Christmas and New Year in Brisbane 1904/1905

Accession 31214, C.W. Loughridge Shipboard Diary.

The John Oxley Library has recently acquired a fascinating shipboard diary written by 4th Officer, C.W. Loughridge, on the cargo ship “Torr Head” on a voyage from Belfast, Ireland, to Australia during October 1904 to January 1905.  The diary contains a detailed and often amusing account of the voyage with observational commentary on Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and especially Brisbane, where the ship docked for almost a fortnight over the Christmas and New Year Period.

Accession 31214, C.W. Loughridge Shipboard Diary.

The diary contains 16 pen sketches and watercolours in the text, and three very faded original photographs which were developed on board from wet plate negatives.  Loughridge brilliantly and humorously describes Christmas Day and New Year in a steamy, sultry Brisbane, plagued by mosquitoes, and enjoying the often dubious hospitality of the local people.

Accession 31214, C.W. Loughridge Shipboard Diary.

The diary is in the process of being digitised, however a sneak preview is provided below:

Christmas, Sunday 25 December [1904]

This is Christmas morning, hot, fine and cloudless.  Steaming over a calm sea with just enough swell to make a pleasant surging noise at the bows…The Brisbane River is very pretty in parts.  As we go higher up the ground gets more uneven, the houses are perched on the slopes, and they nearly all have trees growing around – date palms & cocoanut trees.  The people wave to us from the verandahs and the small boys cheer us as we go smoothly past with all our flags flying.  There are very few people moving around.  It is too hot for them and it is also pretty early in the morning yet….Four o’clock and people are flocking down [to the ship] like a swarm of bees – girls mostly.  They are fairly tall but have no colour and their features are very unchiselled.  There are a few good looking ones among them to relieve the monotony.  When we show a batch round they mostly demand the photograph of the one that they like best when they are leaving.  Promising to send us their own, they are most persistent.  However they go away sorrowing for the photograph that does not come forth and we smile sweetly and tell the same yarn to the next.  It is my night aboard but I do not have the least inclination to go ashore.  The others have all gone but I am left alone to think and wonder what you are all doing Christmas morning while I sit half the world away.

Tuesday 27th December

The suburb we are lying at is called Bulimba, it is very pretty,  fine views can be had from the decks and especially from the upper bridge…Chief 2nd officer & I went to the house of the managing wharf clerk for tea.  We were introduced to his daughters – pale, prim and severe looking, was the eldest and about 28.  The second was toothless and devoid of grace – she was like the first unspeakably plain.  The third jewel was pleasant looking and was not slim – she and her best boy never said a word all evening.  The unutterable love that oozed out of their fond eyes when they looked at each gave me much entertainment.

Coloured postcard of the Brisbane River at Bulimba, ca. 1907. John Oxley Library, Negative No. 17982.

I ate a mango tonight for the first time.  It is so juicy that one’s head should be kept over a basin.  There is a large stone inside, and this is covered in long fibre.  Like a great many other Australian fruits, it has a strong flavour of turpentine. 

Saturday 31st Dec, New Year’s Eve

When evening darkened down the glare of bon fires could be seen from the ship in all parts of the town.  I was staying aboard, but I believe the principal street Queen’s Street was full up, and running over, with people promenading.  All our fellows are up town enjoying themselves but I prefer the quietness of the water side to spend the last evening of the old year. 

Christmas Postcard featuring a view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1908. John Oxley Library, Negative No. 193118.

Accession 31214, C.W. Loughridge Shipboard Diary.

New Year Sunday January 1st 1905

New Year’s Day – hot, blazing hot and not a breath of wind to rouse the flags sleeping overhead…  The usual crowds of visitors [to the ship] took possession after dinner.  One uninteresting and severe looking female of thirty or 28 or so took possession of me.  I showed her the forecastle head and told her many tall yarns about the anchors and other things.

Monday 2nd Jan 1905

There is a general holiday to day throughout Brisbane…I went for a walk to day along a railway track, and got a beautiful little fern among the rocks at a railway cutting.  Bananas grow freely here out in the open.  Queensland has been nicknamed Banana-land.  It is a great fruit growing country.  In the gardens of the houses I passed there were all kinds of fruit growing – some of which I had never seen before.  The houses are built on piles about eight feet above the ground – and round these piles are iron plates to prevent the ants from climbing up into the house.  Being so high above the ground the house is well ventilated, and free from dampness, while the space below is used for outside domestic utensils & for hens, pigs & other varieties of birds.  The people panting on the verandahs stared at me as though I were an escaped  lunatic – I just grinned at them – and wandered on. 

Typical Brisbane Residence, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, Negative No. 153118.

The Torr Head left “pretty little sunbaked Brisbane” on Friday 6th January 1905 to return to Continental ports and London.

Breakfast at 8 o’clock and all hands at their stations.  By 9 a lot of our friends gathered on the wharf and gave us a parting cheer…Soon we were swung out from the wharf,  two little tow boats made fast to us, one at each end.  The Robinsons [family of the wharf master] waved frantically – the whole family of them out on the verandah waving napkins and the family washing at us, we wave back occasionally which keeps them hard at work, and it is a blazing sunny morning too…The second officer on the poop slowly dips our ensign to the rail, and as slowly raises it again.  A last farewell wave & the trees slowly slide between us, and the old house and kind friends within pass out of sight perhaps and likely so, for ever.

From preliminary research it is probable the author of the diary, C.W. Loughridge, was Campbell William Loughridge, a merchant seaman, born in Ireland in 1883.  Continuing the adventurous spirit displayed in the diary he emigrated to New Orleans in the United States in 1911.  The diary (Accession 31214) is currently being digitised and will be made available through our catalogue as soon as possible.

Lynn Meyers, Specialist Librarian