Monday, 18 January 2016

Japanese Naval Squadrons visit Townsville

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Japanese Navy made regular visits to large Australian ports, and at every port of call they were received with great excitement and enthusiasm.

Commanders of the Combined Japanese Fleet at Russo-Japanese War. Left to right: Funakoshi, Shimamura, Togo, Kamimura, Kato, Akiyama. Shimamura, Kamimura and Kato all visited Townsville at one time.
Source: "Remember the great Japanese Navy" by Masanori Itou, Image in the Public Domain.
His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s Naval Training Squadron, which was made up of three warships - the flagship Matsushima, and the cruisers Itsukushima and Hashidate, arrived in Townsville in June 1903, carrying more than 1,300 officers and crew. When it docked in Townsville the squadron was on its way home to Japan, after having already visited Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney.

At this time, Japan was considered one of the world’s emerging naval powers, after decisive battles against China in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Townsville was undoubtedly chosen as a stopover because the city was home to one of only two Japanese Consulates in Australia at the time.

At the invitation of the Mayor, Rear Admiral Kamimura and his officers were given a tour of the Town Hall complex in Flinders Street, which included the Theatre Royal and Central Hotel. During the visit to the theatre a group of school children, who were rehearsing for a concert, sang the Japanese National Anthem in the Japanese language, to the “huge delight of the visitors”.

According to the Townsville Daily Bulletin:

“A most pleasant surprise greeted the Admiral and his officers when they entered the area where the Central State School children were rehearsing on the stage.”

“Under the direction of Mr Caldersmith, and on the appearance of the visitors in the gallery, they rose and sang the Japanese National Anthem in the native tongue.”

When the Mayor proposed a toast to the Admiral and the Japanese Squadron, the Admiral made special reference to the earlier compliment, stating that this was “the first time he had heard the Japanese National Anthem sung in the native tongue by others than Japanese.”

“He further expressed delight at the cordiality with which he had been everywhere met by the officials and citizens of Townsville,” the Bulletin reported.

During their stay, Admiral Kamimura and his officers were entertained at a garden party at the Botanical Gardens, and the function was considered a great success, despite the gardens having suffered significant damage during cyclone Leonta, only months earlier.
Admiral Shimamura and the staff of the visiting Japanese Naval Squadron, with citizens of Townsville, in Queens Gardens, 1906.
Source: Townsville City Libraries.
Perhaps having been briefed by the Japanese Consul, Admiral Kamimura reportedly made charitable donations towards the cyclone relief effort, as well as to the Central State School. The distinguished guests were later treated to an evening concert at the school, where the Japanese National Anthem was once again performed in the national language.

About 150 citizens from Townsville and Charters Towers were invited to be guests of Admiral Kamimura “at home” on board his flagship, the Matsushima. According to a Townsville correspondent for The Queenslander, the locals were “delighted” with their visit to the ship.

“The warship was beautifully decorated, the deck being got up in representation of a garden, with delicately-constructed paper trees and flowers, and with national flags and streamers fluttering from the rigging. A programme of games, juggling feats, music, and other amusements made up an extremely enjoyable afternoon.”

The Japanese Navy returned to Townsville again in 1906, 1910, 1911 and 1917. By 1940, Australia’s previously cordial relationship with Japan was severed when Japan aligned itself with Germany and Italy.


  1. They also made a return visit in 1942. Probably not so friendly

    1. Yes, true, not such a friendly visit from the Japanese that time around.