A chance encounter led to rediscovering the tale of an historic Bowie knife, the Battle of Brisbane, and further back into colonial times. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.
One of my followers Jakab saw me metal detecting and came to say hello. During the conversation he said that that he didn’t know anything about his own family history, but his did have a family heirloom knife that he could show me.
The knife was a classic Bowie knife (pictured above), made by Western in the USA, fourteen and a half inches long with a beautifully aged rosewood handle and an old patina to match. I researched his family history, and I found amazing array of stories that led to the early settlers of Ipswich in Queensland.
Jakab had one ancestor who got run over by a dray in Ipswich while walking along Wharf Street.
Another ancestor was a fish monger who was assaulted at Coolangatta as he tried to escape in his Model T Ford. Later his house got burned down, and he was arrested for having an unlicensed handgun.
A different ancestor died when he fell off the wharf at South Brisbane.
And then there was Jakab’s grandfather – he was a singer at Wynnum and his name was Douglas Hunn. He made headlines in the old Brisbane Truth newspaper when he left his wife and ran off with another woman.
But he was also the one who owned the Bowie knife – and the story of how he got it is a valuable slice of history in its own right.
Before Doug Hunn started his singing career, he was a meat worker when he enlisted in the Australian Army in 1942 during the Second World War. He served in the Radio Section at Woolloongabba and was in the right place for the Battle of Brisbane in November that year.
The Battle of Brisbane was a mass melee that was sparked when a group of Australian soldiers tried to defend an American mate from the American military police. The fight raged for two nights – on the first night one Australian was killed, eight others were shot and hundreds were injured. On the second night the Australians were prepared, and eight US MPs, one serviceman and four officers were hospitalised and hundreds of others injured.
Details of the battle were largely suppressed, but Doug Hunn knew all about it. That’s because he was actually at the Enoggera army hospital on the nights that the casualties were brought in. He left the very next day and it seems – as the family story goes – he was keen to take up the cause. And so he got into a number of fights with the Americans, clearly with some success because that’s how he got that historic Bowie knife, from one of those Americans.
Ironically for the fighting Hunn, one member of the family was a man of peace. Not long afterward Doug acquired the knife, his brother Frederick Hunn was appointed as the assistant curate at Ipswich’s St Paul’s Church of England.
He became very popular for his work with the Country Women’s Association and Boys’ Society there. In 1949 Fred made history by becoming the first priest to be ordained in the church. But just three days later he was admitted to the Ipswich hospital where he tragically died at just thirty-four years of age.
The Reverend Hunn was buried with his great-grandfather Thomas Phebey. Phebey was one of the very early and respected pioneers of Ipswich and you can see them together today on the same headstone in the pioneer section of Ipswich Cemetery.
So from a chance encounter came this story of an American Bowie knife and the Battle of Brisbane which led straight an Australian pioneer.
Jakab had never seen his grandfather before. The enlistment photographs posted here are the first he’s ever seen of Private Doug Hunn, the original benefactor of that historic Bowie knife following the Battle of Brisbane.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO.
Douglas Hunn’s WW2 Bowie knife – Harold Peacock 2022
Douglas Howard Hunn WW2 1943 – National Archives of Australia
The Reverend F.G.E. Hunn Ipswich General Cemetery – Find-A-Grave added by ‘Anne here’ lies on 2018