SHIP DESERTERS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
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
STORIES FROM PORT GERMEIN AREAOTTAWAY: 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.
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
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
HAGERSTROM: My Grandfather, Harold Hagerstrom, was on the windjammer Ponape (from Finland) and jumped ship in Port Lincoln and married
my Grandmother Edna Bennett.
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!
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.
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
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
THE STORY OF RUSSIAN JOE
SVENSON: GG grandfather Gustaf Svenson jumped ship in Port Adelaide.
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.
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.
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