HMAS Toomeree


Toomeree was built by Halvorsens in 1937 for Harold Percival (Percy by his friends) Christmas, (467) one of the founders of Woolworths (468) who already had a long association with the Halvorsens.  Christmas was also the owner of Winbah.  


Toomeree was delivered by Halvorsens to Brisbane.  The voyage to Brisbane was made in 51 hours – harbour headland to river headland, so a friend of Percy Christmas from the United States could holiday aboard on the Barrier Reef.  The voyage to the reef extended over four weeks and included ‘dozens of islands’.  On the homeward trip, a severe sea was encountered in which Toomeree behaved admirably, so much so that her crew expressed their willingness to take her anywhere.


Toomeree moored outside the new Halvorsen’s factory. (469)


As with other Halvorsen cruisers, Toomeree was relatively small at 55 feet (16.76m). She was designed for extended cruising and tropical service.  Opening windows in the trunk cabin over the forward deck, in the wheelhouse and in the after-section of the vessel where the galley and crews quarters were located provided ample ventilation.  Unlike the other cruisers, Toomeree was fitted with Gardner diesel engines.  She was of the normal stout Halvorsen construction - spotted gum keel and frames and oregon planking.  She included a deck saloon, a twin cabin complete with toilet facility, a two berth cabin to starboard with toilet facility, a single berth cabin to port and another two berth cabin aft also complete with a WC facility.  


In February 1940, well before the Navy commenced their requisition process, shipbrokers and valuers, A J Ellerker, working for the Navy at the time, said Toomeree was in their ‘hands’ for sale for £3,750. (470)  Ellerker enquired if the Navy was interested in acquiring her, adding she was a ‘really magnificent cruiser with every conceivable comfort and convenience’ specially designed and built for extended ocean cruises, with fuel tanks large enough to take her from Sydney to Auckland and return without re-fueling.  Having had little use, Ellerker said she was to all intents and purposes, a new craft which they regarded was of exceptional value.  The Navy advised they had no immediate service for her.


In March 1940, Christmas in Toomeree, collected his friend, A D Walker, and together they visited the assembled fleet at the Easter Regatta at Sackville.  It may have been that visit to collect Walker from his farm on the Hawkesbury River that induced Christmas to purchase the adjacent farm in an arrangement that would see him taken to the Supreme Court.  In June 1941, the former owner of the farm, a Lieutenant Smith of the ‘home garrison’, alleged Christmas failed to clear his debts so as to properly acquire the farm.  The jury found against Christmas and order him to pay the former serviceman compensation for his losses.


Toomeree was the last of the Hollywood fleet to be requisitioned by the Navy.  She was requisitioned on 8 January 1942 and commissioned on 15 May 1942 under command of Lieutenant J P T Hanson RANVR.  Even before she was requisitioned, on December 1941 she was selected for anti-submarine patrol duties at Port Moresby. (471)


She was armed with one .303 Vickers machine gun mounted aft, however the Navy’s ‘Ship Index Cards’ record she was fitted with two, presumably with the second mounted on the fore deck.  She was fitted with depth charges on the stern.


Having heard nothing from the Navy re compensation, Christmas wrote to the Navy Office in Melbourne, not just about his Toomeree but also about his Winbah, ‘If the war is to be paid for as it goes along, I would like some finality as to whether these boats are to be chartered or purchased’.  


HMAS Toomeree. (472)


The Secretary of the Navy responded that the question of hire or purchase was ‘under consideration’.  An offer of progress payments was provided pending finalization of the arrangement.  Christmas accepted the offer.


As for the value, Christmas advised she had cost £5,928 but was prepared to sell her for £5,000.  

In April 1942, Lloyds acting for the Navy valued her at just £4,000.  The Director of Engineering (Naval) recommended a maximum price of £4,000.  The Navy placed the purchase in the hands of the Contract Board.


During the Battle of Sydney Harbour, following the first explosions, Toomeree proceeded to the eastern end of the boom net to assist the protection of the harbour.  Following the Battle, Toomeree continued regular patrol duties at Sydney, Port Kembla and Newcastle. (473)  But the Navy had still not settled her requisition.


With two of Percy Christmas’ vessels having been requisitioned (Toomeree and Winbah), the Deputy Director acknowledged the purchase of Winbah had been ‘considerably delayed’ and recommended the purchase of Winbah should be settled before approaching Christmas with respect to Toomeree.


By October 1942, there had been several discussions with Christmas where he had rejected the Commonwealth’s offers and said he would not reduce his price to less than £4,500 less any progress payments.  He concluded the last conference saying he proposed to ‘withdraw’ the boat altogether from the offer but asked for a few days to consider his decision.  Christmas responded the next day confirming he would proceed with the sale but he was only prepared to accept £4,500.  With the Commonwealth only prepared to pay £4,000, the official representative acknowledged the only alternative would be to proceed in accordance with an ‘Impressment Order’.  Christmas stood his ground and in a subsequent discussion with the official representative, said ‘he would obtain more equitable treatment from the Compensation Board, than from the Department’.


At the end of February 1943, Christmas had his solicitor write to the Navy.  The Secretary for the Department stood firm and reiterated to the Deputy Director of Contracts, the Department ‘cannot vary its offer of £4,000 plus interest’.  Christmas’ solicitor responded advising that Christmas was not prepared to accept the Commonwealth’s offer and required the matter to be referred to the Compensation Board.  A fortnight later he wrote again requesting a progress payment in the sum of £4,000.  In doing so, he referred the official to a recent decision of the High Court, that he said would favour him, if he did not receive fair compensation.


In July there was a follow up letter from Christmas’ solicitor.  The Commonwealth responded with an ‘Impressment Order’ for the sum of £4,000 and paid a progress payment of £3,000.  On 21 July 1943, Christmas formally rejected the Commonwealth’s valuation and requested the matter be referred to the Compensation Board.  His solicitor asked to be informed when the request has been submitted to the Board.  Again, the solicitor again referred to the recent case in the High Court - and reserved all of his client’s rights.


In support of their position, the Navy in December 1943, obtained a further valuation which found Toomeree had increased in value compared to other vessels because of her diesel engines and gave a value of £4,250.  A meeting of the Compensation Board was held in December but the matter of Toomeree was not addressed due to the time taken by other applications.


In December 1943, nearly two years after his Toomeree had been taken, Christmas’ solicitors wrote again to the Secretary of the Navy advising their client would now accept the offer of £4,000 plus interest, and whilst their client adheres to the amount which has been claimed by him as fair and reasonable, he has decided that in order to support the ‘National effort’, he was prepared to put an end to the litigation and close the matter.  There is nothing in the file that any consideration was given by the Navy to increase the payment to the value in the Navy’s last valuation, namely £4,250.

Muirhead-Gould confirmed to the Secretary of the Naval Board, the purchase was finalized on 21 February 1944.  Six days later on 27 February 1944, Toomeree departed Sydney for Merauke on the south-west coast of New Guinea. (474)  There is no information regarding her voyage.  


Whilst at Merauke, she undertook air sea rescue, patrol and pilot duties.  By the end of September 1945, whilst still at Merauke, she had steamed 5,798 miles (9,275km) since she had been commissioned. (475)  On 27 September 1945, there was no further need for her at Merauke and she was ordered to be returned to Sydney for disposal. (476)  She was dispatched to Thursday Island on 4 October 1945.  Whilst en-route, she ‘developed trouble’, presumably engine trouble approximately 50 miles (80km) due south of Merauke.  Search aircraft were dispatched and in the afternoon of the following day she was sighted in the vicinity of Thursday Island. (477)


By February 1946 she was in Sydney when the Navy wrote to Harold Christmas offering Toomeree to him for the sum of £2,500.  Harold accepted the offer and on 6 March 1946 confirmed his acceptance by letter on Woolworths Limited letterhead.  Christmas took possession on 18 March 1946 at Garden Island.


However, by June 1946, it appears she had been acquired by Tea Gardens-Nelson’s Bay Ferries as a ‘suitable craft for special trips’. (478)  She was reported in 1948 competing in the New South Wales Big Game Fishing Association’s competition off Port Stephens and Newcastle where it was proposed to release pigeons to carry news from the competition vessels whilst at sea, to the shore station at Shoal Bay, Port Stephens. (479)  She was still working in 1951 when she was reported taking visitors to the local off-shore Cabbage Tree Islands. (480)


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

467 Svensen, R., The Halvorsen Story, p.72, 165

468 The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 1937, p.13., 27 April 1938, p.12., The Sun (Sydney), 6 February 1940, p.16

469 The International Power Boat and Aquatic Monthly, September 1937

470 NAA: MP138/1, 603/201/529 – Question of purchase - … - Also cruiser Toomeree

471 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/5943 – Motor vessel Toomeree.  This Record includes details of the negotiations and finalisation of the purchase.

472 AWM Photograph 302007

473 NAA: AWM78, 418/1: Sydney Log

474 NAA: AWM78, 418/1: Sydney Log

475 NAA: AWM78, 345/1: HMAS Toomeree: Reports of Proceedings

476 NAA: MP138/1, 603/246/5943: Motor vessel Toomeree

477 NAA: AWM78, 413/1: RAN Administrative Authority – RANLO [Royal Australian Naval Liaison Officer] and NOIC [Naval Officer in Charge], Merauke: Reports of Proceedings

478 Dungog Chronicle: Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW), 7 June 1946, P.3

479 Northern Star (Lismore), 28 January 1948, p.7

480 The Land (Sydney), 10 October 1951, p.37