The man who, a decade later would skipper the vessel ‘Policeman’ that brought the first landing party of white settlers to Cardwell in January 1864, Captain Walter David Tayler Powell, sailed southwards past Cardwell in a makeshift cutter in October 1853, in a bid for survival. Powell had been one of 19 on board the ‘Reindeer’ en route to Shanghai when it foundered on Polkington Reef in the Lousiade Islands south east of New Guinea on September 25. Powell and his shipwrecked mates were eventually met by a Government boat and taken ashore at Auckland Point (Gladstone).
A personal story behind the landing at Rockingham Bay*
On 21st January 1864 the three masted schooner ‘Policeman’ towing the cutter of three tons, the ‘Heather Bell’ entered the calm waters of Rockingham Bay with passengers and crew who would form the first settlement at what was to become Cardwell. The owner and skipper of the Policeman was Captain Walter David Tayler Powell, my great grandfather. The Policeman had been chartered by R. G. Dalrymple from Port Dennison, Bowen and on 12 January they set out from Bowen with ‘horses, sheep, stores, materials for building and other such things’. Dalrymple was looking for an easier passage from the coast to the newly opened grazing lands to the west in the area of the Valley of Lagoons. The sea journey was slow in spite of favourable south easterly winds and it took the party five days to reach Cape Cleveland. It took some days to finally reach Rockingham Bay and then more time seeking out a suitable landing place. The ship was overloaded and therefore cumbersome to steer.
Dalrymple’s letter to the Governor Sir George Ferguson Bowen on August 1 1864 stated in part, “Our party numbered 20 souls, amongst whom were Arthur J. Scott, W. A. Tully (Commissioner of Crown Lands), Lieutenant Marlow (Queensland Native Police), P. F. Sellheim (Squatter), George M.Farquharson (of Invercauld, Aberdeenshire, Scotland), Dallachy (Botanist, sent to accompany me by Dr. Muller, of Melbourne), James Morrill (17 years with the Aborginies, as interpreter), J. Morrissey (hotel keeper), William Peters (carpenter), Waller Butler, E. Kerr and R. Ewart. Several of these names live-on, having places in North Queensland named after them.
It is likely that Captain Powell’s ship was selected because Captain Powell had previously had experience with Dalrymple when Port Dennison was first established. Captain, then Lieutenant Powell was in charge of the Native Police in Rockhampton when the settlement at Port Dennison was established.
Like so many of his era, Walter D. T. Powell had a varied and full life. Born 25 May 1831 in Bampton Oxfordshire, UK, to Archdecon Walter Postumous Powell and Matilda Perla Jones, at the age of 8 moved with his parents to Madras (Chennai) India where W. P. Powell was the chaplain to the British East India Company. Prior to taking the appointment with the East India Company, W. P. Powell was Principal of the Royal Clitheroe Grammar School in Clitheroe and rector of St James Church of England Church in Clitheroe. All of Captain Powell’s paternal ancestors that I have been able to find were graduates of Oxford University and had degrees in Arts and Theology.
Like many expatriates in India the young Walter Powell was sent back to England for his secondary and tertiary education. He did not however enter tertiary education and ‘ran away’ to sea at the age of 16 and reached the position of mid-shipman on the ‘Blackwell’. By 1852, he arrived in Melbourne and decided to try his luck in the goldfields. He was quite successful but dysentery forced him back to Melbourne where he arrived just one day late to rejoin his old ship.
He decided to return to England on the ‘Elizabeth Blackwell’ ‘before the mast’ by the way of Cape Horn. The voyage took 18 weeks. Early in 1853 with some friends he decided to join the Turkish Navy in anticipation of a conflict with Russia. However that did not eventuate and so he decided to return to Australia and signed on as third mate on the ‘Cambodia’ which arrived in Melbourne in 1853. He again went to the gold fields, this time to Bendigo where he was not successful. Following many hold-ups, many ex-sailors signed on with the mounted troopers to protect the gold as it was being transported to Melbourne. He was assigned to the Beechworth – Melbourne run but by the beginning of September decided to return to England to volunteer for the Crimea War with Russia. Consequently he signed onto the ‘Reindeer’ as an able seaman. The Reindeer was engaged in the China Tea Trade and with the ‘Chrysolite’ they set out to race to Shanghai.
On 25 September the ‘Reindeer’ foundered on Polkington Reef in the Lousiade Islands just to the south east of New Guinea. There were 19 men on board and the only boat at all serviceable was the long boat. This they patched, decked and rigged as a cutter and by it provisions were taken from the wreck to an adjacent island. It was decided to endeavour to make the coast of what is now Queensland. Owing to the fact that the small size of the boat prevented a large supply of provisions from being carried, all took to short rations from the start.
After 14 days voyaging, the boat got through an opening in the Barrier Reef and arrived at Lizard Island. Though the sea was teeming with sharks, two of those on board swam ashore to search for food and water. Neither was found, however, and it was decided to sail south for the mainland. A landing was next made near Cape Grafton just to the north of the spot where the shipwrecked crew and passengers of the brig Maria landed some 17 years later. The party was met by a number of blacks but no food or water could be obtained. Two of the party decided to stay with the blacks and work their way south. The captain warned them of the danger of this proceeding and advised them to stick with the boat. They were obdurate, however. Soon afterwards the boat was floated again and Captain Powell, scanning the shore with a glass, saw the blacks some distance off attacking the two men, so several of those in the boat went to the rescue of their mates with muskets and succeeded in frightening the blacks off. The two men it turned out had been attacked because they would not hand over their clothing. They were battered about a good deal but fortunately were not seriously harmed and as may readily be imagined not at all sorry to be able to rejoin the overloaded boat.
Two months were spent in creeping slowly down the Queensland coast, almost every effort to secure food and water being unsuccessful. Quite a number of fights were experienced with the blacks both on islands and the mainland. Some sweets which had been brought off from the wreck was drunk and served both as food and drink. When this was exhausted a tin of cobra oil was fallen back upon. Eventually Cape Capricorn was gained and there the party feasted on periwinkles and small crabs and found a plentiful supply of water. Keeping on a southerly course the boat passed between Curtis and Facing Islands and later Port Curtis Harbour was entered. Approaching Auckland Point the party spied a house and then saw people moving about.
Shortly afterwards the Government boat came off for the shipwrecked crew and in the kindly reception extended to them at the Government Resident’s quarters they quickly forgot the trying ordeal through which they had passed.
Ten days after landing from the boat Captain Powell was appointed a sub-lieutenant in the native police. In that capacity he formed a camp at the foot of what is now Albert St Rockhampton and later built what was the first dwelling place in Rockhampton for whites. Later, at the invitation of Mr Charles Archer, he removed his camp to Gracemere. While in the native police Captain Powell had many dramatic experiences with the blacks, it frequently falling to his lot to avenge killings and outrages. In 1860 he was appointed to take control of the native police in the Kennedy district, with headquarters at Bowen. Three years later he was appointed in addition, acting harbour master and pilot for Bowen.
Subsequently he resigned from the service and once more took to the sea, this time as captain of the three masted schooner ‘Policeman’ a vessel which he ultimately purchased. Still later he was chief officer of the Australian Steam Navigation Company’s steamers for a year or two and then once more entered the Queensland Government service as water police officer at Somerset. In 1878 he went to Goode Island to take up the position of meteorological observer and signalman. During his stay on the island he invented a system of signalling by flashes, using the sun by day and artificial light by night. He made the flashes correspond with the Morse alphabet so that conversation by means of the system was easy. In 1887 he was transferred to Cape Moreton.
He retired in 1901 and passed away in Brisbane in December 1906 and is buried at the Balmoral Cemetery.
* Contributed by Lin (Lionel William) Powell, Speaker of the Queensland Parliament 1987-1989, State Minister for Education 1982-1987, and Member for Isis in the Queensland Legislative Assembly 1974-1989.