The Purchase of the Fearless
For more than 20 Years, Keith LeLeu has operated a Maritime Museum at Peterhead, Port Adelaide, as a hobby. This Museum developed well and he was able to finance its operating without making charges or soliciting donations. Although there were such bulky items as a steam reciprocating engine and fitted-out wheelhouses on display, as well as the more general museum articles of interest, he was conscious the collection would be enhanced if a complete vessel could be obtained. His opportunity came when the ‘Fearless’ was put up for sale in 1972. Fearless (ex Rockwing), an oil-burning tug, was one of 18 sister tugs built in Canada during World War II.
She was a deep-sea salvage tug which in her latter days of service had been on the Brisbane River before being retired by her owners, the Queensland Tug Company. This Company was jointly owned by the Adelaide Steamship Industries Limited and Howard Smith Industries Limited. He offered to buy her at what he thought might be scrap metal value.
A short time later, when LeLeu was on leave and in the museum, a telegram arrived from the ship’s owners stating that they had decided to sell her to him for the sum of one dollar. This was, of course, an extremely generous offer, but it was one which put immediate responsibilities on his shoulders, as a volunteer crew had to be obtained, the voyage financed and the Fearless brought from Brisbane to Port Adelaide under her own steam, all without delay.
The vessel sailed uninsured as they could have only got coverage for total loss; but all men on board were covered by another policy.
The Queensland Tug company lent inflatable rafts and helped in innumerable ways, and Mr Plumb, the manager, and many other well wishers came to see them off. The cook , Sterling Mace, played his trumpet as they went down Brisbane river; he was not only a good trumpeter, but was a first class cook and a wise provedore, for they ate well under bad weather conditions. Fearless was a very good sea boat and, as is usual with a volunteer crew, a spirit existed whereby any discomforts were ignored and laughed at.
Because of heavy weather conditions two men who were experienced both as sailor and firemen interchanged with others to make the trip easier. Watches on deck were six on, six off, but below, they were four on and eight off.
For this last voyage of the fearless the crew were:
- Master 6-12 watch – Phil Mitchell
- Master 12-6 watch – Karl Loof
- Chief Engineer – Arthur Smithson
- Second Engineer – Alex Brodie
- Third Engineer – Thomas Montgomery
- Boatswain, & 6-12 watch – Keith LeLeu
- Cook – Sterling Mace
- Deck Watch Keepers -Vic Hutchins, David Frame, Kevin Costello, David Greentree
- General Purpose Hand – John Bradley
- Boiler Attendants – Albert Steele, Ken Hopkins & Wally Reeves
During the eleven day trip the ship certainly displayed her sea going qualities. They had four overnight stops on the way; one at Coff’s Harbour, one at Newcastle, one Sealer Cove near Wilsons Promontory and one in Portland. At the three towns the little ship with the dollar sign on her funnel attracted quite a lot of attention; they were guest of the port and many local enthusiasts and authorities visited them. As with Brisbane every courtesy was extended to them. The Publicity they received in the local press was very good for ship preservationists and maritime museums generally and the volunteer aspect of the crew was brought well to the fore.
So on December 10th, 1972, eleven days after leaving Brisbane, they reached Port Adelaide; a very happy volunteer crew of 15, shipmates in the true sense of the word and a ship saved – the last sea-going Steam Tug in Australia.
The cost of the Voyage was $5800, of which $210.00 was donated by four well wishers and the remainder supplied by LeLeu.
He had given much thought to the future of the museum in Peterhead and to the Fearless. LeLeu was then serving as an AB seaman in Roll-on
-roll-off ships on the coast and for 7 months of the year was at sea. Although devoting all the time he could to the museum , he felt that this was not adequate to keep it as well as possible, and so discussed the matter with the National Trust of South Australia just 4 months after bringing the Fearless, the pride of the collection, to Port Adelaide, and eventually presented the whole collection and its contents to the Trust. The Fearless was sold to them for $1.00, as by then the sign on her funnel had attracted such attention, it was a condition of transfer that it remain. (Ownership of the Fearless has been transferred from the South Australian Maritime Museum to a developer Southern Sea Eagles)
The Fearless was rewired and connected with the shore, where she lay alongside the Sugar Company at Glanville, and a shipkeeper was placed onboard. Richard Dodds was the first of a long line of shipkeepers. The Ship was to remain there for 10 years during which time the Cruickshanks Corner site became available.