Barbound Diaries

PRAWNS and BARBOUND- How it all started.

It all started about mid 1969, when two Sydney-resident Master Mariners, now working ashore, from time to time had lunch and a beer at the George St. bar of the Port Jackson Hotel (Johnny's Pub).  Others with a Maritime background, shipping company staff , marine pilots , Maritime Services Board (MSB) personnel, masters and officers of ships in port, would join them when they could..

At that time the two above-mentioned Captains were trying to stop retired mariners coming into the MSB offices, yarning and waiting for lunch-time to arrive, and so lunch break was arranged at Johnny's Pub "up the road".  All concerned were to meet there, and thus there was no need to come into the MSB Offices any more.

The Hetheringtons' ship operating to Ballina on the North Coast run would, on approach, radio the Ballina pilot, who would buy the prawns from the Co-op and deliver them to the ship at Broadwater (Ships Business of course !). Well you know- shipping circles?

The Chief (and only) Steward would look after the prawns to Sydney, where an office staff member  picked them up with the Ships Papers, and delivered them to the Johnny's fridge. Payment was sent up with the next order.

It must have been early 1970 that a number of people, McDonald and Joyes with Ted Wright and Captain Sergev (Serge), were all barbound at Ballina in a southerly gale that lasted for three weeks.

At lunch while the ships were barbound, someone asked. "Where were all the old retired people" and was told they are "Barbound" and so the name stuck. These lunches soon linked up with the Monthly Fest at Sydney's Rugby Union Club and so became a regular ritual.

About 1971 Johnny's Pub was partially demolished to make way for part of the Grosvenor House development, and to prevent retired mariners resuming coming into the MSB offices and yarning, the "Barbounders" moved to the Rugby Union Club, then in  Bridge St. opposite the Burns Philp offices.

An executive group was formed - Captain Cyril Gaby, one of the originals, the self-appointed President, Mr. Ross Scribner Secretary and Mr. Eric Grosset Treasurer. At that time the first "Barbound Record" appeared, using a Surveyor's Note Book supplied by the MSB.   It was known as the "Prayer Book".  The wine bottlings and Christmas parties which followed are another story.

Since that time "Barbound" has developed into a regular monthly lunch of retired members who, in the main, have a maritime backround, and wish to get together for good fellowship, a meal and a drink. The relaxed congenial atmosphere of kindred seafarers has maintained the spirit of the founding group.

Some of the Barbounders' personal histories, abridged where necessary to provide relevance to this website, are reproduced in the following notes.  We thank the subject authors,  and Captains Ted Lilley, Graham Haultain and others for permission to use these extracts from Barbound's records. 

John Arthurson

(John's story reflects that of many Australian-born merchant seamen who served during the Second World War with overseas-based ships.)

Born 20/9/2023 at Jesmond, Newcastle, N.S.W.,  I moved to Abbotsford, Sydney, 1922 and attended schools there, through to passing my Q.C. to Leichhardt Junior Tech. to March 1933.

I joined the MV Aeon (Howard Smith) as deck boy 13/3/1933. (Father came out from South Shields in 1913 on same ship when new, as Chief Officer). After about 14 months as deck boy I joined the MV Kowarra, then the MV Lady Isobel (Howard Smith) and MV Abel Tasman (H.C.Sleigh) as Ordinary Seaman, then SS Canberra (Howard Smith) and MV Malaita (Burns Philp) as Able Bodied Seaman (AB).  I joined the MV Jervis Bay (Shaw Savill) as AB 14/12/37 and discharged in London on the 18/6/1938. After a visit to the Orkney and Shetland Islands (birth places of my Mother and Father) and nearly starving in London, I joined the MV Beacon Grange (Houlder Bros. London) as AB on 8/8/38 to 27/9/38 (voyage to Santos (Brazil), Montevideo (Uruguay), La Plata and Buenos Aires then Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and back to London.

I then went to South Shields to enrol at the Marine School for my 2nd Mate's Certificate and passed for 2nd Mate (Foreign Going) January 1939 and joined the MV Antigone (Langdon Rees) as 3rd Mate middle of February 1939. My first trip was to Baltimore for scrap-iron to Japan (a long trip and only 8 Kts!) then to Ocean Island for phosphate to NZ. Back to Ocean Island for Phosphate for Bunbury (W.A.) calling into Port Kembla founkers and went home to Abbotsford for 4 hours (after 15 months away) at the end of August 1939.

World War 2 started on 3/9/39, as we were south of Port Phillip. I had my 21st birthday at Bunbury then we anchored off Fremantle cleaning holds for a wheat cargo for Karachi (India - now Pakistan). The 2nd Mate (a fine friend) fell down a hatch and was killed and I was promoted to 2nd Mate 12/10/39 (I had been 3rd Mate for 8 months).

John's narrative over the next four years traverses the hard years of war during which he progressively qualified and rose through the ranks to Chief Officer and served in a legendary number of ships crossing the Altantic and Indian Oceans, the English Channel, the Mediterranean and the Russian convoys' seas.  We take up his story during the second half of 1943. 

We loaded lower holds with coal at Cardiff then army stores and munitions and sailed for Syracuse (Sicily) via Gibraltar.  The Italians had surrendered by the time we arrived in Sicily and we were sent to Taranto (South Italy) to discharge munitions etc. and stayed and bunkered minesweepers for a few weeks. (We saw Italian naval vessels going to Malta to surrender.) Left Taranto for Algiers, had two days there then were sent to Sierra Leone and to Freetown for iron ore for the UK then back to Taranto with Army stores.

I paid off in Cardiff and joined MV Empire Swordsman building at Hamilton's Shipyard, Glasgow, three days before launching, then fitted out (for motor transport - 1 x 40 ton and 1 x 60 ton jumbo derricks) at Glasgow. We sailed for London late May 1944 and anchored off South End just after D Day. We had about sixteen trips to the Normandy beaches (Juno, Sword, Gold and Omaha, and one to Arromanches to back-load tanks for repair. When Antwerp was cleared we went between Tilbury and Antwerp to March 1945 when we outfitted for normal operations at Glasgow. We had been on C.O.M.N.O. Articles (ie. Combined Operations Merchant Navy Organisations).

I next went home to Sydney on 18/9/45, after an absence of six years two and a half weeks.


Henry Blackwood 

Henry was a Founding Member of Barbound.   His experience is representative of many other Australian merchant seamen.  In 2006, provision continues for merchant seamen toserve with the Royal Australian Navy Reserve component.

In 1939-40 I came away to sea as Deck Apprentice with the A.U.S.N. Co. in coastal vessels. In 1940 I  joined the RAN as a Midshipman and was almost continuously at sea in cruisers, destroyers, landing and auxiliary ships in South Atlantic, East Indies, Indian and Pacific Oceans - including all assault landings in the Philippines and Borneo. My HMA ships included Canberra, Westralia, Voyager, Stuart and Manoora.

In 1946 I was demobilised as a Lieutenant R.A.N.R.(Seagoing) of 3 years seniority, with small ship command time, and from 1946 to 1950 I served with the Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand first as a 3rd Officer and rising to Chief Officer - mainly on the Tasmanian Service.


Harry Jacobsen

1934. My first ship was the SS Milora, scuttled in Bass Strait after running aground outside Port Phillip Heads, September.  I was employed as a deck boy at £3 per calendar month, aged thirteen and a half!

From 1934-1942 I went from Deck boy to AB in the A.U.S.N. Co, Union SS Co and Adelaide SS Co, this  including ervice on the Hospital Ship MV Manunda on the Middle East run. On 19/2/42 and not long before obtaining my Second Mate's Certificate,  I (was among those who were forced to) abandoned the SS Barossa after Japanese air raids on Darwin.

(Later in) 1942 I joined the Union SS Co as a Deck Officer and worked in that capacity until becoming Stevedoring Supervisor in 1953 with the Port Kembla Stevedoring Co.


Jack Knight

(The late Jack Knight was one of the founders of this Australian Merchant Navy website)

1941-1944 I served with Burns Philp ships as a deck cadet. My first ship was the MV Neptuna which was bombed and sunk by Japanese aircraft in Darwin harbour and I was injured. After recovering I then continued my cadetship through the war years on MV Marella and MV Morinda.

1945-1949 I served as a Deck Officer on the Burns Philp vessels, MV Merkur ( which was a victualling supply ship for the RAN), MV Muliama, MV Bulolo and SS Mangola. Over the war years Burns Philp ships continued to operate through the Islands and at 19 years, experiencing convoy duty, and the invasions of the Phillipines and Borneo, it certainly made one 'grow up'.


Ted Liley

1943 - 1946 Deck boy to A.B. aboard the lighthouse steamers MV Cape Leeuwin and MV Cape Otway, thence MV Alagna and MV Rover Norman.

1947 - Third Mate SS Delamare. Considered continuity of employment and advancement too doubtful with A.S.B. - the Australian Shipping Board (now ANL) and transferred to James Patrick & Co in 1948. Served in five vessels from Third Mate to Master.


Doug MacColl

1936 First went to sea as a Deck Boy in New Zealand on SS Kaimai at a wage of £5.1.6 ($10.40) per month plus keep. After serving the necessary time as Boy, Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman and Bosun I then obtained my 2nd Mate's FG Certificate of Competency.

In 1942 I joined the Union SS Co as a junior officer on the MV Karu and served on various trades and ships of the Co's fleet.
One of my most pleasant appointments of the war years was to the TSS Maunganui as Junior Third Mate, the ship having been converted to a hospital ship, carrying New Zealand and Australian war-wounded from the base hospitals in the Middle East. Being a passenger ship in peacetime, we were fortunate in that she still maintained a First Class passenger menu which was gratefully appreciated by all hands, after the mundane cargo ship fare.


Col Masson

1/3/2024 First went to sea as a Seaman under the Merchant Navy Reserve Pool at age 16 years on the MV Empire Mahseer and American Lend-Lease ship (originally called Liberty Bell). The vessel was operated by the Sun Shipping Co in which Mitchell Cotts had interests. The ship was torpedoed and sunk off Durban on 3/3/43 with a heavy loss of life. In fact the entire convoy suffered heavy losses as it was attacked by a U-Boat pack. I was rescued from the water after being afloat for about 8 hours using debris to cling to, and landed in Durban.

The survivors from the convoy, including myself, had to wait in Durban for nearly four months, for space in a vessel returning to the UK as a Distressed British Seaman (DBS). We were eventually given a passage to Rio de Janeiro on the MV Aquatania, then on the MV Queen Mary to New York, and finally the MV Mauretania to the UK.

After a short leave I joined the SS Eddie which was a collier trading along the coast of UK. As Home Trade was of little benefit to me to quickly accrue seatime to qualify for the 2nd Mate's examination I applied to the Reserve Pool for foreign-going voyages. As a result I was transferred to the MV Paparoa, on her maiden voyage, in December, 1943 and stayed until 1946 to come ashore and do my exams.

1947 Joined the New Zealand Shipping Co/Federal Steamship Navigation Co. as 4th Mate and served in all officer grades.


Iain McGowan

16/7/43 Joined the British India Co. as a cadet, my first ship being the passenger/cargo vessel MV Mulbera which was on the Australia/India run during the war, and carried war supplies for the Burma campaign.


Steuart Stewart

23/8/38 Signed indentures in Sydney and joined W.R. Carpenter's vessel MV Salamaua and during 1939/1941 as an apprentice went to the UK and Meditteranean. In 1941 the vessel was taken over by the British Ministry and ferried troops and equipment around the Allied controlled ports in the Meditteranean.
In 1941 the vessel left this area en route to Australia and was damaged by German bombers. Repairs were effected in Port Sudan and the vessel continued home via Colombo.
1941/1945 Continued war service in the MV Admiral Chase, MV Suva and MV Salamaua in the Pacific region. Passed for Second Mate, First Mate and Master in Sydney. Later served in the MV Lakemba.


Bruce Wharton

In 1939 I joined Burns Philp as a Deck Cadet aboard the MV Neptuna and then transferred to the MV Merkur until June 1940. In October 1940 I then joined the TSMV Rabaul as an apprentice while the vessel was in Melbourne and sailed to Adelaide, thence Fremantle and Bunbury where the vessel loaded wheat and railway sleepers for England. After leaving Bunbury we headed for Capetown arriving on 24 /12/40 and then sailing a few days later for Freetown Sierra Leone, unaccompanied.
15/2/40 Arrived in Liverpool, after sailing in convoy from Sierra Leone, and stayed a full month discharging and loading cargo during the Liverpool blitz. The port was under constant attack by German bombers, day and night. The vessel was then taken over by the British Ministry of War Transport and ordered to Newport for the fitting of degaussing gear after which the ship was ordered to sail for Israel via the Cape and Alexandria.
On 14/5/41 at 0 100 hours TSMV Rabaul was sunk by the German raider Atlantis in the South Atlantic and I was picked up by this vessel suffering serious burns from sulphuric acid which had spilled onto the TSMV Rabaul's deck. I then spent five months in the Atlantis' hospital . After sixteen days aboard the raider the TSMV Rabaul's crew were put aboard a supply ship and were on their way to Germany when they were rescued by six British destroyers off the Spanish coast, and taken to Gibraltar.
The Atlantis continued into the Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean and into the Pacific Ocean where it met with five Japanese supply ships. At this time Japan had not entered the war. However due to the length of time I had been at sea without seeing the shore, six months in all, Atlantis' Captain Rogge offered me the opportunity of boarding one of the Japanese ships and being sent to Japan. I declined his offer and was allowed to remain onboard. I believe I would be the only person ever to be given the choice of becoming a prisoner of either the Germans or the Japanese.
About two weeks later the Atlantis met up with another raider and all prisoners were transferred onto one of its captive vessels which was the Dutch ship MV Kota Nopan which took us to Bordeaux via Cape Horn.
On arrival at Bordeaux we were placed into a concentration camp for two weeks and then put on a train to Wilhelmshaven where interrogation took place in an unused naval cadet school. Thereafter we were taken to Westertimke ( twenty miles east of Bremen) to a Merchant Navy prison camp where I remained until April 1945.
I escaped from the car up -u-hiIst we were on the front line (of the invading Allies) and stole a Mercedes car which we drove around the German lines into Bremen which at that-time was occupied by the British. We were placed on a Lancaster bomber for return to England the next day.
I spent four months in England waiting for the Jap war to end and then sailed out of Glasgow for Australia aboard the MV Empire Rawlinson as a passenger.