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The Boonah Tragedy Of 1918

The Boonah Tragedy Of 1918

The HMAT Boonah was a German ship that was built in the early part of the 20th century i.e. 1912 to be exact. It was built for the Australian trade which is why it was also known as the Melbourne. In 1914, the ship was renamed to Boonah after it was caught by the Commonwealth Government. The ship suffered a lot of tragedies when it reached Australia. Woodman Point was the main centre where the victims of the tragedies were stationed to recover.

Woodman Point Recreation Camp

Friends of the Woodman Point Recreation Campwas a former quarantine station at the time of the tragedy. It now preserves the legacy of the former quarantine station. Our skills and their finances helped us preserve a part of history by building a model of the Boonah from scratch. Our proposal was considered in several associations’ meetings and finally Seacraft Gallery was selected amongst others as the model maker to construct the replica scale 1:375 of A36 HMAT Boonah ship.

It took us nearly six months to build the model. There was no information regarding the ship, just very little details and some pictures for reference. It was a difficult task, but definitely one that paid off. Most of the information on the ship was taken from various books and that’s how the foundations of the project were laid.

Our team paid great attention to detail and craftsmanship while creating the model. To maintain the exactness of the original boat, we carefully planned out everything first and then came to the conclusion of what construction method to employ. Planking techniques were used to construct the model and materials of the highest quality were employed. No plastic was used in the manufacturing of the model. Instead the model is made of wood and metal.

Once the ship was complete, the model was set up at in the hall of Friends of the Woodman Point Recreation Camp. The staff was very pleased and everyone simply loved the quality of the ship. Our hard work paid off and we brought smiles to the faces of all the people there.

The model of the Boonah was the latest addition to the Friends of the Woodman Point Recreation Camp. The craftsmanship received praises from all around and it added value and another piece of history to the space.

Boonah custom model ship
Boonah custom model ship
Boonah custom model ship

What was The Boonah Tragedy?

If you don’t already know the Boonah tragedy happened in 1918, when the ship arrived in Durban, South Africa. It was just a few days after the armistice was signed. The ship was then supposed to make its way back to Australia.

While the Boonah was in Durban, local dockworkers were loading supplies on to the ship. What the people on the ship did not know was that these dockworkers were infected with the Spanish influenza. The flu was then contracted by the troops that were on the ship and it spread to everyone on the ship while it was on its journey back to Australia.

Just five days after the Boonah had left Africa, the already rough weather started triggering the symptoms of the flu in some people on the ship. Unfortunately, the first person to lose their life because of the delirious symptoms of the flu was Sergeant Arthur Charles; he jumped from the ship on 9 December 1918 and committed suicide.

This ofcourse did not stop here. By the time the Boonah reached Fremantle at least 300 cases of the flu were reported and the authorities refused to let soldiers out of the ship as it would cause a flu epidemic in Western Australia, which at the time was safe from Spanish influenza.

A few delays took place, but finally approval was given to 300 extremely sick soldiers to come ashore. It took three days to bring all these soldiers ashore. These soldiers were moved to a Quarantine Station located at Woodman Point. Atleast three men had died on the first day of the quarantine. However, as days started passing by more and more deaths were happening and the staff at the quarantine station also contracted the flu. Armed guards were stationed at Woodman Point to make sure that no one from the quarantine station got out and came in contact with anyone. The authorities were worried what effects the flu would have on the local population.

The remaining people were still on the ship and the conditions on it just kept on getting worse. The close proximity in the ship made it easier for the flu to spread to everyone and there was no sign that it would actually stop anytime soon. But in no time public became furious at the immigration authorities for not letting sick man ashore. The tensions and rift increased to a breaking point, after nine days the ship sailed back and the men were brought ashore.

Casualties of the tragedy

Between 1918 – 1920 The Spanish Influenza infected atleast 500 million people around the world. Death tolls were between 50 – 100 million and that’s almost 4% of the world’s population. A total of 4 nurses and 27 soldiers died because of Influenza.

After World War I, this was an additional tragedy for the troops headed to Australia. Woodman point catered to just a fraction of millions of people around the world who were infected with the Spanish flu. Modern medicine was absent at that time and because of the lack of it, it was very hard to cure certain illnesses.

Despite the authorities attempts to contain the flu, Australia’s civilian population still caught The Spanish Flu and death tolls rose to atleast 12,000.

It was a difficult time but one that the country got out of. Friends of Woodman Point Recreation Camp serves as a memoir to the troops and staff who passed away in the quarantine station. It has done much to preserve the legacy of the victims and the quarantine station. They have been conducting tours since the past ten years and tries its best to share the historical legacy of the place.

It tells a bittersweet tale of a time when a lot of people lost their lives and when a lot of them persevered through it too. Such places make us feel compassion and strength at the same time and remind us that our struggles, no matter how small don’t go in vain.

The model of this historical ship we built for them is one of the many examples of our team’s craftsmanship. We don’t compromise on quality and deliver our projects timely. If you want to get a custom handcrafted model built, check out our website!

Seacraft Gallery is a leading supplier of handcrafted wooden model ships and boats in Sydney, Australia. 

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