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James Steel Doran McGuffog (1889–1963)

by J. S. Sears

This article was published:

James Steel Doran McGuffog (1889-1963), marine engineer and naval officer, was born on 9 April 1889 at Walcha, New South Wales, second of four children of John McGuffog, a shipowner from Scotland, and his native-born wife Mary Jane, née Steel. The family lived at Chatsworth on the Clarence River. Educated at the local public school, James served his apprenticeship at the Harwood mill (owned by the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd) and went to sea in C.S.R. ships. After he obtained his second engineer's certificate, he joined (1911) McIlwraith, McEacharn & Co. Pty Ltd which operated a line of coastal steamers. He was awarded his chief engineer's certificate (1915) while serving as a junior engineer in the Karoola; he then sailed in the Katoomba as second engineer. At the Presbyterian Church, Malvern, Melbourne, on 14 October 1919 he married Ivy Adelaide Moore.

In 1920 McGuffog was appointed chief engineer of Katoomba. Qualifying as chief engineer (diesel) in 1934, he travelled to Belfast to stand by construction of the firm's new motor liner, Kanimbla. He returned to Sydney in May 1936 as her chief engineer. The ship was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and converted into an armed merchant cruiser in 1939. H.M.S. (later H.M.A.S.) Kanimbla was to be crewed principally by reservists of the Royal Australian Navy, among them McGuffog who was appointed temporary engineer commander, R.A.N.R., on 23 September. Kanimbla served on the China and East Indies stations—patrolling, hunting German raiders and escorting allied convoys. Despite falling ill, McGuffog kept her engines running and was mentioned in dispatches (1941).

In August 1941 Kanimbla reached the Persian Gulf and prepared to lead a flotilla against the port of Bandar Shapur. For fostering cohesion and high morale in the force—during training and in operations that captured the port on 25 August—McGuffog was again mentioned in dispatches (1942). One of Kanimbla's duties was to seize enemy merchant ships at Bandar Shapur. When the crew of a German vessel, Hohenfels, scuttled their ship, she had to be beached to prevent her sinking. McGuffog was made technical officer-in-charge of salvaging Hohenfels. He improvised 'ingenious' gear, worked indefatigably, took risks when necessary and succeeded in saving the prize. In 1942 he was appointed O.B.E. Back in Australia, Kanimbla was again converted (April-October 1943)—into a landing ship, infantry.

Following a term (1944-46) as principal naval overseer, Victoria, McGuffog returned to Kanimbla. He was demobilized on 18 January 1951. Kanimbla reverted to her peacetime role and McGuffog continued as her chief engineer. Understanding and supportive, he got on well with his sailors, but he had a watchful eye and demanded professionalism of them. He frequently reminded the men: 'If you don't know it, say so. Ask questions'. About six feet (183 cm) tall and 12 stone (76 kg) in weight, he had an upright bearing and a quiet but commanding voice. He was gifted with a strong will and a sense of humour, and kept himself to himself. In 1955 he retired. Survived by his wife and son, he died on 5 January 1963 in North Sydney and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at £48,296.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942 (Canb, 1957)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1968)
  • J. Bastock, Australia's Ships of War (Syd, 1975)
  • P. Sherman, Cry Havoc (Melb, 1994)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. S. Sears, 'McGuffog, James Steel Doran (1889–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 April, 1889
Walcha, New South Wales, Australia


5 January, 1963 (aged 73)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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