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First published in The World's News, Sydney, Australia, 8 July 1931

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-04-11
Produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright

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In 1931 Aidan de Brune wrote a series of stories for The World's News, Sydney, featuring an Australian Customs inspector by the name of Joe Porter.

The stories were given headline-style titles and sub-titles and printed with illustrated headpieces. Some included an in-text illustration. The byline under which the stories appeared was "A.D.B." The titles and publication dates were:

• Proof of the Pudding: The Dope in the Duff (8 Jul 1931)
• The Wedding Cake: Clever Drug-Running Ruse (12 Aug 1931)
• Wiles of a Heathen Chinee: Customs Officer Innocently Smuggles Opium (2 Sep 1931)
• Beautiful Girl Victimised: Cocaine Smuggler's Ruse (23 Sep 1931)
• The Elusive Mr. Chon: Smart Smuggling Scheme (4 Nov 1931)

The RGL editions of the Joe Porter stories were built from files found in the digital newspaper archive of the National Library of Australia. Thanks and credit go to the Australian bibliophile Terry Walker for locating these stories and making them available for publication in RGL.

—Roy Glashan, 7 April 2021


"TROUBLE" voyaged on board the Nancy Lee—and in this instance "trouble" bore the alias of Tod Jollings, rated chief mate.

The Nancy Lee was a squat, sea-smothering steamer tramp of about 800 tons burden. Ostensibly registered at San Francisco, she professed to trade through the Islands, with Sydney as her temporary headquarters. Joe Porter, Customs inspector with a roving commission along the waterfront for the suppression of illicit drug traffic, hinted at dark and unpleasant happenings whenever the Nancy Lee should dare to poke her ugly, high-prowed beak into her port of registry.

Certainly Captain Angus McGregor and his crew were tough—but none so tough as Tod Jollings, the first mate. A big, burly man in the middle thirties, with a shock of light red hair, his light-blue eyes were invariably set in a stare of hostility.

The Nancy Lee had been out from Sydney ninety-three days on this voyage. Her manifest declared that she was bound for the southern groups of the Islands—yet, peculiarly, the log of the Maritura, an English-Australian mailboat, reported that three days out of Colombo a tramp steamer bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Nancy Lee had been sighted, and that steamer neither answered signals nor flew a flag.

Altogether the Nancy Lee and her crew were under suspicion; yet of those berthed forward Joe Feng, the cook, was the only man who had sailed in her on previous voyages. Joe Feng held his berth because of his ability at plum-duff—and mate Jollings loved plum-duff. For that reason, perhaps, the Chinese was exempt from the continued hazing to which the mate subjected the crew. Joe Feng was treated with almost respect; more, of all the stores shipped at any port, those pertaining to the manufacture of plum-duff were alone above suspicion.

This voyage of the Nancy Lee had been remarkable by reason of the hazing to which mate Jollings subjected the men. Some unknown circumstance had upset Jollings's temper, a few days out from Sydney; he had not recovered it when the vessel pointed her prow homewards. The men were sullen. Ugly looks were cast at the mate—behind his back—yet there were those among the crew who might have stood up to him in fair fight with a chance of success. But that would have been logged "mutiny."

The mutterings increased as the days wore by. Trade had not been good; the Nancy Lee's hold was barely half-filled—and the crew was on shares. More than one seaman envied Bert Dollard—but never within hearing of the mate.

Dollard had disappeared while the ship lay off Suva Bay. He was a meek, inoffensive little man; born and bred in Sydney—a city in which he had also married. A "rat" of a man, who lived continually under the mate's displeasure. The crew swore that he could not swim; yet communication between the ship and the shore, while the Nancy Lee lay off Suva, was entirely by the ship's boats. Dollard had not gone ashore by that means. For some fancied, or real, neglect of duty Jollings had stopped his shore leave.

In the forecastle, after lights-out, muttered speculations were rife concerning Bert's fate. There were those who stated that Jollings had tossed the little man to the sharks. A large majority of the crew speculated as to what Mrs. Dollard would say when the ship reached Sydney and she found it did not carry her Bert.

"Big an' ugly as 'e is, I wouldn't be in 'is shoes when we's tied up," muttered Sam Smutts as he took over the wheel one evening from Fred Paton. "Bert's missus'll be there, an' when she 'ears there's no Bert an' no money—"

The sentence was not finished. Fred guessed the unspoken words.

"Ain't 'e awful!" For a moment he lingered beside his mate. "'E even kicked Joe Feng to-day."

"No?" Awe strained Sam's voice.

"'E did! Feng was bendin' down jest outside 'is door as 'e comes out, and 'e—'e caught 'im bendin'. See? I nearly larfed—only it ain't wise ter larf at a Chink when 'e gets th' leather. Feng nearly rammed th' ole man's cabin door wi' 'is 'ead, an' I caught 'is eye. I wouldn't be in th' mate's shoes fer—"


Feng's rainbow eye became a chronic subject of conversation among the crew. They watched—and waited; yet nothing happened.

"Chinks don't take that sorter thin' lyin' down," observed Sam, dictatorially. "I knows Chinks. They gets their own back—y'see!"

The evening before the ship was due at Sydney Fred took news to the forecastle.

"No?" Almost a sigh went round the group gathered. Bill Warne's voice rose in solo. "Youse a awful liar, Fred!"

"I tell youse I 'eard 'im," Fred protested. "Not as I blame yer, Bill. I wouldn't believe it m'self if I 'adn't 'eard 'im—but 'e did. I swares it!"

"Apolergise t' a Chink?" Sam spat disgustedly. "That's killed the cat!"

The tall heads of Sydney Harbor loomed into view. A deep frown gathered on the mate's brow as the steamer made her slow way up the harbor. His frown deepened when he found that they were to tie up at Circular Quay.

Expectations were quickly realised. Within an hour of the first rope being made fast Mrs. Dollard came on board and demanded her husband.

"Skipped the ship at Suva, ma'am," reported Captain McGregor—then found work to accomplish in his cabin.

"Skipped th' ship?" Mrs. Dollard, a tall, bare-armed woman, who, but for her sex, would have made a mighty deck-hand, muttered. "I'll make 'im skip—that I will!" She turned on the mate suddenly. "Wot abart 'is pay?"

"Best see th' cap'n, Missus."

"I'll see that pay!" the lady threatened. But Captain McGregor was unapproachable. His cabin door was locked. All messages brought back replied that the captain was busy—and references to the mate. Jollings was uninformative.

Mrs. Dollard was not easily evaded. Despite hints and direct orders she lingered on board, talking to what members of the crew she could corner. Within half an hour she approached Jollings again.

"Where's my Bert?" she demanded, arms akimbo.

"Jumped the ship at Suva," the mate answered with, for him, unparalleled civility.

"That's a lie!" The lady thrust her face at the mate. "Where's—me— Bert?"

Jollings tried to turn away, but Mrs. Dollard had him cornered.

"In th' 'arbor at Suva," she continued, not waiting for an answer. "Yer 'azed an' 'azed 'im, an' then threw 'im ter th' sharks."

"That's a lie!" The mate spoke heatedly.

"Is it?" For moments the woman glowered at the mate, then marched off the ship. Jollings shrugged. Yet, uneasily, through the rest of the day he watched the woman, who hung about the wharf.

The crew looked on with interest. Those who knew Mrs. Dollard had expected something more dramatic. Her restraint puzzled them. They were still more puzzled at the conferences held between the mate and Joe Feng; and later between the Chinese and Mrs. Dollard.

The next day Captain McGregor and the mate stuck close to the vessel. Joe Feng was very busy in his alley.

"Plum-duff ter-day," reported Sam to his mates. He also reported a long and earnest conversation between the mate and cook, at which the former had done most of the talking—the latter confining himself to rapid nods. Towards noon Mrs. Dollard came to the vessel and went to the cook's galley. She returned ashore carrying a heavy basket. Inspector Porter met her within the shed.

"What have you got there?" He eyed the basket. Everything pertaining to the Nancy Lee was suspicious—to him.

"Plum-duff fer th' funeral," the lady replied promptly, opening her bag. "That cookie's th' only decent man on that boat. 'E cooked me a plum-duff in mem'ry ov me Bert."

Porter poked at the duff. In looks, aroma, and feel, it certainly was plum-duff. He was inclined to explore further but refrained. Gossip had reported the disagreement between the lady and the ship's officers. It was unlikely that she would help them smuggle. Grudgingly he passed her.

The midday hour came and the crew ceased work; expectant of the plum-duff that was to honor their table. Unanimously they agreed that Feng's plum-duffs were the only decent thing on board. Just as unanimously they agreed that that would be the last plum-duff they would eat on board the Nancy Lee.

The steaming, sweet-smelling dish was borne to the forecastle. Another, much smaller, went to the cabin. Ten minutes later Jollings rushed to the deck side and heaved something into the water—his face was white with anger and fear. Three bounds took him to the galley.

"Wot th' 'ell didja put in that plum-duff, you damned, blithering 'eathern," he yelled, hauling Joe Feng from the galley to the deck. "Try t' poison me, wouldja?"

"Me no savee."

"Yer put sumthin 'in that plum-duff." Jollings was shaking his victim like a cat shakes a rat. "Wot was it?"

"Onlee li'lle pow'er you give. You say put in duff."

"I told you ter put that bottle of stuff in th' puddin' when you'd cooked it— th' one I was takin' ome."

"I'se put in duff." Feng lost none of his blandness.

From that Jollings could not shift him. A chance glance at the wharf showed the mate that Joe Porter was watching the scene with interest, though too far away to overhear the conversation.

With a muttered groan the mate released the cook and returned to confer with Captain McGregor. During the afternoon the news filtered around the deck that Feng would not sail again on the Nancy Lee. Yet the Chinese was not perturbed. Towards dusk he gathered his belongings into a bundle and sought the captain. He emerged from the cabin, a bland smile still on his impassive face.

Outside the wharf he chanced on Mrs. Dollard. A few words and Chinese and widow made for the tram stop and Woolloomooloo. Both were smiling, as if over a day's work well accomplished.

In McGregor's cabin mate and captain foregathered.

"Well?" queried Jollings shortly.

"Sed he mistook your orders," the captain answered shortly.

"Like 'ell 'e did.'"

"Wot did yer want t' kick 'im for?"

McGregor spoke angrily. "There wos nigh two hundred quids worth ov—"

"Shut yer trap!" the mate interrupted quickly. "Yer don't know who's outside. An' 'e put it in th' duff! The—" The balance of the mate's remarks were quite unprintable.

IN a room in Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo, Mrs. Dollard and Joe Feng interviewed a man of Italian nationality. All three were smiling broadly as the foreigner counted over a thick wad of bank notes. As they turned to the door Mrs. Dollard faced the cook..

"Wot didja put in 'is duff, Feng?"

The bland smile slightly broadened on the Chinese face. His tones were almost benevolent as he softly murmured:

"Me giv-a lolla salt."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.