Nat Gould

His life and books

Frederick Ruska

Frederick Ruska
Born: 1858
Died: 1907
Francis Ruska
Christina Beutel
Elizabeth Madeline Ruska
Elizabeth Gonzales
Edward Ruska

Captain Frederick Ruska (1858-1907) was the brother of Elizabeth Madeline Ruska, the wife of Nat Gould. He was born at sea near the Cape of Good Hope in 1858. He was successively Master of the steamer Heka in 1881, the President in 1884, the Natone by 1886, and the President again by 1893. In that year he rescued his young son from drowning when he fell overboard while the steamer was unloading.

Frederick Ruska died on 26 August 1907 at New Farm in Brisbane. Nat Gould records in 1909 that he “died two years ago, much to our sorrow; for he was a fine, handsome, strongly made man, and looked like living to a good age” (1).

Reports about Captain Frederick Ruska appear in Australian newspapers as follows:

Frederick Ruska was a member of the crew of the boat SCUD going to fish for schnapper. Two lives were lost in an accident in the South Passage, Moreton Bay. [Brisbane Courier 7 August 1877 page 3.]

Frederick Ruska was granted a packet licence for the steamer HEKA. [Brisbane Courier 14 December 1881 page 3.]

Negligent steering of the steamer PRESIDENT (master Frederick Ruska) endangered the lives of passengers in a ferry boat. In view of his previous good conduct, it was decided to reprimand him, but he was warned that a repeat offence would mean the withdrawal of his licence. [Brisbane Courier 13 December 1882 page 5.]

Serious collision between NATONE (master Frederick Ruska) and PRESIDENT. [Brisbane Courier 7 May 1886 page 5.]

Frederick Ruska was granted a packet licence for the steamer NATONE. [Brisbane Courier 7 July 1887 page 5.]

Captain Ruska of the steamer NATONE was fined £2 and costs for not keeping out of the way of the PRESIDENT. [Brisbane Courier 7 January 1888 page 6.]

Collision in Francis Channel between the steamer NATONE (master Frederick Ruska) and the steamer GARNET on 28 July 1889. Frederick Ruska defended himself, and it appeared that there was much rivalry between them. [Brisbane Courier 6 August 1889 page 3.]

Enquiry into the collision between the steamers NATONE (master Frederick Ruska) and GARNET in the Francis Channel. Licences of both masters ordered to be suspended. [Brisbane Courier 10 August 1889 page 3.]

Narrow escape by the young son of Captain Ruska of the PRESIDENT. The boy fell overboard during unloading and was rescued from drowning by his father. [Brisbane Courier 13 April 1893 pages 4 and 5.]

Trouble regarding the sailing of NATONE (Captain Frederick Ruska) to view the Australian flagship HMS Orlando being cancelled because of bad weather. "It was considered unsafe to go alongside owing to the roughness of the water, and moreover it afterwards transpired that no one would have been allowed on the Orlando as some illness had broken out among her crew. There was a great deal of seasickness on board the NATONE. The steamer eventually returned to Queensport, took on her full complement of passengers, and steamed up to the city, which was readied in good time for tea." [Brisbane Courier 14 October 1889 pages 4 and 5.]

"A little black lugger of 26 tons, with antiquated engines emitting the smell of crude oil, the Noosa pushes out from Burketown each month carrying provisions for Borroloola and the head of the Roper. To the mission stations and lonely settlements, the ship's visit is a monthly link with civilisation. The trip is a family concern, for Captain Fred Ruska has his wife as mate and son as deck hand. An epic story of the pluck and endurance of these voyagers has been woven by Ernestine Hill, woman wanderer of the out-back, and this will be featured, with illustrations, in to-morrow's issue of "The Sunday Mail." [LAY OF THE LUGGER The Courier Mail 2 September 1933 page 13.]

"The Southport Easter regatta was the principal event in the sailing world at that time, the special attraction being the Southport Cup ,which had to be won twice by the same boat. This was accomplished by the 27-footer Harriet, which already had one "leg" to her credit. She was owned by A. W. M. Finlay, and was sailed by Ned Clark. The second boat was J. W. Swain's 30ft Artemus Ward, sailed by Captain Ruska, of the steamer President, and the third was the Hon, E. B. Forrest's 30ft Isabel, sailed by Billy Pashley." [“Fifty Years Ago” A review of the file of The Brisbane Courier for the week ended 19 April 1884.The Courier Mail 21 April 1934 page 21.]

Frederick Ruska had a son Edward Ruska known as Ted or Teddy Ruska (2). His daughter was Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska (1920-1993), better known as Kath Walker or Oodgeroo Noonuccal. She became a writer, artist and political activist from the 1960s. She won several literary awards, including the Mary Gilmore Medal (1970), the Jessie Litchfield Award (1975), and the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Award. She was a key figure in the campaign for reforming the Australian Constitution to allow aboriginal people full citizenship, lobbying Prime Ministers Robert Menzies in 1965 and Harold Holt in 1966. She was honoured with an MBE in 1970.

In the Second World War her brothers Edward and Eric Ruska were taken prisoner by the Japanese. They worked on the infamous Burma Railway, where one of them had to have a leg amputated. Two cousins, Victor and Alan Ruska, also served in the Second World War (3).


(1) The Magic of Sport page 128.
(2) Edward Ruska is mentioned in Moreton Bay People: The Complete Collection by Peter Ludlow in the recollections of George Ferguson on the work gang at Dunwich in the 1930s: “The foreman of the gang was Teddy Ruska and his spirit imbued all the other members of the gang. His wife was a full-blood aborigine, but I’m not sure if Teddy was. Their two boys were Eddie and Eric, and a third boy died tragically. The two girls were Kath (later to become a National literary figure under the adopted name Oodgeroo Nunuckle) and Florrie” (Chapter 62 page 194.)
(3) Information on the Ruska family was kindly supplied by Andrew Millie.