Home  -  Veterans  -   Descendents - Researchers  -  Online Books  -  Disclaimer   -  Feedback  -  Links Contact Us


Joseph Woodville Bolles was born in Mattapoiett, Massachusetts on January 15,  1843. Joseph was the son of  Joseph Bolles who migrated from Lincolnshire, England to Wells, Maine, in 1640, only 20 years after Mayflower's epic voyage.  He was a cooper who made oil barrels for whaling ships and was part owner of the barque “Willis”.   He was also Well's Town Clerk, and saw his first house burned down by the Indians.


By 1712 the family had moved south to the small port of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, lying under Cape Cod and just north of New Bedford, the renowned whaling port.Joseph, the son, went to sea at age 14 on two successive whaling voyage aboard his fathers barque “Willis” which was built at Mattapoisett by Ebenezer Cannon in 1838, and condemned at Fayal, Azores, in 1866, and then spent two and one-half years aboard the whaling brig “Pavillion”, built at Haddam, Connecticut, in 1829, and crushed by ice in Hudson's Bay in 1863.   His voyage aboard the “Pavillion was concluded during the American Civil War. He then served aboard the whaler “Waverly”, built at Mattapoisett by Gideon Barstow and son, one of eight whalers working in the Bering Strait, during the American Civil War. She was captured and burned to the waterline on June 28, 1862 by the Confederate cruiser Shenandoah, which had previously been berthed and resupplied in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

The “CSS Shenandoah” commanded by Captain James Iredell Waddell, was formerly a blockade running ship called the “Sea King”, a composite, full rigged ship, with something more than auxiliary steam power and all the necessary arrangements for disconnecting and lifting her screw.

Waddel was stationed in a far east Union posting and when the Civil War erupted, he resigned his commission, on the November 29, 1861, and made his way home; to find he had been stricken from the Union rolls.

When trying to mount the guns available to him aboard the newly acquired “Shenandoah”, it was found no gun tackles had been supplied and without them, if the guns were fired, the recoil would carry them to the other side of the ship with devastating effects. Although the guns appeared through newly cut gun ports, threatening any ship she approached, it was a threat in name only, as they could not be fired against an enemy. Waddell in reality, had only two 12 pounders that could be safely fired.

As Bolles, being Fourth Mate on the “Waverly”, was placed aboard the one of the eight whalers along with crews of all the ships, they were forced to watch their ships being burned. Ironically, the attack should never have been made, because unknown to the Shenandoah, being isolated at sea, the American Civil War had already ended.

Bolles also served on the American whalers “Ellen Rodman”, a 73 ton Schooner built by Ellen Rodman at Mattapoisett by Gideon Barstow and son in 1839 and later wrecked in Hudson's Bay in 1882, and  the “S.A. Paine” from 1867 through 1869. The “S.A. Paine” was built at East Boston in 1866 and made two whaling voyages from Provincetown before being withdrawn in 1871.

On November 5, 1869 at age 25, Bolles sailed from America for the last time aboard the whaling barque “Janet”, as First Mate; being landed in a hospital in the Bay of Island, New Zealand on March 8, 1872.The “Janet” was built at Portland, Maine in 1845 and abandoned at sea in 1879.

He next signed aboard rhe ex-slaver barque “Adventurer”, a ship of the Sydney whaling fleet of  Captain “Bobbie” Towns of Sydney, Australia; arriving in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on December 31, 1872.   Joseph Bolles was immediately transferred by Capt. "Bobbie" Towns, to the position of First Mate, aboard "the finest whaling ship sailing out of Sydney"; the “Robert Towns” which sailed five days later.


Towns, in 1864, had privately built the port of Townsville, in North Queensland, Australia.

On June 28, 1873, the “Robert Towns” was wrecked on Malo Island, Vanuatu in the New Hebrides.


The crew made their way ashore to the natives chanting  "Kai kai you!" (which means eat you). Survivors managed to pacify the cannibals by feeding them damper, made from the unspoiled inner contents of bags of flour which had been washed ashore from the wreck. Fortunately, the schooner “Isabella”, on a voyage through the islands to recruiting native labour to work on sugar cane farms, saw the survivors, rescued them and returned them to Brisbane, Australia. Joseph Bolles arrived in Cooktown the next year, in 1874 following the 1873 gold discovery in the Parramatta River and resided in  Far North Queensland; beginning in 1874 for a quarter century, during which time he built a boatshed and slipway only one-hundred and fifty feet west of Lieutenant James Cook's 1770 Endeavour site, and engaged in pearling and the beche-de-mer fishery on luggers he built. He was the first to establish communications between Steward River and Cooktown and commanded his own ship, the “Dove”.

When gold was discovered in the Coen River north of Cooktown, Bolles ferried prospectors to the mouth of the Stewart River. On October 14, 1880 Bolles passed an examination for the “Master of a Coaster” license and was granted his Masters Certificate, number 27, by the Marine Board of Queensland.


Bolles married his first wife, Margaret Ellen “Ettie” Lang from Devon, on March 8, 1883, but she died of malaria on January 23, 1899 at age 24. They had two children, Arthur Woodville Bolles, born in 1885 and Daisy Lillian Boles, born in 1888.

Around 1884 Bolles transported the first ever cargo of telegraph materials and equipment from Cooktown to Normantown in the Gulf of Carpentaria, for the construction of telegraph lines following John Bradford’s Expedition of 1883 from Laura to Somerset. His doing that allowed the completion of the telegraph line along Australia’s east coast in 1887. In 1886 Boles bought the ketch “Wild Duck” from its New Zealand builder and established a beche-de-mer fishing station on Forbes Island, on the Great Barrier Reef. The cutters “North Star” and “Echo” also operated out of the station for the company. Tragedy struck in 1888, however, when Queensland’s Flinder Island natives revolted. Captain Kane of the “Wild Duck” fishing close to shore was wounded by an iron spear and fell over board. He was then killed while in the water, by a blow to the head with a piece of iron. Crew member August Anderson was also injured when he was hit over the head with a club and shot. In the melee, the “Echo” was sunk and as the “North Star” pulled along side the “Wild Duck” Mike Freeman the cook and Luke Love the mate were also murdered.
Henrietta Jane Craig of Edinburgh, Bolles second wife, sailed aboard the British Indian steamship “Merkara” to Cooktown to live with her brother Capt. John Adam Craig, who was subsequently murdered by a native crew when pearling in his Cooktown ketch “Emily” in the Louisiade Archipelago, of New Guinea, on September 14, 1886. The following year, on July 26, 1887, her then fiance, William Hanson, was similarly murdered by local natives when pearling in the Cooktown cutter “Cecilia”, in Orangerie Bay of New Guinea. Bolles then married his second wife, Jane Craig in Cooktown in 1890 and they moved to Townsville where Jessie Adaleen Bolles was born in 1892, who later married Hugh Roberts and his son Joseph Thomas Herbert Bolles was born in 1899. Bolles and his family than moved to Townsville where he continued building ships until his retirement in 1915. Bolles was the owner and master of a small steam coaster in the late 1890’s, called the “Dove”. Financially, it was a disaster and today its rusted out boiler lies in mangroves at Port Douglass; used as a bollard for fishing boats.
Joseph Woodville Bolles passed away on April 8, 1930 at 86 years of age; laid to rest in the Townsville Westend Cemetery; where his wife “Ettie” was also buried when she died on  March 29, 1902 at age 41. Jessie Adaleen Bolles Roberts was also buried in Westend Cemetery when she died on August 10, 1943. Even though Joseph Bolles was never inducted into the U.S. Navy, the American Government recognized all merchant seamen as members of the American Navy and as veterans, because it was merchant seamen who supplied both soldiers in the field and ships on the seas.    Herbert later married Scottish-born Helen Macdonald in 1922 at Townsville, and their son  Herbert W. Bolles, was born in Brisbane in 1923, before they moved to Perth, Western Australia; two years later. Herbert Bolles was manager of an insurance company and was transferred from Perth to Townsville early during WWII.
On March 4, 1941 in Townsville, at age 17, Herbert W. Bolles joined the Australasian United Steam Navigation Co. as a Deck Cadet aboard the passenger ship “Ormiston”. Built in 1887, the Australasian United Steam Navigation Co.  had been formed by the British India Steam Navigation Co.. In 1919 the Australasian United Steam Navigation Co. purchased a subsidiary company, the Eastern and Australian Steam Navigation Co. and cadets served in the vessels of both shipping lines. Later, Herbert was transferred from the “Ormiston” to the cargo ship “Macumb”. Luck was with Herbert because the “Ormiston” was then torpedoed in a southbound Convoy off Coffs Harbour, N.S.W. on May 12, 1943. They were sailing to Port Moresby, New Guinea in 1942 and 1943 in “Macumba” with a cargo three-tiers-high of 44 gallon drums of petrol standing on end, with the holds being filled to capacity with ammunition to supply troops.. In Sydney Herbert left the “Macumba” and joined the Eastern and Australian Steam Navigation ship “Tanda”. Again Herbert barely escaped with his life, as the “Macumb” was bombed and sunk with a great loss of life in the Arafura Sea by Japanese aircraft on August 7, 1943, on a voyage to Darwin.

After Herbert’s cadet days were over and he passed his Second Mates Certificate in Sydney, he became an officer. He then became Captain Herbert W. Bolles, Merchant Navy Master and Sydney Harbour Sea Pilot and eventually retired. His brother, Alastair Stewart Bolles became the Assistant Harbour Master at Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Bolles was eventually compensated by the Alabama Claims Commission for the loss of property on the Waverly when the vessel was burnt by the CSS Shenandoah. After the war Great Britain, having built the “Shenandoah”, in addition to the “Alabama” and the “Florida” for the south,  which violated neutrality laws, paid the U.S. Government $16, 312, 944 compensation; of which Joseph Bolles received $800.

Joseph Woodville Bolles died in Townsville, Queensland on April 8, 1930 at age 87 and was buried in the West End Cemetery in Townsville, Queensland, Australia; Block C, Row 1, Grave 1.  He is buried with Henrietta “Ettie” Bowles who died at age 41 in 1902. Exploits of  the whalers and Joseph Bolls can be found in the book written by his grandson in 1993,  Herb Bolles, entitled "Shipwreck, Massacre and Meyhem”. 


Australian Association for Maritime History, March 2001

Australian Merchant Navy, website

Northern Queensland Genealogical File

Herbert W. Bolles, Kurrajong Heights, Shipwreck, Massacre and Mayhem, 1993

Townsville Australia Website

Royal Australian Historical Society Library

Alan Wagener, Mackay


Copyright ACWV 2005 - All Rights Reserved