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Pioneer with Tolstoy connections saves stranded ship's crew

Frank Skinner Thompson and his wife Alice Maude knew how to show hospitality. When a whole ship's crew, stranded from a big storm, turned up on their doorstep, the crew were looked after by the English pioneering company.


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In 1911 the Norwegian barque Mandalay left Africa for Albany in Western Australia. The vessel was captained by Emile Tonnessen. The ship travelled across the southern ocean, experiencing good weather all the way. For the last 46 years at sea Captain Tonnessen had been a naval man and never had a mishap or accident at sea. This was to be his final voyage before he retired.


Clouds started gathering in the sky and the breeze strengthened, and Captain Tonnessen had a sense of foreboding. He knew the signs of a building storm. Then it hit. A freak wind change from the south-west had the crew fighting for many hours against gale-force storms and enormous, relentless waves. There didn't seem much hope for the Captain and crew.


A year previously, a young family by the name of Thompson had travelled out from England to the new colonies in Western Australia to start a new life. Frank Skinner Thompson, his wife Alice Maud and their three children travelled up from Albany in the tug Dunsky, settling on Deep River as some of the first pioneers.


They built their home and named it Tinglewood. All the building materials had to be brought in by boat from Albany. Alice would have had quite a shock at the change of living circumstances. Her life in England had been comfortable and privileged, living in a 10-roomed, well built house where they entertained royalty. Meadows and formal gardens were swapped for vast areas of virgin bush and towering timbers where the black swans honked and insects became a new form of torment.


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The mansion was left behind for a 2-roomed dwelling amidst the wild beauty of Deep River, that eventually, through hard work and planning, became their dream home. Frank's reasons for moving his family from the luxuries of England seem to lie in the friendship he had developed with Leo Tolstoy, the Russian author when he met him on his travels. Their friendship was based on their mutual interest in Fabian socialism, where Frank was allowed to write prefaces for Tolstoy's translated texts. Things turned sour, however, when Frank had a falling out with one of Tolstoy's closest confidants.


Frank feared for his safety, as Russians infiltrating the UK had evidence he was behind the development of anti-government propaganda, so the Thompson family left for Australia.



Tinglewood. Frank Skinner Thompson (4th from left) with guests. Courtesy walpoleonline.com


Fast forward to May, 1911 and Frank and his sister Phyllis came across one of the crew of the Mandalay, wandering through the dense bushland. They took him home where he rested, then organised a search party for the rest of the Norwegian crew back to the beach.


The storm had forced the Mandalay shoreward and had come dangerously close to Chatham Island, on the south-western most tip of Western Australia. Captain Tonnessen knew their only hope was to beach the vessel before they were blown in further along the coast to Long Point and a fatal result. They managed to reach the beach on a stretch of sand that was to be the Mandalay's final resting place.



The wreck of the Mandalay on the beach that would later carry its name. Photo taken by Tom Swarbrick c. 1929. Courtesy Walpole, Nornalup & Districts Historical Society


Frank and the search party, led by the crewman, found the rest of the crew on what was fittingly to be called Mandalay Beach in the future, and led them through the sand hills to the Thompson’s homestead where they received warm hospitality before being taken to Albany and on to Fremantle and then back to Norway. Frank was later awarded a medal by the King of Norway and a valuable silver watch by the survivors of the vessel.



Walpole Cemetery, where the graves of Frank Skinner and Alice Maude Thompson lie. Courtesy Manjimup Shire Council


Alice and Frank welcomed many visitors to their Tinglewood guest-house and were well known and loved in the Nornalup area. Alice died in 1948 and Frank followed a year later. They are both buried in the Walpole cemetery.


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