many days when heavy rains began to fall; the river rose rapidly, and it was evident we were in for a flood, but few, if any, imagined it would attain the enormous dimensions it did.

On February 3 I had the ship towed over to the other side of the river, our engines and boilers being useless, and secured to a point in the Botanical Gardens where we had three years previously encountered with safety the highest flood that had ever been recorded in the Brisbane river, and I trusted that on this occasion we should be equally fortunate.

Both anchors were let go, and a sufficient amount of cable veered; steel wire and hemp hawsers were taken on shore and made fast to large trees in the gardens, and every possible precaution was taken to prevent the ship being swept away by the current that was now running very swiftly.

February 4 was employed in taking more hawsers on shore and securing them to trees, and as the water rise the ship was kept close to the bank of the river to avoid the strong current.

The scene now was truly wonderful. The river rushing along at the rate of 9 or 10 knots, bearing on its bosom houses, horses, cattle, hayricks, casks, trees, pieces of land, virtually small islands held together by pieces of scrub and reeds, and all sorts of debris.

Several very fine cocks and hens were seen on top of the hayricks, and at times we imagined we saw human beings in the houses that were being swept along so rapidly; but anxious as we were to help anyone in distress, we were unable to do so, as no boat of ours could possibly stem the current.

Several of the houses that were being carried past us had holes cut in the roof, from which the dwellers had been rescued, and we found out afterwards that no one had been carried down the river in a house.

The sound of the rushing, swirling torrent was weird and uncanny, especially at night-time, and, added to this, the heavy downpour of rain, the depressing weather, the position of the ship, which was one of great peril, and the strain on the nerves, made our position anything but enviable, and the time a truly anxious one.

About 10 p.m. I sent a party of officers and men on shore to secure a vessel that had broken adrift astern of us, and barely had they returned on board again when our port cable parted with a snap.

Arrangements were immediately made to lay out what remained of the cable to trees in the gardens; but while this laborious work in the rain and dark, through soft mud and water, was being carried out, nearly all hands being employed on shore in the work, the point to which we were secured was washed away by the ever-rising river.

All our hawsers either parted or dragged up the trees (to which they were made fast) by the roots, and the ship was swept out into the stream and carried rapidly down the river; fortunately our starboard cable did not part, so I was able to steer the ship down the river, keeping her clear of all dangers and then sheering her close in shore.

After drifting for a quarter of a mile or more we came across the A.U.S.N. Company’s steamer, “Elimang” which was lying athwart the stream, with her bow on shore, and we were able to shoot up under her quarter and secure to her. At this time I had only one officer and five men on board with me, the remainder of the ship’s company having been left behind endeavouring to lay the cable out; they joined us after we had secured to the “Elimang.”

As the river increased in volume so the “Elimang” rose higher and higher, and eventually floated and swung with the current. We were driven down on top of the “Seahorse,” a small vessel belonging to the Queensland Government, she, unfortunately, being across the bows of several craft and dredgers astern of her.

As soon as possible we got clear of the “Seahorse,” and moved the ship close up to the bank of the river, where she remained all Sunday, February 5.

During this time we were in great danger owing to the close proximity of the “Elimang” and an empty hulk, and to make matters worse four barges were constantly bumping against our sides threatening to crush us; but by getting the “Elimang” properly secured and with a still rising river, we managed  to get clear and lay in comparative safety.

At 5 a.m. on February 6 the river commenced to fall rapidly, and endeavours were made to get the ship into deeper water, but unfortunately without success, as we were unable to lay any anchors out in the river, owing to the current still running about 9 knots an hour; had we had any steam power there would have been no difficulty in getting farther out, but we were alas! helpless.

I sent a party on board the “Seahorse” to get steam up in her and tow us off, but by the time it was ready the river had fallen so much that she could not move us; so I gave orders to shore the ship up to prevent her capsizing, and laid out tackles from our masts and davits to trees, and cables from our capstan and mainmast to our largest kedge anchor and trees, and so made sure of the ship remaining in her position.

The scene around now was not at all prepossessing, a large area of the beautiful Botanical Gardens being covered in soft slimy mud several feet deep in places; the ornamental grounds and plants were smothered with the same disagreeable stuff.  Several very handsome clumps of bamboos and trees had been washed away, the curator’s house was a wreck, and everything presented a woebegone and miserable appearance.

As for the ship, she was in a filthy condition – mud everywhere, owing to the constant passage of the crew from the ship to the land and the handling of the muddy hawsers and cables; and to add to our discomforts, we could not get clean water to wash the decks, the river water being like “pea-soup”.

Near us were stranded the “Elimang” – and empty hulk – the “Mary Evans,” and several barges.  There were seventeen vessels alongside the Botanical Gardens when the floods commenced, and out of that number twelve had been swept down the river, and many of them driven on shore. We were employed attempting to clean the ship and in rescuing our charts and stores from the Naval Store and Port Office, both of which had been submerged, when, on February 12, the river commenced to rise again, and hopes were entertained that it might rise sufficiently to float us; but after the water had touched our keel it rapidly receded, and regained its usual level.

Now that the ship was high and dry, and evidently likely to remain there, schemes were proposed to get her afloat again, but all these were abandoned when we received news on February 17, from up country, that heavy rains were falling, and that a third flood might be expected. No time was lost in making preparations for this flood, by which we hoped the ship might be floated. A Queensland Government vessel, the “Advance,” was obtained on February 18, and anchored in the river well ahead of us. The river was rising rapidly, and presented the same weird appearance as at the first flood.  During the afternoon and evening some unsuccessful attempts were made by the “Advance” to move us, but the water had not risen sufficiently.

I estimated we should have enough water to float us between 4 and 5 a.m. on February 19; so about midnight of the 18th half-hourly attempts were made by the “Advance” to tow us off.  These attempts loosened the ship in the bed in which she was lying, and at 4:30 a.m. of February 19, after a very vigorous haul on the part of the “Advance”, during which her rail got under water, the “Paluma” was dragged off the bank and rode to her remaining anchor in plenty of water. The river ceased rising about 10:30, and remained steady until 3 p.m., when it commenced to fall.

On the morning of the 20th the “Paluma” was towed into deeper water, and as the river fell rapidly she was shifted still further out until she was placed in a position of safety.

Thus, strange as it may appear, the “Paluma” was stranded by one flood, and after remaining on shore for thirteen days was floated by another. The damage done to the ship was very slight, considering all the risks she had to run.



An original copy of this document has been generously donated to the Gayundah collection by York Fine Prints, to who we are most grateful.

Some more details on the refloating of Paluma

The price that was quoted to refloat her was considerable, and the Premier of Queensland, Sir Samuel Griffith, delayed his decision. For once, dithering by political leaders paid off, because with additional rainfall, the Brisbane River began flooding again. The second flood was not quite as high but the water level rose to within five feet of the Paluma, allowing the Harbour Master, Captain Mackay, aboard the government steamer Advance to attach a wire to connect the two ships and alternatively steam full ahead and full astern to rock the Paluma loose. This refloating operation took place from Saturday morning 18 Feb 1893 until 3 am the following morning (19 Feb 1893). The Paluma was also winching in their kedge anchors placed in the Brisbane River.

The above is an excerpt from an article by Dr Bill Dennison, the full text if which can be found here.



Paluma sometime during her military service.
Loading or perhaps work being carried out.
Date unknown. Photo details unknown.

In March 1895, Paluma, having completed her term of survey duty with the Royal Navy, finally passed to the control of the Queensland government. She was immediately paid off, leaving only a care and maintenance party on board, but did provide training as required for Queensland Naval Brigade.

Following Federation in 1901 the Paluma was transferred to the Commonwealth Naval Forces and served as a gunnery training ship attached to the Williamstown Naval Depot.  In 1911 she became part of the newly formed Australian Navy and remained serving, mainly on harbour duties, until finally paid off in  1916.

Paluma at Williamtown in 1914
Paluma at Williamstown in 1914



Paluma was sold to the Victorian Ports and Harbours Department in 1916 and renamed Rip. She served until 1949, employed as a lighthouse tender and on carrying out a continuous program of blasting operations at the entrance to Port Phillip.

Paluma as Rip
Paluma as Rip


She was finally broken up at Melbourne in 1950-51.