Whalemen Adventurers

by W. J. Dakin

Chapter 4


In 1825 "The Derwent Whaling Club" was formed at Hobart Town, largely through the efforts of a certain James Kelly. The members divided the profits on a share basis. Prizes were offered to the men employed. Eight dollars was the award for the first information that a whale was in the Derwent; another prize was offered to the man who displayed the greatest expertness as headsman. Kelly with his colleagues was instrumental in training the Tasmanian natives as boatmen. They made excellent whalemen.

"Captain" James Kelly had been appointed harbour master and pilot at Hobart Town in 1819. He was what we should call to-day a "hard case," manifestly efficient and without doubt a man who knew his job. Kelly was born near Sydney in 1791, so that he was twenty-eight when he became harbour master of Hobart Town. A few years before that date he had made the first discovery of, and had explored, Port Davey and Macquarie Harbour in a five-oared whale-boat. In this craft he rounded Tasmania, a journey taking forty-nine days, and with all sorts of dangers - but that is another story.

Kelly became one of the most notable of Hobart Town adventurers. There was ample reason for his fame, since, in addition to his courage and perspicacity, he was the possessor of a fine physique and an outstanding personality. He had been engaged in whaling before the year of his harbour appointment, and he was associated with one T. W. Birch in 1816. Later in his career he came to own several whaling ships, and was directly interested in ventures on the Tasmanian, New Zealand and southern coasts of Australia. In deed, it is often forgotten that the firm of Kelly and Hewitt was intimately associated with whaling at Portland, Victoria, before the days of the Hentys and the supposed first settlement of Victoria. His first Tasmanian whaling interests were in Bay whaling. Like many others who entered into such a speculative business as whaling and left the actual work to hired captains, he suffered misfortunes towards the end, one tribulation coming after another. He died a poor man on 20 April 1859.[footnote 1]

A little glimpse of the times can be built up from a story of a man named Goodridge who was wrecked on the Crozetts in 1821. He and his fellow survivors were rescued by an American schooner which he left at the Island of St Paul, where he was taken aboard the tender to a whaler, the King George, en route from the Cape of Good Hope. He reached the River Derwent on 11 July 1824. After this risky passage, Goodridge tried Tasmania for a change. After hard work and several fairly successful jobs on land, he came one day to Hobart Town, probably for a "day out." He was, however, grabbed by the police and locked up in gaol, with, as he puts it, nineteen of the worst characters of the place, many of them covered with filth and vermin. It turned out that he was charged with being a run-away sailor from a whaler, the King George, and that a reward of £ 2 each had been offered for the apprehension of several of the crew of that ship, who had deserted whilst she was lying in the harbour. Quite a lot of this desertion went on. An unlucky voyage or an evil captain and bad officers would be the usual causes, for those hard-bitten crews would stand a lot of gruelling if whale-catching was rapid and easy.

Goodridge lived eight years in Van Diemen's Land and afterwards wrote a book on his experiences, which became a complete emigrants' guide, and went through edition after edition.

Drunkenness was rampant in the Hobart Town of those days. Hobart Town was not a place for "softies". There were 6000 inhabitants and four breweries, and the only fault found with the latter was that they couldn't brew beer fast enough to meet the demand for it.

Some of the Bay whalers on the coasts of Australasia were little short of pirates, always ready to indulge in drunken sprees, and, in the case of the New Zealand representatives at least, frequently absorbed in other orgies. New Zealand, as we have seen, was a "no man's land," and no government seemed eager to lay down regulations or to attempt to keep order there. Ships from Salem, from Bristol, from France, and from Sydney, lay alongside each other, assisted each other, and competed with each other. One Hobart Town ship, the Dragon, was burned there by natives in 1833, the crew being killed, cooked, and eaten!

We must not forget the men of Launceston in connexion with Bay whaling although their deeds are shrouded in secrecy compared with the stories of Hobart Town. It was the Launceston men who made the southern coast of Australia their happy hunting-ground. They were the men who reached Western Australia and they initiated the first settlements on what was eventually to be the Victorian coast.

The men of Sydney were not exactly quick off the mark in the pursuance of Bay whaling, although increasing numbers of Yankee ships were almost at their doors; but stories of the abundance of whales at Twofold Bay, and of the natives utilizing them, gradually aroused curiosity, and in 1828 one gentleman of the port became interested enough to start whaling in that bay. The Sydney Gazette of 15 August 1828, has the following news:

The Sydney Gazette, 15 August 1828

Mr Thos. Raine of Bligh Street is an enterprising colonist and one of the most indefatigable merchants Australia can boast. About three months ago it occurred to Mr Raine that something might be done at the hitherto untried whaling ground at Twofold Bay. An experiment on a small scale was started by a Mr John Irvine - Australian by birth and a ship builder by trade. The Schooner Darling was sent there and returned last Tuesday after only three months, with sixteen tons of oil. But this is not the only news we have. We are informed that the whales flock into the bay in shoals owing to which there are now between eighty and ninety tons of oil now on the beach and ready to be dispatched to Sydney the instant the proper vessel is dispatched for it. Independently of which twenty tons of "fins" [footnote 2] are ready for the Sydney warehouse and this article was fetching in March last £ 180 a ton.

Such an adventure as this we should presume will lead more to open the eyes of the public as to the resources of Australia than all the newspaper remarks which might be put forward for a century to come.

Evidently Mr Raine got to work in earnest and with good results. Only six weeks later, however, an extraordinary story appeared in the Sydney newspapers. It was a brief dispatch from Shoalhaven, fifty-four miles south of Sydney, and it told that the natives of Twofold Bay had surprised and attacked the whites, murdering sixteen men. An endeavour was being made to send a cutter to the rescue of those still alive. There is evidence that some curious mistake may have resulted in this news for a later report states that Raine sent the brig Ann to investigate and that she found the story a canard and returned with a full cargo of oil. One wonders what lay behind it all.

Nothing much is heard about Twofold Bay after this until the whole region was opened up by three famous pioneers, the brothers Imlay, two of whom were qualified medicos. There is evidence again, however, that Launceston men knew the bay and used it. In 1833 Dr A. Imlay was in possession of over a thousand acres of land; this was gradually increased when the other brothers arrived; and, certainly by 1838, the Imlays were whaling as well as breeding cattle. To them, as Wellings points out, is due the real honour of making the Twofold Bay district known to the world. Probably it led to the settlement there of Ben Boyd, whose story needs a special place. The Imlays utilized the aborigines to the utmost, and there is clear evidence again that the latter made capable whalers, In 1837 one of the Imlays began Bay whaling at four stations in Tasmania where some trouble seems to have occurred, the headsman and hoat-steerers of Kelly complaining that Imlay was employing convicts in his boats.

Newspaper Report

"When our efforts can he extended to the sperm fishery also we shall speedily derive more profit than will pay for every article we stand in need of from England not omitting in the calculation even wine and spirits."

Another glimpse of Hobart Town and Sydney conditions in 1827 is provided by a newspaper report, which, after mentioning that the gentlemen of the Derwent Whaling Club had just missed getting two fine whales, goes on to bewail the absence of oil-casks. Then, commenting upon the value of the whale-fishery, it adds:

At Sydney, the report says, there was more wealth. One firm had sent £70,000 worth of oil to London in a year.

Sydney's real entry into the Bay-whaling adventure was linked with an exploitation of the southern island of New Zealand, the northern part of which was already so well known to the Sperm whalers. The ten years from 1830 to 1840 provided thrills indeed. I can only dip lightly into the vast amount of information we have about the successes and failures, the bloody massacres and what not, of this decade of New Zealand Bay whaling.[footnote 3]

The first Bay-whaling station is said to have been started at Preservation Inlet in 1827; but no oil was shipped away from thence for two or three years. Captain John Guard was at Tory Channel in 1827 but at first he confined his attentions to sealing. It is probably safe to say that 1829 and 1830 were the first real years of New Zealand Bay whaling. It was not very long before there were stations at Cloudy Bay in Cook Strait, at Otago Harbour (near where Dunedin was later to be built), and at Preservation Inlet, to the extreme south. Bay whaling was thus an industry of Cook Strait and southward, although the Bay of Islands to the far north remained the most important haven frequented by the British and American whale-ships on their arrival and before their departure on the homeward voyage.

Some of the early Sydney companies which entered into whaling speculation have left their names attached to interesting places, and to episodes of historical note. During the first successful year, 1831, at Cloudy Bay, there were three shore stations; two of these belonged to Mosman, of Sydney; and another to R. Campbell & Co., of the same port. Another station in Cook Strait was owned by Bell of Sydney, who has left us accounts of his observations there.

Ships from Hobart Town were also on the coast, one of them belonging to Kelly.

One of the most notable establishments was that set up at Otago by the Weller Brothers of Sydney. I say notable because a number of the personal letters which passed from one partner to the other have been preserved, and are now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. The two brothers entered into the whaling game in very earnest.

At Preservation Inlet, stations were founded by Bunn & Co. and Peter Williams, and a little later we read much of the Sydney firm of R. Jones & Co., the rivals of the Wellers.

From 1830 to 1840 the number of stations gradually increased, and other interesting men came into the trade. The conditions were always risky on the New Zealand coast; for, besides the risks incidental to actual whaling, there was the constant fear of trouble with the natives.

The Wellers have indicated pretty clearly how "contact" was made with the Maoris, whom they describe as treacherous in the extreme. One notes that the Wellers' first trading cargo consisted of six cases of muskets, ten barrels, and 104 half-barrels of gunpowder, one case of axes, two iron boilers, five casks of beef, one case of whaling gear, one case of whaling-line, one pipe of gin and two puncheons of rum, five kegs of tobacco and stores. As McNab sarcastically opines, the arms and ammunition were for the treacherous natives, the alcohol for the whalers!

The cannibal chiefs armed themselves luxuriously - at times even purchased the aid of whalers in their intertribal warfare, not without disastrous results in the end to all concerned. If you don't realize what could be done, read the awful account of the incident of the Elizabeth, which carried one hundred baskets of human flesh from a place of battle to the tribe's feasting-grounds. The transport of this and the other services rendered were to be repaid in flax. The Elizabeth was, however, an English trading vessel! There were other disputes between the natives in which the whites became embroiled; there were constant difficulties between the whalers and the tribes - in fact, the shore whaling gangs were always in danger of attack.

When the schooner Harlequin reached Sydney from New Zealand on 29 March 1834, the captain reported that some little time previously, the natives of Cloudy Bay, having been at war with those of a southern province, had captured a chief and his daughter, both of whom they had killed. The natural consequence was that the natives of the south descended on Cloudy Bay in great numbers to have their revenge, and about 400 of them made rendezvous, expecting to meet their foes. These, however, happened to have chosen the time to be away on some sanguinary business of their own. Finding no one at home, so to speak, the visiting natives turned on the whaling-stations and annihilated the lot of them, taking men and women prisoners. At this unfortunate juncture the Harlequin arrived and cast anchor, not knowing anything of this little "affair." She was soon surrounded by the same natives, who attempted to capture and plunder her. The captain managed to get the vessel out and sailed for Kapiti Island, not so far away, only to meet with a similar reception there. He then cleared off and brought the news to Sydney.

The Wellers were in trouble with their ship, the Lucy Ann, the same year. The skipper reported that whilst he was at Otago nearly 500 natives arrived from war at Cloudy Bay, and, puffed up with conceit and pride, proceeded to mishandle the Otago residents. They "struck Mr Weller repeatedly and assaulted Captain Hayward and most of the other gentlemen there and went into the houses and broke open the boxes, taking whatever they thought proper for them." Meanwhile, a child of one of the chiefs died. This was superstitiously put down as due to the visit of the Lucy Ann and was quite sufficient excuse for a conspiracy to capture the craft and assassinate one of its owners, Mr Weller being the intended sacrifice. Fortunately, one of the natives turned informer; as a result the captain was able to get his ship into a real state of defence. The natives then found that it would be diplomatic to postpone their little plan. In the meantime, the captain also formulated a stratagem; he persuaded some of the chiefs to come on board, and kept them as hostages for the safety of the residents on land. He then got away with his prisoners for Sydney.

After this the Joseph Weller was provided by the Government with guns "to enable her to act with effect should violence be offered." She had reached Sydney the day after the arrival of the Lucy Ann, bringing with her a well-known Bay whaler, Captain Guard. Mrs Guard, with her children and some of the shipwrecked crew of the Harriet, were left stranded on the New Zealand coast. The rest had been murdered. Sydney was thrown into quite a stir at the news, and letters to the Press fanned the flame until the Executive Council decided to send a warship to the New Zealand coast to rescue the survivors by ransom or by force. H.M.S. Alligator was dispatched, and, to cut a long story short, the rescue was successfully accomplished. The first battle ever fought between British troops and Maoris was one incident of this affair. later on, the report of the work of this expedition raised a storm in the British House of Commons.

So we might go on. Every day, on favourable days during the season, the whale-boats went out after Right whales, the shore hands boiled the blubber down, the natives either made friends or reacted contrariwise. They traded potatoes, turnips, models of canoes, mats, and human heads to the whalers in exchange for muskets, ammunition, blankets, tobacco, and spirits. And human heads were the most excellent barter, for a head "bought at least one blanket!"

There was quite enough diversity for any one in this whaling game. But, to add a little more, in 1837 the seamen got up one of the first agitations on these coasts for a rise in wages. Representatives of the chief Sydney firms, Mosman, Jones, R. Campbell, George Weller, and others, had to meet and consider the matter very seriously.

Here is the manifesto which resulted, nearly one hundred years ago:

A meeting of the Merchant Shipowners of the Port of Sydney, having been convened this day, to consider the expediency of complying with the demand made by the seamen and labourers usually employed in the outfits of vessels (whalers especially) of four shillings per diem, have on mature consideration of the several reports and statements made, drawn conclusions :- That the demand for increase of wages does not arise from scarcity of seamen or labourers, nor from inadequacy of wages hitherto paid to such men while fitting for the fishery, but from combination on the part of the men which they believe they can carry into effect at this important and busy season of the year.

That this meeting has great reason to apprehend serious detention to ships of all descriptions in the Port of Sydney outward bound should any advance be acceded on the usual port wages to seamen and lumpers, as the increased wages in port, would increase the already too frequent desertion of seamen, especially those from Europe.

That this meeting view the conduct of the seamen and labourers in the Port of Sydney, as the acts of a systematic organised body whose intentions are not yet fully developed, but whose object, if accomplished, would materiallv retard the progressive Advancement of our Colonial marine. Therefore they, the Colonial Shipowners, resolve to adhere to the rate of wages hitherto paid by them, in their outfits or harbour pay, viz:- three shillings per diem, with full and ample allowance of provisions: and they trust that by all the shipowners unanimously agreeing to carry this resolution into effect, they will effectually counteract any unjust attempt that may be made to injure the shipping interest of the Port of Sydney.

Agreed to by us this 14th day of March, 1837.
CAMPBELL & Co.&c. &c. &c.

It is impossible to reproduce the "office atmosphere" of the whaling business of those adventurous days of the forties, except by presenting a little of the personal correspondence of the men engaged. Most of their writings have gone the way of all things, and it is lucky the letters of the Weller Brothers remain. I append one of them, and some extracts from another:

Sydney, 23 May `35.


I have sent in the Schooner twelve hands for the Gang and one boat builder, and as many articles required, as I could get into her. The Schooner arrived three days before the Barque, I have discharged the Master, Stitt on account of his not being able to account for 45 gals. rum, deficient in the hold, I shipped in the Schooner as stores, the last time he went to Otago and deducted the value of it from his wages. The copper of the Lucy Ann being too bad to send her sperm whaling, I thought it most advisable to fit her for a Black whale voyage, and intend sending her to Port Cooper. Rapsey has got the command of her. If I can procure a vessel of about 100 tons, I will send her in a fortnight's time from this date, to bring up a cargo from Otago. I can obtain £8 per ton for potatoes if good - no small ones. At present they are very dear and the few that came in the Schooner sold readily at £13. Five hundred pounds now would play the devil with us, with all the Bills falling due, in the two following months. The Lucy Ann on her return from Port Cooper will require sheathing and coppering, and a fresh outfit for a long sperm voyage. How many would you recommend fitting her for. The oil and bone, if she is successful will go a great way to pay her expenses, but if she is fitted for 14 months I should think £2,000 would scarcely cover it, including the repairs. She turned out 6 Impl. tuns of sperm, which I have sold to Demestre for £50 per ImpI. tun, and the casks returned. I have been very fortunate in purchasing casks, having by me now 200 tuns bought at 40/- and 50/- per tun. They are likely to be very dear, as much as £5 per tun. If you want more casks send word by the return of the Schooner and despatch her as quick as possible. Phillip Flower is expected out every day and probably Jackson will give him some fresh instructions relative to your business. I am about winding up the timber business and have taken two rooms in Pittman's store, to have the use of the wharf for refitting and for stowing on the wharf my empty casks for £ 70 per annum for all my vessels which includes chartered vessels. Marsden has informed me that the whalebone I shipped through him was sold at 105 £ per ton, but have not vet received the a/c sales. The following are the price of these articles, viz.

    11 doz pr. worsted stockings...@ 15/6 per doz
    6 doz Guernsey frocks............@ 36/-
    Handkerchiefs.........................@ 6/-
    4 doz axes................................@ 33/-

I have given Captain Camrouse of the Schooner 5 gallons Gin and 1 gallon rum for the passage down. You must furnish him with what you consider sufficient for the passage up.

Wishing you your good health and a good season,

I remain your affectionate brother,

Ed. Weller, Esq.,
Otago, N.Z.

Sydney, 4 Jan.'36.

per Schooner, Josh. Weller.


The Schooner arrived here on the 19th December, 1835, after a passage of 40 days. Your success gave us great pleasure and from the accounts brought up by the gang, you are no contemptible whaler although it is your first season, and now you have shown the people what whaling is, there will be no necessity for you to venture your life in the boats. Consider should you by any mischance be killed or drowned from your boat being stove, what the consequences would be to the Estabt. So let me request you not to go in the boat at all. From the character you have given of Camrouse, I have discharged him and having been informed that Higgins was quite as bad I have discharged him also...

As the years went on the Sydney and Hobart Town whalers were not to be left alone to slaughter the enormous number of Right whales which herded into the New Zealand inlets. The American Sperm whalemen became aware of the possibilities of this pursuit and a considerable fleet of their ships invaded the little bays. In 1837 these vessels must have returned with at least £ 140,000 worth of Right whale oil. McNab describes how the American ships rode at anchor in the coves, and how the crews of the various ships visited one another, how arrangements were made with the Maori chiefs for the season's stay, the "contracts" for wood and water, and the providing of provisions and labour.

The French, too, were amazingly to the forefront in these distant parts of the world. Aided by a government bounty, they were keen Bay whalers for a few years. But they arrived rather late in Bay-whaling history; the first mention of them on the New Zealand coast being in 1838. They, too, had their difficulties with the natives. A careful report on this southern whaling was made by the French as the result of the voyage of the Venus (Autour du Monde, Paris 1840). Hobart Town appealed to them most as a centre,[footnote 4] although they took a hand in Bay whaling both on the coast of New Zealand and along the southern coast of Australia.

Bay whaling was also brought to the South Australian inlets by the South Australian Company, an organization set up to develop the industries of South Australia. It is said that the first industry of that colony "was undoubtedly that of whale fishing." The centre was at Encounter Bay, where work commenced about 1837. But the men of Hobart Town, and more particularly of Launceston, had already been there. In fact, the prospectus of the South Australian Company stated that haste was necessary in settling South Australia for the whalers from Hobart Town were active along the coast, and if the company did not get speedily to work they might be forestalled.

Others of the stations of the South Australian Company were at what are now Victor Harbour and Port Elliot. That whaling was regarded very seriously by the early South Australian colonists is evident, because in 1841 a society with a very modern sounding title, The Statistical Society of South Australia, printed a report about it [footnote 5] which is surprisingly informative. It tells how the Right whales came in from the south-east as winter approached, Tasmania being visited by them first. The shore establishments are then explained, with the most detailed tables, showing the expenses and profits on catches of various size, and the actual amounts earned by the different ranks employed. Table II in the appendix is a copy from this old report.

The South Australian Company did not do too well in the first year, 1837, nor the second year, owing apparently to the appointment of unsuitable men and to lack of knowledge. It was not until the fourth year, 1840, that things were much more favourable and some profits resulted; but these were not really substantial and not long afterwards the company discontinued its whaling activities altogether.

Amongst the names of those famous in the history of the land exploration of Australia, one can never forget that of Edward John Eyre.

In 1841, after several successful inland explorations, Eyre endeavoured to make the westward journey from Adelaide along the shores of the Australian Bight. He had with him one white companion, Baxter, and three natives. The expedition was a tragedy. The party was harassed continually by lack of water. Two months after the start, Baxter was killed by two of the natives, and Eyre was left alone with the faithful third and minus most of the stores, which had been stolen by the murderers. The two men plodded on in a desperate condition until a small inlet near the Esperance of to-day was reached on 2 June 1841. Here their lives were saved, through the presence of a French whaler and its "shore gang" established on land. Possibly, had it not been for this occurrence, we should never have known of this little whaling community on the southern coast of Western Australia. There were others of similar character.

I have already indicated that the Victorian coast had not been neglected by Launceston and other Bay whalers and that they were at Portland Bay before 1834. A certain William Dutton was there in 1828 and settled there in 1829.[footnote 6] This place (about 150 miles west of Melbourne) has also its special interests, because after an abortive attempt in 1803 to form a settlement at Port Phillip, the southern coast of what is now Victoria had been left alone, except by whalers and sealers. The establishment of a Bay-whaling station at Portland Bay was followed, in 1834, by the permanent settlement there of the Henty family - usually regarded as the first permanent settlement of Victoria. Despite the poorness of its harbour, a remarkable development followed, but the reader must turn elsewhere for the story of the foundation of Victoria.

We read in the Portland Examiner for 6 May 1845 that the whaler, Lady Mary Pelham, had returned to port after a six months' cruise during which she caught only one whale. Another ship, the Agnes and Elizabeth, had arrived, the first vessel that season for the local Bay whaling, which was evidently still in existence but falling off badly.

In 1841, it is said there were nearly 300 American and French whalers along the southern coast of Australia, and as far west as the Leenwin, but Bay whaling and deep-water whaling were both mixed up in these ventures. Western Australia was still little more than a terra incognita. Yet United States whalers working off that coast secured at least £30,000 worth of oil in 1837, and there must have been many isolated stations of which we know nothing to-day.

The south-western corner of Australia is still a very thinly populated region. This may seem strange, because its climate is very like that of England; it never suffers from droughts, and is both fertile and beautiful.

Perhaps the explanation of its still natural state is its very fertility, for the ground has been productive of some of the world's largest trees, and great forests of magnificent jarrah and karri covered the area between Ceographe Bay and the Leenwin. It was through these forests, along mere tracks winding through the trees, that one travelled to Augusta, a little settlement close to the famous Cape Leeuwin. But even the giant jarrah and karri-trees, like the giant whales, have almost had their day, for the value of these hard timbers (so restricted in their geographical limits), soon became known to the world, and the axes of the timber-getters resounded through the dark green cathedrals of the woods not very long after the whalemen landed on the shores. The old London buses, horse-driven, jogged gaily over streets paved with jarrah blocks from south-western Australia, but the pale London clerk in his frayed coat and carefully tended silk hat knew it not, nor had he the faintest knowledge of the bronze-skinned giants who had hewn down those great trees in a distant land.

Such is the south-western corner of the Australian continent where the Right whales congregated in the bays one hundred years ago.

Augusta was one of the best-known haunts of the Yankee whalemen. Some pioneer settlers realized the advantages of south-western Australia quite early in the settlement of that colony, and news of the doings of the whalemen at Augusta reached Perth from them and was commented on in the papers of 1840. Tales of the old whalemen have also been handed down to the few settlers of that district to-day.

One note in an early Perth paper tells us that two United States whale-ships captured thirty whales in Augusta Bay in the winter of 1839, and the ships were there again in 1840. The same seasons were equally successful at King George's Sound, Two People Bay, and Vasse. Another report, about this time, stated that there were at least fifty whalers on the coast from the United States for "every one of our nation."

The population of Augusta in 1840 seems to have comprised only one family and descendants, and they traded with the whalemen, supplying each ship on an average with two tons of locally grown vegetables as well as milk, butter, and fresh meat. The whalemen must have contributed something tangible to the beginnings of not a few lonely British settlers who had the mighty task of clearing land so luxuriously covered by nature.

During the period from February to June 1842, Augusta was visited by the Gold Hunter, the Adeline, Iris, Chelsea, Montezuma, Connecticut, Mentor, William Barker, Julius Caesar, Camilla, and Addison. Only two of these ships were British; the Camilla came from Hobart Town. And all these vessels procured their whales, with few exceptions, right inside the bay itself. Conditions are different in those waters to-day!

In addition to the places I have named, there were whaling-stations at Fremantle, Ceographe Bay, and Doubtful Bay. A further reference is made to a later period of this Western Australian whaling in Chapter 12 page 192.

The days of Bay whaling were, however, already numbered. The end was in sight between 1836 and 1840, although no less than forty-one applications for leases of land for Bay whaling were made to the Tasmanian Lands Office between 1840 and 1841. These applications came from the laggards. If the reduction in the frequency of visits by Right whales was not noticed by the optimists of 1840, it became clear enough by 1843. The undoubted consequence of uncontrolled slaughter ought to have been expected even in those days. But you can imagine a Bay whaler in the height of success, asking, with a few oaths, what posterity had done for him - allowing that any one had time to think, much less ask, about posterity. And men of the type are not so very different to-day. A remarkable prophecy in this connexion was a statement made by a Mr Hay before the Royal Geographical Society of London in 1832. He must have been well informed and far-sighted, for he said, "From the destructive nature of the New Zealand fishery (the females being killed at the time of calving), the trade cannot last many years, but like the sealing will eventually fail from extermination." To-day the Right whale is an ocean rarity.[footnote 7]

Some copies, drawn up on parchment, of the agreements made between the merchants of Hobart Town and the seamen who signed on to work at Bay-whaling stations, are still extant. One such complete specimen, between a William Young, of Hobart Town, of the first part, and several seamen, whose names are "hereunto subscribed," of the second part, is an interesting relic of the time. It is dated 1839, and reads as follows:-

Whereas the said Seamen have respectively agreed to engage in the Whale Fishery in the service of the said William Young for the consideration hereinafter mentioned. Each of them agrees that in consideration of the Lay or Share hereinafter mentioned and written opposite to the name he will at such time during the Now approaching Whaling Season, as he shall be required, proceed in such boat or vessel as the said Williarn Young may direct to any river, creek or place on or near the Coasts of this Island or of New Holland as the said William Young or his agents may require for the purpose of killing and taking whales and trying down the same and preserving the whalebone thereof and that he will continue in such employment of the said William Young during the whole of the Whaling Season.

And each of the said several seamen hereby promises that he will diligently and faithfully do his duty by day and by night during the continuance of his term of service under this agreement and obey the lawful commands of the said William Young or of the officer or officers from time to time appointed over him, etc. etc.

And it is distinctly agreed that in case any such seamen shall on any pretence unlawfully desert from the service of the said William Young before the said Whaling Season shall be fully ended he shall forfeit the whole of the said LAY or proportion of oil and whalebone and all right to remuneration of any kind under the agreement or otherwise. And it is agreed that absence from the Fishing Station or vessel, boat or party, to which anv such seaman shall for the time be attached for more than 12 hours without lawful excuse shall be deemed a total desertion and shall render the person so absent liable to such forfeiture.

Agreed further that when oil etc. of the party is ready for exportation the said William Young shall pay for the said Lays or Shares in such oil and whalebone at the rate of £ 7/10/- for one ton of marketable oil and £ 35 for every ton of whalebone.

And the said seamen agree to accept the same in payment for such lays or shares and in lieu of all wages or compensation it being understood nevertheless that out of the said Lays or Shares the said William Young may deduct all advances previously made to the parties in money, clothing, slops or tobacco.

The said William Young agrees to provide for and supply to each of the said seamen weekly during the said season the following provisions and necessaries of good quality:-

12 lbs of Beef or Mutton
10 lbs of Pork
12 lbs of Bread or Flour
1/2 lb of Sugar
4 ozs of Tea

and sufficient potatoes to supply one meal per diem. All provisions required by any seaman in addition to the said quantities to be charged against him.

1st day of Nov. 1839.

This party consisted of five boats. Apparently, one-third of the catch of oil and bone was to be reserved, and only the remaining two-thirds to be divided as follows:[footnote 8]

J. Barton,Headsman1/11 Lay
M. Waters,"1/14 Lay
J. Boy,"1/25 Lay
C. Barsfield,Boatsteerer1/40 Lay
R. Anson,Headsman1/15 Lay
J. Whitehouse,Boatsteerer1/45 Lay
and four other Boatsteerers at1/40 Lay each

Then follow twenty-six signatures of seamen, the lay to which they were entitled being one-sixty-fifth - in some cases only one-seventieth.

It would he wrong to imagine that those men who were sent to some of the bays distant from Sydney or Hobart Town were, at least for a time, free from temptations to drunkenness. Alas, no! There would be a store, kept free from spirits during the whaling-season of a few months (three or four). Then, when further work was not required and the men had any pay forthcoming to them, a ship would arrive with spirits and other articles. All hands entered upon a thoroughly good "booze," until their credit was exhausted. After this they merely existed in a demoralized state, doing nothing, unable to get away because no ships came near. It is said that the Sydney and Hobart Town merchants, who fitted out these stations, encouraged this mode of life, and even prevented letters (which might convey information) from reaching Sydney, whether addressed to private friends or to the Press.

To complete the picture of life in one of those out-of-the-world corners a hundred years ago take a glance at a badly written note which somehow survived amidst old government returns. It concerns Flinders Island (between Tasmania and Australia). The islands of Bass Strait were for several years haunted by some of the worst whalemen that ever disgraced their blood, whilst the sealers of this Strait and the South Australian coast were notorious for evil. This letter is, however, just a slight complaint from the storekeeper in charge of His Majesty's magazine on Flinders Island:


21st Jan. 1839.

I have the honour to state that during the month of September last the supply of candles in store were issued; on this having taken place I forwarded a Memo to the Officer in Charge informing him of it and stating to him as a precedent that a former authority had under similar circumstances ordered the issue of a proportional quantity of whale oil to supply the Officers for their want of light. To this Memo the Officer in Charge did not condescend to reply - and although he may have provided himself with candles it placed the other Officers of the Settlement in an unpleasant position. I had to purchase candles from the military. I hope, therefore, that his incompetency for the duties will not be the means of depriving us of the light which the Govt. allows to their Officers.

The Commandant.


There was ever a strange contrast between the staid, if sometimes badly expressed, formalities of the British Service, and the mixed collection of rascally human beings in which the military and civil servants were almost submerged. No wonder "red tape" grew into a mighty tradition in Victorian times!

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footnote 1

An interesting Hobart date was 1820 when an English lawyer, Bigge, began an inquiry on colonial administration. Kelly gave evidence showing how the heavy port charges and duties on whale-oil put a severe obstacle against colonial whaling enterprise.

English whalers too kept away from Hobart Town in the years before 1829 on account of port duties.


footnote 2

This means whalebone; the term used here is very confusing for whale bone comes from the mouth of the whale.


footnote 3

The interested reader can get more details from the various works of that most capable New Zealand historian, Robert MeNab.


footnote 4

On 24 January 1840, there were five French whalers in the port of Hobart Town and fifteen outside.


footnote 5

See Journal of the Royal Geographica1 Society of Australia, South Australian branch of society, vol xxii, 1920-1.


footnote 6

Wm Dutton built a house and lived at Portland Bay from 1820 to 1833. He established a shore whaling-station there in 1833.


footnote 7

Actually the peak of Right whaling in New Zealand waters occurred about 1839. The number of years which sufficed to break up the great schools of whales visiting the New Zealand coast was singularly small. And in 1840 the Weller station near Otago was abandoned owing to the falling off in the number of whales.


footnote 8

The method by which whalemen were paid, by "lays," as it was called, meaning shares in any profits, is one of the peculiarities of the old industry. In the light of present-day economics, it was a bad method, It freed the owners from the necessity of paying any wages at all when the voyage was a complete failure. The fact that this was the arrangement, even in Tasmanian Bay whaling, shows the part played by tradition in the industry, for it probably originated a Century or more before the first Australian whaler set out on his fishing.

Reference will be made to lays in later pages. It may be noted here, however, that 1/65 to 1/75 compares more than favourably with the 1/165 which was quite a usual lay for a seaman on an American Sperm whaler.