Sugar-cane-champagne. Brown, sweet and strong. The drink synonymous with the sunshine state.

With ease-of-access to the best sugar in the world, building rum distilleries was the natural progression for colonial Queenslanders.

You’ve heard of Bundaberg Rum, but have you heard of the SS Walrus? A floating distillery which navigated the tides of the infamous “Brown Snake” or Brisbane river.

Sketch of SS WALRUS (Source: QLD State Library Archives)

It all began in 1869 when the sailing ship was purchased by a chap named James Stewart – he planned to turn it into a steamship and much, much more.

With the help of young, ambitious entrepreneurs, J. Campbell Moffat and John Falconer, it was transformed into steam boat and floating sugar mill.

A protection was than granted to the crew and ship to produce rum on board.

SS WALRUS with distillery onboard (Source: QLD State Library Archives)

Between 1870 and 1871 the SS walrus travelled up and down the Brisbane, Logan and Albert Rivers servicing the cane farms. During that time they produced approximately 53,000 litres of rum – way more than most land distilleries.

In 1872 however, the floating rum producer caught the eye of local authorities who determined the SS Walrus not fit for purpose.

In later years the ship was abandoned before being recused and salvaged.

The owner of the vessel at the time, Joseph Hogan, was forced to pay to salvage it. Even though it was illegal it’s rumoured the SS Walrus then went back to producing rum.

Then in 1883 the SS Walrus was discovered beached on the banks of the Albert River.

Where the ship went after that remains a mystery. But the ‘still’ was purchased by Francis ¬†Gooding who went on to open up the Beenleigh Rum Distillery in 1884.

The legend of the SS Walrus also lives on underneath the Regatta Hotel in Toowong.

“The Walrus Club” is a rum bar hidden beneath the famous riverside pub.

The Walrus Club at the Regatta Hotel

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