HMAS
Mourilyan

Class
Patrol Vessel
Builder
Alexander Stephen & Sons of Glasgow
Commissioned
23 May 1918
Decommissioned
20 December 1918
Fate
Returned to owners
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 1349 tonnes
Length 220 feet 7 inches
Beam 36 feet
Performance
Speed 14 knots
Propulsion
Horsepower 233
Armament
Guns
  • 1 x 4.7 QF Gun
  • 2 x 3 PDR Guns

The steam ship Mourilyan was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons of Glasgow, Scotland in 1908 as a coastal passenger-cargo steamship for Howard Smith Coy Ltd of Melbourne.  She was sold in 1913 to Australian Steam Ships Pty. Ltd of Melbourne. Her main route was from Melbourne to Townsville and Cairns. In late September 1914 Mourilyan transported a portion of the ill equipped Queensland Kennedy Regiment from Port Moresby to Cairns; after the regiment had been left behind when the remainder of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force sailed to capture Rabaul in German New Guinea.

On 24 April 1918 Mourilyan was requisitioned by the RAN for use as an armed patrol vessel in Torres Strait.  She was commissioned, at Sydney, on 23 May 1918 as HMAS Mourilyan under the command of Lieutenant Commander Charles Davy Matheson, RANR (S).  Her ships company was a mixture of RAN and RAN Reserve personnel (six officers and approximately 50 ratings). She was armed with one 4.7 inch gun and two 3 pounder Hotchkiss quick firing guns and was also fitted with wireless telegraphy equipment.  Mourilyan replaced the ill-suited patrol vessel HMAS Sleuth that had operated in the Torres Strait during March – October 1917.

Mourilyan departed Sydney on 31 May 1918 for service in the Torres Strait and the north Queensland coast conducting patrols, examining merchant shipping and searching for evidence of German raiders in the area.  This was following the activities by the German raider SMS Wolf in Australian, New Zealand and New Guinea waters during 1917.  The Wolf laid two mine fields off South Eastern Australia which claimed the cargo vessel Cumberland in July and two mine fields were also sewn in New Zealand waters which sank two ships.  Wolf sank four more ships north of New Zealand but of more concern was the capture of the SS Matunga while en route from Sydney to Rabaul in New Guinea.   The raider SMS Seeadler had also entered the Pacific Ocean in 1917 and sank three vessels before she was wrecked on Mopelia Atoll in the Society Island group.  

The actual threat of raiders in Australian waters had disappeared by early 1918, but the Australian Naval Board was still concerned regarding potential attacks and activated a number of vessels, including the elderly light cruiser HMAS Pysche, to patrol the Australian east coast and particularly the important shipping lanes through Bass and Torres Straits.  HMAS Mourilyan arrived at Thursday Island on 14 June 1918 and commenced her first patrol five days later. 

While some Australians at the time considered Thursday Island (T.I.) a ‘backwater’ the reality was it was strategically important for shipping traveling to the east coast from Southeast Asia and vice versa.   T.I. was a major refueling port and Burns Philp & Co. Ltd. had a number of coal hulks moored in the harbour.  Additionally Burns Philp operated several pearl luggers in the area harvesting the lucrative pearl shell for the production of buttons.  A raider attack on Thursday Island, or the mining of the Torres Strait, would have had a major effect on Australian shipping and its economy.  

Mourilyan operated continuously from Thursday Island during her six months in the Torres Strait.  Additional defence in the area was provided by three 6-inch guns sited on Thursday Island, at Green Hill Fort, that was manned by 50 personnel of the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery.  The fort was constructed during 1891-93 and was operational until 1927.  Additionally the islands wireless station was a vital part of Australia’s coastal radio network and used to relay messages to the Australian garrisons in New Guinea, warships and coastal shipping.  In 1918 it was operated by the RAN Radio Service and protected by a detachment of sailors from the RAN Brigade.   The Naval Brigade detachment also operated a number of small motor boats in the Strait but they had limited range and only small arms as weaponry.

The patrols by Mourilyan were regular and routine as she steamed throughout the scattered islands in the strait.  Generally she would anchor off uninhabited islands and send a landing party ashore to search for any signs of enemy activity.  On inhabited islands the landing party would interview any white civilians (such as missionaries, schoolmasters or business owners) to gather information on ship movements and any irregularities in the normal pattern of island life.  Mourilyan would remain at anchor overnight and then move on the next day to another island and repeat the activity.   

Patrols were normally of five to seven days duration after which Mourilyan would return to Thursday Island to re-stock coal, provisions and fresh water.  As an example during the period 9 September – 9 November Mourilyan conducted five patrols and searched 14 uninhabited islands and interviewed 13 people on other islands.   No information of any value was obtained and while the patrols were important they were quite monotonous.

Following the signing of the Armistice, on 11 November 1918, there was no longer a requirement for Mourilyan in the Torres Strait.  She departed Thursday Island on 22 November and arrived back in Sydney in early December. Mourilyan was decommissioned on 20 December 1918 and returned to her owners on 8 January 1919 who employed her on the routes from Melbourne to Warrnambool and Melbourne to Townsville.

In 1923 she was sold to the Northern Steam Ship Coy Ltd of Auckland, New Zealand and renamed Matangi.  She was then employed on the coastal service from Auckland to Whangarei, in the north, and Tauranga in the south.  Matangi was sold in 1929 to the Anchor Shipping & Foundry Coy Ltd, of Nelson, New Zealand and operated in New Zealand coastal waters for the remainder of her career; mainly on the route from Nelson to Wellington.

Matangi was laid up in 1950 and then in 1952 she was sold to F.E. & N.J. Wells of Wakatahuri, New Zealand and stripped of salvageable materiel and partially dismantled.  Her hull was finally towed to Hong Kong for scrapping in mid-1957.