A Cabin Boy's Adventure

Arriving in Bunbury on 28 February 1932, the King Lud began loading wheat and was one of many ships anchored at the jetty during (what was noted to be) an “unexpected busy period“.

SS King Lud circa 1931. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

It departed for Fremantle on 8 March and arrived on the following day. Upon their arrival, a report was made to the police stating that the cabin boy, Sidney James Chapman, had jumped ship and was missing.

The last time Sidney was seen in Bunbury was on 5 March and when he did not return to the ship the alarm was raised. No one knew where he went however it was thought that he might have gone to Kalgoorlie with a couple of other men.

To help find him, a description was provided. Sidney was thought to be about 16 years old, was from Falmouth in England, of slim build, stood at five feet and one inch high, had a dark complexion and an obviously broken elbow which was badly set.

Despite inquiries, he was not found. Less than two weeks later the King Lud finished loading the cargo of wheat at Fremantle and at 11:10 pm on 16 March, it steamed away from Western Australia minus its cabin boy.

Even though it was thought he had gone to Kalgoorlie, Bunbury police were nevertheless concerned that he had drowned. Unbeknownst to them, while they contemplated dragging the harbour, Sidney was sitting in an empty truck with two mates and was headed for Collie.

From Collie the three men ‘jumped the rattler’ and travelled to Narrogin and then Northam by train. They spent three days in Northam before deciding to part ways. Sidney made his way back to Fremantle, joined up with another Englishman named Harold Taylor, and stowed away on the Koolinda.

The SS Koolinda circa 1928. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (112384PD).

The Koolinda left Fremantle on 12 May and arrived in Geraldton on 13 May. During the voyage Sidney and Harold were discovered and when they arrived at the Port they were sent ashore.

They expressed a desire to be put off at Geraldton. Continuing his statement, Captain Buckeridge said although he was not pressing for a heavy penalty in the present case he considered it necessary to take proceedings.

Geraldton Guardian and Express (WA : 1929 – 1947); 14 May 1932; Page 4; Stowaways

They appeared before the Police Court in Geraldton on the same day and were each fined one pound and one shilling. If unable to pay, they would be imprisoned for three days. Having escaped heavy penalty, they were warned by the Magistrate that next time the fine could be as high as £20.

It is not known whether Sidney opted to pay the fine or was imprisoned, however, after his court appearance he moved on. More train jumping ensued. From Geraldton he travelled to the town of Nannine, which was located north of Cue on the Murchison.

A steam train at Nannine Railway Station circa 1905. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia

Sidney camped on the recreation ground in Nannine for six weeks. He assumed the role of a prospector and, as he did so for the entirety of his journey, he survived on the goodwill of others. In Nannine he specifically lived on ten shillings per week which was a weekly allowance handed out to poor prospectors.

During the time Sidney was gallivanting around Western Australia, his Mum in Falmouth was becoming worried. She had not heard from him and decided to write to Reverend J. Clift, chaplain for the Missions to Seamen Institute at Fremantle. He undertook inquiries on her behalf and a notice was placed in the paper.

It soon became known that Sidney was in Nannine and after a policeman in town interviewed him, he again disappeared. By all appearances he planned to return to Fremantle. Accompanied by a friend, on Sunday, 21 August 1932 he hid himself on a train bound for Mullewa. In Mullewa his friend left and Sidney remained on the train, travelling along the Wongan line.

On 23 August, he was discovered in Goomalling and was removed from the train. He eventually resumed his travels when he made his way onto a wool truck which took him all the way back to Fremantle. He arrived at 7:30 am on 25 August, having “covered 588 miles since Sunday night by jumping trains between Nannine and Fremantle.

On the same day he was interviewed by a reporter from The Daily News and he was said to have finally written a letter to his Mum. He had seen a lot of Western Australia in the five months he spent stowing away on a ship and train jumping around the State. As he often asked for food or ate at soup kitchens, the entire journey was completed at little to no expense to himself.

Despite his young age his occupation meant that he had already seen a lot of the world. According to Sidney, from the age of 14, he had voyaged to the Persian Gulf, travelled to the Rio de le Plata (South America) and then on to Cairo in Egypt. When he was first employed on the King Lud in England, he travelled to Buenos Aires in South America. His next trip however was to be from Fremantle to England. Reverend Clift had also communicated with his mother and was sending him home.

Sidney eventually returned home to Falmouth but he did not remain on dry land for long. The ocean called and he soon obtained employment on other ships. Throughout the years he travelled around the world and rose up to the position of fireman. During WWII he was one of many merchant seamen who served their country.

On 2 September 1940 he was working on the SS Cymbeline when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German raider. Sidney was one of seven who lost their lives. His body was never recovered and he was declared “Missing, supposed drowned“. He is remembered with honour at Tower Hill Memorial in London along with thousands of other merchant seamen who “have no grave but the sea.

Sources:

  • Fairfax Corporation. 1931, SS King Lud, New South Wales, 7 June 1931, 3 , viewed 11 February 2020 http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-162493654
  • Photograph of the SS Koolinda courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 112384PD).
  • Photograph of the steam train at Nannine Railway Station courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 008104PD).
  • Ancestry.com. UK, Merchant Seamen Deaths, 1939 -1953 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2016. Original data: Lists of Merchant Seamen Deaths. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, UK.
  • Information about Sidney’s commemoration at Tower Hill Memorial courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  • 1932 ‘SHIPPING ACTIVITIES’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 6 March, p. 6. (Second Section), viewed 09 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58658913
  • 1932 ‘Cabin Boy Missing’, South Western Times (Bunbury, WA : 1932 – 1954), 9 March, p. 3. , viewed 09 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article252925785
  • 1932 ‘SHIPPING’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 17 March, p. 10. (HOME (FINAL) EDITION), viewed 09 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83571451
  • 1932 ‘”WILD RABB-I-O!”‘, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 8 July, p. 9. (HOME (FINAL) EDITION), viewed 09 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83701478
  • 1932 ‘STOWAWAYS’, Geraldton Guardian and Express (WA : 1929 – 1947), 14 May, p. 4. , viewed 09 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67300747
  • 1932 ‘CABIN BOY TURNS HOBO’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 25 August, p. 1. (HOME (FINAL) EDITION), viewed 09 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83814448
  • 1932 ‘CABIN BOY HOBO’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 29 August, p. 3. (HOME (FINAL) EDITION), viewed 09 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83810272

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