SHIP DESERTERS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
This page developed from a study of the history of Port Germein in rural Spencer Gulf, South Australia, hence particular references to Port Germein in some of the comments.

White settlement in South Australia began in 1836 and undoubtedly sailors began to jump ship soon after. It had already been happening for many years in other settled states of Australia and was a considerable problem for ship captains and local authorities.

A quick calculation of deserters from the national archives index cards shows that there were about 19, 000 ship deserters in SA from 1852 to 1928. Lists compiled by Frank and Elaine Hall, 1986, at the National Archives, Adelaide, reveal that between 1883 and 1890 there were 2559 ship deserters, mainly in Port Adelaide.

From 1891 to 1921 there were 83 deserters in Port Germein alone.

Maureen and Barry Leadbetter, on their Family History South Australia website, have a searchable database of persons Lost and Found, including ship deserters, 1838 to 1920, with some information re outcomes, if known. Their data was taken mainly from South Australian Police Gazettes, issued weekly, beginning 1862, and before that, from Government Gazettes. They say that entries usually included a description of the person- height, hair and beard colour, together with other distinguishing features.

When deserters in South Australia were caught they could be gaoled at Yatala Prison for several months. It was the responsibility of a ship's captain to report missing sailors to The Marine Board. A reward was offered if they were captured before the ship sailed. There were always people wanting to return home who could take their place, and migrants were welcome in the state. I've been told that sometimes the deserters would hide in Port Germein and that the policemen didn't always try hard to find them.

Frank and Elaine Hall have very kindly supplied me with their full lists of deserters at South Australian ports, usually Port Adelaide, but at present those from 1891 to 1910 are not available. I have compiled a list of ship deserters at South Australian outports from 1891 to 1922 from the National Archives of Australia. The cards may be viewed individually online at the archive site.

SA SHIP DESERTERS LISTS
1883-1890 2511 names
1891-1922 3558 names from SA Outports
Outports sorted by year and ship-shows up anomalies in names given for ships. I have changed some but there are many others that are not definite or that I haven't changed yet e.g. In shipping reports, both 'Brodick Castle' and 'Brodrick Castle' are used frequently
1910-1911 1147 names
1913-1922 1078 names
1922-1928 1015 names
1928-1944 1080 names
1944-1952 1432 names
The list of deserters in SA from 1852 to 1883 still remain to be compiled from the NAA, unless someone has already done it.

STORIES FROM PORT GERMEIN AREA

OTTAWAY: George Edward Ottaway was born in England. The story goes that, as a lad of 14 years, he ran away to sea. For several years he sailed the seas in a windjammer, sailing from England to Australia and returning with a cargo of wheat and wool. In those days the windjammers called at South Australian ports such as Port Lincoln, Wallaroo and Port Germein. One year when the ship called at Port Germein, George Ottaway met the daughter of a local farmer and fell in love. She was Thomasina Harry Glasson. Her father was a prosperous farmer of the district. Thomasina hid George in the haystack until the Captain gave up the search for the missing seaman and the windjammer put out to sea without him. George and Thomasina married and took up land at Port Germein. It can get confusing with the generations as they called their sons George. Dad's oldest brother was George Joseph Ottaway. His father was George Henry Ottaway and his grandfather was this George Edward Ottaway. Dad was Henry Edward Ottaway.
Virginia Ryan

NEILSEN: Samuel Neilsen was born in Randers, Denmark on May 10, 1872. He jumped ship at Port Germein in 1891. The story goes that a one-armed Frenchman called Mr Gerrard would pick up the ship jumpers at the local pub and take them to Nelshaby where he ran the Nelshaby Fairground. He'd give them a roof and feed them and they'd work there for him while they got 'acclimatised.' My great grandfather went from there to Pirie where he made playground equipment and windmills in Pirie until he eventually returned to the sea. He married the daughter of Port Pirie's Harbourmaster, Selina Jamieson on 19 May, 1896 at Port Pirie, and they had 7 children. He made a model of the ship he arrived on which can be seen in the Port Pirie Museum. It has 'The Selina' painted on it, but it is actually a model of the 'Arethusa'.
Joanne Lauritsen et al

I'm the Lay Chaplain of The Mission to Seafarers, Port Pirie. Until 2000 it was know as Missions to Seamen. I have been told that Port Pirie holds the record for the number of seamen jumping ship. I'm told that until around 1950 if a seamen behaved himself and found a job nothing much was done by authorities. While I didn't realise it a the time I knew a few men who had jumped ship before 1950.
In 2015 a Chinese Seafarer jumped ship in Port Pirie. When it was discovered that the seafarer was missing I was interviewed by Border Force and had to answer a number of questions from a check list including was I or another Volunteer harbouring him. Unfortunately conditions of some ships are still ghastly by current standards.
Ian Pole

BOHLIN: Oskar Joseph Bohlin, born 7-8-1870 in Fjallback, Sweden d.28-5-1941, Whyalla, first child and son of Carl and Helena Bohlin, of Kville, Sweden, was employed as a merchant seaman on Swedish sailing ships in his youth.
On one occasion a swell arose and it was necessary to take in sail. A seaman had to scramble across a foot rope for this purpose. Oskar's mate beat him to it but unfortunately the rope broke and his mate fell into the rough sea and drowned. It shocked Oskar to realise this terrible fate may have been his.
About 1887, on one of Oskar's journeys out from Sweden, he decided to stay in Australia and 'jumped' ship (deserted), at Port Broughton, SA. He was very young at the time. He walked inland with another deserter. Not being able to speak English was difficult at first, but he was brfriended by a farming family named Fitzgerald, who taught him the rudiments of English and gave him work on the outskirts of Port Pirie.
Oskar's many talents included seaman, rigger, farmer, canvas and leather worker. Oskar married Emma, eldest child of Carl and Emma Borgmeyer's eleven children. (Oskar and Emma are pictured right) The Borgmeyer family had arrived in 1883, on the ship 'Marsala.'
There were seven children in the Bohlin family. They moved from their first small home at the 'Two Mile' to an equally small home which they built at the 'Four Mile.' It was constructed of wood and iron, lined with hessian bags neatly sewn together and whitewashed. More rooms were added later. A little hut or two were built out the back, to hide and give temporary shelter to runaway seamen.
Even with the hardships endured at times, the Bohlin family enjoyed musical evenings on a Saturday night, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments into the early hours of next day. Neighbours would all be invited and in turn would host a musical evening at their home too. At Christmas and New Year, the Bohlins and friends would sometimes drive a horse and wagon to Wandearah, quite a few kilometres away, to purchase a barrel of beer. Friends and relatives were invited to come and celebrate the happy season and many would stay on and sleep under the big pepper trees as the weather was usually warm. On one occasion after Christmas, 1906, some of the Bohlin family visited Borgmeyer relatives at Minlaton, and on the way home visited friends at Port Germein. Oskar and Charlie rode horses and Emma and some of the younger family travelled by horse and wagon.
The Bohlin family cropped wheat and to supplement their income Oscar worked at the Port Pirie lead smelters. Due to a bad accident at work, hot lead was spilled on his back. Oskar had to lie on his stomach in hospital, unable to work for three months. Emma and the two eldest boys, Charlie and Gus, grubbed stumps by hand and sold them in Port Pirie for fire-wood. There wasn't any Social Service or Work Compensation in those early days.
Whyalla was a new township being formed but it lacked water and for some years water was carried across Spencer Gulf from Port Pirie. Oskar was employed and put in charge of three water barges that were pulled by the old 'Nelcebee,' which has recently been restored at Port Adelaide, for posterity as it is the oldest vessel of its type in Australia.
In 1920, Oskar, Emma and younger members of the family made their home at Whyalla, at the base of Hummock Hill, in Birt Street. Oskar was able to get employment as a saddler and rigger. He also did canvas and leather work for the BHP until his retirement.
With thanks to Don Ross for this information.

STORIES FROM 'EYRE PENINSULA YARNS AND FAMILY HISTORY' FACEBOOK PAGE

WILSON/WILLSEN: The family story is that my great grandfather, Charles Wilson, or maybe Willsen, Norwegian, skipped skip possibly Port Lincoln. But not confirmed. Married to Brigid Palmer in Port Lincoln mid 1860s.
Jenny Osler

ELEFSEN: Mr Doug Elefsen of Minnipa does not know much about his grandfather, Andrew Elefsen, but said he had a very strong accent and was hard to understand. He jumped ship at Pt Pirie, swam in and went over the ranges to Wilmington where he was helped by people at the hotel who hid him in the cellar when the police came. His grandfather got citizenship much later.
Doug Elefsen
Andrew Elefsen is shown in NAA as finally receiving registration in 1948. He was born in Arendal, Norway in 1872, arrived in Australia in October, 1894 aboard the 'Dunboyne' and disembarked at Port Pirie. Although he was born in Norway, at the time Norway and Sweden were united, from 1814 to 1905.

WILLIAMS: We believe that our ancestor jumped ship and was Scandinavian. But our family name is Williams so we are unsure if it is Wilhelm or another name made Aussie.
Sue Williams
I have just found him with the help of a Swedish genealogist and DNA. Charles Oscar Williams jumped ship, the Catherine, around 1852. He married under that name and said his father was Peter. Actually he was born 13.10.1852 to Hans Westergren, a sailor, and Margareta Anderson Westberg. I am still working on it. I think he didn't want to be found. His mother had an estate inventory ( an estate inventory is an inventory of all assets and liabilities on death) on her death in 1855 and it says her son, a sailor, Carl Oskar, jumped ship in 1850 and that they never heard from him and were unsure if he was still alive.
Ann Williams

BAHR: My husband's German Great-Great Grandfather jumped ship in Adelaide and settled in the Monarto area, and now we have discovered there are Bahr families that appeared on the EP. The surname originated in the Harz Mountains of Germany.
Michelle Bahr

LOUGHLIN: Around 1912 my grandfather, John Henry Loughlin, worked his way from the UK (possibly from Liverpool, where his family lived) to Port Adelaide, where he jumped ship with a mate. They put on all the clothes they could possibly wear, bought bicycles and got as far away from authority as they could. They rode their bikes through the Gawler Ranges (that's where the track was) and finished up in Streaky Bay. He & grandma lived around Streaky Bay for some time, went to Ireland for a couple of years, spent some time living in Woodville, and eventually lived in Largs Bay. I can't remember the mate's name, but he eventually settled in New Zealand. My grandparents received a Christmas card from them every year. The last card I can remember seeing was around 1972-3. I'm not aware of him having any contact with authorities. Re citizenship: Although we were regarded as having our own nationality from 1920 on, it seems that there was no such thing as Australian citizenship until 1949. Until then people from Commonwealth countries were all British citizens, from the colonies. Until 1973 British citizens received preferential treatment when applying to become Australian citizens. Many of them didn't become Australian citizens because we were all British subjects until around 1984.
Frances Feltus

ANDREWS: Phil Andrews jumped ship in Port Lincoln in the 50's. He worked at Mt Hill until the law caught up with him. Actually, the police called my Grandparents, and Grandma took the message. She (Mary Young) walked out to where he was working and called out his real name (he'd been using an alias), which he immediately turned around to respond to. After sorting out some details in Port Lincoln he returned to the farm for some time before moving on. He was much loved and kept in touch for years. He did spend some time at the Port Lincoln jail.
Ian Shepherd

Found my (unknown) great grandfather on my mum's side in 2017. He was German, and jumped ship, in Pt. Adelaide. My mother found out in 1984 when she went to get her passport that the surname she grew up with was not her birth name. Knowing her birth father's initial and surname, I found him in 'The South Australian Police Gazette.' He deserted the 'Pluto' in Nov 1882, in Pt Adelaide, aged 19 yrs, had a warrant issued for his arrest 3 weeks later, reward offered £4.00. On 9th December he was publicly declared a deserter. In those days sailors were contracted to the ship. Desertion was classified as a criminal offence, and warrants were sworn against them. If caught, they faced a lengthy prison term. He ended up at Sheringa, met my great grandmother, they had a child, my grandfather, and he then disappeared. They were not married as her marriage licence, 5 years later, states she is a spinster. This was never spoken about. Older relatives alluded to 'skeletons,' but never explained.
Diane Kolar

My FIL mother's family were Brungas from Prussia and changed name to Barunga and some Barunger after jumping ship at Port Adelaide. Name changes occurred for hiding from criminal activities as well as Germans not wanting to be sought out after fleeing from home country during the war years. Spellings of many names changed but remained similar to originals.
Pam Watkinson

HAGERSTROM: My Grandfather, Harold Hagerstrom, was on the windjammer Ponape (from Finland) and jumped ship in Port Lincoln and married my Grandmother Edna Bennett.
Melody Berden
In the booklet 'Short Stories of TALL SHIPS..and the men who sailed them' compiled by John E. Plevin for the Axel Stenross Maritime Museum, Port Lincoln, Harold Hagerstrom told his story in more detail. He said that "half the crew used to go to Bennett's and have a cup of coffee. While we were there, one of the local lads, Johnny Grahn, came in and asked if there was anyone interested in staying ashore. Well nobody was thinking about staying ashore, while I thought it might be a good idea as I needed money to go to navigation school, and wages in Australia were about four times what I was getting on the ship." Hagerstrom thought he would stay for a year and get some money together.
They ordered a taxi to meet them at Brennen's Jetty at an appointed time. Harold went back to the ship and collected his gear, helped by other crew members who got him off the ship by making a lot of noise and racket as a cover. He had a sea chest, suit case, balalaika and mandolin. The taxi dropped him off at Axel Stenross Slip. Johnny had organised fishing jobs for Harold so that he didn't come back to Port Lincoln before the ship had left. Harold worked and camped out, partly in hiding, but on returning to Port Lincoln a couple of weeks later, ran in to a local policeman near the post office corner. The policeman recognised him as the one they had been looking for, but said that Harold had nothing to worry about because the country needed more blokes like him.
Harold lived and worked at a number of jobs, married Edna Vera Bennett, born Port Lincoln 11-9-1913, in June, 1932 when he was 25 and she was 18, and raised a family. He retired in 1972 and returned to Finland in 1982, expressing some regrets that he didn't get the opportunities here that he would have got in Finland. The obituary at left appeared in "The Advertiser."

TASANEN: Also mentioned in 'Short Stories of TALL SHIPS..and the men who sailed them' compiled by John E. Plevin, is Oscar Albin Tasanen born 7-4-1902 at Pargas in Finland, who jumped ship at Port Lincoln 19 January, 1927. The booklet says he was on the sv 'Pommern' but his naturalization papers say it was the 'Herzogin Cecilie,' another famous grain ship. Like Harold Hagerstrom, he also used to go to Linda Bennett's shop in Lewis St, Pt Lincoln for fruit, drinks and cigarettes. Oscar married Agnes Duncan on 10-4-1936. Her sister had a shop on Tasman Tce. He was 33 and Agnes was 25 when they married in Whyalla.

VAHLBERG: Finnish sailor Lauri Aleksander Vahlberg born Abu, Finland, 16-10-1902, died July 1985 jumped ship from the sv 'Penang' at Port Melbourne in September, 1925 (there is some dispute about this date on his application for naturalization) together with Nestor Heinonen. They hid out and then walked along the Murray River getting work where they could. After a lift on a paddle steamer and arriving in Adelaide where they went to Port Adelaide to get work, they travelled around the gulfs on ketches, arriving in Port Lincoln in 1929. Lauri married Marjorie Bennett, sister of Edna who married Harold Hagerstrom.

HEINONEN: Deserting in Melbourne with Lauri Vahlberg, Nestor Heinonen, born 2-3-1903 at Uusikaupunki, Finland, died Sept 1963, also remained in Port Lincoln, married Iris May Biddell, and had a family. He worked as a builder and built his own fishing boat, and at one stage had the lease of Reevesby Island

CHERICO: Some years ago a lady who had come to Ceduna to see where her relative lived, told us a story about him. Alfonsa Cherico had helped save these men and some months later heard that the authorities were looking for him. As he had "jumped ship" and was living here illegally, he decided to leave town. It was around two years later that authorities did catch up with him, to give him the award for bravery!
Sue Trewartha

My g g grandfather landed on ship, a lone teenager in Brisbane. He went down Darling & Murray Rivers. Eventually he went on a march to Fowlers Bay near Ceduna. He worked there, married, started a family then moved with family to Oakvale, Streaky Bay near Calca. Farmed there until 1921.
Barry Roberts

BERG/KONTTINEN: IMy grandfather deserted his ship in Port Pirie in 1917. The ship was a 4 masted barque called "Kokohead." They brought timber from Vancouver to BHP, Port Pirie, for Broken Hill mines. When he jumped ship he went to the Russian embassy and told them he was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1884. He changed his name from Arne Konttinen to Arnold Berg, joined the Australian Army and shipped out to France in March 1917. He returned in late 1919 after being gassed twice. He married whilst in Hartlepool, England, and brought his bride (Carrie Ethel Robinson) to Australia They lived in Kilroo and Kielpa area. They had three boys and two girls, Arnold H Berg Jnr. Harry Berg, Ronald Berg, Hilda Berg and Ethel Adeline Berg. This started the Bergs on the west coast and around Lipson area. Helsinki was under Russia at the time. He did not apply for Australian citizenship until 1942.
Neville Oswald

ANDERSEN: My father, Lars Andersen, jumped ship in Pt Adelaide, late 1920s. Found my mum, who was 15, married and they ran away to Broken Hill. Eventually they lived on Eyre Peninsula in the 1960s. He never mentioned any problems with desertion. He was from Bergen, Norway.
Faye Schubert

THE STORY OF RUSSIAN JOE
There have been a few itinerant workers who made the local area their home and became local legends but as time goes on memories fade and the stories are forgotten. Thanks to Eric Mildren who penned a few stories, the story of Russian Joe has survived.Graham Waters Russian Joe worked on farms in the Wudinna and surrounding districts `up to the mid 1900's. He travelled around with his dog and his possessions on a flat top four wheel cart pulled by his horse "Billy." Joe cut scrub with a determined vigour very few could equal, with axes sharpened to such keenness it was possible to shave with them. When Joe built a shed it was built to last and he would use local timber. He also built many fences in the district. After a lengthy session of hard work Joe would relax on the booze. Joe would leave the pub with a flagon of wine, climb onto his cart and point Billy's head for home. Some where along the way Joe would fall off the cart. At that moment Billy would stop and remain motionless until Joe sobered up enough to remount the cart and continue on. I remember Russian Joe working on our farm on three different occasions. On a Wudinna Show day when we were returning home, one mile from our house we came across Joe headed to our farm to do some fencing. He offered to take me for a ride, I climbed aboard his dray and we headed for the house. On another occasion I scattered when I saw him injecting himself with insulin and he offered to give me some. Eric Mildren spent some time with Russian Joe and one day as they warmed themselves by a stump fire Joe reminisced this story. Russian Joe was raised on a farm in the Ukraine, The Ukraine tradition was the eldest son inherits the farm so Joe joined the army and arrived in Russian Manchuria when Japan and Russia were at war. (The Russo-Japanese War was a military conflict fought between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan from 1904 to 1905. Much of the fighting took place in what is now north eastern China). The Japanese army defeated the Russian army. Russian soldiers were angry and blamed their officers believing they had been poorly led. Joe's platoon was alleged to have killed their Senior Officer and then deserted en masse. Joe had to vanish. To quote Joe "we ad liddle bit reulution but I adda get out". Joe managed to contact his brother who was in Siberia, the brother had a Chinese employee who he asked to guide Joe across China to a seaport and some sort of safety, Joe admitted it was a very scary time as he was never sure that his guide would not wait until he was asleep, kill him and take his possessions. They eventually reached Shanghai where Joe signed on to a ship as a carpenter. When they reached Adelaide Joe jumped ship was jailed, released and declared Australian. Joe's love of and loyalty for his country was intense. The tragedy being he could never return. In later years he was afflicted with diabetes. He died in Port Lincoln. Known to all who knew and respected him as "Russian Joe" he was buried as "Kazemies Donek."
Graham and Elaine Waters
in his later years he got sick and dad took him to Streaky Bay Hospital. We looked after his horse, Billy, who was 25. When we moved to Port Lincoln from Port Kenny we gave Billy to Heddles at Minnipa where he lived out his life. occasionally being used to carry stumps on the cart. Joe ended up in Lincoln hospital and then moved in with us. We woke up one morning and he had died in his sleep. Poor fellow, but probably a good way to go. Dad and mum had him buried at the cemetery at Happy Valley.
Cheryl North

SVENSON: GG grandfather Gustaf Svenson jumped ship in Port Adelaide.
Tony Leonard

HENRIKSEN: My Grandfather Trygve Bjarke Henriksen, aged 20 and from Tonsberg Norway, arrived in Port Lincoln on Dec 5, 1925 on the barque Bellands. He and his friend, Axel Petersen, jumped ship. He had previously jumped ship in Sth Africa but was caught so tried again here. They ran and ran towards the hills, were terrified of a sleepy lizard, and stole some eggs from a farm. He eventually made his way to the Wimmera, Victoria, where he met my grandmother when he was working as a farm hand. They returned to Tumby Bay where he and Axel lived on the same street all of their lives. He had a billiard salon and worked as a barber.
Sue Henriksen

JOHNSON: Thomas Henry Johnson was born in England and left that country at the age of 16 when his auntie, with whom he lived, arranged an apprenticeship for him to become an officer on a tall ship, the 'Lallarook'. For a number of years he voyaged in most parts of the world before giving up his seafaring life and settling in Australia. He got as far as Adelaide where he left the ship and worked in the Fire Brigade for a while before going back to sea. He first went to Streaky Bay aged about 21, after leaving a vessel at Perlubie Landing around 1900. It is said that he walked as far as the Little Islands where Alf Barnes came across him and subsequently offered him a job. Tom married Ethel Feltus of Piednippie, in 1917. For a number of years he was employed in well sinking work then for 15 years he carried on business as a storekeeper and carrier at Haslam and for two years, towards the end of the last war, and prior to his retirement, was proprietor of the Sunshine Cafe. He was a most entertaining conversationalist and always had the rapt attention of his listeners as he told the salty tales of his life and adventures on the high seas and various parts of the world. Years after his arrival, his brother-in-law saw a request in the "Advertiser" asking for information on the whereabouts of Tom Johnson, but he ignored it and that was the last he heard of his family in the UK.
Judith Montgomerie


Page created 18-5-2020, moved from Port Germein Ships. Pt Germein ship deserters first compliled 1-4-2015. Ship deserter lists started 15-4-2015 completed those deserting at SA outports on 8-6-2020. Background is the sea at Port Germein. Coloured image is of ships at Port Adelaide from NLA. Large bw picture is from the 'Picturesque Atlas of Australasia' p. 443, published 1886; 19th century sailor images from https://maritimealoft.weebly.com/the-marks-of-a-sailor.html