Warning: Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised this blog post contains images and names of people who are deceased.
|Members of the Great Barrier Reef Expedition at Low Isles, 1928-1929. Photo: National Library of Australia.|
The Great Barrier Reef Expedition was divided into two sections: a biological section and a geographical section. Within the Biological Section of the expedition, three separate research groups were formed. A boat party, a shore party, and a physiological (experimental) party. The initial boat party comprised F.S. Russell, of the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth, who had co-authored a book with the expedition’s leader, C.M. Yonge, entitled The Seas; Scottish chemist and hydrographer A.P. Orr; Scottish zoologist Sheina Marshall; and Russell’s wife, Gweneth. The boat party investigated zooplankton, phytoplankton, the chemistry and hydrography of the sea water, and the conditions over the reef flat and within the mangrove.
The shore party comprised T.A. Stephenson, a zoologist and recognised authority on sea anemone from the University College in London; his wife Anne Stephenson; botanist G. Tandy, of the British Museum; and F.W. Moorhouse, of Brisbane, who was representing the Queensland Government. The shore party focused on the ecology of reefs and on the breeding, development and growth of corals and other reef animals. Moorhouse, in particular, was specifically concerned with economic products, such as Trochus, Bêche-de-mer and sponges.
|T.A. Stephenson (at right), with an apparatus for photographing corals. Photo: National Library of Australia.|
|The centre of this photo shows a Trochus breeding enclosure, Low Isles, 1928. The two women pictured are Mattie Yonge and Gwen Russell. Photo: Sir C.M. Yonge Collection, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.|
The Geographical Section of the expedition, which was independently funded by the Royal Geographical Society, was led by James Steers of Cambridge University, who was assisted by Michael Spender, of Oxford University. They were later joined by E.C. Marchant, a recent Cambridge graduate, who stayed for six weeks. Their aim was to advance the current knowledge on the origin of reef foundations, and to establish the relationship of the coastline to submerged reefs, cays, and continental islands. The Townsville motor launch Tivoli was chartered to make an extended cruise between Cape Melville and Whitsunday Island. Unfortunately the geographical component of the expedition was not seen as a great success. The resultant survey was based mostly on observations, as the equipment required to map the coastline and islands proved too heavy for the men to carry. As a result, little new knowledge about the reef’s geological origin was obtained.
Australians in the Expedition
Although the Great Barrier Reef Expedition was led by British scientists, it was a genuinely collaborative project, and Australia contributed its own expertise to the expedition. As well as the Queensland Government’s Frank Moorhouse, who was on Low Isles for the full year, the Australian Museum sent five staff at various times throughout the year. These were: Tom Iredale, a conchologist, Gilbert Whitley, an ichthyologist, scientific cadets William Boardman and Arthur Livingstone, and Frank McNeill, a zoologist’s clerk. Aubrey Nicholls, a zoology honours student from the University of Western Australia, worked in a volunteer capacity for twelve months as C.M. Yonge’s assistant.
Left: Minnie and Claude Connolly, and their children Stanley and Teresa. Right: Harry Mossman and Paul Sexton.
Photos: National Library of Australia.
There were other support personnel too, without which, the entire expedition might have failed. Naturalist J.E. Young’s work on setting up and equipping the research station was invaluable. Aboriginal workers were hired from the Anglican mission at Yarrabah to work at Low Isles. Andy and Grace Dabah were employed as handyman and cook respectively. Later, Claude and Minnie Connolly performed these roles. Both couples took their children with them to Low Isles for the duration of their stay. Also from Yarrabah, Harry Mossman and Paul Sexton, were hired for the full year to crew the research vessel Luana.
The Luana was a 39 foot ketch-rigged yacht with a 26 horsepower auxiliary engine owned and skippered by A.C. Wishart, who, together with another volunteer, H.C. Vidgen, sailed the vessel from Brisbane to Low Isles. As well as providing a vital link to the mainland, the Luana enabled the “boat party” to carry out their scientific investigations both on and in the water. At times, other vessels were also hired, but the Luana proved the most reliable of them all, and Yonge thought that its name should go down in history, having helped to advance the science of oceanography.
|The Luana, at Snapper Island, 1928. Photo: National Library of Australia.|
Trisha Fielding, Special Collections Library Officer
James Cook University Library
If you missed Part 1 & 2 - you can catch up here
* Read more about the Sir C.M. Yonge Collection
** Browse the titles in the Sir C.M. Yonge Collection
 Animal plankton
 Plant plankton
 A genus of medium-sized to very large sea snails. The interior of their cone-shaped shell has a pearl-like finish and is used to make buttons.
 A large sea cucumber, eaten as a delicacy in China and Japan. It is also known as trepang.
 Photosynthetic algae that live within the cells of corals.
 Fryer, G., ‘Sidnie Milana Manton: 4 May 1902 – 2 January 1979’, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol. 26 (Nov. 1980), p. 329.
 Bowen, J. and Bowen, M., The Great Barrier Reef: History, Science, Heritage, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2002, p. 275.