Letters from a Hundred Years Ago : a tale of love and tragedy – Contributed by Mrs Pat Shae

PNGAA member, Kevin Lock, through a chance encounter, met Mrs Pat Shea who happens to be the grand-daughter of Master Mariner Soren Nelson who, as you can see from the Remembrance Card (the 1st photo), was lost at sea on or about 14 September 1907.

She kindly lent Kevin a series of letters written by Soren Nelson to his wife, a newspaper cutting from the North Queensland Register (circa 11 November 1907) and a number of photographs showing Samarai and part of the Trobriands, all taken circa 1906.

Mrs Pat Shea has kindly given permission for these to be reproduced on our web site.

The newspaper cutting referred to is shown in slides 2,3 & 4.
It is an extremely interesting piece of memorabilia which, inter alia, details executions at Woodlark Island, mentions the Government vessel The Merrie England (later burnt and sunk in Port Moresby harbour on 17 March 1917); reports damage to both property and shipping from a cyclone which ravaged the Solomon and Coral Seas some time during 1907; reports the accidental (?) death of Captain Nelson (misreported as Wilson and who is the central figure in the following letters), and makes reference to mining ventures to the north of Port Moresby. That same cyclone also hit Cooktown and destroyed a Joss House (a Chinese temple) and sank a Pilot ship, killing eight people.

Letters 1906 (10)
Normal day to day letters from husband to wife who are separated; note the cost of renting a house on Samarai and the Samarai Doctor’s fee.

Letters 1907 (10)
These tell of his trading voyages, house building (note flooring timber ordered from Cairns as it was cheaper than from Quato [Kwato]), and his expectation of his wife’s arrival. Unfortunately, when his wife and son arrived at Samarai they were to be informed of his death.

Letter 1909
 Written by a close friend (Paul Gruntru (?)) from Woodlark Island. This letter is included as it makes reference to the increasing population and economic prosperity of Woodlark Island. Of interest is the comment that most of the people came from Charters Towers.

Captain Nelson was a Norwegian and his name was anglicised from Nelsen. His last letter was just before his wife and son arrived at Samarai. They apparently stayed in Samarai for a short time before returning to Queensland and eventually to W.A. His wife remarried.

The photographs of Old Samarai, circa 1906, are shown in a separate album.


Worked for Burns Philp in Popondetta and Port Moresby from 1980 through 1987

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