HMAS Leilani (formerly Dawn)


Leilani was constructed by W L Holmes and launched on or about 24 March 1936 for George Raymond Vaughan of Camperdown. (321)  At the time she was launched, she was named Dawn and was included on the register of the RMYC.  From newspaper reports, it appears the Vaughans were enthusiastic members of the Rose Bay branch of the RMYC and participated in many events.  Ray also became the Vice-Commodore of the club. (322)


Dawn was 55 feet (16.76m) with a breadth of 13 feet 6 inches (4.11m).  Keel, frames and bottom stringers were of spotted gum, decks were beach and planking was of New Zealand Kauri.  She included; saloon, galley with refrigerator and gas range, a two berth and a single berth cabin aft, a forward two berth cabin, toilet and shower.  She was powered by twin 105 horse-power ‘Gray’ engines giving a speed of fourteen knots.  She was described by Holmes as representing a ‘definite step forward in cruiser design’ and considered to be possibly the most modern cruiser of her size yet seen in Sydney. (323)


Whilst little is known of her early history or when Vaughan changed her name to Leilani, her contribution to the future war effort was impressive.  She was requisitioned on 18 June 1941. (324)  On 23 October, by letter written on the letterhead of ‘Filmcraft Laboratories, Expert Motion Picture Photographers etc’, Vaughan confirmed receipt of a survey report from the Navy. (325)


Dawn - ‘A palatial cruiser’ following her launch. (326)


The Lloyds survey on behalf of the Navy valued her at £3,000.  While she was constructed in 1936 for £3,732, Vaughan valued her at £4,000 at the time she was requisitioned by the Navy.  The Director of Engineering (Naval), who was to have a significant involvement in the purchase of many of the vessels, recommended she should be purchased for £3,000.  Given the substantial difference, the Naval Board recommended negotiations be entered into to purchase the vessel.  As with Lolita, the task of negotiation was given to Mr Tennant of the Contract Board and like the Director of Engineering (Naval), he also was to have a significant involvement in the requisition of the other Sydney motor cruisers.  At the time the purchase cost of Leilani was being negotiated, negotiations were also being conducted for the acquisition of Steady Hour, Yarroma, Seamist, and Silver Cloud.  The owner of Leilani was clearly not alone, in desiring fair and reasonable compensation for the loss of his vessel.

Leilani was formally commissioned as HMAS Leilani on 21 July1941 under command of Warrant Officer J M Gault RANR(S).  Gault continued as her commander to 17 November 1942.  She was armed with one .303 Vickers machine gun mounted aft (however the ‘Ship Index Cards’ record she was fitted with two, presumably with the second mounted on the fore deck), with depth charges on the stern.


Tennant and the owner met on 29 December 1941.  Tennant’s record of the meeting confirms Vaughan was informed that with depreciation of 12½% for the first year, and 10% for the following years, the depreciated value was only £1,772.  Vaughan considered the sum as ‘totally unacceptable’.  He advised Tennant he had re-decked her with 2in beech in 1940, replaced galvanised nails with copper nails and strengthened her with additional ‘knees’.  When asked to consider a sum of £2,500, Vaughan said he would ‘think the matter over’.  He responded the following day having confirmed her value at £4,000 by two ‘builders of repute’.  Both had indicated a boat’s life from a depreciation point of view of 25 to 35 years which would give a fair depreciation rate of 4% or less per year.  Given the advice, Vaughan said he would not consider the figure of £2,500.  He told Tennant that while he was quite prepared to settle on a fair and reasonable basis, he was not prepared to sell at a ‘bargain price’.


HMAS Leilani with Fort Denison in the background. (327)


Following an exchange on 5 February 1942, Vaughan intimated he would apply for an assessment by a Compensation Board.  An ‘Impressment Order’ was issued with an amount of £3,000 to be paid for the permanent purchase of the vessel.  In March, the Naval Board handed the matter to the Crown Solicitor.  


Whilst Leilani did not take part in the Battle of Sydney Harbour, she continued patrol duties as a vessel of the Hollywood Fleet at Sydney, Port Kembla and Newcastle.


In September 1944, together with Lolita, she was fitted with new twin Ford V8 Vosper conversion engines.  On 8 November 1944, Leilani in company with HMAS Three Cheers (328) and AM 1496 (329) departed Sydney for Brisbane, via Newcastle and Coffs Harbour.  On reaching Coffs Harbour, the port engine required extensive repairs due to an ‘oil stoppage’.  It was proposed to forward a new ‘Vosper V8’ engine to be installed by local mechanics.  She departed Coffs Harbour on 29 November, (330) and on the following day, three years and five months after she had been requisitioned, Vaughan accepted payment of £3,000.


By December, Leilani was at the ML Repair Base, Brisbane ‘en-route to New Guinea’. (331)  Whether she was towed to Brisbane like Lolita or sailed under her own power is unknown.  She submitted a ‘fairly comprehensive Defects List’ and was on the slipway for four days.  She proceeded to sea but returned when the commanding officer considered he had struck a submerged object near the mouth of the Brisbane River.  She was found to be undamaged and was towed by Yunnan to Townsville with Lolita.  


However, a report confirmed Leilani was three days overdue into Townsville and an air search was launched on 21 December by planes from the Flying Boat Base at Bowen.  One report said she had been damaged in a collision en-route from Rockhampton to Townsville. (332)  However, the NOIC at Townsville confirmed she had run out of fuel and was towed into harbour.  


A report by the NOIC at Townsville on 26 December 1944, confirmed the commander of Leilani complained that on leaving Sydney he had only been given three days to prepare for the voyage from Sydney and did not have any sailor with mechanical knowledge to look after his engines.  The NOIC’s report also confirmed she had suffered the same engine problems as Lolita and questioned if she was to be sent onwards to Madang.  He also confirmed she carried no important spares.  The NOIC advised, the ships complement should include a competent rating with mechanical knowledge.


By April 1945, Leilani was at Hollandia (now Jayapura) on the north coast of New Guinea acting as a pilot vessel, (333) and in June she underwent repairs in preparation to be sailed to Morotai in Indonesia, located north-west of New Guinea. (334)



Routes of Leilani, Lolita, Toomeree, Steady Hour, Seamist, Kiara.


In his September 1945 report, (335) the commanding officer of HMAS Cootamundra, H J Hull, then at Morotai, said:


‘Cootamundra weighed anchor at 1600I, 26th and with paying off pennant flying, slowly circled all HMA Ships at anchor, after which HMAS Leilani was taken in tow and course was set for Ambon, the first stage of the voyage to Melbourne.’


He continued:


‘Voyage to Ambon was uneventful, ship arriving AM 29th.  Fuel was obtained from HMAS Bowen and ship sailed PM for Thursday Island.’


There are no further official reports from Cootamundra or Leilani, however in an interview in 2004, Charles Hile who served on Cootamundra, confirmed Leilani was towed to Sydney, with a stop at Port Stephens due to rough sea conditions. (336)


Leilani was ‘paid off’ on 19 November 1945. (337)  On 3 January 1946, she was offered for sale to the previous owner, Ray Vaughan for the sum of £2,000.  He was given 10 days to respond.  Vaughan said he was not interested in repurchasing Leilani at that price.


She was advertised for auction on 3 February 1946 as a ‘35 ton bridge deck motor cruiser’ with ‘twin V.8 Vosper Petrol Engines’.  Other vessels to be auctioned with her on 16 February 1946 included the 65 foot twin screw motor cruiser Valkyrie, and the 56 foot motor cruiser Shangri La, along with a collection of other smaller vessels and numerous ‘lighters’.  Inspections were conducted at Rozelle Bay in Sydney.  The auction proceeded and Leilani was sold for £2,900 to R Dewley of Five Dock.


Nothing more is known of her.  HMAS Leilani is not included in the Navy’s ‘Ship Histories’.

321 Referee (Sydney), 26 March 1936, p.12.  See also NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/1769

322 Referee (Sydney), 24 September 1936, p.16, 11 February 1937, p.18

323 The International Power Boat and Yachting Monthly – April 1936

324 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/1769 – Motor vessel Leilani

325 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/1806 – Motor yacht Leilani – On survey report

326 Referee (Sydney), 26 March 1936, p.12

327 AWM Photograph 300965

328 A new 58 foot (17.6m) vessel acquired in November 1942 and used as a diving boat and later as a general duties boat.  She served in New Guinea, Morati and Thursday Island before returning to Sydney.  See

329 AM1496 was a 38 foot (11.6m) ‘fast supply launch’ engaged in ‘intelligence duties’ in the Solomon Islands and New Ireland areas.  See AWM Photograph 079999

330 NAA: AWM78, 418/1: Sydney Log

331 NAA: AWM78, 381/1: Small Craft [Fairmile, ML] Base, Brisbane: Reports of Proceedings., December 1944


333 NAA: AWM78, 387/1: Coastal Craft [ML] Administration, New Guinea: Reports of Proceedings., Report of March 1945 dated 4 April 1945

334 NAA: AWM78, 387/1: Coastal Craft [ML] Administration, New Guinea: Reports of Proceedings., Report of May 1945 dated 4 June 1945

335 NAA: AWM78, 93/1: HMAS Cootamundra: Reports of Proceedings


337 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/5451: Motor vessel Leilani – Disposal