June 19th 2005
Bright threads of history
Long-time contributor, columnist and keen Island historian, Charlie McColl, pulls some historical threads together regarding Bright Point, the Brights after whom it was named, the hulk of the Presto which once dominated the waters off the Point and, perhaps, Magnetic Island's most fascinating historical photograph. (Ed.)
The Presto at Bright Point, Sylvia Clarke (nee Bright)
and the Magnetic Island - Headley Park school connection.
When William Bright (b.1851) and his younger brothers George and Henry came to Australia in the early1880s they left behind a family long established in the Bristol area, 170 kms west of London, England. William arrived at Magnetic Island in 1882 with his wife Mary (nee Lintern, previously Hyden) who was born in Upton Cheney in 1833 and already had a grown family from her previous marriage. William and Mary's daughter Fanny Louisa Bright, who was born in 1876 at Bitton, traveled to Australia with her parents on the "Stirlingshire" as a small child.
As the Bright boys left for Australia William's brother Frederick moved nearer to London at Reading where he managed an estate as head gardener. It is said that the youngest brother Tom (b.1866), who had started out with the party traveling to Australia, changed his mind when they got as far as Ireland and returned to Bristol to look after his parents - he would have been about 16. Young Tom stayed in Bristol, married Annie Louisa and saw in the twentieth century as the proprietor of a small brewery at Chew Magna and the father of two daughters - Mabel Sylvia (b.19.2.00) and Dorothy May. The older daughter, who came to be known as Sylvia, would touch the lives of many on both sides of the world for more than a hundred years.
The Brights were not the first Europeans on Magnetic Island; others, particularly the Cocksfields and Butlers had been around a few years before William and his family arrived. But by the turn of the century the Brights were well established on their farm at Nelly Bay and William's construction prowess had been tested in several building and wharf projects in the burgeoning frontier town of Townsville. Soon, Fanny had married Richard Patrick Bargent and their children Ioline, Fred and Daphne were born
Meanwhile, on 31 January 1896, Cyclone Sigma hit Townsville causing major destruction and loss of life - both in the city and at the port where several vessels, including the 'Presto', were wrecked. 'Presto' was a sailing vessel originally named 'Emergens' built in the Meursing's De Nachtegaal (Nightingale) shipyards in Amsterdam, Holland in 1862. The 394 tonne barque rigged vessel was 138 feet (40m) long and featured three masts, an iron framework and a round stern
In the 1870s 'Presto' was registered in Hong Kong and had repairs carried out in China including the cementing of ballast stone in the bow. It was transferred to Sydney in 1887, to Auckland in 1888 and to Melbourne in 1893. Thereafter it belonged to the Adelaide Steamship Company and after carrying out surveys of the Queensland coast was used to store coal, sugar and general cargo. In the maelstrom of Cyclone Sigma at the Port of Townsville the aging hulk was holed and beached against a breakwater, blocking the main access channel.
The North Queensland Herald of 1 July 1896 reveals what was done about it:
"When it was ascertained that the hulk was so badly damaged that she was not worth repairing, the Harbour Authorities demanded her removal, and work was eventually undertaken by Mr Grieves, Superintending Engineer of the company. That she might be towed across the bay without any danger of sinking en route the hull had to be patched in several places (this work being satisfactorily carried out by Messrs Brand and Drybrough) and powerful pumps were placed on board. Friday night was selected for the final rites in connection with the battered old relic, and Mr John Donaldson, manager of the Adelaide S.S. Company, Mr Grieves, Mr Macfarlane and Mr Drybrough, attended the ceremony. Pulled off the bank the Presto was towed across the bay, the patches which had been put on being so tight that there was no necessity to set the pumps going, and by midnight the hulk was grounded in an out of the way spot in Bright's Bay where it will remain."
The other Bright brothers, George and Henry, had gone to Victoria where the gold rush was in full swing but in the late 1890s Henry moved from Melbourne to Magnetic Island to join his older brother. It was at that time, in October 1898, that Henry Bright and the Aboriginal offsider known as "Tucker" were lost, presumed drowned in a boating incident off Picnic Bay. The boat they had been using to sail home from Townsville after dark on the evening of 6 October was found sunk, with its mast protruding from the water, about a hundred metres south of Hawkings Point. The North Queensland Herald of 12 October 1898 reported that the boat's rudder was found washed ashore at Picnic Bay. .
"There is no room to doubt that both men are drowned..". He (Bright) was an industrious, kindly man who was warmly liked by every one who knew him."
History doesn't seem to have recorded what William Bright thought of the Presto's presence in "Brights Bay" (later Nelly Bay) but around 1915 an enterprising photographer made a serious effort to capture the essence of Island life on film with a study of Bright Point featuring the Presto in one frame and 'Our Island Home' and the newly constructed beach house of Otto Bottiger in the other. There in the picture with the retired administrator (and later Secretary of the School Committee) Bottiger is William Bright and, in the straw boater, John Shaw (whose son John would later marry Bright's granddaughter Ioline). All these men now have streets named after them.
The full double-framed photo with The Presto hulk
to the right of Bright Point.
Mary Bright died at Nelly Bay in 1916. Eight years later, at the end of 1924, a school of sorts was opened in Nelly Bay in the rotunda of the Mandalay resort to provide for local children who otherwise had to walk to the 1913 Picnic Bay school. Daphne Bargent, William Bright's youngest granddaughter then aged ten, was enrolled in the provisional school in 1925 by her mother Fanny who gave her occupation as stewardess on the "SS Canberra". The following year, 1926, the Queensland Department of Public Instruction chose the adjacent 1.5ha Landing Reserve next to Gustav Creek as the site for a new school which would ultimately become the Magnetic Island State School. William Bright had been farming that land. The government inspector noted:
"Mr Bright, who has been on the island for the last 42 years has a shed and some fencing on the Reserve which he informed me he intended to remove forthwith. He also planted the mango trees and sunk a well. I would recommend that the well be taken over by the Education Department and that Bright be paid the sum of £40 for same. This well is 23 ft (7m) deep, bricked to the bottom and has 9 ft of fresh water in it at the present time which is one of the driest experienced in this district for many years” (11.6.26).
Six weeks later William Bright died aged 75. He was buried at the little cemetery in Kirk Street at the base of the headland named after him.
About 1997, the Grade 5 class at the Magnetic Island State School at Nelly Bay began searching an Internet list for a school group somewhere else in the world to engage in the Travel Buddies program – a kind of email penpals project. While the Magnetic Island students were pondering their options they were chosen by a class at the Headley Park Primary School in Bristol. Knowing that William Bright had originally come from Bristol it was suggested that this might be an interesting starting point for developing the relationship between the two schools.
It was also known that a Bright relative was still living in Bristol because she occasionally wrote letters to the Townsville Bulletin expressing concerns about the destructive harbour development which was having such an impact on the landmark of Bright Point and the remains of ‘Presto’ which had been disturbed and would ultimately be removed. Sylvia Clarke was out there and she had Magnetic Island on her mind.
Imagine the excitement when it was discovered that Sylvia Clarke was Tom Bright’s daughter (the niece of William) and that she lived in the same street as the Headley Park Primary School. In addition, Sylvia’s great granddaughter, Holly Buckle, was a current pupil at the school and would be joining in the Travel Buddies connection.
At about this time it was also discovered that the circa 1915 photographs of Bright, Bottiger and the Presto had been snapped as a panoramic pair and could, with a little digital repair and remastering, be joined perfectly together to make a magnificent and unique historic panorama of Bright Point. With Sylvia’s 100th birthday rapidly approaching it was decided to make this picture the talking point for the celebration of the two schools’ electronic and community connection.
The 100th birthday party in February 2000 was visited by a group of students from Headley Park School who presented Sylvia with a framed copy of the Bright Point picture sent from Magnetic Island. Sylvia posed for photos and showed the children the birthday card she had just received that day from Queen Elizabeth.
In February 2005, Queen Elizabeth had to call upon the Royal Mail to deliver a new birthday card to Mabel Sylvia Clarke on the occasion of her 105th birthday. Relatives and friends from around the world, including Magnetic Island, made the pilgrimage to Sylvia’s home in Headley Park to celebrate the life and times of this great personality who was still occupied looking out for family and community in her home town. Sylvia recounted a story from the time when she left school in 1913 aged 13. The Head Teacher reported to Sylvia’s father, Tom Bright, that, “You can lead her but you can’t drive her.” Sylvia remains a leader to this day.
In the Headley Park School just down the street from Sylvia’s home the 300 students (compared with Magnetic Island’s 200) are well aware of the long history of engineering excellence and maritime discovery attributed to their home town but now they are also fascinated by the curious Bright family connection with distant exotic tropical Magnetic Island through their near neighbour Sylvia Clarke. On the occasion of the 2005 birthday the pupils at Headley Park renewed their connection with the Magnetic Island school with an exchange of letters. Within a couple of weeks one of the Magnetic Island schoolboys, who now has a seven year old pen pal at Headley Park School, told his mother, “We’re going to meet up when we are men”. The flukey link between the two school communities is alive and well.
H.O. (Charlie) McColl
Magnetic Island May 2005