Wednesday, 17 April 1918

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Australian mystery aeroplane panic of 1918. See here for an introduction or here for a list of all posts.

A. E. Mclean, 17 April 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, pages 191 and 192 are a report submitted by Constable A. E. McLean of Dartmoor police station. He is passing on information about a mystery aircraft and a ship offshore, seen or heard by multiple witnesses at Nelson, on the southwestern coast of Victoria, near the South Australian border. His informant is 'Mrs Vaux, licensee of the Nelson Hotel'. According to McLean, she has claimed that 'one afternoon last week an airship was observed by two boys who was [sic] returning home from School', and that they were 'able to give a good description of the machine'.

They state that the machine was travelling from the land and went out to sea and that a large vessel was visible at sea and the machine flew in the direction of the vessel.

In addition, some of her employees 'heard the noise of the engines, but thought it was one of the Motor boats on the river, and took no notice of it at the time'; however it later was found that 'no boats was [sic] out at the time'.

Mrs Vaux has already informed 'the Military Authorities at Mount Gambier by telephone, immediately after the flight', and McLean presumes the Army would have informed the Navy; but in case they did not he has informed the Navy Office himself, and has 'delayed going to Nelson (thereby incurring expense) pending instructions from the Navy Authorities'.

There are some followup reports: NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 193 is a telegram from McLean with confirmation of the date of the sighting as 9 April, but the boys are now said to be 'unable to describe [aircraft] overcome with fear'; NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 194 is a telegram from the Cape Nelson lighthouse reporting that nothing had been seen there. (Despite the similarity in name, Cape Nelson is about 80 km from Nelson; presumably the Navy Office was well aware of this and made inquiries because the lighthouse was ideally placed to monitor maritime traffic in the area.)

In my article, I was interested in the fact that this is a report resting (primarily) on the account of children, as part of a discussion outlining the demographics of the mystery aeroplane sightings. It wasn't the only example I could have used, but that the boys claimed to have seen the aeroplane flying out to a ship at sea also helps to emphasise that the idea of a German raider in Australian waters was what people had in mind. It would have been difficult for investigators to place much reliance on this evidence. That the boys' 'good description of the machine' turns into incoherence due to becoming 'overcome with fear' suggests a tall tale gone too far, though judging from the archival record nobody seems to have pointed this out. Mrs Vaux's employees might be more reliable, but they didn't actually see the aeroplane or the ship reported by the boys; the former might have been easy enough to miss but surely the latter would have been visible for some time afterwards.

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