Colonial Forces Study Group (Qld)

Queensland Military History: 1860-1901

Forces Afloat

Queensland Marine Defence Force The Queensland Government’s establishment of a naval-based coastal defence force, was the result of the Jervois-Scratchley scheme of defence begun in the late 1870s. In 1882 the Government authorised purchase of two Alpha class gunboats for the colony. A torpedo boat, the Mosquito, was also ordered and arrived first as deck cargo in October 1884. The gunboats, Gayundah and Paluma, indigenous words meaning Thunder and Lightning, were launched in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1884 and steamed to Brisbane. Lieutenant Walton Drake, RN, and Sergeant-Major Blake, a former sailor, were the most experienced ex-naval men available to the Government upon arrival of the Mosquito, and it fell to them to get that vessel operational. Drake also established Naval Brigade companies, mostly experience seaman who could man the Government vessels yet also act as naval infantry or artillery forces, in most of the major ports of the colony.

The Gayundah, under the command of a Royal Navy officer Commander Henry Townley Wright, arrived in Brisbane at the end of March 1885. On arrival of the Gayundah, those of its crew who elected to remain in Queensland’s service became the first permanent members sailors of the QMDF. The Paluma arrived in May 1885, crewed and equipped by the Royal Navy to act as a survey vessel for the British Admiralty, a task it undertook until 1894. At certain times most years the Paluma joined the Gayundah and other vessels and operated as a training platform for seamen of the QMDF. The locally built steamer Miner joined the naval force in May 1887. It was built specifically to lay mines as part of the defence of the Brisbane River, however its design was flawed and it was ultimately considered not up to the task. Queensland acquired the piquet boat Midge in 1887. Also used in the training of naval brigade personnel, in its later life it was equipped with Whitehead torpedo dropping gear, extending its usefulness. A depot and wharves for the QMDF were constructed on the river beneath the Kangaroo Point cliffs in 1887. They contained workshops, boatsheds and a gun deck on which heavy ships guns were mounted for training purposes. A number of hopper barges being used by the Government to dredge ports and rivers were designed to mount a 5-inch naval gun in times of war. These barges also came into service from 1887.

A Permanent Force, HMQS Gayundah, QDF (Marine) was established in February 1892. Most of the Gayundah’s fulltime crew were paid off however in 1893 as part of the defence force financial cutbacks, and so too the Paluma’s crew after completing the Admiralty survey work in 1894. The Naval Brigade companies continued to operate throughout the 1890s, though by 1900 only small permanent crews existed for both HMQS Gayundah and HMQS Paluma. All the existing forces passed into Commonwealth service after Federation, which ultimately became the Royal Australian Navy.

For further reading see:

Queenslander article of 2 April 1887 on the launch of the hopper barge 'Bonito'.

An extract from the report on Queensland naval guns located in Alexandra Park Bundaberg, (reproduced with permission of the Bundaberg Regional Council.)


Drill and torpedo work by the Queensland Marine Defence Force, 1899. Collection of images displaying drill and torpedo work by the Queensland Marine Defence Force. Naval exercises are being carried out on the torpedo boat 'Mosquito' and the 'Gayunda'. John Oxley Library image#186629
Group photograph of the Cairns Naval Brigade including some children in the front row, ca. 1890. Marine based section of the Queensland Defence Force, Cairns Naval Brigade. John Oxley Library image#70183