Castle Roland

The Trader

by Charles Bird


Chapter 4

Published: 7 Jan 16


Copyright © 2012-2015 by Charles Bird

SS Alpaco

The characters, localities and happenings in this story are the products of the author's imagination or, are used fictitiously. The story is copyrighted and is the property of the author and may not be copied, reproduced or retransmitted without his express permission.

From Chapter 3: As they headed back out to sea, the copra smelled as bad as they had remembered it and the boys made it a point to stay up on the bridge as much as they could. They were above the stink and the motion of the ship blew the smell aft and away from the bridge. In doing so, by the time the coast outside Sydney came over the horizon, both boys had become pretty damned good helmsmen.


They celebrated Toby's Fifteenth Birthday on August 16th, Mrs. Collins had invited all the tenth year class from Paddington Grove Academy. It was, of course, all boys and Toby's classmates were eager to learn all about the "mysterious American Sea Captain, Joe Turner". Americans were rare in Australia and were thought to all being marvelously wealthy and lived on vast prairies, shooting buffalo like in the moving pictures.

Toby and Gyles had been singing Joe's praises since school resumed and all the boys in their class wanted to know all about this man who owned his own ship. They all looked at Joe like girls looked at famous movie actors.

Little did Toby know that Joe had discovered a sister ship to the Camel and was determined to purchase it.

The Mule was sitting at the receiver's pier for unpaid bills against the ship. The Mule was basically sound when he and the Receiver had inspected the vessel. It was very dirty and smelled to high heaven, but the engine was in good condition and there had been a recent docking, showing the hull was sound. All the deck gear was in working order and the ship was listed with the ABS (American Bureau of Shipping).

The bills against the Mule amounted to AUS$375,000, and the Receiver had agreed to waive Australian Registry if Joe registered the ship as an American Flag Vessel.

Joe had discussed the matter with his crew and they were all for purchasing the ship and forming Turner Marine Services Company. Joe had worked all the legalities out with the American Embassy in Canberra and he was ready to do the deed. New crewmembers would have to "buy" into the crew cooperative or remain ordinary employees with no share in the profits.

He had come home specifically to wish Toby a happy birthday, after all, a boy is fifteen only once in his life! Many of Toby's classmates were envious of the close relationship he had with his Father, there was no doubting the two loved each other deeply.

Joe had dropped a bombshell on Toby the night before when he had announced that Toby was on the Board of Directors of the new company and would be required to attend Board Meetings regularly.

After the party ran down and the boys had left, except for Gyles McPherson. Toby and Gyles helped Mrs. Collins pick up the mess and straighten the house while Joe made a few telephone calls.

He first spoke with his insurance agent in Los Angeles to get the Mule placed on the policy. He told them that Paul Gibson would be the Captain and Don Early would become the Chief Engineer. He gave the agent their Coast Guard License numbers and that he would flesh out the crew with locals who were licensed or held certificates.

He then made arrangements for the Mule to be serviced with fuel, food delivered and all the bedding, linens and mess and galley equipment replaced.

His last call was to the Sydney Port Authority to lease offices next to their pier for the Turner Marine Services Company.

When he had finished his calls, he looked up and saw both Toby and Gyles standing there with their mouths hanging open in admiration. Gyles said, "Wow, your Dad can really move when he needs to!"

Joe noticed the boys were holding hands, but wisely, he said nothing and invited the boys to come in the office and have a seat.

He then made a few more calls and placed an ad in the Sydney Times for a Business Agent with shipping experience to manage the company office. When he was done, he asked the boys if they wanted to go down to the Mule with him to look things over before heading to the Camel.

Joe "borrowed" James Bickley to oversee the refurbishing of the Mule and replacing all the bedding, linens and dinning appliances and he wanted to see how the work was coming along. It suddenly hit him, he didn't need to hire a business agent, he already had one in James!

He spoke to James about the position and ended up cancelling the newspaper advertisement. He told James to find a replacement for himself on the Camel and hire a Purser for the Mule. Joe definitely wanted a Purser on each ship.

Joe got Paul and Don together and told them to start putting together a crew for the Mule, that he had cargo for them and they needed to be ready to sail in two weeks.


They missed their sailing date by a day, the Mule didn't get underway until August 1st. They had a mixed cargo and their first port was Perth. They had several large crates of mining machinery, mostly as deck cargo as well as a full hold that included many semi-perishable items.

It was beginning to be the high heat season and Perth was miserable, it was hot and humid and the small port was crowded. The Mule was able to slip into a smaller pier at the far end of the harbor and use their own booms to swing the crates onto tractor pulled sledges.

Their next Port of Call would be Jakarta, up through the Sunda Strait. Then they had crates of canned and dry goods destined for Semarang on the north coast of Java.

They would then fill their hold with tropical woods at Surabaya in East Java before returning to Sydney. The tropical hardwoods business was booming and the furniture factories in Sydney and Melbourne had more orders than they had wood to fulfill them. There was always enough cargo to make the outward voyage to Java pay and the Mule would stay on that route for several years.

In the meantime, the Camel made ready for sea, they had a load of machinery to go to Brisbane and the remainder of the hold was filled with supplies for Port Moresby in the Protectorate of New Guinea. It was cheaper to ship goods by ship to either the north coast or the east coast of Australia than to ship on the Ghan. (the national railroad)

Toby was upset to have Joe leave, but Joe promised him that he could sail during summer break beginning the next November. The way Toby and Gyles were always together, Joe was pretty sure Gyles would be sailing, too.

They sailed on the morning tide for Brisbane, which was just a short hop up the coast. After unloading the machinery from the deck, the Camel proceeded across the Coral Sea to Port Moresby with pallets of food and supplies. It was slow unloading, as they did not want to damage the supplies that were needed to sustain the people living at Port Moresby. During the storm season, most small island ports were not accessible.

They took on pallets of limestone tiles and fascia blocks for buildings in Sydney before departing for New Britain and finally, Suva in Fiji.

While they were on Fiji, they spotted several Japanese ships, apparently surveying the island. Joe was concerned enough that he reported the incident to the Island Administrator, who sent off a wireless reporting the matter.

The Marconi operator brought Joe a message, asking him to make a stop at Tonga before returning to Sydney. They headed southwest out of Suva for Tongatapu, the port for the capital city of Nuku'alofa.

When they got to Tonga, they found the Agent of the Kingdom of Tonga waiting for them, the young Crown Prince, Prince Tuafa 'ahau had broken his leg and needed surgery at Queen's Hospital in Sydney. The agent entrusted Joe with a bag of gold coins and a smaller bag of pearls to pay for the Prince's passage and hospital treatment.

The young man, despite the obvious pain he was in, was a pleasant passenger and Joe found himself liking the young man. The young Prince was about the same age as Toby and he promised Prince Tuafa 'ahau that he would bring his own son by to see him as he was recovering in the hospital.

It took nearly ten days to get back to Sydney, the seas were rough and the Camel was tossing and pounding, so Joe slowed down a bit so as to not injure their passenger further.

The young prince never complained and was cheerful every time Joe looked in on him. The boy had become a favorite of the crew and there was always some treat that Cookie had dreamed up, sitting on the table next to the Prince's bunk.

Joe had sent a Marconi to James, asking him to make arrangements to get Prince Tuafa 'ahau to Queen's Hospital as soon as they docked.

As Joe was carrying the boy down the gangway, Prince Tuafa 'ahau had a fearful look on his face and he asked, "I don't know anyone here, will you go with me?"

There was no way Joe could refuse the boy, he hugged him and said he would.

The hospital staff was waiting for Prince Tuafa 'ahau and Joe saw him settled in his private room, He said, "Taffy", I need to tend to my ship, I will comeback this evening and bring my son, Toby with me."

Tuafa 'ahau replied, "Can I call you Uncle Joe?"

Joe smiled and told him he could, so Tuafa 'ahau continued, "Uncle Joe, would you be sure to bring your son with you, it gets awful lonely when I am alone."

Joe replied with a gentle laugh, "OK, we can't have you getting lonely, can we?"

Joe headed out and went back to the Camel to finish seeing to the offloading of the cargo and making arrangements for refueling and restocking.

When Joe got home, Mrs. Collins was starting supper and both Toby and Gyles were sitting in Joe's office doing their homework.

The minute the boys spotted Joe, the homework was forgotten and they were anxiously asking how the voyage had gone. Joe told them about Prince "Taffy" and they both agreed to go visit the young Tongan Prince right after supper.

The three boys formed a friendship that was to last their lifetimes. They were all about the same age and they had similar interests. They left only after the Head Sister (nurse) shooed them out by turning off the lights!

Tuafa 'ahau was to be operated on the next day and the boys made Joe promise he would bring them back so they could be there when Tuafa 'ahau woke up from his operation.

The boys became so close, Joe agreed that Prince Taffy could come to the house for his recuperation, rather than having to remain in the hospital. Joe agreed on the condition that Taffy would not try anything strenuous before his doctor said he was ready.

Taffy's recovery lasted the remainder of the school year and into the next summer. He was finally ready to try Toby's bicycle in March. Once he learned to balance, Joe purchased another bicycle for Prince Taffy and the boys spent their summer holiday riding around Centennial Park and the Whelan Reserve.

Little did the boys realize, their guest would be with them for several years, the clouds of war were drifting rapidly in their direction.


Joe had made a short run to Perth and Darwin, carrying supplies and machinery. Both ports were undergoing changes and fortifications were being erected. The Australian Government was uneasy about the rapid growth of the Japanese Imperial Empire.

When Joe returned, James told him there was an American Army Officer waiting to speak with him in the office.

When Joe walked in, there was a tall, dignified man in civilian clothing waiting for him, he introduced himself as Brigadier General Thomas McAndrews with the United States Army Supply Corps.

The two men sat down to talk, General McAndrews said, "Captain Turner, we have a proposition for you. We have two more of the Camel Class ships that were never sold. Would you be interested in taking them over and adding them to your fleet?"

Joe chuckled, "Sir, my FLEET consists of two ships."

The General replied, "Yes, we know that but we also know of your reputation throughout the region. We fear there is going to be war with the Japanese, but we don't want to precipitate any hostilities. If you could operate these ships here in the Southern Seas, we would agree to give you the ships with only one string attached. Would you agree to haul our cargoes in the event of an emergency?"

Joe said, "Sir, I am an American, of course I would do anything my country needed of me!"

The two men continued to talk and they came to an agreement that the Army would ferry the two ships out to Sydney after they had been dry docked and inspected. The General asked that he hire Americans to crew the ships if possible, otherwise he could employ Australian or British citizens. He estimated the ships would be in Sydney in 45 days.

The Mule was due in the next day, so Joe figured he would have a meeting of both crews to let them know what was happening.

That evening, they were listening to the Magnavox and there was a news flash that Japanese Troops and Mongolian Forces attacked the Chinese garrison at Hongort on the border between Mongolia and China.

The three boys, Taffy, Toby and Gyles were all taking extra courses at the Academy in Political Affairs and they wrote down what the broadcaster was saying, before they went to the big chart Joe had put up in the Lounge. (sitting room or, sometimes, parlor)

Taffy was a little frightened and he asked Joe, "Do you think they will attack Tonga, Uncle Joe?"

Joe held the frightened teen and said, "Why don't you come down to the Camel with me tomorrow and we will have the Marconi Operator contact your Mother, Queen Salote. Maybe she will have some news.

Immediately, Toby and Gyles were there, holding Taffy's hands and telling him they would be with him, no matter what.

When Joe went upstairs to say goodnight to the boys, they were all three in the same bed and Taffy called out to Joe, "Uncle Joe, if I gotta stay here, will you take care of me?"

Joe came in the room and sat on the edge of the bed, "I don't know what is going to happen, but, yes Taffy, you can stay with us and I will take care of you, just as I will take care of Toby, and Gyles if need be."

After giving the boys a hug, he went back downstairs, where Mrs. Collins had a hot cup of tea for him. She got one for herself and sat down to talk with Joe. "You know, Captain, those three boys are like brothers and there is a possibility that Sir Edward may be recalled to England. They are already fighting the Germans and it looks like it's going to get worse. Those boys could do worse than staying here with you."

Joe's hands were shaking so badly, he had to put his cup of tea down before he ended up wearing it.

He steadied himself before he could reply, "Mrs. Collins, I can't do it unless you are here for the boys too."

Mrs. Collins smiled and replied, "Don't you worry about that, when those boys started calling me Aunt Edna, I knew I could never leave them. Now, don't you think you ought to get yourself some more help, you can't go on Captaining your ship and run the other three all at the same time. You gotta be in charge, otherwise it will never work."

Joe thought about it and realized that Mrs. Collins was right, he was going to have to give up his beloved Camel so that he could tend to all four ships.

The next day, he took the boys down to the Camel, he wanted Taffy to get a message off to his Mother and the other two weren't going to let their friend and brother do it alone, so Joe told them he would write an excuse for that one school day only!

Taffy, with Joe's help, wrote out a message to Queen Salote telling her of the situation and that Captain Turner was offering to keep him for the duration.

The Queen must have been expecting Taffy's message, they had not gotten out of the Radio Shack when the radio began to clatter with a message. It was from Tonga, telling Taffy that he must remain in Australia for his own safety; that he was the Hope of The Tongan People and he must keep himself safe. Funds would be sent to Captain Turner for his keep and education. She ended the message, telling him that she loved him and that if anything happened to her, he would be the King of Tonga.

When Taffy read that, he burst out weeping, it was too much for his not quite sixteen year old mind to handle. Joe held the boy until his tears subsided and Gyles and Toby had their arms around their brother's shoulders helping share his agony.

The Gods of War were not done with them yet, more tears would be shed very soon.

Joe held his meeting with the two crews later that same morning, telling them of the two new ships and the reorganization that was going to take place.


As 1937 begins there will be a little calm before the storms of war invaded the South Pacific!

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