- Wilson, Graham, Warrant Officer Class Two, Australian Intelligence Corps
- Colonial navies, History - pre-Federation
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Gayundah
- June 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
If the naval powers that be had hoped that this would end the matter, however, they were sadly mistaken. Both the government opposition and the press made much mileage out of the case, both parties railing against the “severity” of the sentence and the press in particular questioning just who was in charge of the Queensland Marine Defence Force, the Queensland Parliament or the Admiralty (shades of the HMAS Australia mutiny of 1919).
An interesting comment on the harshness of the sentence can again be found among the private papers of Ned Charlton who, on 11 May, wrote to a friend: “Hesketh was sentenced to be dismissed H.M. Service. The trial was most uninteresting and the poor devil was doing no worse than most of the people up there who live entirely on credit; will borrow a hat and mortgage it for a pair of boots“. Poor old Hesketh appears to have been hoist on the double petard of the Naval Discipline Act and the Colonial Naval Defence Act, with a good dose of Victorian military morality thrown in.
Interest in and outrage with the case, real or contrived, continued to simmer, but was to be overwhelmed later in the year by further events of a financial nature surrounding Gayundah, this time involving her captain.
Commander Wright’s Improprieties
Commander Wright, as Senior Naval Officer, was head of a Queensland government department and therefore responsible for its finances. In September 1887, no more than four months after the scandal of Lieutenant Hesketh’s court-martial, a report by the Queensland Auditor-General stated that he had found a ‘very unsatisfactory state of affairs’ in the department. The Auditor-General’s report alleged that Wright had incurred a total of £89/14/1 of funds which had been incorrectly disbursed. These funds were found to be for payments for lodgings ashore for Wright and his officers when the ship was taking its annual cruise north, although they had their normal accommodation aboard. The Auditor-General also took exception to Wright’s use of departmental funds to purchase crockery for his personal use and wine for his personal table and the use of members of the crew as personal servants ashore.
But the point which most painfully stung the Queensland government was the revelation that the man whose professional services they had so warmly congratulated themselves on securing in 1884, was in fact an undischarged bankrupt who had pledged his Royal Navy half-pay to his creditors in England prior to sailing for Queensland. It was now revealed that Wright had not paid any money to his agents in two years and that, having been finally placed on the (Royal Navy) retired list, his creditors were beginning an action for bankruptcy to recover their money. The scandalised Queensland government, already disenchanted by Wright’s financial mispractise, strongly suggested that he should resign. Faced with penury if he did so and secure in the knowledge that his appointment was not due to expire until the end of 1888, Wright refused, thereby antagonising the Queensland government even further. But although the government was not happy with Wright, they lacked either the will or the means to dismiss him and he continued to serve as both Commander of the Marine Defence Force and Captain of Gayundah – and also kept the crockery and continued to use his crewmen as servants, although the government did manage for the cost of his table wine to be deducted from his pay!
Thus matters progressed until September 1888 when Wright was finalising his affairs prior to leaving Queensland. He was entitled to three months paid leave and now enquired of the government (through his wife – one wonders at the state of communications existing between the Senior Naval Officer and his ministerial colleagues intimated by this act) as to whether or not he could take his remaining pay as a lump sum. At first agreeable to this (probably because they were glad to see the back of the man) the government subsequently withdrew its agreement on the revelation that Wright did not intend to leave Queensland until 1889, and directed that he should continue to draw his pay at the normal intervals.
As Wright was intending to proceed on long leave, however, the government, anxious to be rid of him. ordered him to hand over Gayundah to Lieutenant Taylor, former Captain of Mosquito who had been promoted to First Lieutenant of the flagship following the demise of Lieutenant Hesketh. Taylor, who like the unfortunate Hesketh held his commission from the colonial government, was simultaneously ordered to take command and he penned a short but polite note to Wright to this effect.