Penguin is a Torres Strait pearling lugger, built in 1907 on Thursday Island. Originally named Mercia, she was registered as a wooden ketch of 15 tons gross, 46.5ft (14.17m) in length and no engine. Owners were Hodels Limited of Thursday Island and she was used for pearl shell fishing.
She was requisitioned by the Australian Armed Forces during 1941 to 1942, but her utilization is unknown.
Sold when no longer required for service, Mercia returned to Thursday Island. At some time in the 1950's, she was lengthened and fitted with a diesel engine. It is believed that, at this time, she was employed in the collection of trochus shell.
The vessel was acquired by the Commonwealth Government and returned to standard pearling vessel rig. Placed with the Duaun Island Council, she was used as the island's service vessel. Apparently, about this time, the name changed from Mercia to Penguin. When it was decided that Penguin should be replaced by a more modern vessel in 1980, Commonwealth Government officers approached the Museum with an offer from the Duaun Island Council that Penguin be made available to the Queensland Maritime Museum, provided it was maintained permanently with its Duaun Island colours and number.
After several trips to Thursday Island by Association members, it was assessed that Penguin could not be sailed to Brisbane as the hull was in poor condition, taking on water, with an unreliable engine and the sails in poor condition. A plan to bring her to Brisbane on the John Burke, the vessel servicing the islands, had to be abandoned when a suitable cradle could not be located.
Association members then designed and built a suitable cradle, cables and lifting harness, which were transported, at no charge, to Thursday Island on the John Burke. A request to the Minister of Defence resulted in HMAS Tobruk, returning from the Suez area, being made available to bring Penguin to Brisbane. Then began a frantic and frustrating period, preparing Penguin for the arrival of Tobruk. These preparations were not helped by Penguin often sinking at her moorings! With perseverance, Penguin was ready when Tobruk arrived, was lifted aboard and was on her way to Brisbane.
Since arriving at the Queensland Maritime Museum in April, 1982, Penguin has been completely rebuilt and restored to her pearling days by members of the Association. To satisfy the wishes of the Duaun Island Council, she is painted in the colours and bears the number A61 and the white star in a black spot symbol of the Duaun Island. It is with pride that the Association is able to display Penguin, resting on the cradle the members built to transport her to Brisbane.
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