Capt Hector Millar Macdonald

Hector Millar (Mac) Macdonald was born on November 19, 1896 to Capt Colin and Mrs Margaret McDonald at their home, 39 The Strand, Williamstown Victoria, Australia.

The youngest of 5 children, and the first to have been born outside of New Zealand, Hector had one brother -  Bruce George (1880) and three sisters - Anne Elizabeth (1881), Elizabeth Anne (1883) and Lillian (1885). By 1903 the family had moved to 8 Moreland rd Brunswick and by 1909 were living at "Waipu" 63 Park st St Kilda. Mac attended the St Kilda State School until he was enrolled at Scotch College on the 14 February 1911. There are receipts to show he was doing cadets, physics and chemistry.

In January 1912 Mac followed the family tradition and went to sea as a 15 year old Midshipman in the Archibald Currie liner ss. Janus which was commanded by his father. The first record I have found is for Janus arriving in the Port of Sydney on the 13/01/1912 after taking passage from Melbourne, interestingly I have recently learned that Mac stowed away on his fathers ship (Janus) to kick start his maritime career. For the rest of 1912 he is shown on passenger records in Sydney for May, September and October.

1913 started out the way 1912 had finished with a now 16 year old Midshipman Macdonald serving in Janus at the Port of Sydney on January 13th. This is where the trail went cold for a time, however, he popped up in a most unlikely place, serving as a "Boy" in the Craig Lines Barque Marjorie Craig out of Auckland New Zealand on September 19th, 1913. This move may not have been as unlikely as it first seems. In October 1911, Mac's father (Capt Colin McDonald) was the subject of a newspaper article on Australians as Sailors. In it he extolled the virtues of the barques of the Craig line for the training of boys for the sea.

Captain H.M. "Mac" Macdonald 1930
Early Photos of H.M. Macdonald at sea (Dates unknown)

On the 22nd of September 1913, following the sale of the Currie Line to the British India Steam Navigation Co. (B.I.), Mac joined B.I as a Boy Cadet/4th officer in the Janus, again commanded by his father Capt Colin McDonald, Mac showing as 4th mate on the passenger list of 14/12/1913. The first of his two World Wars was just around the corner.

After "Mac" had completed the required time at sea he was promoted to Acting 4th Officer  on the 26th of February 1915. Over time he completed all the relevant examinations, Second Mate (Steam Ship)  01/09/1915 in Bombay (cert 2516 Bom), First Mate (Steam Ship) 06/09/1916 in Bombay (cert 2649 Bom). Passenger records for the port of Sydney show him as 3rd Mate of Janus in April 1916 and it would appear he spent the entire First World War trooping in that ship as he is listed as 3rd Mate in April 1917 and 2nd Mate of the same vessel in September 1918


Records show that on the 18/01/1920 he is acting as "Extra 1st Mate" of Janus, obviously a training exercise to prepare him for the extra responsibilities of the 2nd in command. On the 21/04/1920 Mac completed and passed his Masters (Steam Ship) certificate in Melbourne (cert 2446 Vic) (1st Mates (also known as Chief Officers) usually hold a Masters Certificate).  In June 1922 he was promoted to Chief Officer (1st Mate) and it is known he held this position on both the ss. Gamaria and ss. Queda in 1927 (on the Australia run), he also had his Cargo Ships Safety certificate stamped on the 14th of June 1927. What is believed to be his first command was the ss. Homefield, having been promoted to Acting Commander on May 7th 1931.

On the 30th of November of the same year he was married in Rangoon, Burma to Edith (Eve) Emblyn Trethewie , a woman from Victoria, Australia. However this was sadly to be a short marriage. 1931 also saw a change in vessel, to the ss. Gurna where he stayed until 1933. A son was born to "Mac" and Edith in November 1932, John Bruce Macdonald came into the world on the 18th at Toorak, an inner suburb of Melbourne.

The social page of "Table Talk" noted on 21st of September 1933 :- "Captain H. M. Macdonald is spending his leave on a
visit to Australia. He travelled by the Mongolia, which arrived here on Monday last, and was joined at Fremantle by Mrs H. M. Macdonald." The Sydney Morning Herald of Friday 22 September 1933 adds:- "Captain H. M. Macdonald, master of the British-India freighter Gurna, reached Sydney yesterday on furlough, accompanied by his wife and small son."

On the 7th of February 1934 Eve died on the operating table of a Melbourne private hospital from "Shock following an operation on the kidney". With his mother dead and his father at sea it was decided John would live with his Grandparents,

"Mac" and Edith - date unknown
"Eve" Macdonald's grave in Brighton Cemetery

Capt Colin and Mrs Margaret McDonald and his maiden aunt Lillian.

The next listed vessels are ss. Ellenga, ss. Arankola and ss. Egra all on Lloyd's list as 1935, with the Egra listed as '35-37. In 1937 - 38 he was in command of the Nirvana, during which time there was a large gathering to entertain the seafarers at Fremantle. Also in 1938 he was in command of the Khandalla.

Now working on the Bombay- Marmagoa - Aden- East African Ports - Delagoa Bay - Durban run for B.I, Mac met Ileene Hanna Corbishley and they were Married on the 1st of June 1939 at Durban, Natal, South Africa, his address is given on

the marriage register as RMS Kenya, currently in the Port of Durban. This marriage was just in time for the second of his world wars.

Ileene had a daughter Mary Joan from her previous marriage just as Mac had John from his marriage to Eve. In may 1940 they had a child together, Ileene Margaret Macdonald.

B.I.S.N records show "Mac" as commanding officer of the ss. (H.M.T) Talma from 17/12/1941 to the end of the war. It appears Capt Macdonald's first job in Talma was to carry 600 troops as part of the BM.9B convoy out of Bombay on December 22 1941.

This convoy was bound for Singapore, however Talma was detached on December 27th under the protection of the Greek cruiser Georgios Averoff for Colombo as planned.


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ss. (H.M.T) Talma (date unknown)

Talma, under the command of Captain H.M. Macdonald left Port Said in March 1943 with 787 Italian and German prisoners of war on board, bound for Mersin in Turkey. Britain had organised an exchange of suitable equivalent British P.O.W's through the Turkish Government. However, despite having been granted safe conduct, an Italian bomber dropped a stick of bombs alongside the Talma. "Mac" radioed the Italian authorities asking them to call off the bomber. Shortly afterward they stopped the attack and disappeared, no damage was done to the vessel. One newspaper article on the incident notes :- an Italian officer personally apologised to Captain H. M. MacDonald (through a translator) on behalf of the airmen.

In Turkey she met the Italian liner ss. Gradisca (at the time a hospital ship) which was carrying the British P.O.W's and the exchange was made. There is an interesting back story to this exchange which can be read here.

If you read most historical records on Talma they state "she had an uneventful war". While it is true that she was never torpedoed or hit by bombs, I think that statement simplifies H.M.T Talma's contribution to the Allied war effort.

ss. Tairea (date unknown)
Medals awarded to Capt H.M. Macdonald

I have found records of 56 convoys that Talma was part of for the period of Capt Macdonald's command, not to mention 98 escorted or independent voyages, still as one of His Majesty's Transports but not part of the formal convoy system. Uneventful maybe, but I dare say a valuable contribution all the same.

The next vessel shown on the LLoyds list was the ss. Warialda in 1947 followed by the ss. Tairea in the same year. It should be noted that LLoyds ceased to keep their Captains registers in 1948. Tairea was one of three sisters (Tairea, Takliwa, Talamba) of which, at 7934 Ton, it was said were the smallest ocean going three stackers afloat.

Having Been at sea since January 1912, firstly with the Archibald Currie line then with the British India Steam

Navigation Company, Capt H.M. Macdonald was appointed Commodore Commander of the latter on the 1st of February 1952. This was quite an achievement, from Midshipman/Boy Cadet to Commodore of what was at the time one of the largest shipping companies in the world, as Commodore of B.I he was awarded the Queens Coronation Medal in 1953.

Following the expiry of his leave Commodore H.M. Macdonald officially retired on February 11th 1954 with a pension of £650/-/- per annum being a combination of both his B.I Staff Pension Fund and the Merchant Navy Officers Pension Fund.

This saw the end of a 42 year maritime career, the majority of which was with the same company, starting out at the bottom and finishing right at the very top. Interestingly after such a long career at sea, including 2 world wars, Mac could not swim a stroke! He is quoted as saying that if his ship went down he was not going to be wallowing in all that oily muck!

Commodore's broad pennant - British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd


List of Medals awarded

To see the Bibliography for Capt Hector Millar Macdonald please click here

To see actual Passenger lists (with some transcriptions) click here

To see the known ship list for Capt H.M. Macdonald please click here.


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