Just Plain Scared

spanish flu

Photo: People were forced to pass food, mail and goods across the closed border during the outbreak. (Supplied: Tweed Regional Museum)

Townsville relied heavily on what came in and out of its port on steamships. The railway was connected to the port, carrying cattle to the abattoirs, coal and sugar to the wharves, and foodstuffs and people to neighbouring towns. Anyone who cared to read the papers, or listen to friends or neighbours, knew the Flu was on its way in May 1919. The State government had worked hard and well to keep the state ‘clean’ since the end of January, and the City council was determined to keep Townsville clear of it too. It would probably come by ship.

Boats had been arriving from down south in the last weeks of May with Flu cases on board, including the Allinga, the Paringa, and the Wodonga––unloading stricken people and ‘contacts’ into the quarantine station. Paringa and Wodonga both had returning AIF soldiers aboard, impatient to return to their homes but who understood the grim threat the epidemic posed. The Royal Navy’s gunboat, Una, was also visiting Townsville at the end of May.

The steamer Morialta had been sent from Mackay, because that place had no facilities for quarantining ships’ passengers and cargoes. The Commonwealth Quarantine Officer (Dr Harris) wanted the vessel to undergo quarantine, but the State Health Officer (Dr Humphrey) seemed resigned to the influenza’s entry into the city. He allowed the Morialta to berth at the jetty wharves. Townsville’s own City Health Officer (Dr Nisbet) was appalled at the prospect, and resented his State counterpart’s apparent lack of concern. The City Council telegraphed protests to the Federal and State governments for permitting the ship to tie up so close to peoples’ homes. The news soon spread among the highly concerned community.

quarantine camp wallangarra Qld

Quarantine Camp at Wallangarra Qld. In response to outbreaks of Spanish Flu in southern States, the Queensland Government closed the borders and established Quarantine Camps at Coolangatta and Wallangarra. 

Townsville was far from passive. It was the heart of the Red North, surrounded by districts full of cane cutters and coal miners. The city itself was home to many hundreds of workers from the meatworks, wharves, and railway. The place was ready for trouble. [Footnote: Within six weeks there would be gun battles between police and socialists.] The powerful trade unions were in no mood for their members and their families to be exposed to a dangerous infectious killer. The Waterside Workers’ Union declared no one and nothing would come off the Morialta until at least seven days had passed.

Joe Clark was as old as the century, and an apprentice blacksmith in Townsville’s railway workshops, when he caught the Spanish Flu. He worked in what they called the ‘carriage shop’.

It was winter and a cold one. The flu was raging all over the world according to the cables. … It wasn’t long before we were all scared of the thing which we knew so little about. It came on fast and the two undertakers were busy all day long doing their job. I was still well but I had a sore throat, then a coaster called the SS Morialta landed here with two cases on board. Now, as you can imagine we were all very concerned about more disease coming to the town––so we all knocked off and marched down to the jetty to protest about it. On the way, we met Jack Macintosh, our ambulance chief complete with his mask driving the two flu cases to the Townsville General Hospital.
[Joe Clark]

Joe and his mates were already agitated, and became very angry when they saw the loaded ambulance carrying proof––within breathing distance––that the dreaded disease had arrived in their city.

It was the last Friday in May. A stop work meeting in the Railway workshops in the morning voted to join their maritime comrades in a ‘monster Union demonstration’ at the jetty that afternoon. The whole of the railway men gathered at the workshops around 2.15, and the waterside workers gathered at their union office around the same time. Several hundred men sarcastically cheered the police heading to the jetty in police vans and on bicycles. Around 2.30 Inspector King and Sub-Inspector Kenny went to meet the union leaders and Tom Foley MLA. Given assurances that the demonstration would be orderly, the police gave permission for the procession.

A few hundred railway workers came marching over the Ross Creek Bridge, led by their band. The waterside workers opened their ranks and then joined up behind the railway men. The marchers were more than 1000 strong, including the police officials who accompanied the march. They sang songs, including ‘The Red Flag’, as they made their way towards the infected ship that threatened their city. At one point the police officers and a couple of journalists took a shortcut and came out ahead of the crowd, so it looked like they were leading the march.

When they arrived at the end of the railway at the wharves, Mr Kelly (Chairman of the Townsville Industrial Council) stood up on the timber stop at the end of the line and addressed the huge crowd. He said employers thought they had the workers in the palm of their hands, and they were prepared to let influenza into the people’s homes and into the city. He said they (the bosses) were not concerned about the health of the workers, or their wives or children, so long as they got their pound of flesh, but they (the workers) were showing that day that organised labor was prepared to do something to try and stop the disease.

Mr Cameron (President of the Waterside Workers) said it was not often that anyone saw John Cameron in an emotional mood, but he was in that mood this afternoon. He said that after more than 20 years in Townsville the demonstration this afternoon was a revelation to him, and he felt the waterside workers owed a debt of gratitude to the railwaymen for their assistance in keeping Townsville clear of the epidemic. He told the crowd there had been another case of influenza on the Morialta the day before, and there would be no work done on the vessel till seven clear days from then.

They marched on to the wharf, and saw the Morialta in mid-stream, and the gunboat Una between it and the wharf. It was later reported that Inspector King had earlier talked to the ship’s captain, telling him that police could not guarantee to protect it. Captain Irvine had then sent a radio message to the gunboat, asking for its protection if needed.

… the ship that had been at No 1 wharf was pushed out between there and the concrete wharf, and in her place was a small British Destroyer full of Pommie Blue Jackets with rifles––she must have come in with the coaster. We just stood there confused as we weren’t red ragging––we were just plain scared. Then a clown named Crooksy Baker, a wharfie recited ‘The Pommie’s Farewell to Queensland’. We all just went home disgusted.
[Joe Clark]

Three cheers were given for the crew of the Morialta, and the railway band led the marchers back to town. Three groans were given as the procession passed the offices of the ‘Townsville Daily Bulletin’.

Joe came down with the Flu that night. He spent nine days in bed, but fortunately he was the only person in his house to catch it. One of his co-workers at the carriage shop went home crook, and was dead three days later.

Everyone wore facemasks covered with eucalyptus as a precaution. Joe’s mum asked a chemist to mix quinine with ammonia. She would put four drops on a sugar cube four times a day, and mother him until he’d eaten it. It was as awful as it sounds.

… you didn’t want food, and you lost your tan and all your fat.
[Joe Clark]

Hotels, churches, and graveyard were very busy in Townsville as the epidemic raged. The pubs sold a lot of rum, and the churches were crowded in June.

The churches were filled to overflowing on Sundays with a very strong smell of naphthalene on the men’s clothes. The Hermit Park and West End buses put on extra buses to the cemetery to accommodate the folks with pickle bottles and flowers to do up the graves of their loved ones. The cemetery staff had to be enlarged to accommodate the number of burials.
[Joe Clark]

Townsville’s epidemic followed the pattern set in almost every city the Flu visited. Schools were closed. Public meetings were called to organise patrol workers to go street to street, and into homes where people needed help. Hundreds of residents lined up for inoculation shots at the Town Hall. The Isolation Hospital at Belgian Gardens State School soon filled up, and a second one was opened at St. Ann’s school––and when they were both full the Council erected tents borrowed from the Army. Patients began to arrive from the Alligator Creek Meatworks, which had a severe outbreak among its workers. Nurses fell ill at an alarming rate, as did ambulance bearers and drivers. By mid-June more than 100 railwaymen, around a quarter of the workshops staff, were down with the Flu.

Everyone who wasn’t sick was busy with anti-epidemic work, or carefully avoiding contact with other people. The workers’ anger was subsumed by the impact of the epidemic on almost every part of daily life. June was spent fighting the Flu, but July would bring a new and dramatic problem––when violence gripped Townsville’s streets and workplaces––but that’s another story…

Roz Glazebrook and Matthew Wengert

2 responses to “Just Plain Scared

  1. Townsville Daily Bulletin 1919

    Townsville Daily Bulletin 1919 Influenza epidemic articles
    [search results covering period 20 May – 30 June]

    Saturday 24 May
    (By Telegraph.)
    MACKAY, May 22.
    – ‘Morialta’ (from southern ports) ordered to proceed to Townsville in quarantine

    Monday 26 May
    – ‘Morialta’ arrived Saturday night, several cases of sickness aboard
    – Quarantine Officer (Dr Harris) ordered seven cases into Quarantine Station
    – State Health Officer (Dr Humphrey) examined vessel and allowed it to berth at the jetty wharves
    – special meeting of Waterside Workers Union held at Theatre Royal on Sunday morning
    – previous resolution remained in force, ‘not to commence discharge until seven days had elapsed’
    – Mayor called for public meeting on Monday evening
    – Council committee decided to make arrangements for an isolation hospital for ‘immediate reception’ of 25 patients

    Friday 30 May
    – City Health Officer, replying to ‘a pressman’ last night: ‘We have got the true thing here, and it is showing the infectiousness it has shown in the south. The public should take all the precautions they have been advised to take.”
    – 232 people inoculated at Town Hall on Thursday, increase of 57 on previous day; Dr Nisbet and Nurse Shaw
    – Belgian Gardens School equipped with furniture and stores on Thursday patients to be moved from hospital to the Isolation Hospital to-day

    Saturday 31 May
    – ‘… monster Union demonstration taking place at the jetty’ on Friday afternoon
    – Friday morning, stop work meeting held at Railway workshops, ‘the whole of the men joined in a march to the Jetty.’
    – steamer ‘Morialta’ was placed in mid-stream before the demonstrators arrived at the Jetty
    – railway workers gathered at workshops at 2.15
    – waterside workers gathered at Union office at same time
    – ‘several hundred men’, sarcastically cheered police heading to Jetty in police vans and on bicycles
    – around 2.30 Inspector King and Sub-Inspector Kenny arrived at Union offices to talk to the union leaders and Mr T Foley MLA; they assured police the demonstration would be orderly, and police gave permission for the procession
    – a few hundred railwaymen came marching over the bridge, led by their band, about 2.30; Waterside Workers opened their ranks and joined behind the railwaymen
    – crowd was more than 1000 strong; police officials accompanied the march; songs included ‘The Red Flag’
    – police officials and a couple of journalists took a short cut and came out in front of the march, so it looked like they were leading the men singing revolutionary songs
    – speakers stood on the timber stop at the dead end of a railway line at the Jetty, to address the crowd
    – Mr Kelly, Chairman of Townsville Industrial Council, greeted the unionists, railwaymen, waterside workers, and citizens gathered
    – he said employers thought they had the workers in the palm of their hands, and they were prepared to let influenza into the people’s homes and into Townsville
    – he said they (bosses) were not concerned about the health of the workers, or their wives or children, so long as they got their pound of flesh, but they (workers) were showing that day that organised labor was prepared to do something, they were prepared to show the necessary force if they could not get their demand met by right
    – he said the railway men were the key to the position, and if they acted as one organisation then the time would be very short when they would come into their own
    – Mr Cameron, President of the Waterside Workers, said it was not often that anyone saw John Cameron in an emotional mood, but he was in that mood this afternoon; after more than 20 years, in Townsville the demonstration this afternoon is a revelation to him; he felt the waterside workers owed a debt of gratitude to the railwaymen for their assistance in keeping Townsville clear of the epidemic; there’d been another case of influenza on the Morialta the day before, and there would be no work done on the vessel till seven clear days from then
    – they marched on to the wharf, and saw the Morialta in mid-stream, and the gunboat Una between it and the wharf
    – three cheers were given for the crew of the Morialta, and the band led them back to town
    – three groans were given as the procession passed the offices of the ‘Townsville Daily Bulletin’
    – the ‘Bulletin’ reported that Inspector King had earlier talked to the master of the Morialta (Captain Irvine), telling him police could not guarantee to protect it; Captain Irvine sent a radio message to the gunboat Una, asking for its protection, which was promised

    Monday 2 June
    – 2 patients admitted to Belgian Gardens isolation hospital on Sunday (1 June); total 9
    – City Health Officer, Dr Nisbet – influenza ‘marking time’; ‘cases so far of moderate severity’; advised Mayor to close schools, but not yet churches or theatres
    – ‘There was no doubt that the influenza was in the city, and would spread.’
    – ‘There was no hope of stopping the spread of the influenza…’

    Monday 2 June
    – Public meetings of citizens for organising patrol workers – Railway Estate School, Townsville East School, Townsville West School, Town Hall, Thuringowa Shire Hall
    – Donation of cigarettes and matches to returned soldiers on the ‘Paringa’ and ‘Wodonga’
    – Staff of Isolation Hospital – Dr Nisbet, Matron Pengally, three V.A.D. nurses
    – 29 beds at isolation hospital; donations of books and magazines called for
    – Alderman Green moved resolution at City Council, protesting against Federal and State quarantine authorities allowing the ‘Morialta’ to berth at Townsville with Flu cases
    – large attendance at Flu lectures at School of Arts (Friday night, 31 May), given by Nurses Houghton, Brett, and Cloutier
    – School of Domestic Economy students made ‘dainty and appetising invalid food and refreshing drinks’; recipes written on blackboards for people to copy down

    Tuesday 3 June
    – Townsville Grammar School holds classes in the open air
    – 12 patients at Quarantine Station; Dr Harris reported ‘all doing well’
    – 8 admissions to isolation hospital on Monday, 16 patients there; one nurse ill
    – 3 or 4 cases admitted yesterday from Alligator Creek Meatworks, ‘… where there has been an extensive outbreak of the epidemic’
    – patient isolated at General Hospital (Mrs Dunstan) died Monday; nurses who were ill on Sunday now convalescent, but another nurse now sick
    – steamer ‘Allinga’ returning to Townsville with Flu cases on board

    Wednesday 4 June
    – six cases admitted to Belgian Gardens isolation hospital, 23 cases there now
    – ‘Allinga’ arrived Tuesday; two patients and two suspects admitted to Quarantine Station
    – 332 people inoculated at Town Hall on Monday
    – V.A.D.s urgently sought by Red Cross Society to train as nurses
    – ‘The more trained help there is to cope with the epidemic the less danger there will be of it proving fatal.’
    – Nurse Pengally, Matron of the Isolation Hospital at Belgian Gardens, is assisted by Nurse Hegarty, and Misses Beryl Ingham, Maud O’Donnell, and Leile Galbraith.
    – One V.A.D. is nursing a family at Railway Estate, where parents & 3 children all ill
    – Red Cross Society seeking more volunteers; will supply caps, overalls, and masks

    Thursday 5 June
    – 265 inoculations at Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon
    – limits of Isolation Hospital at Belgian Gardens school almost reached; Council will erect military tents in the school grounds, with beds and bedding

    Friday 6 June
    – ‘There seemed to be a lull in the influenza on Thursday.’
    – one case admitted to Belgian Gardens, four discharged
    – St. Ann’s school offered to Council by Bishop Feltham
    – ‘Changsha’ arrived Thursday morning, two cases removed to Quarantine Station
    – slaughtering work stopped at Alligator Creek Meatworks, due to number of sick men

    Saturday 7 June
    – more than 110 railway staff have Flu (Great Northern Railway); inc 58 engineering
    – 220 men absent from Alligator Creek Meatworks, owing to Flu; Dr Nisbet visited the works on Friday with Mr King (‘an old ambulance man’) , who will take charge of nursing patients there

    Monday 9 June
    – now only 5 patients at Quarantine Station, all progressing favorably
    – Friday, 6 admitted to Isolation Hospital, 3 discharged; Saturday, 3 admitted to Isolation Hospital, 6 discharged; Sunday, 1 admitted, 2 discharged, leaving 18 cases there
    – Friday 182 people inoculated at Town Hall, Saturday 157 inoculated; estimated about one-tenth of city inoculated so far
    – Ambulance Bearer Stevens ‘down with influenza’ but progressing favorably
    – ‘isolation quarters’ opened at Alligator Creek Works, only serious cases sent to Isolation Hospital at Townsville
    – Government Health Officer Dr Humphrey believed Flu came to Townsville by train

    Tuesday 10 June
    – Red Cross Society asking for donations of ‘old rags’ for use at Isolation Hospital
    – Post and Telegraph Office staff hit; 10 officers absent from duty
    – 6 admitted to Isolation Hospital on Monday, 5 discharged, 21 cases there
    – Nurse in charge of isolation quarters at Alligator Creek Works fell ill, also the ambulance bearer assisting the nurse; 4 patients moved to Isolation Hospital in town

    Wednesday 11 June
    – 14 new cases admitted to Isolation Hospital on Tuesday – 4 classed as dangerously ill, others as seriously ill
    – Dr Nisbet (Medical Officer at the Isolation Hospital) orders St Ann’s school to be prepared, owing to crowding at Belgian Gardens

    Thursday 12 June
    – 4 cases admitted to Belgian Gardens yesterday, 1 discharged
    – Ambulance staff working under ‘considerable difficulties’; Superintendent McIntosh only permanent member not yet affected
    – St Ann’s School officially taken over by City Council on Wednesday, as second isolation hospital – Dr Humphrey in charge
    – 12 cases arrived by train from Alligator Creek Works
    – Rocks Hospital closed to release staff for influenza work

    Friday 13 June (unlucky day, of course…)
    – 38 cases at Belgian Gardens, no new admissions
    – 8 admissions to St Ann’s Isolation Hospital on Thursday, total number of patients 18
    – [Quarantine Station closed, last patient discharged; had been open for influenza patients since 26 April; more than 130 patients and almost 120 contacts had gone through the station, many being accommodated in tents; no deaths there during that period]

    Saturday 14 June
    – 1 admission to Belgian Gardens on Friday
    – 8 admissions to St Ann’s on Friday

    Monday 16 June
    – 18 Post Office employees ill
    – 26 patients at Belgian Gardens; first death there last evening, Alfred Parsons, aged 47, who worked at Ross River Meatworks
    – 39 (? Illegible) patients at St Ann’s

    Tuesday 17 June
    – Alfred Parsons (died Sunday evening at Belgian Gardens) worked at Meatworks, said to be a recluse, camped by himself; buried Monday, workmates following hearse in large numbers
    – only 42 people inoculated at Town Hall on Monday
    – 23 patients at Belgian Gardens on Monday, mostly convalescent; closed for new cases in order to clean and disinfect the wards before new admissions allowed
    – 39 patients at St Ann’s, majority improving

    Wednesday 18 June
    – another death at Belgian Gardens on Tuesday, (Mr?) Glover
    – another patient there dangerously ill
    – 3 nurses there also ill
    – Mr King returned from Alligator Creek, after falling ill himself
    – ‘The disease is certainly infectious there [Alligator Creek], four who have undertaken nursing having now gone down––two nurses and two men.’
    – 40 patients at St Ann’s Isolation Hospital on Tuesday; majority progressing favourably
    – Town Clerk (Mr Johnson) and City Engineer (Mr Ahern) both absent with Flu
    – ‘causing considerable trouble’ among railway staff
    – ‘The railway workshops at Townsville are also very much handicapped by the influenza, about 25 per cent of the employees being laid off work. On the 16th June, 104 employees of the shops and office was off duty.’

    Thursday 19 June
    – 12 patients at Belgian Gardens on Wednesday; Matron Pengally developed Flu, moved to St Ann’s Isolation Hospital for treatment
    – 41 patients at St Ann’s on Wednesday; two ‘severe’ cases, majority ‘mild’

    Friday 20 June
    – 40 cases at St Ann’s on Thursday; one death there that day, Mrs Clark
    – 8 cases at Belgian Gardens
    – only 34 inoculations at Town Hall on Thursday; free inoculations discontinued

    Saturday 21 June
    – 10 patients at Belgian Gardens Isolation Hospital, none considered dangerous
    – 1 admitted, 22 discharged at St Ann’s Isolation Hospital, leaving 23 [? Illeg.]

    Monday 23 June
    – 12 patients at Belgian Gardens
    – 7 cases admitted to St Ann’s on weekend, 7 discharged; death of Thomas Phoenix there on Saturday

    Tuesday 24 June
    – ‘… reports received from the isolation hospitals on Monday evening disclosed a satisfactory position.’
    – Mr Armstrong died on Monday

    Wednesday 25 June
    – St Ann’s on Monday, 11 admitted, 4 discharged; Tuesday, 5 admitted, 6 discharged, total of 20 [? Illeg.] cases
    – one nurse and a V.A.D. among patients at St Ann’s
    – Belgian Gardens on Tuesday, 9 admitted, total of 21 cases

    Thursday 26 June
    – Four nurses ‘laid up’ at St Ann’s, ‘… remaining nurses are very much overworked.’
    – 24 cases at Belgian Gardens


    • Townsville 1919 industrial unrest and riot articles

      Townsville 1919 industrial unrest and riot articles

      [Notes taken from Brisbane newspapers – Brisbane Courier, Daily Mail, Daily Standard, Telegraph]

      [Background context – AIF veterans returning from Europe and Middle East in early 1919; national 1919 Maritime Strike in early 1919]

      Townsville had a population around 25000

      Meatworks: Alligator Creek; Ross River; Burdekin River (south of Townsville)
      Cattle were taken into Townsville by rail
      Frozen meat was taken out of Townsville on steamers and on trains

      Sunday 22 June
      Meeting of AMIEU officials at Ross River and Alligator Creek meatworks, decision to stop work until non-unionists were dismissed from both works [original request was that non-unionists be dismissed before unionists when the work was slackening for the season]
      That night a mass meeting at Olympia Pictures – Kelly (president of the Townsville Industrial Council) began by asking all ‘scabs’ to leave – Carney (assistant secretary, AMIEU) forcibly ejected one man, and delivered a ‘fiery address’
      Carney stated that some people thought the union went too far, but he thought they had not gone far enough. He is reported to have said every time he saw a ‘scab’ in the street he felt like punching the man on the jaw, but his position as organiser didn’t allow him to do so.
      Mr Rymer (secretary of the Railway Union) stated that railway men would not handle anything declared ‘black’ – and that if scabs were allowed to remain it would only be a matter of time before the railway and water front were infested too.

      Friday 27 June
      – Steamer ‘Northumberland’ was leaving Townsville ‘with a shortage of 400 tons of meat’
      – No further boats for Townsville while strikes on
      – Meeting of the Employers’ Association asks for de-registration of A.M.I.E.U.
      – Mass meeting of strikers held; Secretary pointed out importance of conducting their affairs in secrecy

      Saturday 28 June
      – A group of workers estimated between 200 to 400 released about 400-500 cattle from holding yard at the Ross River Meatworks.
      – The ‘raid’ happened before daylight.
      – Police sent there to prevent trouble said they ordered the men to desist from opening the gate, but were told that if they used their revolvers they would be killed.

      Sunday 29 July
      Football match – Charters Towers v. Townsville; During the second half Constable Shekleton remonstrated with a spectator for disorderly conduct and ordered him to leave; Several men attacked the constable, and a couple of railwaymen strongly remonstrated with those attacking the constable; Shekleton left the ground covered in blood, and returned later with several police.

      Kelly and Carney arrested – They were to have been speakers at the mass meeting under the ‘Tree of Knowledge’

      Monday 30 June
      Commissioner of Police Urquhart met with Premier in Brisbane.
      Ryan stated to press: ‘The Government will see that the law is maintained.’
      Mass meeting held in Townsville, resolved to not do any work till Kelly and Carney were released.
      At Police Court––guarded by police with rifles and bayonets––Carney was remanded for a week, bail was refused.
      A large group formed in Flinders Street, many armed, and police withdrew.
      After the meeting some men broke into two shops, taking revolvers and rifles, and reportedly started firing in the streets.
      Mayor of Townsville telegrammed Premier asking that all hotels there be ordered to close.
      Premier Ryan stated that all available police were being sent to Townsville, and issued a Proclamation that all firearms and explosives within 12 miles of the Townsville courthouse were to be handed to the police.

      Daily Standard – Monday 30 June
      Headlines – ‘Unarmed Workers Shot Down by Police’
      Reported the crowd on Sunday to be 4000

      Daily Standard – Tuesday 1 July
      Headlines – ‘Police Blunder. Serious Consequences.’
      Report that the strike committee called all workers to a mass meeting, and appealed for order and discipline; They had to contend with a strong, hot-headed section in the crowd.
      Reported that about 200 guns and all the ammunition were taken from the looted stores, and that the shots fired in the streets were only practice shots at birds and targets.
      An attempt is being made by the local Tory press (and presumably by the Brisbane papers to whom they supply news) to exaggerate the position. The Tory crowd would undoubtedly like to see some of the armed workers run amok, so as to provide excuse for the intervention of the military. It is therefore necessary to point out that the men’s leaders are incessantly advising against any form of violence, and that such disorder as has occurred has been entirely the result of the independent actions of hot-heads, incensed by the outrageous shooting by the police on Sunday night.
      Following the seizure of firearms the police released Carney.
      Kelly remained in hospital with the Flu. 
      Monday 30 June
      50 police – ‘fully equipped’ – left Brisbane by train, arrived Rockhampton on Tuesday 1 July where they were joined by more police.

      Due to lack of coastal shipping, the police had to travel by rail to Longreach, then be driven to Winton, and then travel to Townsville by train.

      Wednesday 2 July
      Townsville much quieter, no groups of men wandering around.
      Another mass meeting was held by unionists at the Stanley Picture Theatre, with about 1500 present.
      Carney urged the men to not go around the town in large parties, or give the police any chance of firing on them.
      He said Sub-Inspector Kenny was ‘as rotten as the egg that hit Billy Hughes at Warwick’ – and that the extra police were only coming to excite the mob.

      Police train reached Hughenden.
      Railwaymen there met to decide if they would ‘work the train’.
      Voted by a majority of one to work the train.

      Police train arrived Charters Towers around 5pm.
      A large majority of railwaymen at Charters Towers refused to work the train.
      By this stage there were 95 police in the contingent, who slept at the railway station that night.

      Thursday 3 July
      Police train left Charters Towers early in the morning, driven by Railway officials, and arrived in Townsville later that day.

      Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Circumstances surrounding the Incidents which took place at the Lock-up at Townsville on the Night of Sunday, the Twenty-ninth day of June, 1919, more particularly into the Alleged Use of Firearms, and any matters connected therewith.

      [Report delivered at…]

      Police Court, Brisbane
      18 September 1919
      by Wm. Harris, Sole Commissioner

      [William Harris was Police Magistrate in Brisbane]

      [The following notes are paraphrased from the Report]

      Royal Commissioner appointed 22 July, arrived Townsville (overland) 10 August
      Evidence sittings held on 8 days
      Visit (13 August) to inspect ‘certain marks on the Lock-up wall, and trees and surrounding buildings, including St. Anne’s Isolation Hospital’
      Tests (20 and 22 August) with firearms in the Lock-up yard
      Photographs taken of the original marks and the test marks

      ‘For some considerable time past industrial disputes have been existing in Townsville and its vicinity, and before daylight on the day preceding the incidents in question there had been a disturbance and an interference with cattle at Stewart’s Creek Railway Station, about eight miles distant. Arising out of that disturbance, warrants had been issued to the police for the arrest of two persons who were charged with certain offences in connection therewith. The police, in pursuance of their duty, in the execution of those warrants, arrested those two persons––namely, Michael Kelly and Pierce Carney.’

      Kelley and Carney were arrested between 3 and 5 o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday 29 June
      Warrant was for an offence against the Criminal Code, that on Saturday 28 June ‘… by intimidation compelled one Thomas Lawrence, being a person employed in the business of a meat-worker, to depart from his lawful employment’
      (Charge was punishable with imprisonment not exceeding three months – both subsequently discharged because charges were found to be ‘without sufficient foundation’)

      Kelly was lying on a bed at the Carlton Hotel when Sub-Inspector Kenny arrived.
      Kelly told Kenny that he was ill, and said he thought he was getting influenza.
      Kenny told Kelly that he’d call a doctor, and if he was too sick to be removed to the Lock-up, he’d have him taken to hospital.
      Kelly said, ‘Never mind, I will go with you.’
      Kelly was taken by Acting-Sergeant Kerr to the Lock-up, between 3 and 4pm, and Carney was brought in an hour later.
      About 5pm Sub-Inspector Kenny went off duty through illness, and Senior Sergeant Hawkes was left in charge.
      Three other prisoners in the Watchhouse – two for ‘simple offences’ (probably drunk), and one for ‘unlawfully attempting to kill’. [The guy from the football match?]
      At 6pm Acting Sergeant Purser returned to duty as Watchhouse keeper.
      Around 7pm Purser told Hawkes that Kelly was suffering from influenza and wished to see a doctor.
      Hawkes called the Government Medical Officer (Dr. Humphrey), who was out at the time; then called Dr Nisbett, who was also out. Eventually got on to Dr Humphrey, who saw Kelly at 8.30 and ordered him taken to the hospital.
      At 9pm Hawkes instructed constables O’Sullivan and Tree to take Kelly to St Anne’s isolation hospital nearby, and Tree stayed there to guard Kelly and O’Sullivan returned to duty at the Watchhouse. Only the police and hospital attendants knew Kelly had been moved.

      ‘It was customary to hold public meetings under a tree at the corner of Denham and Flinders streets, which is known as the “Tree of Knowledge,” and is situated about 20 chains [approximately 400 metres] distant from the Lock-up, which is in Walker street.’

      Meeting held under the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ on night of 29 June, with several speakers, and mentioning that Kelly and Carney had been arrested: ‘There seemed to have been some idea amongst a section of the crowd at, and even before, that meeting, of a move to actively interfere with the custody of the two persons who were under arrest.’

      Constable O’Sullivan, in plain clothes near the meeting at around 7pm, heard one of the men in the crowd say, ‘After the meeting is over we will get as many as we can, go to the Watchhouse, and get Kelly and Carney out of there.’
      O’Sullivan left to report this to Senior Sergeant Hawkes (in charge of the police that night) around 7.15

      One of the speakers at the meeting, Mr. Barrett, said:
      Fellow-workmen, you are all aware that our Secretary [Carney] and our President [Kelly] have been arrested this evening, the latter being taken from a sick bed and now lies in a cold cell in the Lock-up. I want you all, fellow-workers, to roll up in a body at the Court-house to-morrow morning at 10 o’clock, and show Townsville and the powers-that-be one of the finest demonstrations ever seen.

      A voice from the crowd then called out:
      What about going up to-night and getting them out? If they don’t give bail we will take them out.

      Barrett replied:
      I won’t advise you to do that, and I won’t advise you not to do it.

      Another speaker, Mr. Rymer [Secretary Railway Union], said:
      Fellow-workers, I want to advise you not to resort to any violence, because resorting to violence will do our cause more harm than good.

      Another voice from the crowd called out:
      We will go up to the Lock-up and give Kelly and Carney a cheer.

      The crowd moved towards the Lock-up at around 9.15

      The normal strength of the Police Force at Townsville was 44, including detectives and clerks

      Inspector King (in charge of district) had been off duty through influenza since 26 June

      Sub-Inspector Kenny had been off duty through influenza since 24 June; resumed duty (too soon) on 29 June, and was then in charge of the police, but went off duty through illness around 5pm that day

      Senior Sergeant Hawkes was in charge of the police
      Hawkes had been continuously on duty since 26 June, and had not taken off his uniform for four days

      About 26 men had been sent to protect the Ross River Meatworks, where trouble was anticipated
      A few men were sent to the Alligator Creek Meatworks

      The ‘actual effective force’ in Townsville that evening was 16
      Townsville police were usually unarmed during daytime, and carried batons at night

      Acting Sergeant Purser was on duty at the Watchhouse
      Constables Smith and Garvey were sent to assist him, following the report of trouble brewing

      The three police at the Lock-up armed themselves with rifles (with bayonets fixed) and revolvers

      Crowd arrived at Lock-up around 9.30
      There was no moon that night
      Around 1000 people in the crowd, mostly onlookers

      The trouble lasted for no more than five minutes, and the most serious incidents took place within a period of about one to two minutes at the most

      [Royal Commissioner]
      … it is not a matter of surprise that witnesses differ very materially in their accounts of the exciting incidents which took place in so short a period of time. It is necessary to take into account with the greatest care the surrounding circumstances, to determine the possibility or probability, the impossibility or improbability, of the matters related, so far as they may afford corroboration or counter evidence of those matters, and in order to distinguish between imperfect recollections and wilful misrepresentations of witnesses.

      It is a matter of common experience that those engaged in, or even looking one at, active and exciting happenings, differ to a very large extent in their power of observation and their recollection of what actually occurred. Almost every person observes from a slightly different point of view the events that are happening, and relates them differently.

      About 9.15 the mass meeting began moving away from the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ towards the Lock-up
      Many in the crowd were singing ‘The Red Flag’ and other songs
      Stones were thrown onto the roof of the Lock-up keeper’s quarters
      Someone called for three cheers for Kelly and Carney
      Then someone called for three growns for the police

      Standing at the gates people called out ‘Give them bail’ and ‘We want Kelly and Carney – we will have them’

      [Royal Commissioner points out that it was Sunday afternoon when they were arrested, and police had no power to grant bail]

      Acting Sergeant Purser walked to the gate [4 feet 6 inches high] and said ‘What is it you want lads?’
      People in the crowd repeated ‘We want Kelly and Carney – we will have them’
      Purser said ‘You cannot get them. Kelly is in the hospital, and Carney is in the cell.’
      As he finished speaking someone struck him a blow to the face.

      [Royal Commissioner] The evidence as to what actually occurred from this stage is of a most conflicting and varied nature.

      As Purser staggered backwards, a shot was fired from a small calibre weapon, followed by other shots. Purser testified that when the first shot was fired he saw the flash and heard something whizz past him.

      Purser dropped his rifle as he staggered backwards.
      Constable O’Sullivan grabbed the rifle, and fired a shot towards the crowd.

      [Important to note that the Royal Commissioner states the shot was fired towards the crowd.]
      It is doubtful, from the evidence, whether Constable O’Sullivan purposefully or accidentally caused the discharge of the rifle.

      After careful consideration of the point I have come to the conclusion that Constable O’Sullivan’s recollection of what took place in those exciting and confusing moments is not clear. The probability is that he did intend, at the time, to cause the rifle to discharge, without time for deliberation or deliberate aiming.

      Other shots from the crowd followed O’Sullivan’s rifle shot, and the crowd began tearing down the fence.

      About the time the fence began to go a voice from the crowd called out, ‘They are only firing blanks––rush them.’ The police were by this time using their revolvers, and the double gate flew open. One shot at least was fired in the air. The others were fired low and towards the crowd, and in quick succession, inflicting injuries on persons in the crowd. This use of revolvers intimidated the crowd, who then began to disperse, and the firing by the police ceased.

      Royal Commissioner determined that six shots were fired by the police (one rifle, five revolver shots).
      Oral and visual evidence suggested between 15 and 20 shots were fired by persons in the crowd – probably not more than four or five people.
      A seven-chambered revolver was picked up by a boy in the dust on the road outside the Lock-up gate on the following morning, containing four live shells and three empty cartridges.

      Nine people were injured by bullets or splinters of bullets.
      Two of those wounds were apparently caused by non-police weapons.
      Seven wounds probably caused by police weapons.
      Three of the direct bullet wounds and two wounds caused by splinters were probably caused by the single rifle shot fired by O’Sullivan.

      Some of the injuries inflicted were of a trifling nature, and the lives of none of the persons injured were endangered by the injuries actually received, although some of the injuries were undoubtedly severe.
      … I have been unable to ascertain the names of particular individuals concerned therein [firing weapons], as, owing to the darkness of the night, none of the witnesses were able to identify any one of those persons.


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