Johnson, Francis William (Frank)

[SS "Koombana": list of crew as per copy of Articles at shipping office, Fremantle, Adelaide Steamship Company, April 1912. provided to the author by Jean Northover, City Beach, Western Australia]



F.W. Johnson, chief steward 31 South Australia


["Officers and Crew", The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 31 March 1912, page 1]


Mr. W. B. Innes, the chief engineer, is an old servant of the company, while Mr. F. H. Harris, the purser, and Mr. F. W. Johnson, the chief steward, have served in their respective capacities in several of the ships in the Australian fleet.

Mr. Black, the pantryman, is thought to be a son of Mr. James Black, of Penola, South Australia.


["The Crew", The West Australian, Wednesday 03 April 1912, page 7]

The following is the complete crew which left with the vessel, according to the records in the Adelaide Co.'s office:--


F. W. Johnson, chief steward.


["The Koombana", The West Australian, Friday 12 April 1912, page 7]


The following official list of the names of the crew who signed on the s.s. Koombana's articles and who were supposed to have gone in the vessel is supplied by the Shipping Master of Fremantle (Captain T. W. Smith). The age, birthplace, and capacity of each member is given:--


F. W. Johnson, 31, South Australia, chief steward;


[Barker, Malcolm, 2001, The Truth Is So Precious, Success Print, Perth, Western Australia, page 42]

<<>> Frank Johnson wedding photo

[Crew lists of ships arriving at Fremantle: "Bullarra" - 28/7/1910, Collector of Customs, Western Australia, National Archives of Australia. K271, BULLARRA 28 JUL 1910]

FW Johnson appears on Bullarra crew list for 28 July 1910

[Barker, Malcolm, 2001, The Truth Is So Precious, Success Print, Perth, Western Australia, page 52]


As always some became passengers just before departure and paid their fares on board. They were allocated accommodation and their names and cabin numbers added to the typed Passenger Lists. Copies of this passenger list were posted on each deck, and the Chief Steward Francis Johnson took a copy by hand to Captain Allen to decide who would be honoured with an invitation to dine at the Captain's Table. This task was a sensitive political matter because of the petitions asking for the Government to construct ships for the Nor'-West run.


["The Lost Koombana", The Register (Adelaide, SA), Friday 05 April 1912, page 5]


Chief Steward.

The chief steward, Mr. Frank William Johnson, was well known at Port Adelaide, where he was born 33 years ago, and three years ago married a Western Australian girl. Mr. Charles A. Johnson, of Prospect road, and Mr. A. Johnson, of the Port Adelaide Mineral Water Company, are his brothers, and his sisters are Mesdames J. Cowan and Mattees, of the Semaphore, and Mrs. Mills, of Kent Town. He joined the Adelaide steamship Company 15 years ago, and served as chief steward for a long time on the s.s. Bullarra, which weathered the gale in which the Koombana is supposed to have been lost. He had been many voyages along the north-west coast. Mr. R. H. Jenkins and Miss Jenkins, whose names appear in the passenger list of the Koombana, were brother in-law and niece respectively of the chief steward. They went from Port Adelaide to Western Australia six or seven years ago. Mr. Johnson's late father was a master mariner, employed in the Adelaide Steam-tug Company for 22 years. Capt. Allen, the master of the Koombana, succeeded him in that office. The brother, Mr. C. A. Johnson, was 14 years superintendent of Huddart, Parker, & Co.'s shipping and tugboat business at Port Adelaide, and afterwards for 2 1/2 years wharf manager at the Outer Harbour.


["Personal", The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Saturday 06 April 1912, page 14]


Three of the officers of the Adelaide Steamship Company's steamer Koombana, in addition to Captain Allen, were natives of South Australia.


Mr. F. W. Johnson, the chief steward, was also horn at Port Adelaide, and his brothers and sisters still live in that district. Mr. Johnson's brother-in-law and niece were on board the Koombana. He had lived in Western Australia for some years, and he married in that State.

[Minutes of Adelaide Steamship Company directors' meeting, Monday 08 July 1912, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University, 0186/Z535 Box 12]


"Koombana" Loss

Fremantle Manager's letter of 1st instant regarding unused return portions of passage tickets

Difference between single and return fares to be refunded.

Fremantle Manager's letter of 29th ult. with copy of letter from widow of late Chief Steward, F.W. Johnson.

100 donated, to be considered part payment of any claim which may be substantiated.


[Agreement and Account of Crew, s.s. Koombana, August 1911 - March 1912, Harbour and Lights Department, Western Australia. State Records Office of Western Australia, Consignment 1056 Item 301]

In this register, F. W. Johnson records his birthplace as Semaphore.

["News and Notes", The West Australian, Saturday 11 November 1911, pages 10-11]

Chief Steward and Baker at Loggerheads.

There was a considerable attendance of the public at the Fremantle Police Court yesterday to listen to the evidence in a case in which Frank W. Johnson, chief steward of the s.s. Koombana, was charged with having used abusive and insulting language towards Edwin Albrecht. Mr. W. E. Solomon represented the complainant, Albrecht, and Mr. F. G. Unmack appeared for the defendant. In his evidence the complainant said he had acted as baker on the Koombana on her last voyage. While the steamer was on the passage from Shark's Bay to Geraldton on Monday last the chief steward came into the bakehouse, and without any provocation on witness's part used certain insulting language towards him, broke a loaf of bread on him, and caught hold of his shirt and tore it. Cross-examined, the witness, who gave his evidence with extreme volubility, said he was not aware that complaints had been constantly made about his bread. He was a competent baker, and a member of the Bakers' Union. Shown two pieces of bread by Mr. Unmack, witness acknowledged them as sample of his baking. "Fine stuff, aren't they?" said Mr. Unmack. "If the chief steward broke one of your loaves on you he must have had some trouble in doing it." (Laughter.) Corroborative evidence was given by William Geeves, who said he had worked his passage from Derby on the Koombana. Johnson, in the witness-box, admitted that, being irritated at the numerous complaints he had received about complainant's bread, he had called the latter "a German cow," but not the much more virulent expressions alleged in the complaint. Further evidence was given by William J. Barry, lately chief cook, and Bert Stanley, second steward on the Koombana. The R.M. dismissed the complaint, allowing no costs to either side.

["Steward Must Leave", The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 13 November 1911, page 10]





Trouble has broken out on board the steamer Koombana, belonging to the Adelaide Steamship Company, Limited, which is a subsidised mail boat for the north-west ports. Practically all tho seomen and firemen, in number over 30, announced their decision not to resume work on board the Koombana until the chief steward, Mr. F. W. Johnson, left it. The men say they have nothing but good feeling towards Captain Allen and tho other officers, but they are unanimous in their determination that Johnson must leave the ship.

On Friday night a meeting of the Seamen's Union was held in the Trades Hall, Fremantle. About 60 members of tho union were present, including representatives from tho crews of the Suva, Kyarra, and Kurnalpi, besides the crew of the Koombana. After discussion, it was resolved by a very large majority that the crew of the Koombana should not resume work until the chief steward was removed from the steamer. Tho decision of the meeting was intimated to Captain Allen and Mr. A. E. Lewis, acting manager of the Adelaide Steamship Company's local office, but as Mr. W. E. Moxon, the manager, is at present in tho east, no definite arrangement could be arrived at botween the parties.

A wire was received at Fremantle on Saturday from Mr. Cooper, secretary of the Firemen and Seamen's Union, who is in Sydney, advising tho men to work on, as it would seriously jeopardise the case at present before tho Arbitration Court in the east. The men, however, refuse to accept the proposal, and 16 firemen were paid off on Saturday. The Koombana was to have sailed for the north-west on Saturday evening, but in consequence of the trouble her departure was postponed. It is understood the Company are endeavouring to secure firemen in the eastern States.

["Strike on the Koombana", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 18 November 1911]

Perth, November 13.

The s.s. Koombana is hung up at Fremantle. Thirty seamen and firemen gave 24 hours' notice on the Adelaide Steamship Company of their intention to discontinue the work until the chief steward was removed from ship, on account of complaints regarding the food.

The men [have been] urged and implored by the executive of the Firemen and Seamen's Union in the Eastern States to resume work pending investigation.

It is feared the action would have a prejudicial effect in the proceedings before the Federal Arbitration Court.

["Koombana Still At Fremantle", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 18 November 1911]

Perth, November 16.

The Nor'-West mail steamrr[sic], Koombana, is still held up at Fremantle.

A relief crew arrived by the Karoola from Adelaide today, but the men declined to go on the Koombana without consulting the old hands.

After a combined meeting delegates from the old and new crews were oppointed[sic] to see the manager of the A.S.S. Coy. and ask for the removal of Chief Steward Johnson, bu they could get no definite reply from that gentleman.

A meeting is being held tonight to discuss the position.

["Koombana Strike", The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 25 November 1911, page 3]


Fremantle, Nov. 18.

The trouble on the Koombana is no yet ended. Both sides are taking up a firm stand in the matter. The men held a meeting at the Trades Hall yesterday, when a ballot was taken on the question: "Are you in favor of going to work while the chief steward remains on the boat?" This resulted in a large majority for the Noes.

["The Koombana Strike", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 25 November 1911]

Every Effort Used To End The Strike

Perth, November 18.

Strenuous efforts have been made to solve the trouble in regard to the Koombana firemen.

The Premier received an urgent telegram from the Labor Senators in Melbourne, requesting that everything possible be done to induce the men to resume duty, pending investigation.

Carpenter and Bolton (M.'s L. A.) attended a mass meeting of the Firemen's and Seamen's Union, in Fremantle Trades Hall, and later, with two of the men, conferred with the Acting Manager of the Adelaide S.S. Coy.

The Capt. of the Koombana and the Company offered to thoroughly investigate the grievances.

The Capt. gave his personal guarantee that the food supplied would be good in quality and quantity, and that the Chief Steward would treat the firemen with respect.

The deputation reported to Trades Hall, and a ballot was taken, but only three men voted in favor of accepting the terms.

The negotiations were a failure, the men refusing to board the vessel unless the Chief Steward were transferred to some other vessel.

["Koombana Strike", The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 25 November 1911, page 3]

Fremantle, Nov. 21.

Negotiations are proceeding for a settlement of the trouble on the Koombana. McShearer, the mens' representative, anticipates an early settlement. A number of firemen have signified their willingness to join.

["The Koombana Strike", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 25 November 1911,]

Liable to Suspension

November 21.

A representative at Fremantle of the Seamen's Union received the following telegram from the General Secretary of the Union for the Eastern States.

"The Adelaide Council has decided that the Koombana should be remanned, leaving the dispute regarding the Chief Steward for investigation.

"The members' action is detrimental to the best interests of unionism.

"A special meeting of the men cannot reverse the decision of the Executive.

"The Fremantle meetings were informal, and the men who signed the agreement in Adelaide and afterwards broke it are liable to suspension and expulsion from the Union."

This communication was brought under the notice of the men who came over by the Karoola to replace the men who had left the Koombana, but they still refused to man the vessel.


A number of firemen have signified their willingness to join the Koombana, and an early settlement is anticipated.

Arrangements have been made for the men to sign on to-morrow morning, and, if no further hitch occurs, the Koombana will leave for the Nor'-West at an early date.

The men agree to waive their objection to the Chief Steward, and leave the matter for independent investigation.

["The Koombana Firemen", The West Australian, Saturday 25 November 1911, page 11]

He [Moxon] pointed out that his company could under no circumstances lend itself to an act of injustice to one of its employees, and that it would amount to an act of persecution to dismiss the chief steward of the Koombana without an inquiry being held into the complaints made against him. The fact that the men were flouting the instructions of the executive officers of their own union was also impressed upon them, and they were further asked to consider the harm they were inflicting on the residents of the Nor'-West. The men, however, refused to sign on, and the five or six firemen who earlier in the week announced their willingness to proceed in the vessel, also withdrew their pledge.

["The Koombana Firemen", The West Australian, Saturday 25 November 1911, page 11]

A regrettable incident occurred yesterday, when Mr. Johnson, the chief steward of the Koombana, as a result no doubt of the worry and strain of the past week or two, collapsed in the Adelaide Steamship Company's office, and had to be removed to a private hospital. On inquiry, last night Mr. Johnson was reported to be progressing fairly well, but it may be some days before he will be able to resume duty.

["Koombana Strike. Judge Higgins Speaks", The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 02 December 1911, page 3]

Chief Steward Ill.

Fremantle, Nov. 25

Mr Johnson, chief steward of the Koombana, as a result no doubt of the worry and strain of the past week or two, collapsed and was removed to a private hospital last night, but is progressing fairly well. It will be some day before he is able to resume duty.

["Koombana Strike", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 02 December 1911,]

Men Still Refuse To Work

Persecution of Chief Steward

Who Collapses

Perth, November 26.

The General Manager in this State of the Adelaide Steamship Coy. yesterday urged the recalcitrant firemen off the Koombana to take a more reasonable view of the position. He pointed out that the dismissal of the Chief Steward without inquiring into the complaints against him would be persecution. The facts that the men were flouting the instructions of their own union and were inflicting harm on the residents of the North West were also impressed upon them. They still refused to sign on, and the six firemen who were willing to proceed with the vessel earlier in the week also withdrew their pledge.

The Chief Steward (Johnson) collapsed in the Adelaide Steamship Coy.'s office, and was removed to a private hospital.

["Koombana Strike. Judge Higgins Speaks", The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 02 December 1911, page 3]

Perth, Nov. 30.

The Koombana firemen arrived by the Riverina to-day. The vessel is timed to leave this morning. Mr Johnson, the chief steward, who was seized last week with sudden illness, has recovered.

["Koombana Strike", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 02 December 1911,]

The Vessel Leaves

Perth, November 30.

There has been a satisfactory termination to the Koombana trouble, permitting the vessel to sail to-day.

The new crew (in charge of the executive officers of the Seamen's and Fremen's[sic] Union) arrived by the Riverina last night, and immediately signed on. The Chief Steward, who was suddenly seized with illness, has sufficiently recovered to proceed with the vessel.

["Koombana Strike", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 02 December 1911,]

This unfortunate strike has resulted in supplies being short from Onslow to Wyndham, and that phase of the question alone is not likely to redound to the credit of the men. Apart from the pros and cons of the men's grievances over the food supplied them, it must be apparent to all well-wishers of the Labor party that the task of Labor ministers and others will not benefit by tactics of the kind the Koombana men have been guilty of: the Labor members of parliament for W.A. (Federal and State) asked these men to go back to work and allow their grievances to be investigated, but they refused to do so unless the chief steward was removed. No class of employer (even with the strongest sympathies for Labor) will submit to the principle involved in the attitude adopted by these men, and we are pleased to see that the union executive in the Eastern States has repudiated the action of the Koombana men.