HISTORICAL DETECTIVE WORK: Les Weiley presents Clarence River Historical Society president Frank Mack with a shell from an artillery gun on the SS James Cook at Schaeffer House. Photo: Adam Hourigan
HISTORICAL DETECTIVE WORK: Les Weiley presents Clarence River Historical Society president Frank Mack with a shell from an artillery gun on the SS James Cook at Schaeffer House. Photo: Adam Hourigan

Mystery of shell case solved

THE answer to the mystery of the origin of the 25-pounder artillery shell case that's been in the Weiley family for 70 years has been right before their eyes all the time.

Yesterday, Grafton businessman Les Weiley took the shell to Clarence River Historical Society to see if local historian Frank Mack could shed some light on it.

Quick as a flash Frank spotted the answer, an engraving on the shell addressed to Mr Weiley's father, George, from J Buchan, the captain of the SS James Cook, with a small drawing of the ship including the gun in the stern of the vessel.

The find jogged Mr Weiley's memory.

"It was the only shot the gun ever fired on the SS James Cook," he said.

"The shock of it nearly tore the ship apart. The captain told the crew he would toss the gun overboard and any of the crew who fire it, if it was ever used again."

Mr Mack said the fear of German raiders during the early days of the Second World War prompted the arming of coastal vessels, often with field artillery pieces lowered into the stern of ships like the SS James Cook.

Germain raiders were a real threat, as the battle between HMAS Sydney and the German raider Kormaran off the WA coast in 1941 showed. Both ships were sunk and all hands on the Sydney were lost.

Mr Weiley said the artillery shell case had been kicking around the family hotel for as long as he could remember.

"It was used for a variety of things. It's been a doorstop and used as a gong at other times," he said.

"Eventually it drifted up into the attic storeroom."

Mr Mack said historical society records showed the SS James Cook was a regular visitor to the Clarence Valley.

He found an excellent picture of the vessel on the Museum of Victoria website.

It is pictured moored off Palmers Island, although there is no sign of the gun on the ship.



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