WILLIAMS, FRANCIS ARMSTRONG (FRANK)
(1866 — 7th August, 1947)
Ships Pilot Fiji Group
Co-Founder of Williams & Gosling Ltd
Honorary Colonel, Fiji Labour Corps.
By Julie Percival.
Captain Frank Williams was born in Chiltern, Victoria, Australia in 1866 and arrived in Fiji with his family on May 20, 1872, landing in Seru, Ra. His father was to grow cotton at Caboni on the Ra coast or northern side of Viti Levu. When cotton farming failed in 1875, his father sold Caboni and returned to Queensland where he died. He remained in Fiji with his mother and three sisters.
His only brother went with his father to Australia, later joining the Queensland National Bank. When the Boer War started in South Africa his brother joined up with the Queensland Rough Riders and was killed in action at Spion Kop.
From 1872-1879 Captain Williams attended the Levuka Public School and in 1879 at only 13 years of age joined the first coolie ship that came to Fiji, the ‘Leonidas’, which arrived in Fiji on 14th May 1879, carrying 464 Indians. He served his time at sea with Norse and Coy leaving their employ as 2nd Officer of their ships in 1884 to return to a job onshore.
In 1892 Captain Williams began an association with Union Steamship Coy as Superintendent and Pilot in the Fiji Group, which lasted 41 years. He was a pioneer in organising shipping services in Fiji.
When it was decided to send a labour corps overseas Colonel Williams took the Fiji Labour Corps to the First Great War (1914-18). He was asked by the Government to select men accustomed to working on the wharves in Suva, and served with them for two years and seven months in France.
When Captain Williams returned to Fiji after the war, he founded the firm Williams & Gosling that now bears his name on 1st November, 1921, taking in his son-in-law Captain Henry (Harry) Gosling as a junior partner and his eldest son, Alec, who worked for the company as bookkeeper. Alec also was paymaster for the stevedores at W&G. He would go to the wharf when a ship was unloaded and pay the men off. Their pay consisted of cash, a tin each of corned beef and salmon and a loaf of bread. This was because the stevedores were prone to visit the kava saloons after work and spend all the money they had on kava. By giving them corned beef, fish and bread, this would ensure that the family would receive some food.
Under the excellent stewardship of the Aidney family, Williams & Gosling Ltd became a public company in October, 1936 and is now an internationally recognized Fijian firm in shipping, logistics, freight forwarding and transport services.
In view of his distinguished service in the 1914-18 war, Captain Williams was invited to become an Honorary Colonel of the Fiji Labour Corps in 1943. In a letter to Captain Williams, asking him if he would be willing to accept the appointment, the Governor said:
My dear Captain Williams, In view of your distinguished association with the Fiji Labour Corps in France in the last war and of the special position in the esteem and indeed affection of the people of the Colony which you occupy, I have, after consulting the Commandant and the Commanding Officer of the Corps, decided to invite you to become Honorary Colonel of the Fiji Labour Corps and I trust you will be able to see your way to accept the post which will give the greatest pleasure to all ranks of the Corps.
Captain Williams was for a number of years a member of the Suva Municipal Council. In 1927, while Acting Harbour Master in Suva, he had the honour of bringing in and taking out the warship with the Duke and Duchess, who became King George and Queen Elizabeth, on-board and attending them in Suva.
Captain Williams married Tilly Maud Gray in 1890 and they had ten children: Frank Alexander (Alec), Francis Jane Maud, James Walter, Gladys, Maggie, George Hutchins, Jessie, Fred Carleton, Tilly, and Harold.
Eldest daughter, Maud Williams, married Captain Harry Gosling, who co-founded the firm Williams & Gosling. Their son, Jack Gosling, is the father of Mike Gosling making Captain Williams Mike’s great-grandfather.
There are many wonderful stories of the family Christmas dinners held at the Williams family home on Toorak Road, Suva, Fiji, long before that strip became infamous for its night life and kava drinking saloons. The hospitality shared by Captain Williams around his billiard table, keg of beer and liquor with the men folk was legendary.
The story was told, probably around the billiard table, of Frank calling up the Air Force Commander of the R.N.Z.A.F. base down at Laucala Bay, which Frank could see from his home. Frank was concerned with the number of Flying Boats that were flying over his house each day. He asked the Commander if he could reroute them away from his home. “No,” said the Commander, “you have two tall coconut trees in your front yard which my pilots use as beacons to line up their descent for landing on Laucala Bay.” Next day, Frank went out and cut those two trees down. I don’t know if it stopped the fly overs! (Ed.)
Captain Williams died in Suva on Thursday August 7, 1947 aged 81.
Entry By: Julie Percival, Denham Court, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia