Cookson, 15 09 1911 1

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15 September 1911

(full text transcription)




THE STORY OF THE STORM BIRD The story of the Storm Bird - which may or may not relate to the bushrangers - has never been told in full. The likelihood of its having a close association with the career of the 'ironclads' warrants the inclusion of the yarn in these reminiscences. It is this- as related by Captain Harry Breakspeare, now residing in Paddington, Sydney, who cannot readily forget his strange visitor on the 10th of May, 1878, and that visitor's mysterious request.

"There has never been any doubt in my mind," he began, "and in the opinion of those conversant with the circumstances, that overtures were made to me by or on behalf of the so-called Kelly gang, that I would for a suitable consideration procure their safe and speedy exit from Australia and their landing in a secret spot on one of the South Sea Islands. In 1878 the smartest sailing vessel in Australian waters was the Storm Bird, a brigantine, which, as you may remember, is a type of vessel with two masts, the fore fully square-rigged, and the main fore and aft. She was a beautiful boat, of 140 tons, good to a sailor's eye in every particular, and, as I have said, swift to a degree that was almost uncanny, and which made her quite famous. She was built in America for what is euphemistically called the 'labor trade'- a commerce to which people of other ways of thinking apply the term 'blackbirding,' or bringing black labor to the plantations. They want a flyer for that work. She made the extraordinary passage of 67 days from New York to Hobart, covering nearly 17,000 miles of ocean - a sensational feat for a boat of her size; but these, of course, were still the glorious days of the wonderful white-winged clippers.

"Well, the Storm Bird came on to Sydney, and while there was purchased by the well-known firm of Messrs, Graham and Co., Maryborough, Queensland, for £1760. In coming up the coast to her new owners, however, she came into collision with a tug, and put into Newcastle for repairs. It was there I took charge as skipper, and with a partnership interest; and it was there that the memorable incident about to be related occurred.

"I was sitting reading in the cosy cabin one fine autumn afternoon - the 10th of May, if I recollect aright, and in the year 1878- when, about 3pm, the chief officer tapped at my door with the information that a man wished to see me on private business. Presently there was ushered in a man whom I can never forget, and whom I see clearly to day in my mind's eye. He was about 5ft. 8in. in height, spare of habit, but well built, and apparently about 33 years of age. He wore bushy whiskers, deep black, like his plentiful hair, and was dressed in a dark paget coat and vest, grey trousers, and soft hat. He had also a gold watch and chain, and wore a ring. Altogether, from has appearance I judged him to be a countryman in comfortable circumstances. That he was an Irishman or of Irish extraction was easily gathered from his brogue, which, however, was not of the pronounced type, nor altogether unpleasant. It was plain, despite his effort to look at ease, that he was very anxious and very nervous.

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