A peek into the past, and a very touching story

Can you help solve this mystery?

This is rather a long post, and in fact will take a couple of posts, but I hope it is interesting.

A few years ago I was at a garage sale around Hurstville, NSW when I came across an old tin, inside was a book of old postcards.  I bought them for a small sum, and have only just got around to reading them.  I found photos of some of them on an auction site:

They certainly have the look of a bygone era about them.  There are 12 postcards in a brown cover in the book, all have been written on them, and have tissue paper inserts between them, so are in very good condition.  It is a very touching story, from one of the men on the SS Gilgai.  (Bear in mind the language is of its day!)

I have just got around to transcribing them (one or two words missing) and this is what they say:

Recordaco de Sao Vincente
Cabo Verde
bazar Cantral di BONUCCI & FRUSONI  S. Vincente
-  Cap Verde -


S.S. Gilgai 20th January

My own darling,

I am having a change, by writing on these PC’s (postcards) instead of our writing paper.  Well we are off again, it is nearly bed time for me, but I will write a few lines before turning in.  We arrived safe and sound at anchor on the 18th Tuesday afternoon at 1.30 about 1-1/2 miles off the town.  I have put a cross in the place on the next PC.  They started coaling on arrival and it started to pull things adrift.  5 o’clock came and everybody except the 2nd and I went ashore, they stopped coaling at 6pm, but I kept on to get as much as I could finished before leaving as we were to sail at midday the next day, 19th.  So by the time I finished the job it was too late to get cleaned to go ashore so I had a bath and turned in.  We got away at 5pm in the afternoon but would have been away sooner, when we  had made a start they discovered that the ship was on the bottom, so we had to wait before she would move with 2 tugs on her, anyhow we got into deep water alright and was soon on our way out of the harbour.  And now we are running with a fair wind and sea for our destination.  I hope you get my letter from St Vincent safe.  It ought not to take long from there if it only catches a boat. 

You can see by these photos what sort of place St Vincent is, it is only a small place. Mostly Spanish and Portuguese live there.  I wish you could help me to eat the oranges I got, they were selling them about for 24 a 1/-   I got 24 and just before leaving one of the ni*****s wanted me to buy some more.  I told him that I had some, he had a kerosene tin nearly full, he was not contented until he had got rid of them, so I gave him an old shirt for them.  They numbered 40 oranges, so that was about enough wasn’t it.  You can imagine I am well supplied for about a week.  I bought a little trinket my darling  for you in the shape of a handbag made of some kind of seeds sewn together.  You will understand it better when you get it.  I thought it looked very nice so I got it.  I will send it with that table centre I have for you, so I hope they reach you alright.


Darling one.  It is about a week since I have written anything, but you will understand why, when I tell you that we have had very bad weather.  She has been rolling that much that it has been very difficult to get about.  A few nights back it was that bad and she was taking such heavy seas over her, it made one think that she would not last much longer, even the skipper was frightened that she may not see another sunrise. She simply sat down in the seas and took them fore and aft.  It wasn’t safe on deck, every chance of being washed overboard.  I did not mind so long as she did not burst any of the hatch covers, if she had I would have said good bye to her, anyhow the night passed and nothing happened.  Tonight is the first night for a week that things have been a bit steady so I am just catch a few minutes to say a few more words on these cards.  I am getting more anxious every day to get to Boston to get those precious letters that I know will be waiting for me on arriving.  Oh how I will enjoy reading them darling, you do not know how I am longing for a few lines from my darling little girlie, all I have to comfort me is you sweet photo over my bunk. I often study it.  My letter from St Vincent ought to be in your care by now and I hope the Durban one is too.  I hope you will understand the writing on these cards.  We haven’t run into the cold weather yet, we have been running nearly due west from St Vincent, but I think he is heading now for the Islands of the Bermuda’s which we ought to past about Sunday 30th.  Well sweetheart I will stop now for tonight and get a few winks before midnight.

Saturday night

Just a few more lines darling girlie before turning in.  The weather is quite fine now for how long I do not know.  We are passing a little to the south of the Bermuda’s at 3 o’clock in the  morning (Sunday)  you can see just about on the map where I am tonight although it will be about another two weeks before you get this.  We had a little news last night of how things are going on while we are at sea (by wireless).  I see conscription has come at last in England.  I suppose by the time we get out to Australia they will have it there too.  I thought things were going on alright without being in conscription now, but evidently things must be worse than we imagine them to be.  I do hope that it will take a turn this winter.  I pity the poor chaps who are fighting over there in the cold.  Did I tell you another of my mates out home has gone with the boys as a sergeant, it was bad luck the Calulu the night we arrived back in Melb.  They went down the bay as we were coming up at 8 o’clock in the night, I saw the ship lit up when passing but did not dream that he was on it.  I think I told you the other chum has been made a Lieutenant since he has been away.  Well darling girlie I will close again for tonight and get to my book for an hour.  I am getting in all the study I can this trip so as not to waste time when the time comes.  Good night sweetheart.

Feb 1

Darling one just a few more lines I want to say a few words on Sunday, but there was nothing much to write about except that in the night just on turning in time we all got a surprise when all of a sudden the sky was lit up with a few search lights from a ship that happened to be at the back of us.  Yesterday we had another rough time of it we shipped very heavy seas.  The weather is getting colder now.  All being well we will pick the pilot up this evening and will be at anchor at Boston early in the morning.  We are just bringing our long voyage to an end.  It has been a long time but yet a very short time since we left Sydney.  It has taken us 63 days on the voyage a very good stretch for the engines considering they have not given any trouble at all and still running like a top.  I will not say any more this morning darling until tonight.

Wed morning Feb 2nd. 10:30

A few more lines darling to finish this letter.  I may not have much time to say more to it today.  I want to tell you the lucky escape we had the other night.  I told you that we saw search lights displaying in the sky, well next day we got a message by wireless that a German boat was at large with guns on her, she has sunk 7 ships xx and that she was make over this way but little did we know about it.  So very likely if the truth is known the lights we saw came from her, looking for prey but thank goodness she happened to be below the horizon at the time so she could not see us.  Again when I went below at midnight last night the 4th greeted me with the news that sparks just got the S. O. S signal we had a bad time of it in the early part of the evening by running into a very thick fog in fact we had to stop for some time,  could not see where we were going to and at the same time expecting to strike the light after 14 days out, so you can see it was rather risky not knowing how far off the land we were, anyhow it cleared up about 10 pm and we picked the lights up then came the signal that two boats had collided in the fog.  Several boats have gone to the rescue we have not seen any life boats or anything yet.  We are steaming along the coast not will be picking the Pilot up in about ½ hr and all being well in Boston this afternoon.  So darling girlie I have got this far safe and sound if as cold as a piece of ice.  I am shut up in my room now with the lights going and the heater on.  It is 38o out on the deck, but we feel it very much after just coming out of the tropics.  I will close now precious one, there isn’t much more writing space as I can’t say any more on these cards but after I will get all the letters I am expecting and all the news I will try and drop a card tonight if I get ashore, tell you that I have them safe.  Oh how I wish this afternoon would hurry up and come so as I can get them.  I hope you are still enjoying life at home.  I have often thought of that little embrace you said to me once.  That you ought not to be downhearted as you have all your folk around you but it must be worse for me being away with nobody to comfort me (but work) never mind Darling cheer up our time will come.  Love to all.  Tell Jack I wish he was on this boat to make one of the boys.  We are a happy family. 

Good bye Darling, till tonight from your one.

(postscript in the corner I hope you can read this writing.)
There are a few clues in the transcript, that will lead me into my next post.   I will go through what the research has told me about the voyage.  It would be truley wonderful if I could track down the family of the person who wrote the postcards so that they can have them.  If you have any clues, just contact me via the comments at the end of this post.



  1. My grandfather was on this ship - but he didn't write the postcards!
    Yvonne from Australia

    1. Thanks Yvonne. Its quite a story, If you have any information about who it could possibly be, I would love to know. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the tale.

  2. Thanks Yvonne. Its quite a story, If you have any information about who it could possibly be, I would love to know. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the tale.


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