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James Gerald Stokely Doorly (1880–1956)

by Jill Eastwood

This article was published:

James Gerald Stokely Doorly (1880-1956), master mariner and author, was born on 4 June 1880 at Port of Spain, Trinidad, son of Rev. Wiltshire Stokely Doorly, later archdeacon of Trinidad, and his wife Jane Cumming, née Driggs. Gerald was educated at Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, and from 1894 in the Thames Nautical Training College, H.M.S. Worcester, for the mercantile marine. A fellow cadet and friend was E. R. G. R. Evans (later Admiral Lord Mountevans). Doorly graduated Queen's gold medallist in 1897, served his apprenticeship in sail and in 1901-02 did troop- and hospital-ship work with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. in the South African War.

In 1902-04 Doorly and Evans served together as junior officers in the S.Y. Morning, the supply ship to Captain R. F. Scott's Discovery of the National Antarctic Expedition. Doorly was awarded the Polar Service medal for his work in the Morning, which freed the Discovery from her ice-bound anchorage.

Doorly had gained his mate's certificate in Hobart in December 1903 and his master's certificate in London a year later. After a few months with the West India Mail Service, in 1905 he joined the Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand; on 18 November 1908 at Knox Church, Dunedin, he married Forrestina (Ina) Muriel Whitson, daughter of the secretary of the company. Excellent seamanship and good management of men brought him command of the Komata in July 1911 and thereafter some twenty-three of the fleet's ships plying between Australian and New Zealand ports. During World War I he commanded New Zealand troop transports and Admiralty colliers, and in November 1917 survived the loss of his ship Aparima by torpedo in the English Channel.

In November 1922 and January 1925 Doorly was involved in separate court cases settling union disputes arising from his shipping company's refusal to pay Australian award rates to men shipped in Australian ports. In June 1925 he left the company and went to Melbourne to join the Port Phillip Sea Pilot's Service. During World War II he brought troops and merchant convoys through the Rip. He retired in 1945.

Doorly's admission to the élite pilots' service is evidence of his outstanding ability as a master mariner. He was also gifted as a musician, singer and light composer: Evans testified that without Doorly, the men of the Morning and Discovery would have been hard-pushed to survive the disappointments and long voyages of the Antarctic expedition. In 1943 Doorly published in Melbourne his Songs of the 'Morning', with words by J. P. Morrison set to Doorly's music.

Doorly also published an account of the 1902-04 expedition to show that Scott's life was as worthy of fame as his heroic death. In The handmaiden of the navy (1919) and In the wake (1937) he publicized the important work done by the merchant navy, particularly its war-time contribution. He also wrote short stories and articles for Blackwood's Magazine, the Sydney Bulletin and the Melbourne Argus and Herald. Doorly was a member of the International P.E.N. Club (Melbourne) and the Bread and Cheese Club (1938-56), and in 1945-46 edited the (Annual) Dog Watch, the journal of the Shiplovers' Society. He was also in demand as a lecturer to community groups in Melbourne.

Doorly's first wife died in August 1933; on 29 December 1934 in Melbourne he married a divorcee, Bertha Lutzia Wildman, née Webber. About 1951 he moved to New Zealand; he died in Wellington on 3 November 1956, survived by his second wife and two daughters of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • Shiplovers' Society of Victoria, Annual Dog Watch, 1945, 1946, 1948
  • Bohemia, 12 (1957), no 7
  • R. H. Croll papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • manuscript catalogues and uncatalogued MSS 1858 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Jill Eastwood, 'Doorly, James Gerald Stokely (1880–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 June, 1880
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago


3 November, 1956 (aged 76)
Wellington, New Zealand

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