Friday, 4 December 2015

Who is the mysterious Captain Steel?

Remember Captain Steel who presented such a colourful picture at the opening of the Drill Hall in Reynards Road?

I've been trying to find out who Captain Steel was and the only person who is even vaguely possible is Captain Walter Henry Steel of Woolacott Street, Coburg.

Read on and see what you think. Is this the man who appeared in a 'blue jumper and plaid trews of the Scottish Regt., with a "Gyppy" helmet like a Khakee mushroom on top'?

At the time of the opening of the Drill Hall, Walter Henry Steel, or Hal as he was known, was a medical student. He enlisted in the Army Medical Corps in June 1918, too late to see action. His family lived at 19 Woolacott Street, Coburg, which places Hal Steel in the right locality.

Hal Steel was a Methodist and at the time of his enlistment in 1918 stated that he had served in the Senior Cadets for 2 years in the 64A Infantry, which was based at East Melbourne, and had also served in the Melbourne University Rifles for 3 years. 

So, is this the same man who commanded the 59th Battalion of Cadets in February 1914?

Even if not, Coburg's Hal Steel had a long lasting connection to the military, a connection that would take him far away from Coburg to southern Queensland.

Born in West Melbourne in 1897, Hal Steel's family moved to Coburg in the early years of the twentieth century. They lived in Woolacott Street until 1922 when they moved to Sandringham and it was around this time that the family's connection to Coburg ended.

In 1923 Hal married Cosette Wuttrich and moved to Stanthorpe in Queensland's Granite Belt where he worked as the medical superintendent of the Repatriation Department's tuberculosis sanatorium 'Kyoomba'. 'Kyoomba' was sometimes referred to as the Anzac Convalescent Home. (Quite coincidentally, members of my own family emigrated from north Staffordshire around this time and settled in Stanthorpe, so I know the area quite well.)

In 1929, Hal Steel was promoted to the position of medical superintendent of 'Rosemount' in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. It was Brisbane's main Repat. Hospital. He remained there until the early 1960s when he retired to Surfer's Paradise.

So, is he the colourful figure we read about in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader? I've read newspaper reports from Stanthorpe that say he was a member of the Stanthorpe Operatic Society (as were my aunts, uncles and cousins - another coincidence), so he was interested in theatre.  

In fact, I have in front of me as I write this the program for the Society's 1926 production of 'Miss Hook of Holland' billed as a 'Sparkling Musical Comedy in 2 Acts' which lists Dr Steel as the Producer, my great-uncle Tom Smith as Stage Manager and his son Len Smith as the Musical Director. Another cousin, Arthur Smith, was in the cast and my great-aunt Alice sang in the chorus. What a coincidence!

It's possible, but what do you think?


  1. Hi. I am not able to find anything definite on his name. Perhaps an email enquiry to the researchers at the AWM could help you.

  2. I think Yes.

    Walter H Steel of Moreland gets a State School scholarship in 1910:
    STATE SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIPS. (1910, January 27). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved December 8, 2015, from

    Duriug the course of the parade Captain Steel of the Scottish Regiment, the newly ap pointed commanding oflicer, visited the different squads in all the glories of a mounted officer and doubtless the cadets were duly impressed.
    The Senior Cadets. (1911, July 28). The Coburg Leader (Vic. : 1890 - 1913), p. 4. Retrieved December 8, 2015, from

  3. Brilliant! Thanks, Lenore. Just goes to show that I didn't do my homework properly! Good old TROVE.

  4. Hi, I am currently researching the Kyoomba Sanatorium and have identified Dr W. H. Steel as being at the Sanatorium. I am after a photograph of him and any information on his time spent in Stanthorpe. I would appreciate it if you could contact me. Deborah

  5. Thanks, Deborah. I will have to find my notes on this one and get back to you. I don't have a photograph, but I do have research notes based on electoral rolls and newspaper reports, so I'll see what I can find.