- A.N. Other
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Una
- December 2015 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Leyland Wilkinson
On 18 March 1918 the Sydney Morning Herald briefly reported the death in England on 7 March of Commander J .M. Jackson, RN. It stated: He had been one of the best known officers of the Royal Navy, serving on the Australian Station (1900-1913). John Metcalfe Jackson was born on 3 September 1883 at Highbridge, East Chiltington, Sussex, the youngest son of the Reverend J. Russell Jackson, Vicar of Moulton, Lincolnshire. He attended Moulton Grammar School before entering the Royal Navy as a cadet, on the 15 May 1899, when aged 15 years and 8 months.
His initial training was aboard HMS Britannia, originally a three-deck, 100-gun first rate ship of the line, then used as a training ship based at Dartmouth, before joining his first seagoing ship, the Majestic class battleship HMS Jupiter.On promotion to Midshipman in 1900 he was posted to HMS Royal Arthur. She later became flagship of the Australian Station and escorted the Royal Yacht Ophir carrying the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall on their visit to Australia and New Zealand. This was a voyage of discovery for this young officer and gave him his first opportunity to see all the major ports of Australia which had been especially prepared for the Royal visitors.
Midshipman Jackson was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in 1903 and began further studies in surveying. The next year he was listed as Assistant Surveyor 4th class and took up his duties aboard HMS Research.This ship was tasked with surveying and charting parts of the many dangers around the inside passage of the Great Barrier Reef. After a seven-month periodResearch herself was damaged by grounding on a coral reef, necessitating a return to Sydney for docking. HMAS Penguin was directed to carry on the survey with the now newly promoted LEUT Jackson, able to complete his charts.
His progress was steady with continued advancement in surveying qualifications. Some personal remarks recorded on his Service Records show that he was: ‘A good capable and zealous young officer of excellent judgement and physique’ and ‘Thoroughly understands the management of men. A very good surveyor and draughtsman.’
He next joined the survey ship HMS Fantome, in which he served for four years. During this time Fantome’s surveyors were called upon to assist courts of marine enquiry on several occasions, in determining the accuracy of navigation charts that had been brought into question, following incidents of loss or damage to shipping. In some cases hazards were incorrectly fixed, or not shown at all on the charts. One such occasion was the total loss of the passenger liner SS Pericles (10,925 tons), sunk six miles off Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia in 1910, apparently after striking a submerged, uncharted pinnacle of rock.
The wardroom officers from HMS Fantome provided a guard of honour for Lieutenant Jackson’s wedding to Miss Winifred Dodds, the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs Leonard Dodds of Penshurst, NSW at St. Thomas’s Church, North Sydney, during Christmastide 1908. The bridesmaids received gold bangles engraved with the name HMS Fantome as gifts from the bridegroom. Among the many wedding guests was adistinguished gathering of naval officers, including Captain Claude Pasco, the grandson of Admiral Nelson’s Flag Lieutenant at Trafalgar.
Fantome’s surveyors were next bound for New Zealand, and tasked with completing a new chart of Auckland Harbour and approaches. At the end of the time allocated to perform this work, LEUT Jackson was due to leave the Australian Station and return to London aboard HMS Edgar. However the survey had not been completed by the due date, and he was informed that the Admiralty had received a letter from the Auckland Harbour Board, regarding the expeditious and efficient manner in which he had carried out the survey, and asking that his services as Admiralty Surveyor in charge of the project, be retained to fully complete the charts to Admiralty specifications.
Approval was given for LEUT Jackson, assisted by three seamen from Fantome, to remain ashore in Auckland to draw a fair chart. Upon completion of this work Jackson wrote a complimentary personal letter to the Auckland Sailors Home as follows: ‘I would like to let you know, before my departure from Auckland, how pleased I am with the way you have treated my ABs during their stay at the Sailors’ Home. I can safely say that the men have never been so comfortably quartered before in their lives while on duty, and they fully appreciate the way you have considered their comfort. I think the Sailors Home is in every way a model, which might well be imitated in other seaport towns I am acquainted with, and the extremely cheap rate at which you take in the men astonishes me, in a town like Auckland where I consider living to be very expensive.’
His service completed in Fantome, he returned to Australia, now qualified as a 1st Class Surveyor, and was appointed First Lieutenant of another survey ship HMS Sealark(1). Then commenced a busy eight months at sea, cruising north around the Solomon Islands, then down through the Great Barrier Reef, and finally to Tasmania. On this voyage they had the benefit of a new sounding device, capable of reaching a depth of five miles.
While in Hobart, he and his draughtsman were given the use of large tables in the Parliament House, in lieu of their small chart room aboard Sealark, to complete fair charts of their season’s work. Jackson remained in Sealark until a request was made by the Commonwealth Naval Board, that his services be retained in Australian waters by the newly formed Royal Australian Navy. Thus he joined HMAS Australia (his service records show for minesweeping duties), with his name appearing in the Royal Australian Navy List for the first time on 1st April 1913.
At the outbreak of the First World War LEUT Jackson was attached to HMAS Warrego, and along with other Australian naval units patrolled north of Australia, to oppose the enemy squadron, known to be in the vicinity of the German New Guinea. Warrego entered Simpson Harbour on 12 August 1914, and armed landing parties were sent ashore at Rabaul to establish the location of a German wireless station, believed to be in the area. On 14 September at Kavieng, Warrego captured the German yachtNusa, a 61-ton wooden steamer armed with 2 x 3-pdr guns, which was then brought back to Rabaul. Here Nusawas pressed into service with a small crew taken from HMAS Berrimaand placed under the temporary command of the now LCDR Jackson to continue searching for any evidence concerning ship or crew from the missing submarine AE1. (2)
Following the eventual capitulation of the area by the German governor, LCDR Jackson was appointed King’s Harbour Master at Rabaul. However, shortly afterwards he was ordered by Colonel Holmes, officer in overall charge of the Australian Forces in New Guinea, to take command of the captured Nusa,now to be known as HMAS Nusa (3),and proceed to search for the German naval ship Komet,which had been sending wireless messages and posing a threat to allied shipping in the area.
Accordingly on 9 October, with a small force of infantry under the command of Lt Colonel Paton, he proceeded to sea, and searched along the north coast of New Britain. On 13 October a wireless message from Jackson announced the capture, and a few hours later both ships were reported making passage up the harbour. Jackson on Nusa’sbridge led the way in, his prize following her captor, and by noon Komet, now flying the white ensign, lay off Rabaul.
An extract from Colonel Paton’s report of the incident states: ‘The Komet has been captured undamaged and the wireless plant is aboard and in working order. I desire to specially bring under your notice the zeal, initiative, and indomitable energy of Commander Jackson, who is mainly responsible for bringing to a successful issue this expedition. His keenness is infectious and had been reflected in the whole of the small party. I need hardly add that the negotiation of the innumerable small reefs off the uncharted coasts required all the care and skill of an experienced navigator.’
Komet was realised as a valuable naval asset, and was quickly sent to Sydney, commanded by Jackson, where she was refitted, rearmed with 3 x 4-inch, and 2 x 12- pdr guns and commissioned as HMAS Una on the 17 November 1914.
A despatch from Colonel Holmes to the Minister of Defence requested that the ship be returned to New Guinea at the earliest possible date: ‘with Jackson in command, as his local knowledge was essential. I cannot speak too highly of the services rendered by Lt. Comm. Jackson, who has been most indefatigable and displayed qualities of seamanship of a high order in navigating dangerous waters without being in possession of accurate or reliable charts. It is on account of these capabilities that I ask that he be returned here in command of the Komet, and that consideration be given to the question of granting him the rank of Acting Commander as a reward for his services’.
Jackson was promoted to Commander on 24 November 1915. On 30 November HMAS Una, escorting the troop ship Eastern, returned to Rabaul, and commenced patrol and administrative duties, under Jackson’s command. Una’s destinations were many and varied but she continued a busy schedule of patrols to police possible enemy activity and charting unknown areas as required by the Navy.
On one such occasion, Una was called to assist SS Marsina (1,948 tons), an inter-island steamer, which had grounded on a reef while returning to Brisbane after having transported supplies and personnel to the garrison in Rabaul. Following ten days of continuous effort, Marsina was eventually refloated, and Una’s crew were rewarded for their labours with salvage rights. Jackson’s share was £50.6s.3d.
In October 1916 Jackson led a combined Anglo-French punitive expedition to the island of Malekula in the Hebrides, in response to the killing of a British trader by rebellious natives. His armed landing party comprised troops from Una, and the French sloop Kersaint. In the actions that followed seven native police carried by Una were killed and one crew member wounded, before peace was restored.
Tropical diseases were prevalent in these areas and Una’screw had been administered with the drug quinine, to help protect them from contracting the infectious mosquito-borne disease malaria. However, after only one week in the steamy jungle conditions, 40% of Una’s crew, including her commander, were struck down with the debilitating disease. Unable to carry on, Unawithdrew to Port Vila, Vanuatu. Assistance was requested and Commander William Burrows, RN was hastily brought from Sydney on the island steamer Makambo, arriving on 18 November, to relieve Jackson and return the stricken Una to Sydney, arriving at Garden Island on 26 November. Commander Jackson was taken to hospital early the next morning; three days later he was officially discharged from Una,and attached to the Sydney-based depot ship Penguin.
On 5 March 1917, after having apparently recovered from his bout of malaria, he sailed from Australian waters, where he had spent 16 busy years, and returned to England aboard HMAT Euripides. He reported to the Commonwealth Commissioners Office in London on 25 May, and reverted to the Royal Navy. Then on 10 July 1917 he was given command of HMS Daisy, a Surveying Trawler (520 tons) based in Dover as part of the Nore Command.
At this time a raid was being prepared by the Royal Navy to attack the heavily fortified ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend, and block the harbour exits, thereby preventing German submarines and torpedo boats from entering the English Channel. Daisyand other ships of the Dover Patrol were to be involved in charting a clear passage for this invasion, through the narrow and shallow waters off the coast of Flanders, along the Belgian coast among the German and British minefields.
On several occasions when returning to Dover, Jackson called on a local doctor to seek help for recurring bouts of depression and dizziness, caused by the malarial fever he had contracted 18 months earlier. However, he returned to his ship when he felt able to continue. Malaria is a terrible disease that can, if not completely cleared from the body, return at any time, in some cases many years later.
On 7 March, while Daisy was at sea, LEUT James Dalgleish, RNR, who was on the bridge with his commander, noted: ‘He (Jackson) who was usually very cheerful had been very depressed all day and seemed as if he were dazed. All he said was ‘I am off, you carry on’ and he went below. About two hours later a shot was heard and Jackson’s body was found with a wound to the head. He died a few minutes later in the chart room, and Daisy made for Dover where his body was landed.
This dedicated man, who had only recently been reported on by the Naval Secretary as ‘doing valuable work, and showing dash, enterprise and judgement’, had been overtaken by his nemesis, malaria. At the following inquest two doctors said he was obviously suffering from the effects of malarial fever. If one did get a sudden attack of malarial depression, it could for a moment unhinge the mind.
His funeral took place with naval honours at St. James Cemetery Dover, on 11 March. The coffin was conveyed to the cemetery on a gun carriage covered with the Union Jack. Six sailors acted as bearers and four commanders as pall bearers. The Last Post was sounded by a bugler of the Royal Marines. The coffin bore the following inscription: John Metcalfe Jackson. Died March 7th 1918. Aged 35 years.
His name is recorded and remembered on a memorial, dedicated to the Trawler and Minesweeping Patrol, located on the Dover War Memorial. This memorial is made from teak and the copper cross from HMS Britannia, his first ship.
It is possibly surprising we know so little of this gallant officer who spent most of his active adult life on the Australia Station where his contribution both in peace and war was of considerable value. The early and tragic end to his life was undoubtedly due to disease then endemic in the islands to our north. While the author has endeavoured to discover a photograph of CMDR Jackson through inquiries in Australia, Britain and New Zealand, to date none has been found. Should our readers have any further relevant information on CMDR Jackson this would be greatly appreciated.
- HMS Sealarkwas originally build as the luxury private yacht Wanderer, she was purchased by the Admiralty in 1903 and commissioned as HMS Investigatorbut after refitting as a survey vessel she as renamed HMS Sealarkand sailed for the China Station. From 1910 to 1914 she undertook surveys on the Australia Station. After WW1 she paid off and was later sold to James Patrick where she plied the interstate trade until 1924 when she was seized to repay bank debts. She was later converted into a hulk. Her figurehead was presented to the RAN, originally sited on the foreshore of Garden Island, but now located in the Heritage Centre.
- The German colonial ships Nusaand Komet were captured in New Guinea and were locally commissioned to assist the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force and both flew the white ensign. While they were known as HMA Ships their commissioning was never acknowledged by the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board.
- 3. The following is taken from the official report into the loss of AE1: 184.108.40.206 Ian Noble’s research reveals that NUSA was a 60 ton official German yacht captured by HMAS WARREGO in Kavieng on 14th September 1914. She was towed back to Rabaul by WARREGO, armed and pressed into service with a crew from HMAS BERRIMA, under the command of LCDR John Metcalf Jackson. There are no records in the AWM regarding NUSA.
- 4. ‘The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 1918’, Vol IX ‘The Royal Australian Navy’ by AW Jose makes one mention of the ship and that is on page on 112. Although AWM photographic records refer to HMAS NUSA, no substantive evidence that NUSA was ever commissioned into the RAN has been found. Colonel Holmes declared that she was to be known as HMAS NUSA when he directed LCDR Jackson to take command and proceed to New Ireland to search for the SMS KOMET, possibly to add a more official status to the expedition. There are also 5 files in the NAA, which refer to NUSA, but only in the context of its actual seizure and the subsequent action in Prize Courts.
- Regarding LCDR Jackson, the only reference is in an AWM file entitled ‘Official History – Biographical and Research files’. This file (AWM43 – A416) has biographical information on 12 persons named Jackson, including J M Jackson. It lists him as a LCDR RN (1st Apr 1913), and as a CMDR from 24th Nov 1915. It shows him as posted to WARREGO from AUSTRALIA on 27th Aug 1914, to HMAS UNA on 17th Oct 1914, to PENGUIN on 1st Dec 1916 and as Kings Harbour Master Rabaul from 1st – 10th Oct 1914. It further states: ‘He was left at Rabaul as KHM and appointed by Col Holmes in command of the NUSA to capture theSMS KOMET. It also notes him as in command of UNA from Nov 14 – Nov 16. He died in England between 24th Feb 25 and 1st Mar 26.