Saturday, October 20, 2018
Verbena

Captain Thomas Mills was qualifi ed as Extra Master in Sail and Steam, and while dual type qualification was not rare, there were very few seafarers qualified at this seniority level.

Thomas John Mills was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on 2nd of October, 1892. Thomas, along with his brother John, and sister Margaret, were orphaned at a young age. John joined the Gordon Highlanders Regiment and saw service in India, while Margaret qualified as a medical doctor then migrated to Australia where she served in the rural communities of Kynuna, Biloela and in later years the Brisbane Children’s Hospital.

Thomas was determined to go to sea even though the family solicitor, who was the guardian of the children, decided to article him as a clerk in the firm’s legal practice. The call of the sea was too strong however and, in 1910, he was signed on as an apprentice to the master of the fully rigged ship Verbena, owned by the Donaldson Line of Glasgow.

The Verbena was built by William Pickersgill & Sons of Sunderland, yard number 95, to the order of Bell Johnstone & Son of Liverpool, and launched in 1891. The ship was of steel construction, 79.2 metres length, beam 11.7 metres, 7 metres depth, 1,821 gross registered tons, with three masts carrying squarerigged sails. She was bought by Donaldson Brothers in 1904 and owned by them until 1914 over the next few years – Thomas Mills served his apprenticeship on the Verbena with a trip to Australia, then a number of trans-Pacific trips on the coal trade from Newcastle, New South Wales, to west coast South American ports.

In September 1914, Thomas Mills passed the examination for second mate after he had signed off the Verbena, which was sold by Donaldson Line to E Monsen of Tyedstrand, Norway, and renamed Craigisia. In May 1916, the Craigisia left London with a cargo of corn for Fayal (Azores) and was never heard from again.

After passing the examination for second mate, Thomas joined the Glentilt as second mate, then, from November 1914 until October 1915, he served as a junior officer with the Union Steam Ship Company on board SS Westmeath, HMNZT (His Majesty’s New Zealand Transport) Maunganni, and SS Waihora.

Thomas Mills joined the AUSN Company (Australian United Steam Navigation Company) as fourth officer in November 1915. Promoted to third officer in October 1916; he was then promoted to second officer in November 1917. After obtaining his first mate’s certificate in 1918, he joined the AUSN Company ship Kyarra as second officer.

The SS Kyarra was a twin-screw passenger cargo liner of 6,953 gross tons, 415 feet long with a beam of 52 feet; launched by Denny Brothers on 2nd of February, 1903. The Kyarra was registered at Fremantle, Western Australia, and, prior to World War One, she plied the England/Australia service. When war broke out she was fitted with a 4.7” quick-firing gun as a defence against submarines who, early in the hostilities, tended to surface and endeavour to sink ships by gunfire. She followed her pre-war trading pattern except for carrying Australian troops to the Dardanelles.

In 1917, Kyarra was converted to a Casualty Clearing Ship and, as such, sailed from Tilbury for her last voyage under the command of Captain William Smith on 24th of May, 1918. The orders were for the ship to embark 1,000 injured Australian soldiers at Davenport (Portsmouth) and transport them to Sydney, Australia. Kyarra was also to transport a few civilians and a full general cargo. In the early morning of 26th May the ship had cleared the Isle of Wight and was moving fast through calm seas around Anvil Point when she was struck by a torpedo fired from U-57 under the command of Oberleutant Johan Lohs. The torpedo struck the ship amidships killing six of the engine room crew. The rest of the crew took to the boats in haste as the ship sank in seven minutes. Fortunately, the ship had not picked up the wounded soldiers at that point in the voyage.

After the cessation of hostilities, Thomas Mills remained with the AUSN Company sailing mostly on the Australian coast ships of the company, including the passenger ships Ormiston and Orungal. Because of his decision to stay with the AUSN Company he settled in Brisbane, Queensland. Through friends he met, and eventually married, a young woman from Aberdeen, Miss Lillian Evelyn Stevens. Two boys, David and John, were eventually born to the couple. The family moved house to Sydney in 1926 so that Thomas could spend more time at home, as the company’s home port was in that city. He is thought to have passed for his Masters Certificate and, later, for Extra Master during the early 1920’s and, because of his sail training and experience, his certificate was endorsed as valid for Sail and Steam.

Captain Mills was having a break from deep sea employment in 1929 (possibly home on leave) when he was requested to serve as Mate under Captain Sydney Neill aboard the Brisbane tug Coringa. The tug was called to go to the assistance of E&A’s SS Arafura (1) which had lost a propeller blade during stormy weather off Townsville. The tug reached Arafura and put a tow line on board, then towed the disabled ship through the early part of a cyclone for 17 hours. However, due to steering gear problems, the tug starting to ship water, and they were forced to abandon the tow. The Coringa survived the cyclone and returned to Brisbane with most of her foredeck fittings missing, the bridge structure and lifeboats badly damaged. Another Brisbane tug, the Forceful, was called and managed to tow Arafura (1) into Brisbane two days later. After repairs were effected, the Coringa and Forceful towed Arafura (1) to Sydney for repair. Coringa and Forceful were owned by AUSN and managed by MacDonald Hamilton, Brisbane.

In July 1933, Captain Mills took command of SS Mungana of the AUSN Company shortly before the ship was taken under charter by E&A for a voyage to Japan. On return to Australia, he transferred to the E&A Line (they were both subsidiaries of the P&O Group) and subsequently commanded SS Tanda (1) in 1934; then later in the year assumed command of SS Nellore (1) until 1937. Towards the end of 1937 he was transferred to SS Nankin (1) as master. Shortly after assuming command the ship was coasting around Japan when they went to the rescue of some Japanese naval airmen who had crashed into the sea near Nagoya. On a subsequent voyage, in 1938, Captain Mills was presented with a momento in the form of a samurai helmet by Japanese Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai in appreciation of his efforts to save the crashed airmen. Following his service aboard Nankin, Captain Mills was transferred to SS Tanda. In September 1940, with war clouds on the horizon, Tanda evacuated British women and children from Hong Kong to Australia. He remained in command of that vessel until the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine while on a voyage to Mumbai (Bombay) in 1944.

During the Second World War the E&A Line lost all of their ships to enemy action. On the night of 29 June, 1944, shortly before midnight, SS Nellore (1) was sunk by a Japanese submarine approximately 1,200 miles due south of Sri Lanka. The crew took to the lifeboats and, after a harrowing voyage when many died, the survivors were washed up on the Maldive Islands.

Only 16 days after Nellore was sunk, SS Tanda was also lost while on voyage from Colombo to Mumbai (Bombay). At 02:50 on the morning of 16th July 1944, while on a northerly course and close by the city of Mangalore, the Tanda was struck amidships on the starboard side by a torpedo. The torpedo struck the ship in way of the boiler room, killing the firemen on duty and rupturing the steam lines, causing an immediate loss of electric power.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - January 2018 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Nexus

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top Ten Books and DVDs of 2018

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Focus on Historic Photographs of Lifeboats +

    Beken Lifeboat Collection Photographs of lifeboats dating from the turn of the 20th Century are the centrepiece of a new RNLI exhibition that Read More
  • Vehicle Carrier Runs Aground +

    Makassar Highway The vehicle carrier Makassar Highway, 17,735gt, of the Japanese company K Line, ran aground off the Swedish coast on the Read More
  • Keeping Port's Waterways Safe for Ships +

    UKD Orca The trailing suction hopper dredger UKD Orca, 3,087gt, of UK Dredging, of Cardiff, arrived at Ipswich in August for its Read More
  • Spotlight on Future Port Technology +

    Port of Southampton The next generation of port technologies that will help to keep the British industry trading are being jointly developed by Read More
  • Bridge Sections Transported on Giant Barge +

    Lowestoft Barge One of the largest barges ever handled at Lowestoft was safely moved out of the port early in July on Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Forest of Giant Cranes and a New Wharf +

    Port of Houston The Port of Houston, in Texas, took delivery of three new neopanamax ship-to-shore cranes on Aug 6 and five rubber-tyred Read More
  • Garbage Patch Clean-up Set to Start +

    garb The first offshore cleaning system was to be installed last month in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located halfway between Read More
  • Line's Big Investment in Puerto Rico Service +

    El Coqui At the end of July, the new container/roll on-roll off cargo ship El Coqui, 36,796gt, of the Crowley Maritime Corp, Read More
  • Cleaning Up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch +

    Garbage System 001 This month, a new floating clean-up system to tackle what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was due Read More
  • Panama Canal Ban on LNG Ships to Go +

    Panama Canal On Oct 1, the Panama Canal Authority will lift its daylight and encounter bans on LNG vessels to offer more Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • China is World's Top Shipping Nation +

    China Containers China is the world’s leading international shipping nation, according to a new report presented at a Hamburg trade fair on Read More
  • Automatic Berthing Project Test +

    Shioji Maru The proposed joint demonstration project by four Japanese organisations relating to the safety of vessels’ auto berthing and un-berthing has Read More
  • Record Voyage for Northern Sea Route LNG Cargo +

    Christophe de Margerie A new record for crossing the Northern Sea Route was set up in July by the icebreaking LNG carrier Christophe Read More
  • Antarctic Ship is Re-Chartered +

    Aurora Australis The contract for the icebreaker and research ship Aurora Australis, 6,574gt, to resupply Australia’s Antarctic stations has been extended until Read More
  • Wreck of Cruiser From 1905 Battle is Located +

    Kea Trader The South Korean company Shinil Group said it has found the wreck of a Russian cruiser that was sunk 113 Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • HMS Albion Proves Big in Japan +

    HMS Albion British News The assault ship HMS Albion, at time of writing, had just completed a five day visit to Tokyo Read More
  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

    HMS Magpie British News The latest survey vessel to join the Royal Navy was commissioned into service at her homeport of Devonport Read More
  • F-35 Stealth Fighters Land in UK +

    F-35 British News The first four of Britain’s next generation F-35 Lightning supersonic fighter jets touched down in the United Kingdom Read More
  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

    Nyerere A country well used to tragedy, saw another, on Lake Victoria in September. Read More
  • Trouble for "Loch Seaforth" +

    Loch Seaforth Ferry services between Ullapool and Stornoway were disrupted when Caledonian MacBrayne’s Loch Seaforth lost power just over an hour into Read More
  • Stena Adds Extra Freight Capacity to Liverpool Service +

    Stena Forerunner In response to growing market demand, Stena Line has upped freight capacity on the popular Belfast – Liverpool route. Read More
  • Honfleur Hull Sections Craned Into Place +

    Honfleur Brittany Ferries has celebrated the second milestone in the build of its next ship Honfleur with the keeling laying - the Read More
  • Trinidad and Tobago to Sell T&T Express +

    T&T Express Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley has announced that the Incat 91 wave piercing catamaran Incat 046, otherwise known Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Sunderland to Esbjerg Race +

    Oosterschelde On the north east coast of England, it was Sunderland’s proud claim that more ships had been built here than Read More
  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

    Belem At the end of May, a Tall Ships fleet met at Liverpool. Read More
  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Less (K)Notts, More Speed! +

    Sir Keith Speed A recent addition to my book collection is Sea Change, a commentary on the battle for the Falkland Islands and Read More
  • UK P&I Club Launches Interactive Video Series +

    Lessons Learned Video I am always in favour of any steps taken to improve safety of life at sea and I feel that Read More
  • Seaking Electrical Delivers DFDS Upgrades +

    Dave Gillam I was interested to learn that Marine engineering specialist SeaKing has recently completed extensive upgrade work on three shortsea ferries Read More
  • Edinburgh Named Top Cruise Destination for 2018 +

    Balmoral In my ‘Message From the Bridge’ in August’s edition of Sea Breezes, I mentioned the burgeoning cruise market in the Read More
  • Naming Ceremony for Forth Tug and Pilot Boat +

    Forth Puma and Craigleith In my Message From The Bridge in the August edition of Sea Breezes I highlighted the Firth of Forth. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Back to Back Transatlantic on the Queen Mary 2 +

    Queen Mary 2 In the past I have been fortunate in that I have been on a cruise to a number of the Read More
  • Turnkey Explorer Yacht +

    Explorer 67 An exciting opportunity for an owner looking to build one of the finest explorer yacht projects available has presented itself. Read More
  • Great Perseverance +

    Meira Behind the construction of every great yacht there is a story and in the building of Meira, it is one Read More
  • Keel Laid for Hapag-Lloyd’s First Expedition Cruise Ship +

    Hanseatic Inspiration A keel-laying ceremony was held on June 20 2017 for Hanseatic Nature, the first of two expedition cruise ships being Read More
  • Superyacht Season - Cannes +

    Numarine 26 XP Loved and hated in equal measure by those who exhibit at the Cannes Yachting Festival, as it is correctly known, Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Maltese Maritime Museum

A Visit to Ye Olde Naval Bakery

Malta’s “Maritime Museum” is housed in the former Naval Bakery on the quay of Valletta’s urban ward Birgu. Construction of Read More
Presidente Peron

"Eva Peron"

If someone in 1939 had decided to sit out the Second World War they might well have done so in Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Islamount

The Last Voyage of the Islamount

Submitted by T. D. DAVIES, Caernarvonshire - Reprinted from Sea Breezes June, 1936. Thomas David Davies, author of the 1936 Sea Read More
John W Brown

A Cruise in a Liberty Ship

Any debate about the single most important military invention during World War Two would probably become heated and unlikely to Read More
  • 1
  • 2