RomWell Business Guide RomWell Education Pages RomWell Cookbook RomWell Humor Pages RomWell Entertainment Pages Shopping With Us

Get All Travel Info
  Travel Advisory
  Destinations Guide
  Travel Info
  Attractions Info
  Travel Tips
  Sports & Outdoors
  Travel Shop
  Travel Site Map
  RomWell Video Channel
  Outdoors & Nature
  Arts & Photography
  Health, Mind & Body
  Books Bestsellers
  Business & Investing Books
  Biographies & Memoirs
  Romance Top Sellers
  Literature & Fiction
  Mystery & Thrillers
  Science Fiction & Fantasy
  Bestselling Magazines
This user friendly internet guide contains information about business, computers, web design, web hosting, shopping, health, entertainment, humor, music, books, movies, kids pages, education, cooking and links to countries and other sites offering travel and related information.

The Beginning of the Sea Story of Australia

Part 3

What a story is that of Bass and Flinders! Such noble, disinterested courage! Such splendid service to English colonisation, and such a sad ending to it all.

Bass and Flinders, in their tiny open boat, the Tom Thumb, and in the sloop Norfolk, dotting the blank map of Australia with the names of their discoveries—it is not necessary surely to remind the reader that Bass began, and together the two men completed, the discovery and passage of the straits between Van Dieman's Land and the main continent. Bass surveyed something like six hundred miles of the Australian coast in a whaleboat with a crew of six men! And one cannot summarise Flinders' work in the Norfolk and in the Investigator before the old ship was condemned and converted into a hulk to rot in Sydney Harbour.

How were these men rewarded for their services, and what has posterity done to keep their names in remembrance? In 1803 Flinders started for England, was wrecked, and making his way to the Mauritius was there, to the everlasting disgrace of Napoleon's Island governor, detained a prisoner for more than six years. Of course the English Government ultimately procured his release, but it took them all that time to do it; and when he did get back they promoted his juniors over his head. When he died in 1814, a broken heart was as much as anything else the cause of his death.

Bass, after leaving Australia, went to England and sailed in an armed merchantman bound to South America. At Valparaiso the Governor of the town refused to allow the vessel to trade. Bass, who was then in command of the ship, threatened to bombard the town, and the refusal was withdrawn; but, watching their opportunity the authorities seized him when he was off his guard, and it was supposed he was sent to the interior. As the years passed by there were one or two reports that he was seen working in the mines, but it seems to have been no one's business to inquire into his fate. It is more than probable that the brave Bass died a slave.

But the whalers, "South Seamen" and East Indiamen, did no less good service than the King's ships in the early days, and yet even the old books do them but scant justice. For the first fifty years of Australian colonisation the merchantmen charted reefs, discovered harbours, and did just those things for the desert waters of the Australasian Pacific as were afterwards done by land explorers, in their camel and pack-horse journey-ings into the waterless interior of the continent And the stories that could be told! The whalers and sealers who were cast away on desert islands, and lived Robinson Crusoe lives for years! The open boat voyages. The massacres by blacks. The cuttings-off by the savage islanders of the South Pacific. The mutinies and sea fights!

Hobart in Tasmania, Twofold Bay in New South Wales, and many New Zealand ports were the great whaling stations, and Sydney the commercial headquarters. Fifty years ago there were something like twenty whalers in the Hobart Fleet alone; now, one or two hulks lying in Whaler's "Rotten Row" is practically all that survives of the trade.

The Americans took a leading part in the industry, and ships with New Bedford or Nantucket under their sterns traversed the Pacific from one end to the other. Australian whaling was begun (Dampier reported whales as early as 1699) in Governor Phillip's time, by some of the convict transports coming out with whaling equipment in their holds, and after disembarking their human freight, departing for the "Fisheries."

Some of these ships often remained in the Pacific for years, making cruises of twelve or eighteen months' duration, returning to Sydney when full ships to discharge and refresh, their cargoes being sent to England in some returning "favourite fast clipper," while the whalers went back to their greasy and dangerous vocation, until they were lost, or cut off by the savages, or worn out and converted into hulks.

What numbers of them were lost! and what wonderful and blood-curdling experiences their crews underwent when they were castaways, or deserted, or were marooned on "the islands"! Here is a story of a vessel lost in Torres Straits in 1836—not a whaler, but an East Indiaman. Some of her crew and passengers managed to land on the mainland of North Australia and were there captured by blacks. Six months later a few survivors were rescued and landed in Sydney; and this is what had happened to the only woman of the party, Mrs. Fraser, wife of the captain: She had seen her child die, her husband speared to death before her face, the chief mate roasted alive, the second mate burned over a slow fire until he was too crippled to walk, and otherwise horribly and indescribably tortured, and she herself was made to climb trees for honey for her captors by having lighted gum branches applied to her body.

In another instance a vessel was wrecked on the North Australian coast in 1846, and nearly twenty years later the sole survivor turned up at a cattle station near Port Denison, in North Queensland. He had been all this time living among the blacks, unable to escape, and civilisation had found its way, in the years that had elapsed, far enough into the back country to reach him. The stockman who first saw the man took him for a black and levelled his rifle at him, when he was stopped from shooting the poor fellow by the words, "Don't fire, I am an Englishman."

Here, told in a few words, is the story of the first landing in Victoria, and the first discovery of coal in New South Wales: On the map of Tasmania, in the north-east corner, is marked the Furneaux Group of islands in Bass's Straits. Dotted about the cluster are such names as Preservation Island, Clarke Island, and Armstrong Channel. These names all commemorate the wreck of the Sydney Cove, Captain Hamilton, bound from Calcutta to Sydney, and lost in February, 1797. She sprang a leak on the 13th of December, 1796, and her crew, chiefly Lascars, managed to keep her afloat till the 9th of the following February, when the skipper made Preservation Island, and there beached her. All the people landed safely, and got what stores they could ashore. Then it was decided to despatch the long boat to Port Jackson for help.

Thompson the mate, Clarke the supercargo, three European seamen, and a dozen Lascars manned the boat and left the island on the 29th of February. On the 1st of March the boat was driven ashore and battered to pieces close to Cape Howe (near the present boundary line of Victoria and New South Wales) three hundred miles from Sydney, in a country never before trodden by the feet of white men. All hands were saved, and after a fortnight's rest, feeding on such shellfish as they could obtain, the party set out to walk to Sydney.

Clarke kept a rough diary of this journey, telling of encounters with blacks, of death and madness by starvation and other privations; of how they crossed wide and shark-infested rivers by building rafts of tree branches cut down and fashioned with jack knives; of how the lives of men were purchased from the blacks by strips of clothing; and of how they counted the buttons on their ragged garments, and thus reckoned how many lives could be bought from the savages with what remained.

The terrible march lasted until the 15th of May; then three exhausted men, horrible to look upon, and the only survivors of seventeen who had, sixty days before, begun the journey, were picked up a few miles to the south of Sydney by a fishing boat.

The spot where they were seen walking along the beach was close to Port Hacking, and Clarke, three days before his rescue, had lit a fire and cooked some fish with coal he picked up. This was the first discovery of the great southern coal-fields of New South Wales.

There are other less gruesome stories than these; for example that of the Sydney whaler Policy, which, sailing under a Letter of Marque for the Moluccas, was set upon by a Dutch private ship of war—the Swift—at one time a formidable and successful French privateer. Captain Foster of the Policy, though his armament was very inferior and many of his crew were prostrated with fever, engaged the Dutchman, fought him for some hours, and brought his ship a prize into Sydney Harbour. Two Spanish vessels were captured in the same way by armed Sydney whalers; so that Australian waters have seen a little fighting.

On board the convict ships of those early days there were often mutinies, desperate and sometimes bloody, and some of these led to remarkable results. In one instance the soldiers—not the prisoners—rose upon the crew and the ship's officers, turned them adrift in an open boat, and carried off the ship. They were recaptured afterwards by a man-of-war in the Indian Ocean and brought to justice. Convict mutinies often were only suppressed after desperate hand-to-hand fighting; then a day or two later the ringleaders would be hanged from the yardarm, and a dozen or more convicts flogged at the gratings. And these things, be it remembered, were going on only an old man's lifetime ago.

New Zealand is fertile in adventure stories, and the well-known Boyd massacre is paralleled by two or three other tragedies equally as dreadful, if less often told. The whaling history of that colony would make a book—not of the kind suitable for young ladies seminaries, 'tis true, but mighty strong in human interest, and presenting the race as well as the sex problem for the study of the reader.

Statistics are terribly dry reading, but by way of contrasting the condition of Australian shipping then and now, it is worth while quoting a few figures.

In 1835, the heyday of the colonial whaling trade, when the smoky glare of the whaleships' try-works lit up the darkness of the Pacific ocean night, there were forty-one vessels, of a total tonnage of 9,257 tons, registered in New South Wales, employed in the fishery. In the same year twenty-two vessels arrived in Sydney from the various grounds, their cargoes of whalebone, sealskins, and sperm and black oil valuing altogether about £150,000. Now the whaling trade in Southern Seas is represented by two or three small and poorly equipped ships from Hobart, though the whales—sperm, right, and humpback—are again as plentiful as they were in the first years of the fishery. One of the present writers, less than four years ago, counted over three hundred humpbacks passing to the northward in two days on the coast of New South Wales, while there were ten times that number of the swift and dangerous "fin-back" whales travelling with them.

But, though the whale fishery is extinct, there is something to be shown instead.

It has been said that twenty-two whalers entered Sydney in 1835, which means that during that year not twice that number of vessels of all descriptions entered the port—for the whaling was then the trade. But the steamer was beginning to count, and the beginning of the Sydney steam trade is not without a peculiar interest—for Londoners at any rate.

The Sophia Jane was the first steamer in Australasian waters. She arrived in Sydney from London, via the Cape of Good Hope, with cargo and passengers, on the 14th of May. This vessel was built on the Thames by a well-known shipbuilder of the time, William Evans, who was the builder of many other notable early steamers. She was running for a summer or two as a passenger steamer between Gravesend and London; then between different ports in the south of England; and then, under a Lieutenant Biddulph, of the Royal Navy, she was sent to Sydney. The little vessel was 126 feet long by 20 feet beam, drew 6 feet of water, was of 256 tons burden, and had accommodation for fifty-four passengers; her engines were of 50 horse-power, and her speed eight knots an hour. This was the first steamer in the Southern Seas—the forerunner of a fleet of mighty leviathans.


The Beginning of the Sea Story of Australia
The Beginning of the Sea Story of Australia Part 2
Australia - History
Travel Australia
About Australia
Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands & More...
Destinations Guide

  Home : Info Pages : Privacy : Site Map
: Contact Us
: References