Before the Mast

Our sailor ancestors spent many years before the mast but two escaped the cramped forecastle quarters of the common sailors, weathered the storms on many a sea and became master mariners. Findlay Duthie learnt the ropes from 16 years of age in Aberdeen. He became a Mate, sailed with his Master Mariner brother in their ship ‘Gem’ in the foreign trade from 1851, mainly to Spain and Mediterranean ports then to Melbourne in 1853.  Findlay commanded ‘Gem’ and other ships in the coastal trade, avoiding Davy Jones’ locker with only one minor incident to discredit him, unlike William Whitfield who on occasions was reprimanded by the Marine Board. The first occasion, when he was 26, brought him no penalty and in fact his competence and bravery saved all but one of his crew when ‘Young Australia’ was wrecked near Port Campbell, Victoria in 1877. Working mainly on the Queensland Coast as a Master Mariner, William knew the treacherous inner passage well. He was a pilot at Port Curtis and the Torres Straits and despite liking his grog, expertly sailed tiny pearling luggers to Thursday Island for the pearling industry. But grounding a steamship at Townsville took the wind out of his sails and finished William’s maritime career. John Montgomery, from Londonderry in Ireland then Irvine in Ayrshire, Scotland, went to sea as a young boy and became a signaller on ships which took him to Australia. He liked what he saw and eventually brought his family to Newcastle from Scotland in 1886, and while never a land lubber, forsook the sea and became a railway signaller.