- Swinden, Greg
- Biographies and personal histories, Early warships
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Penguin I, HMAS Psyche
- June 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As the old story goes – Dead men tell no tales. However, well maintained archives and records do. This is the story of the search, discovery and eventual refurbishment of the grave of a long dead World War I sailor.
In December 1995 while conducting research on Royal Australian Navy casualties during World War I, I discovered that a Stoker 2nd Class Peter Joseph Victor Hanlon of HMAS Penguin had died of tuberculosis on 2 September 1916 and was buried at Waterfall NSW. His grave was noted by the Australian War Memorial records as being Grave 17 Plot K in the Roman Catholic Section.
At the time my family and I were living in Oyster Bay, about 20 km north of Waterfall, and one Sunday I was able to convince my wife and young son to join me on a search for Hanlon’s grave on what my wife, Kathy, described as yet another famous Swinden family mystery tour.
On arrival at Waterfall a quick tour of the small town revealed there was no church and no cemetery. On questioning some locals I was reliably informed. `There is no church or cemetery round here mate’. Strike one on the search for Hanlon’s grave.
In early 1996 I asked one of my colleagues at Naval Support Command, Mr. Richard Walker, if he knew anything about a cemetery at Waterfall. Richard is a long serving Public Servant, ex-Naval Reservist and a long time resident of Heathcote. He was able to provide the first substantial clues as to where Hanlon lay. Richard advised that for many years a Tuberculosis Sanatorium had operated at Waterfall and that it was now the Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care.
Noting that Hanlon had died of tuberculosis this was probably a good, although slightly delayed, start point. Armed with this information I wrote to Garrawarra requesting any information they had on Hanlon. I also wrote to Mr. Keith McLackland (an Ex Chief Petty Officer Coxswain) and now in charge of the Records Section of the Directorate of Sailors Career Management (DSCM) requesting a copy of Hanlon’s Service Record.
The copy of the Service Record from DSCM arrived first and revealed a wealth of information about Stoker Hanlon. He was born in Rathmines, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland on 17 November 1896 and joined the Royal Australian Navy, at age 18, on 29 December 1914. His period of enlistment was to be for five years. On joining his description was given as being 5 foot 8 inches tall, dark brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh freckled complexion. He also had a scar on his right wrist. His next of kin was his sister, Nellie Hanlon, of 64 Mt Shannon Road Killmainham Dublin.
Hanlon was issued official number 4339 and joined the old monitor HMAS Cerberus, at Melbourne, to train as a Stoker (i.e. to work in the ship’s engine room). He stayed in Cerberus until 1 July, 1915 when he was drafted to the old Pelorus Class Cruiser HMAS Psyche.
Psyche had been laid down on 15 November 1897 and commissioned in 1900. She served in the Royal Navy until June 1915 when she was handed over to the RAN. Psyche then spent the next two years on patrol duties in the Bay of Bengal, Malayan and South East Asian waters. During this time she was based at Rangoon, Burma and carried out patrols to check on shipping in the region. At one point it was thought the Germans might try to ship arms into the area and stir up a native revolt against the British.
Psyche was designed for the North Atlantic and was not suitable for the tropical climate of South East Asia. With the excessive heat and humidity, no system of air conditioning, poor living and working conditions and inadequate food it was not long before most of her crew, especially the stokers, were sick with a variety of illnesses. Hanlon was obviously one of those who became ill as he was sent back to Australia and was nominally posted to the Depot Ship HMAS Penguin on 29 January 1916. Prior to leaving Psyche his conduct was assessed as VG (Very Good) and his ability as a Stoker was considered Moderate.