The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – 3 (b)

The Sealers of the Schooner’s Hunter and Governor Brisbane 1825-26


SealersAbove: Part of a sealing gang captured in full flight. Probably American, the gang are thought to be clubbing Cape Fur Seals off Namibia sometime in the early 1800’s. Image uncredited and taken from The Seals of Nam website.

King George’s Sound was settled some years before Robert Gamble became known there, so we should go first to the story of the sealers who Captain D’Urville of the Astrolabe came to know in October 1826, and who Major Lockyer encountered when he arrived in the Colonial Brig Amity a few months later. These were the sealers who stole the seven year old from Cape Arid, the little Aboriginal girl Lockyer named Fanny (see The Major’s Butterflies Beat Him Down); the same men Lockyer labelled ‘a complete set of pirates.’


The story of the sealing gangs of the schooners Hunter and Governor Brisbane is central to the establishment of settlement along the South Coast. I have said all along, and of course it is very well understood amongst historians, that the early records were kept by the educated and, at least to some degree, monied persons of the day. This amounted to the officials, the letter writers, the diarists and newspaper reporters, very few of whom moved among or held to heart the interests of the Indigenous or socially under-privileged. It is up to us, therefore, to interpret as well as we can what really went on in these maligned theaters of existence.

Over the years, quite a lot of research has been done on the sealers who d’Urville and Lockyer came across at King George’s Sound, but never before have we had such powerful search tools as Trove offers today.  I’m going to draw from the works of Sarah Drummond’s Exiles and Island Wives, a Murdoch University thesis from 2009, and Dan Cerchi’s Archives, a private work since removed from the internet, to help tell the story. Through these and other works, including my own first hand research, we might find what we’re really looking for.  Sarah Drummond is an inspirational literary artist and historian living at Albany and Cerchi is a descendant of George William Robinson, owner of the schooner Hunter at the time we are concerned with. Both these works are in private hands and I am grateful to their authors for allowing me access.

Unraveling the individual stories of the South Coast sealers of 1825 and 1826 is ongoing. Hardly surprising though, given the nature of their lives and of the lives of commercial seamen of the era. Both groups were seen and treated as amongst the lowest forms of labour. Wages barely covered subsistence and there was no such thing as worker’s rights. Ship’s crews were perhaps valued more highly because Masters and their Mates depended to some extent on crew knowledge of their vessel and some loyalty to its endeavour certainly helped, but ship’s captains were necessarily fickle when it came to manning their rigs because sailors came and went. Frequently absconding, their replacements were often hired hastily and at the last-minute.

Seamen and sealers were supposed to have been documented and cleared by government officials as they moved from one undertaking to another, but the use of aliases was rife and the true identities of individuals, especially those at large, was difficult to determine. The discrepancies between the muster roll and ‘Claims to be Presented’ list published by the helmsmen of the Belinda before her final voyage makes that clear. Nonetheless, there is sufficient repeated use of some names to gain something of an insight into the kind of movements these men made.

Now, the more detached amongst these already itinerant groups probably represented the criminal element; not only the escapees, absconders, runaways and jumpships, but those having already or who were on the verge of being driven to crime either by lack of means or as revenge for the lot life had dealt them to date. Sealers and sailors could reckon on adventurous times, but they were dangerous and dismal too. The work was hard, the conditions cold and raw and the rewards meagre to miniscule, often no more than a boat ride to somewhere else. The individuals who came to lead such gangs were often domineering brutes, iron-fisted alpha males with no more compassion than a starving shark. On the boats, with a few dogs and the tools of their trade – a couple of sheets of canvas, a few coils of rope, a bucket or two, muskets, pistols, knives and clubs, perhaps a sack or two of flour and sugar – these men had a chance of  moving about undetected and of escaping custody if they were wanted.

The story of the Governor Brisbane’s September 1825 sailing from Hobart Town gives good example of the kind of  men who found themselves at sea in small boats during that period, and of the cruelty and skulduggery that went on.

The Schooner Governor Brisbane

In 1824 the schooner Governor Brisbane (sometimes referred to simply as the Brisbane and sometimes described as a sloop) was operating between Sydney, Hobart and Launceston for Kemp & Co; much as John Hassell came to do with his commands after the Belinda was wrecked that same winter. She seems to have been quite a small ship, capable of  sailing under just three or four hands. In the Spring she was fitted for a sealing voyage (the specifics of which aren’t known) and she sailed late in September under Mr S.R. Chase, returning five months later in March 1825 to much acclaim.


Gov Brisbane - Crew 8.10.1824 ex HobartAbove: The ‘Claims to be Presented’ list from the Governor Brisbane prior to her sealing voyage of September 1824 to March 1825, the result of which was a rumoured substantial profit. Fourteen hands in total are declared, including a Joseph Brooks. There may have been others, if not undeclared prior to departure then picked up at the islands the schooner visited when outward bound. Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser; Friday 8 October 1824, page 4


It’s not clear from the information available where in the seal fishery the Governor Brisbanewent over those five months but I suspect she visited Kangaroo Island where the talk was of the Recherche Archipelago and where she may have come across Captain Swindles and the Nereus. But wherever it was in the fishery and whoever was aboard the Governor Brisbane on that sailing, the expedition came to be described as a ‘Golden Egg Undertaking’ by the Hobart Town Gazette as rumour circulated upon her return that Kemp & Co. had profited to the tune of £1750 (about A$275, 000 today).


Gov Brisbane - Golden Egg UndertakingAbove: During the mid 1820s profitable sealing voyages excited the business arena, mostly because they’d become rare. Though it isn’t known exactly where the Governor Brisbane procured her skins over the summer of 1824/25, the dramatic fall-off in the Bass Strait pelt-count in preceding years makes Western Australia a fair suggestion. Hobart Town Gazzette 15 April 1825


Over the ensuing Autumn/Winter period the Governor Brisbane resumed her regular voyaging between Hobart and Launceston and possibly Sydney as well. Kemp & Co were keen to go sealing again however and as the Spring approached they had the vessel re-fitted for another expedition. During this time her master, Mr S.R. Chase, left Kemp & Co and took on a government job. The website  Bass Strait People reveals his fate.

Samuel Rodman Chase / Chace : Death notice: Source: Sydney Gazette. July 26 1826. ‘By the loss of the little Government vessel (Despatch) which lately sailed for Maria Island, we regret to state, that a widow and a large family are deprived of a father and husband. Mr. S.Chaise was the master of that vessel. He was an experienced navigator, and had been many years in the maritime service in these Colonies. We therefore trust that the Government may afford some relief to his disconsolate wife and orphan children, as they are left wholly unprovided for.’


In the wake of Mr Chase’s change of employer, Kemp & Co appointed Captain Davidson (formerly mate of the Pheonix) to their payroll.


Gov Brisbane Fit-Out Adv CTTA 26.8.25

Above: The  small boats sought for the Governor Brisbane suggest an intended sealing party of ten persons, six in the whale boat and four in a dinghy half that length. Colonial Times and  Tasmanian Advertiser  26 August 1825.


Gov Brisbane warns against credit CTTA 23.9.25Above: Colonial Times and  Tasmanian Advertiser  23 September 1825


Fully provisioned, the Governor Brisbane set sail with ‘sixteen able hands’ from theDerwent River (Hobart) on September 29th for a ten month cruise. Perhaps to preserve the secrecy of her destination, she declared she was making ‘for the islands to the eastwards’. (CT&TA 30 September 1825). A week earlier Davidson warned the public through the same paper not to extend credit to anyone claiming to be from the ship as he was about to set sail, but as much as I searched I could find neither a published muster roll nor associated claims list. That may have been by design though, because from the moment she left Hobart, theGovernor Brisbane gives every indication of deviating from the intentions of her owners. An article dated Monday, 21st November, 1825, buried deep in the unsegregated paragraphs of The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, throws some light on what might have taken place.


Gov Brisbane - Pirated Bass Straight Nov 1825Above: From The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Monday, 21 November, 1825


The newspaper report uses the dramatic and sometimes confusing language of the day and is clipped to save space. While staying true to our investigation, an examination of the detail exposes useful information about the place and time, in particular an episode from one of  Bass Strait’s best known islanders, the sealer James Munro.

So, Captain Dowsett of the schooner Newcastle left Sydney on a return voyage to Launceston sometime in October 1825, anything up to four weeks after the Governor Brisbane departed Hobart Town supposedly for the islands to the eastwards. En-route Dowsett made through the straits of the Furneaux Islands, whereupon he came across a lone whaleboat containing four men, the steerer being a man by the name of  (probably James) Duncan. Duncan, the paper relates, was former mate of the schooner Sally.  His small open boat was making its way between Passage and Cape Barren Islands and flagged the Newcastle as if in distress so that they may come aboard. Captain Dowsett consented. When aboard Dowsett learned that another two men had been in the little boat as well, but that they had recently been left at one of the Dog Islands off the north side of Cape Barren, close to (where now is Lady Barron at) Flinders Island. Dowsett suspected the men were criminals, which the men realised, and thinking Dowsett might hold them under arrest because of it, soon departed. By Dowsett’s account, the four men made back towards Passage Island.


James Munro Trading Post Preservation Island

Above: About five years before the authorities began considering the Furneaux Group for use as an Aboriginal settlement, the sealer James Munro established a trading post on Preservation Island which became well-known to commercial vessels operating between Sydney and Tasmania. The image here looks to be a drawing of Munroe’s  establishment made in 1831. The initials at the bottom of the print (G.A.R.) suggest it was made for George Augustus Robinson for whom the surveyor and architect Henry Laing worked for a time. Image courtesy of the British Museum,  attributed to Henry Laing.


Now for the sake of completeness, I searched for information on Duncan and found that he had been on what looked like a sealing excursion in the schooner Sally which left Hobart in August 1824, a little over a year earlier to when he was in the open boat Captain Dowsett found him in.  His name was amongst those on the Sally’s  ‘Claims List’ together with one other that we should at this point note; that being John Smidmore.


Sally- Claims list - 20.8.1824 - Duncan, Billhook, SmidmoreAbove: James Duncan is recorded as having been in the schooner Sally in August 1824 with another man by the name of John Smidmore. It’s possible Smidmore was with Duncan when he met Captain Dowsett in October 1825. Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser; 20 August 1824


Dowsett then continued to Launceston and went about his business. On the return leg he put in at Preservation Island, another within the Furneaux Group, occupied by the sealer James Munro. Munro operated a trading post there, primarily dealing in skins, but probably also dogs, liquor, arms, ammunition and other tools and equipment relevant to the life of the island dwelling sealer. Munro is a major paternal figure in the history of mixed-race families originating in Bass Strait. Over time he fathered various children from women abducted either by himself or other sealers from the mainland’s of both Tasmania and Victoria.

In the meantime, Dowsett discovered Munro had been raided by a gang of escaped convicts. His life had been threatened and he had been left, ‘nearly in a state of nudity.’ Munro told Dowsett he had been held by nine men who had run away from Hobart Town, taking Major Honor’s boat. It isn’t clear how long Munro was held under siege but when another ship appeared in the bay Munro told his captors he was expecting it and that aboard there was a military contingent. The escapees bought the line and let him go, making for Cape Barren Island to get away. According to Dowsett, the liberating ship was the sloop Amelia, owned by a Mr Street of Sydney.

Now, the Hobart Town Gazette (18.2.1826) carries an article saying four of the men who had stolen Major Honner’s boat were aboard the Caledonia seized near Preservation Island by a Mr Whyte owner of another vessel, Duke of York.  Mr Whyte seized the Caledonia because he had found five escaped prisoners aboard. Cumpston (pg 76) says Whyte took the men onto the Duke of York and returned them to Hobart.

Soon after Munro was saved by the arrival of the Amelia, a sealing boat under the command of a man named Thomas Tucker arrived at Preservation Island. It isn’t clear if he was alone. Tucker was later described by the 1829 appointed Protector of Aborigines, G.A. Robinson, as ‘among those active in shooting Aboriginal men at their fires and then abducting their women’ (Plomley 1966:1017), so likely someone Munro traded materials other than just skins and equipment with. In this instance however, Tucker went with the master of the Amelia –perhaps motivated by the possibility of reward- in pursuit of those who had held up Munro. Nothing came of the chase however and the pursuers returned to Preservation Island.

The newspaper article, doing its best to succinctly but yet dramatically interpret Captain Dowsett’s report, says Munro’s raiders were armed with a musket each and were thought, at the time of writing, still to be holed up at Cape Barren Island. It also says that the three men in Duncan’s whaleboat came in and gave themselves up to the master of the Amelia who delivered them back to Hobart Town.


Furneaux GroupAbove: The Furneaux Group is a complex of islands with mixed degrees of shelter, agricultural fertility and safe access. From about 1820 they came to be settled here and there by sealers. In the second half of the 1820s they formed part of the Van Diemen’s Land establishment’s thinking with regard to exiling its remaining Aboriginal population.


The Sydney Gazette article then closes by saying Munro later reported the schooner Brisbanehad arrived at Preservation Island and that it had carried off Duncan and the other men. These ‘other men’ might be the two Duncan said he had earlier left on Dog Island. Munro, without being quoted, appears to have told Dowsett, or Dowsett deduced himself and told the newspaper, that on the Brisbane, ‘more runaways had secreted themselves-no doubt with the intention of perpetrating piracy the first convenient opportunity.’

Cumpston (pg 80)  also quotes the Hobart Town Gazette (25.3.1826)

Three of this gang (who stole Major Honner’s boat) joned the Master of the ‘Brisbane’, two runaways and Duncan, the mate. . . 

Thus, the Governor Brisbane looks to have been pirated by Captain Davidson himself, possibly in conjunction with others secreted aboard, and probably upon leaving Hobart Town. Nonetheless, whatever the cause and whatever his motives, it would seem Davidson either kept his ultimate goal private or simply came up with it as the voyage progressed, because over the course of the next eight months he got rid of all but three of the expanded multitude he acquired along the way. After leaving Preservation Island Davidson set a course for Phillip Island at Western Port Bay, a pre-settlement location on the Victorian mainland long exploited by Bass Strait sealers. The reason for the rendezvous is clear when viewed in context with the below newspaper report filed from Sydney some thirteen months later.


Gov Brisbane sealers at Western PortAbove: From The Australian newspaper 9 December 1826. The sixteen seamen described were brought to Sydney where they arrived December 2nd, 1826


Davidson had a problem and wanted to begin unloading himself of the people aboard. Probably by coercion, certainly by deceit, it seems he put sixteen men ashore. How he did this without leaving behind at least one of the two small boats he had advertised for must surely have come down to lies. As the story goes, the ship lurked off Phillip Island, those on land left with just two days provision, before she rounded on the wind and disappeared.

Was it six or sixteen men? I suppose the accuracy of such reports can be questioned but we can only go on the evidence that presents itself and in any case the language employed in the article seems quite specific. Sixteen would account for the entire ‘able hands’ apparently hired for the cruise, leaving Davidson only with those who might have been secreted aboard and/or those he picked up at one of the Dog islands and/or at Cape Barren Island. However, as far as I can make out there isn’t any mention in the log of Dumont d’Urville, Captain of theAstrolabe (see Those Other French Guys), stating the number of sealers he took aboard at Western Port in November 1826.  In fact, there is no mention of them at all. The only thing clear from the records I’ve seen is that when the Astrolabe arrived the crew found a party of five sealers living on Phillip Island, who, from other reports, might have been there, at least on-and-off, for up to six years.

Perhaps the sixteen men weren’t at Phillip Island but somewhere else nearby and only spotted as the Astroblabe made away after its week long lay-over? Strange that the captain of the Astrolabe, which was only weeks out of King George’s Sound where it first encountered Australian sealers and where the captain logged in some detail his interaction with the them there, didn’t record the Bass Strait pick-up in his journal.

Overall, what is most interesting about the Astrolabe’s visit to Western Port and about the above newspaper report, is that the deviation (d’Urville’s official instructions were to go to Port Dalrymple) looks to have been brought about by one of three men the Commander had taken aboard at King George’s Sound. Hambilton (possibly Thomas Hambelton) is credited by d’Urville with guiding the ship into Western Port and then leading its two staffed Naturalists to a nearby Aboriginal camp he’d spoken of and which d’Urville had become interested in. (See Helen Rosenman’s translation of d’Urville’s journals).

d’Urville also uses the name Tuckey in his journal when describing his time at Western Port (Cumpston pg 96). This was probably Thomas Tucker, who had been at Munro’s place on Preservation Island a year earlier, possibly reflecting his trade in Aboriginal women from the Australian (later Victorian) mainland.

Now, it may appear at this point that we are getting ahead ourselves.  A couple of paragraphs ago we were following the path of the Governor Brisbane as it meandered across Bass Strait picking up runaway convicts, and here we are talking of three or four seamen aboard another ship, twelve months later. For clarity, Hambilton and the two (or three) other sealers I’m referring to (named as Symonds, Brook and Cloney) were picked up by theAstrolabe after being discovered by d’Urville at King George’s Sound a month earlier. Hambilton and Cloney said at the time of being taken aboard, they had been left off by the schooner Governor Brisbane. Brook was with them at King George’s Sound but it isn’t absolutely clear if he sailed out of there on the Astrolabe. Symonds (alternatively, Richard Simons), a Black Jack Canadian who could speak ‘quite good French‘, told the captain of the Astrolabe he came from another sealing vessel called the Hunter which had also been in the vicinity of King George’s Sound.

I wonder, did Hambleton, who knew Western Port so well, join the Governor Brisbane there when Davidson supposedly unloaded the men he didn’t want? The report of the sixteen men being picked up at Western Port may have been given by Hambelton when the Astrolabe got to Sydney on December 2nd.  The report says Davidson originally left the men behind at Western Port and that another eight were later deposited on Middle Island off Cape Arid and eight more again at King George’s Sound a little while after that.

Davidson, when finally apprehended, was one of just four men aboard, which means the overall number of sealers, sailors and women involved in the Governor Brisbane’s pirated journey could have totaled as many as 36.


Sealers Hut - de Sainson - 1826 - Longlume Lithograph 1833Above: Habitation de pecheurs de phoques au Port Western (Nouvelle Hollande) The Astrolabe‘s watercolourist and draughtsman, Louis Auguste de-Sainson, made many drawings while cruising Australia’s southern littoral.  This iconic  version dates from 1833 but was first sketched by De-Sainson at Western Port in November 1826.


The next question is whether or not Davidson visited Kangaroo Island on the way west. Logic, of course, would have to say yes as the island was not only a source of replenishment convenient to the voyage, but so well known. Equally, the Governor Brisbane looks to have taken between five and six months to sail from Hobart to Middle Island, indicating a protracted stay somewhere along the line. In addition to that too, the owners of theGovernor Brisbane, Kemp & Co, may have intended the ship to have gone west all along, meaning Davidson was bound for Kangaroo Island in the first place.

So, the question now looks to be who was already on the ship at this time and who joined at Kangaroo Island?

If Davidson had taken on Duncan and two others at Preservation Island, then dumped his original crew at Western Port where he took on Hambleton, Cloney and Brook, he could have had at least six men aboard when he got to Kangaroo Island. Symonds could have joined at Western Port too, making seven. Plus, there is still the idea other stowaways were aboard when the Governor Brisbane left Hobart.

What looks to be the case is that Davidson arrived at Kangaroo Island in what was by then a pirated ship, with persons aboard who were party to that pirating, along with others who may have known but were not direct participants.

During his time at Kangaroo Island Davidson would have seen who was about, coming into contact with at least some of the leading inhabitants. These being; Nathan Thomas, Henry Waller, George Bates, John Randall, James Kirby and James Everett.

Davidson appears to have taken his time and weighed his options, deciding in January or February 1826  after adding to his gangs, to continue to the westward.

Now, also arriving at Kangaroo Island during this time will have been the schooner Hunter, also out of Hobart, whose master, the American George William Robinson, had previously spent 19 months at Kangaroo Island between 1821 and 1822 (I’ll elaborate on that further on). Robinson, in his mid-twenties, newly married and travelling with his young family, probably didn’t want to involve himself with criminals, and may not have been fully aware of the pirating, but at the same time probably knew full well what to expect when he got there.

What I’m doing here is trying to piece together the jigsaw, so stick with me. The above can only be certified as partially correct, all we know for sure is that the Governor Brisbane did continue west, bound for the Recherche Archipelago, as did the schooner Hunter at about the same time. The associations and link-ups are interpretations I’m drawing from the information we have.

So, we arrive now at the point where the Governor Brisbane deposited at Middle Island in one of its two small boats, the sealing gang which took from Cape Arid the little Aboriginal girl Major Lockyer named Fanny. (See The Major’s Butterflies Beat Him Down) This is the point at which the combined history of the Aborigines of Western Australia’s South Coast and the Europeans who came to settle there, commences. Prior to this point everything was impermanent and in passing.

Associated with the kidknap of the little girl from Cape Arid is the murder, marooning and kidknap ordeal acted out against the Menang Noongars of King George’s Sound late in October 1826. This is the ordeal which led to Dennis Dineen, the convict carpenter aboard the Amity, being speared on Lockyer’s arrival and the source of much of Lockyer’s consternation while establishing the military outpost on the shores of Princess Royal Harbour. Lockyer’s handling of the situation went a long way toward maintaining peaceful and co-operative relations between the non-military settlers that followed and the Albany Aborigines of the time. Because of this it seems essential to try and get to the bottom of who was who amongst the sealers. Which of the men were brought on board the two named sealing vessels, Governor Brisbane and Hunter, and where?  And how long, really, were the sealers ranging upon the waters of Western Australia’s South Coast?  Questions which remain only partially answered.

With regard to the Governor Brisbane, it’s worth thinking about Captain Davidson’s position at that point. He mightn’t have known exactly what he was going to do next and may have been keeping his thoughts from the men he had aboard, though it seems likely he knew he would have to try and move the schooner on somehow as sooner or later he’d have to come in to a governed port. In any case, it looks very much like he continued with two gangs who, either under his direction or their own, were left off at separate locations in the belief they would soon be recovered.

The trick is to try and determine when, as closely as possible, Davidson anchored theGovernor Brisbane off Middle Island and who was in the small boat left there. Doing so, however, is impossible without considering who was in the other boat (presumably the smaller dinghy) at this point thought to be left at King George’s Sound, and when that took place. Critically, the information we have on this comes from the journals of those aboard theAstrolabe and from what Major Lockyer wrote himself. That is, from sources taken at King George’s Sound on and after October 12th, 1826; about eight months after the Governor Brisbane is thought to have left Kangaroo Island and more than a year after she had first sailed out of Hobart.

From Dan Cerchi’s work. . .

” . . .  Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d’Urville in L’Astrolabe arrived at King George Sound. He had sailed from Toulon, France, on 22 April 1826, touching at the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. Sighting, but not landing at Trinidad Island, d’Urville crossed the Southern Ocean arriving at King George Sound on 8 October 1826. After 108 consecutive days at sea, half of which was spent in “appalling weather and colossal seas”, little time was spent resting. Instead d’Urville and his crew were reconnoitring and establishing their observatory. On 12 October 1826 they were surprised by unexpected visitors: ”

At 9 p.m. a boat appearing to us to be manned by Englishmen came alongside; one of them in reply to my questions said that he, as well as his companions, had belonged to the schooner Governor Brisbane, engaged in sealing along these coasts; that the captain abandoned six of his crew in Coffin Bay, had left eight of them at Middle Island and had then sailed for Timor, or so they thought. They were living from their fishing, and had settled on the tiny Breaksea Island. They had been leading a most miserable existence for seven months;


So, rather than The Australian newspaper report (quoted further above) saying the two gangs had been left at Middle Island and King George’s Sound, we’re told here it was Coffin Bay and Middle Island. Coffin Bay, named in 1802 by Matthew Flinders, is at the tip of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, not far from Port Lincoln and, by sea, Kangaroo Island. Now, if a crew were abandoned there I would hesitate to think they were anywhere near King George’s Sound, regardless of time frames. It’s possible, I suppose, for six people to cross the Great Australian Bight in front of the beachless Bunda Cliffs, in an open boat no more than 22 feet long and 5 feet 2 inches wide, but a thousand miles along the coast? Even if you had copies of Flinders’ charts, you’d want to know what you were doing; just getting ashore could prove more than improbable.

Also, at this juncture, it’s worth pointing out the proximity to Coffin Bay of another island known to sealers and whalers of that era. Inhabited from around 1826, this is the Flinders Island of South Australia.



Voyage of the Governor Brisbane 1825-26Above: Evidence suggests the Governor Brisbane took around five months to voyage between Preservation Island in Bass Strait and Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago, indicating a probable extended layover at Kangaroo Island. Evidence also suggests the schooner landed (or threw off) a crew of six at or near Coffin Bay, Sth Australia, before making further west.


Going on this information, we assume the eight strong gang d’Urville discovered at King George’s Sound had come from Middle Island where they had been left ‘leading a most miserable existence for seven months.’  From it we also catch a glimpse of Captain Davidson’s greater plan when he was suspected by the gang as having ‘sailed for Timor.’ Seven months prior to October was March, 1826. d’Urville also added;

I proposed taking them on board as passengers as far as Port Jackson, but this offer was coldly received, whereupon I concluded that most of them must have been escaped convicts and hardly eager to put themselves once again within the reach of the law. However, after a few minutes reflection three of them decided to embark on Astrolabe. . . .What an extraordinary fate for eight Europeans to be abandoned like this with a frail skiff on these deserted beaches and left entirely to their own resources and industry!


Apparently conscious of the men’s miserable condition d’Urville took them all aboard, fed them and allowed them to sleep, but more or less first thing the next day, October 13th, 1826, he wrote;

. . .  I summoned my Englishmen this morning and demanded their final decision. One of them is embarking as a seaman, two others as passengers as far as Port Jackson; the other five decide to stay here on the coast. Among the latter a young man with a very swarthy complexion, a broad face and a flat nose looked to me a completely different type from the English; I soon learned, on questioning him, that he was a New Zealander. . . The Englishmen also have with them on Breaksea two native women they got either voluntarily or by force. Moreover, they assure me that they have always found the natives very gentle and friendly. . .



Astrolabe at KGS Oct 1826Above:  d’Urville’s Astrolabe was at King George’s Sound from 8th to 25th October 1826. During this time the crew interacted with the Menang Aborigines, mended and made sails at a camp close to today’s Historical Precinct and came into contact with sealers from at least two different ships.


To this point, d’Urville is clear in stating there were ten persons living on Breaksea Island. The eight he had encountered in the small boat and the two women they had told him about.Then, on October 17th, four days later, the Captain observed;

. . .  two strange whalers being rowed between Observatory and Seal Island, and we reckoned that their occupants were more numerous than we first thought. At 3 o’clock their boats came alongside and they informed me that the second one was manned by five Englishmen and an Australian from Port Jackson, all from the schooner Hunter. I allowed three men from the first boat to remain on board, to wit; Hambilton, Brook and Cloney; and from the other boat I took only a coloured American named Richard Simons.


d’Urville calls the small boats, ‘two strange whalers,’ suggesting they were foreign to his own or perhaps different from the one which carried the eight Governor Brisbane persons a few days earlier and from which he still held three men aboard. He seems not to be interested in the first boat though, probably because it turns out to contain those he’d already spoken of, but he makes a point of noting there were six persons in the second whale boat, one an Australian (he referred to the Aborigines as Australians) from Port Jackson, and that they belonged to a different sealing vessel; this one called Hunter. And on October 19th;

The two English whalers have returned. . . . . . . with them five Australians, as follows: first two young women from Van Diemen’s Land, near Port Dalrymple. . . . . . Two other individuals, one male, the other female, aged from eighteen to twenty, come from the continent opposite Kangaroo Island. . . . Finally a little girl of about eight or nine, who comes from the mainland opposite Middle Island. All these individuals have been living for several years with the Englishmen except for the little girl whom they have only had for about seven months.


There were other encounters with the sealers, including a failed kangaroo hunt at King Riveron October 20th, in which Helen Rosenman’s translation reveals the sealers had dogs with them which were specially bred to chase down kangaroos. The hunt may have been unsuccessful but we get to see in that revelation the depth of the sealing culture. The use of dogs will not only have been for hunting purposes, they will have acted as early warning systems against approaching persons and/or animals, possibly as defence against attack from other persons and/or animals, and also as straight forward company. In any case, at least some sealers moved in the company of women, children and dogs, fully equipped to survive for long periods in isolated locations. Finally, according to Dan Cerchi’s work;

During the afternoon of 25 October 1826, Dumont d’Urville sailed from King George Sound. On board the Astrolabe were Hambilton, Symonds, Cloney and, possibly, Brook although no mention is made of him in the journals of d’Urville and his officers.


So, from these entries we can determine d’Urville originally thought there were eight English men belonging to the Governor Brisbane. Later he revised this to seven when he discovered one was a native New Zealander. Of the eight total, three names were gained; Hambilton (Hambelton), Cloney and Brook. We also know from what d’Urville said, there were two native women part of that group, but as there were three women spoken of, which two remains a mystery.


De Sainson print of Sealers at KGS inside PR harbourAbove: Louis de-Sainson’s coloured lithograph ‘View of King George’s Sound’ The scene depicts a sailmaker’s or rigging inspection camp inside Princess Royal Harbour with the Astrolabe anchored off the channel entrance while men from the ship interact with the Menang Aborigines. The scene is idylic, reinforcing the idea the Menang were peaceful towards visitors (which d’Urville supports in his writing). When Dumont d’Urville met the sealers, he took at least three with him eastwards toward Sydney. One, Hambleton, told d’Urville the Menang were, ‘gentle people, kind and incapable of harm.‘ Two days after the ship left, some of the remaining sealers attempted to steal four Menang women. The raid went wrong. Two women were taken, one Menang man was shot dead and four others marooned on Michaelmas Island (the dark lying-dog shape in the Sound). When Major Lockyer arrived around eight weeks later the four Menang men were still there. Lockyer had them rescued and returned, then dealt admirably with the fall-out after his convict carpenter, Denis Dineen, was speared in response. The offending sealers, some of whom said they had been in the area for about 18 months, had made something of a home for themselves on Breaksea Island, the lighter shape to the right of Michaelmas, in De-Sainson’s drawing.


Now we should look at the records left by Major Lockyer. These, relevant to the names of the sealers, commence in January 1827, about 11 weeks after the departure of the Astrolabe.


Lockyer - Gov Hunt and Schooner Bris mistakeAbove: Lockyer’s Journal entry for Wednesday, January 10th, 1827. Historical Records of Australia – Series 3 pg 468


The first thing to point out here is Lockyer’s confusion over the mother ships. He says the little boat arriving belonged to Mr Robinson of the Governor Hunter. Of course he means the Hunter, and that the boat brought in with its own crew some belonging to the schooner Brisbane, of which he means Governor Brisbane. The confusion was probably brought about from the roles of the N.S.W. Governors John Hunter  1795-1800 and Thomas Brisbane 1821-1825.  But for interest, there was the prior existence of a ship called Governor Hunter last seen off Northern New South Wales in 1816, but which had been to Kangaroo Island in 1815 with one Captain Joseph Murrell as master. Murrell, after his original three years castaway at Kangaroo Island, was never seen again.

Lockyer’s entry cites eight men coming in from Breaksea Island, four from each ship. Two days later the young Maori William Hook delivered a statement to Lockyer describing the events of the murder and kidknap ordeal which had taken place in the days after the Astrolabe’s departure.


Lockyer - Hook Statement - Cut from pg 473Above: See Historical Records of Australia – Series 3 .


Hook was amongst the sealers who had approached the Astrolabe on 12 October, 1826. Identified as a swarthy native of New Zealand, d’Urville discovered he was from Kerikeri (Bay of Islands in the far north-east) and that he had been ‘attached for nearly eight years from a very early age to the miserable lot of these vagabonds. He speaks English and seems almost to have completely forgotten his homeland.’  Hook sounds very much like he was still a boy, maybe 15 or 16 years old, and therefore likely under the command of one of the leading men who had taken him from New Zealand when sealing there. Something gave Hook the courage to break free and come in with Tasmein and the others in the Hunter‘s whale boat. Following from the above excerpt, this is the statement Major Lockyer took down from William Hook regarding what happened at Oyster Harbour.


“That he, William Hook, being with the following persons at Oyster Harbour that composed the crew of a Boat employed sealing, John Randall Steersman, James Kirby, George Magennis and Samuel Bailey, with another Boat belonging to a Mr. Robinson of Hobart Town, and of which one Everitt was Steersman, the names of the crew he does not recollect, whilst there, had frequently been visited by the Natives, who were friendly, accompanying the Sealers fishing in their Boats, though the Native Women were never seen or came to the place where the Sealers were hutted. That, about Eight Weeks ago, a French Man of War anchored in the sound and remained some time. That, one day after this Ship had left, Five of the Natives came to where their Boats stopped and requested to be taken to Green Island in Oyster Harbour to catch birds, when this Informant and another Man of the Hunter’s Boat, by name Ned, was ordered by John Randall and Everitt, the Boat Steerers, to take the Natives there and land them and come off, leaving them there, which they did; the Natives, perceiving the Boat going away, called out to the Informant to return, making all the signs possible for that purpose; but, having been ordered to leave them, Informant was afraid to act otherwise. Next day Randall set out, accompanied by Kirby, Magennis and Bailey, armed with Guns and Cutlasses, soon after five OClock in the morning, and returned about Four or Five in the Evening bringing with them Four Native Women; that during their absence Informant was ordered to stay and take care of the Boat; during the night, two of the women made their escape though the Sealers had tied them two together by the Arms; next Morning both Boat’s Crews again went off armed, leaving Informant and another to watch the Boats; in the Evening they returned saying they had not seen any of the Natives or the Two Women that had made their escape, but had found hanging to the Trees at their encampment a Pocket Compass and a knife that had been given to the Natives by the Captain of the French Ship.


That, on the next day, Informant was sent with Ned and four others in the Boat to Green Island with a keg of water for the Natives; and, on the boats approaching the shore, they made a rush to get into it; the people in the boat shoved off to prevent them, and returned to the Party on shore, when four fresh hands got into the Boat, taking with them two Guns and two Swords and again went to the Island, and one Man got out to take a keg of water on shore; the Natives making a rush to get into the Boat, the Europeans resisted by striking them with their Oars and Swords; and, finding that they persisted, a Gun was fired with slugs over their Heads to frighten them, which did not answer; when a second shot was fired the Informant saw one of them fall forwards on his Face in the Water and the Blood spouting out from both his sides. Kirby, who steered the boat, fired the first shot, but Informant cannot tell who fired the second.; the Boat was then shoved off and went to the Shore, and the next Morning Randall went again to the Island, and at first the Natives hid themselves; but on seeing Randall who was a great favourite with them, they came out and kissed him; he then took the four into his Boat, leaving the dead Body on the Island, and left Oyster Harbour and landed the four Natives on Michaelmas Island, and left them making great lamentations; Randall then went to Breaksea Island where the other Boat joined, bringing with them the Two Female Natives that they had taken away from the Main Land at Oyster Harbour. One of these Females is now at Eclipse Island with Samuel Bailey, also a native Girl, a child Seven year old; the other Female taken from this is with George Magennis with the Boat to the Eastward; and this Informant further states that these men have other Native Women that they take about with them, Two from Van Diemen’s Land taken in Bass Strait and one from the Main Land opposite Kangaroo Island.




Witness: – E. Lockyer, junr.


Sworn before me: – E. Lockyer, J.P., Major, H.M. 57 Regt.



Apart from James Everett, Lockyer says Hook can’t remember the names of the men from the Hunter, (though Ned is later mentioned in the statement) but from his own gang Hook cited John Randall – Steersman, James Kirby, George Magennis and Samuel Bailey. Thus, from the combined information we have relating to the Governor Brisbane we find not eight (as d’Urville counted) but eleven attributable names, plus that of the little girl called Fanny. They are;

Brook – A Joseph Brooks is on the Claims List for the Governor Brisbane’s 1824/25 sailing – see above
Thomas Tasmein –  A blackman, probably American.
William Hook – Native New Zealander/Maori
George Thomas
John Hobson
John Randall
James Kirby
George Magennis
Samuel Bailey
Fanny –  The seven-year old Aboriginal girl from the mainland opposite Middle Island

d’Urville also said the gang had two native women with them on Eclipse Island. Eight people makes a crowd in a whale boat, while eleven is just too many. Fourteen, is beyond dangerous. This means there must have been two gangs (boat loads) belonging to theGovernor Brisbane at Eclipse Island (or nearby) when d’Urville arrived.

If they had not always been together, the gangs from the Hunter had effectively merged with the gangs of the Governor Brisbane by that time as the kidnap/murder/marooning event happened very soon after the Astrolabe left and was carried out by members of both ship’s gangs.

I’m thinking motivation for the kidnapping stemmed from the four men leaving on the Astrolabe and possibly also because the dogs went with them. Remember, the sealers raiding party sought to take four women.

The total of fourteen persons from the Governor Brisbane confirms there were (at least) two boats from that ship. Remember, when advertising for the small boats prior to departure the Governor Brisbane appeared to be fitting out for a gang of no more than ten; six in the whale boat and four in the dinghy. We don’t know what boats they ended up with or whether they acquired more or different ones along the way, but the original intention was to carry no more than ten persons. So, either the six left at Coffin Bay had somehow navigated their way into the far west, or, as the original newspaper report said, the two Governor Brisbane gangs were left at Middle Island and King George’s Sound respectively; not Coffin Bay.

Or, there was already a gang from the Governor Brisbane’s possible earlier visit of 1824/5 about the place. This gang, after some 20 or so months, still along the coast.

Were all thirteen of those persons we can attribute to the Governor Brisbane, (excluding Fanny) on the sailing which left Hobart on September 29th, 1825, or had the Governor Brisbane, under Mr S.R. Chase on its 1824/25 sailing from Hobart, left a few behind? A Joseph Brooks was listed on the Governor Brisbane’s ‘Claims to be Presented’ list of September 1824. Was he the same man d’Urville called Brook, the one who looks to have sailed back to Sydney on the Astrolabe with Hambelton, Cloney and Symonds? If so, then the unfortunate Mr S.R. Chase may well have done so.

If true, however, these men will have been along the South Coast from as early as October or November 1824 or as late as, say, February 1825. If they were left off early then by the time Lockyer was talking to them the period would have been well over two years. If they were left by Mr Chase late in proceedings, then they will have been in West Australian waters 18 months by the time d’Urville arrived (and d’Urville only ever mentioned a period of seven months) and 21 months by the time they were speaking to Lockyer. Either way, the time-frames don’t quite match.

Now, early in April 1827 Lockyer was writing up his rough copy, this time recounting the arrival of two more whale boats which appeared under extraordinary circumstances on Saturday, March 10th;



Lockyers Sealers 10 March 1827 - Official Journal EntryAbove: Excerpt from Historical Records of Australia – Series 3 where Lockyer lists in his rough copy the sealers who voluntarily came in to his military outpost on Saturday, March 10th, 1827.


This entry is revealing for multiple reasons.

First, it ties Randall, Kirby and McGinnis together as previously mentioned by Hook as being part of the raiding party on the Oyster Harbour Aborigines.

Second, because James Everett steered in one of the boats it indicates the second boat belonging to the Hunter was now surrendered.

Third, the name John Sigsworth is new.

Later in Lockyer’s entry we find that Sigsworth wasn’t implicated in the Oyster Harbour raid because he was at Middle Island at the time. This means that those who d’Urville met at King George’s Sound did not constitute the entire brigade. Also, and importantly, Sigsworth’s name appears on the muster roll and ‘Claims to Be Presented’ list (as John Sedgworth) for the brig Belinda in May 1824 If Sigsworth remained aboard the Nereus after being rescued and returned to Sydney he would have arrived there in enough time to make it back down to Hobart to sail again on the Governor Brisbane in September 1825, so it’s hard to draw anything conclusive from that knowledge. However, it makes it difficult to dismiss the involvement of the Belinda and Nereus in the movements of these men, especially given the appearance of the Kangaroo Islanders we were previously interested in, John Randall and James Kirby. James Everett too. These three are linked to Kangaroo Island and the time of the Belinda and Nereus expeditions of 1824.

Also appearing in Lockyer’s rough copy entry is the name John Smidmore. Smidmore, remember, was with Duncan in the Schooner Sally which went sealing from Hobart in August 1824, three months after the Belinda and a month ahead of Nereus. Further, another name that appears with Smidmore’s on the Sally was Robert Robinson. Robert Robinson is also on the ‘Claims List’ for the Belinda (along with his presumed brother, Christopher).

Now, when the two whale boats came in on March 10th Lockyer quizzed the group about the murder and marooning and to his surprise they told him something which he later entered into his official journal;

…they said they should be glad to have the matter investigated and had come here for the purpose of giving themselves up, and also stated that they had been left here by their employers in a most shameful manner, having been here eighteen months on the Coast with three months’ provision only, with a promise that a vessel would be sent with supplies and to take them off within eight months of the time of their being left, since which no vessel or supplies has ever reached them and consequently obliged to live on anything they could get, even a dog;


The men from the Hunter were not anywhere near 18 months away so either the men were lying for the purposes of gaining sympathy, or it was those amongst them from the Governor Brisbane who may have been about that long. Thomas Tasmein, another so-called Black Jack, was among them.

Eighteen months prior to March 1827 was September 1825, six months after the Governor Brisbane returned to Hobart from her successful expedition over the summer of 1824/25, but, interestingly enough, during the time the Belinda crew were lying wrecked on Middle Island.
Presumably the men were without the specifics of time keeping and probably couldn’t remember exactly how long they had been cast off, but there is a very big difference between seven and eighteen months. Also, Lockyer’s questioning revealed some of the men had roamed from the Recherche Archipelago around the coast as far as Rottnest Island and the Swan River.

. . . they have with them One Hundred Fur Seal Skins and have about Seven Hundred on an Island near Mondrain Island opposite the Main Land by Thistles Cove and Lucky Bay. From these men’s accounts of the Coast from Middle Island down round Cape Lewen to Rottenest Island off the Swan River, there are Boat harbours all the way at convenient distances from 50 to 70 Miles and some less, and many of them a vessel of any size could find Shelter in good Anchorage. (Sic)


Governor Brisbane Individual Status
1 Bailey, Samuel Adult male European
2 Brook, (Joseph?) Adult male European
3 Cloney, ? Adult male European
4 Dinah (Pierrapplener) Young female Palawah Aborigine (abt 15 yrs) Tas
5 Fanny Child female Cape Arid Aborigine (7 yrs) W.A.
6 Hambleton, (Thomas?) Adult male European
7 Hook, William Young male Maori  (about 16 yrs)
8 Hobson, John Adult male European
9 Kirby, James Adult male European
10 McGinnis/Magennis, George Adult male European
11 Randall, John Adult male European
12 Sally Young female Kaurna Aborigine (about 19 yrs) S.A.
13 Tasmein, Thomas Adult male African origin (probably American)
14 Thomas, George Adult male European


From the outset I described this unraveling process as tangled, and indeed it is. What presents itself most clearly here is the role Kangaroo Island appears to play in the transfer of men east and west, on a number of vessels, the men apparently operating under a variety of aliases which may have been shared between them.

After the wreck of the Belinda, part of that community of sealers at Kangaroo Island which was reported in The Australian newspaper of 1826, may have looked west and viewed Middle Island as an outpost of their own, somewhere from which they could exploit the seal colonies of the Recherche Archipelago and beyond.

From the evidence so far, it seems there were people in the Recherche Archipelago from the time of the wreck of the Belinda and the rescue of its seamen by the Nereus  (July to December 1825). This group, if they were from the Belinda may have never left the waters of Western Australia from that time.

Alternatively, after Nereus visited Kangaroo Island on its return leg with the rescued sealers, some may have assembled there and, unlikely as it seems, sailed in a single open boat back to Middle Island where they intended to establish a rough settlement of their own.  However, only one name from the Belinda and Nereus lists (John Sigsworth) corresponds to those later taken at King George’s Sound.

Another possible scenario rests less on timing as it does on repeated associations with the schooner Governor Brisbane. There is strong reason to believe this vessel was about the Recherche Archipelago over the summer of 1824/25, from which it returned with a very profitable cargo. If men from this sailing, under Mr S.R. Chase, were left behind then they could have been in Western Australian waters as long as two years by the time they met Captain d’Urville in October 1826. But only one name on the Claims List of that sailing, Joseph Brooks, matches with any collected from meetings at King George’s Sound, and, as d’Urville doesn’t provide a Christian name for Brooks, it only matches partially.

Therefore, somewhat disappointingly, we are no closer to determining anything more of certainty. Kangaroo Island seems to have been the primary mustering point for the crews who were seven months out from the east when d’Urville found them (which would appear to comprise the bulk of the group), and that of those who said they were along the coast in the region of 18 months or more, their identities and origins remain equally as vague.


Middle Island Archeological Site 2006 - Patterson and SouterAbove: Part of the 2006 Paterson and Souter archaeological excavation site at Middle Island revealing the remains of a three-sided stone structure. Middle Island may have come into a period of semi-continuous use by Kangaroo Island sealers who learned of its qualities after the Belinda was wrecked there in 1824. After this time sealers based at Kangaroo Island may have viewed Middle Island as a viable outpost of their own, operating between the two using maritime traffic engaged with the sealing industry, or even sailing directly to it in their small open boats. Some sealers may have joined ship’s gangs for the purposes of gaining boats and provisions but then worked to an agenda determined by themselves.


For now, that concludes the look through the available information on the Governor Brisbane and its sealing gangs. There is still the question of who belonged to George William Robinson’s schooner Hunter, which we’ll soon move on to, but first we should finish with what actually happened to Captain Davidson and the ship he pirated.

Davidson left off the last of his sealers along Western Australia’s South Coast and with a skeleton crew totaling four made for Batavia (now Jakarta), most likely with the intention of selling the ship and buying another under his own name. However, the Dutch East Indies was a fully fledged colony by that stage and the authorities became suspicious when the schooner arrived, probably in June or July, with so little aboard. After inspecting Davidson’s papers the Governor Brisbane was seized and placed under the watch of the guard ship while communications were sought with Sydney.

While his sealers and seamen were fending for themselves anywhere between the Eyre Peninsula and the Swan River, Davidson idled under arrest in the Tropics. Eventually, word filtered back from Sydney or Hobart that the ship was missing and the Batavian authorities, deeming it pirated, acted to sell both vessel and cargo so as to pay for its confinement. The schooner being insured, Kemp & Co were probably satisfied with the outcome.

So, while an exasperated Major Lockyer was trying to decide what to do with the disparate gangs of sealers haunting his outpost at King George’s Sound over the summer of 1826/27, the auctioneers hammer came down in Batavia and the schooner Governor Brisbane, complete with a cargo of 500 fur-skins, changed hands officially for just £120.

What became of both schooner and Captain over the next while isn’t clear. I wasn’t able to find Davidson’s name associated with shipping until over two and a half years later, where in Sydney James King was advertising the previously unheard of First Class Brig, William Stoveld, as being ready to go to sea, her copper fastened hull willing to accept freight or charter under Captain Davidson to any known port.


Gov Brisbane - spotted NW W.A. HTG 10.6.26Above: Hobart Town Gazette 10 June 1826


Gov Brisbane - at Batavia SGandNSWA 26.1.1827Above: The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 26 January 1827



Gov Brisbane - sold-off at Batavia HTG 27.1.1827Above: Hobart Town Gazette 27 January 1827



Capt Davidson at large again - SGandNSWA 4.8.1829Above: Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser 4 August 1829



George William Robinson’s Schooner Hunter


It’s a genuine shame Dan Cerchi, Great-Great-Great Grandson of George William Robinson, took his work from the internet. It was a substantial piece of genealogical research which has benefited understanding of the sealing business and how it impacted on Western Australia’s South Coast.

Cerchi put many hours into investigating the history of the American sealing brig General Gates which carried his ancestor away from Boston, Massachussetts, to the sealing grounds of the Southern Fishery in 1818.  Simultaneously, he researched the origins of the Hunterwhich, as it turns out, had been built on Norfolk Island during 1808 and previously namedEndeavour (presumably after Captain Cook’s Endeavour) which first cruised Norfolk Island, New Zealand and New Holland between 1769 and 1771. The detail of both accounts is fascinating. Cerchi then found the voyage Robinson made in the Hunter between December 1825 and October 1826 was mentioned in the reports of Major Edmund Lockyer during the period of the military outpost’s establishment at King George’s Sound, so widened his information gathering to include as much detail as he could about the Governor Brisbaneand its escapade as well.

In all, Cerchi’s work provided a valuable contribution to the limited body of knowledge surrounding the sealers of Australia’s southern littoral and their impact on Albany’s history in particular. Dan Cerchi’s Archives were referred to me by Sarah Drummond when I first became interested in the wider story of the South Coast’s history. At the time, out of a sense of now justified urgency and importance, I copied everything he had to say to a word document and saved it to my home computer. Sometime between now and then Cerchi decided to remove his work from the internet, probably due to some understandable sense of disgruntlement over recognition. As with my own work here, the internet is rife with persons taking first time research and calling it their own. It happens all the time, especially in the universities of the world whose many theses touch on various aspects of what these pages are concerned with. I’ve tried to find Dan Cerchi to ask him could I use what I had saved of his work, but to no avail. Because of this I can only reproduce bits and pieces verbatim -excerpts which can still be found on the internet- the rest I will simply re-write, but it is with deep gratitude that I do so.  Cerchi’s work has saved me, and over the time it was up on the internet, many others too, countless hours of searching, collating, distilling and fractionally reproducing what was a mountain of information.



Hunter - Indian OceanAbove: George William Robinson, master of the schooner Hunter when it left its sealing gangs off at King George’s Sound (probably) in February 1826, had spent almost two years at Isle St Paul waiting to be collected by his mother ship the infamous General Gates, and then another 19 months at Kangaroo Island before finally quitting the vessel at Hobart Town in November 1822. Robinson was said to have been paid one Spanish Dollar and ten gallons of rum for more than four years work.

From Dan Cerchi’s entry for George William Robinson on the website WeRelate.Org

On 20 October 1818, the American sealing brig General Gates sailed from Boston bound for the “Pacific Ocean and Canton”. On board the General Gates was a young man, George William Robinson c 1800-1839, who was never to return to his home country.


En-route for the Pacific Ocean, George Robinson was left on the extremely remote southern Indian Ocean island of St Paul, where he spent 23 months hunting seals. After being picked-up, c March 1821, he was then taken to Kangaroo Island, a short distance off the coast of South Australia where he spent a further 19 months hunting seals. The General Gates returned to pick-up George Robinson then sailed for Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), arriving there on 2 November 1822. George left the ship at Hobart Town, taking as payment 1 Spanish Dollar and 10 gallons of rum for more than 4 years brutal, grisly, work and near complete isolation. The General Gates continued on her voyage which had already become infamous and was to become even more so.

Seven months after his arrival (at Hobart), George married Elizabeth Presnell, the daughter of a convict couple. He was set-up in business by his father-in-law. However, the call of the sea appears to have been renewed. Several years after his arrival in Hobart Town, George purchased the Endeavour (of Norfolk Island), renamed her Hunter and sailed for Port Jackson (Sydney) then to New Zealand on a sealing voyage. The voyage was unsuccessful. On his return to Van Diemen’s Land, George was forced to sell his ship. In a bid to recover his financial situation, George chartered and fitted out the Hunter for a combined sealing/trading voyage to the Isle of France (Mauritius) and various islands en-route.

The Hunter sailed from Launceston on 14 December 1825, called at Kangaroo Island, Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago off the southern coast of Western Australia, St Paul Island, Rodrigues, Isle of France, then returned via Amsterdam Island to Hobart Town, arriving “home” on 15 October 1826. George was accompanied by his “family” on both of these voyages. George spent the remainder of his life in Hobart, spent in numerous occupations: inn-keeper, coach owner, post master, farmer. George William Robinson died in Hobart on 7 September 1839, aged 39 years. He was survived by his wife and 7 of their 8 children.


What we’re interested in here is that Robinson, after marrying and commencing his family at Hobart, aged about 25, bought the Colonial Schooner Endeavour and renamed her Hunter. Robinson went into debt to do so, fitting out the ship for a sealing venture to New Zealand at the same time. The trip returned 1000 skins of which only half were fur. The result meant Robinson had to sell his boat, which he did only to immediately charter it back again in the hopes a combined sealing, transport and trading voyage to Isle de France (Mauritius) would earn enough for him to regain it once again.


Hunter bought for £800Above: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser; 24 November 1825

Robinson doesn’t appear to have advertised the Hunter’s departure for this voyage as I could find neither Claims List nor Muster Roll and Cerchi himself gives scant detail of this aspect. Cerchi says the Hunter sailed from Launceston on 14 December, 1825, calling at Kangaroo Island, Middle Island, St Paul Island, Rodrigues, Isle of France, then returned via Amsterdam Island to Hobart Town, arriving home on 15 October, 1826.

Postscript 1st July 2015: I’m delighted to say I was able to make contact with Dan Cerchi and have been corresponding over the last week. Cerchi says he has recently discovered that Robinson was not left on Isle St Paul as he believed but its neighbour, Amsterdam Island. George William Robinson still spent almost two full years with just one other person waiting to be picked up.

Cerchi also includes a letter Robinson wrote to the Van Diemen’s Land Colonial Secretary’s Office in 1831, by the looks of it at the behest of G. A. Robinson, Protector of Aborigines, after enquiries were made as to the welfare of Tasmanian Aboriginal women kept at Kangaroo Island by the sealers living there. (Archives Office of Tasmania – CSO 1/320/7578, pp 433-440). In the letter Robinson says he was at Kangaroo Island twice (mostly about Three Wells River, now calledCygnet River), the second time for six weeks while in charge of the Hunter. From this it’s safe to assume the Hunter‘s gangs were left at Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago sometime in February or March 1826; about seven months prior to the arrival of theAstrolabe and, as earlier reckoned, more or less at the same time as the Governor Brisbane under Davidson set down one of its two gangs. Looking at the time frames, it’s evident both the Hunter and Governor Brisbane were at the Kangaroo Island at the same time.

That James Everett appears to have been the leader of one the Hunter’s gangs, and that Kirby and Randall, to whom he was well-known, represented the Governor Brisbane, even suggests the crews of both ships may have been working together, at least in terms of company.

The next we can draw from, once again, comes from the journals of d’Urville and Lockyer. Referring back to the information already covered we know d’Urville only named Richard Simons (Symonds) as being from the Hunter and that Lockyer named William Bundy, Thomas Toolen, Robert Williams (a black man) and Pidgeon (a Sydney Aborigine) being from the Hunter. When William Hook was interviewed by Lockyer on January 12th he said James Everett came from the Hunter and later in the interview revealed the name Ned from the same ship, but said that he couldn’t remember any other names from the same gang.

It wasn’t until two months later, on March 10th, that Lockyer officially recorded those two whale boats emerging from the lightning lit, squally, thunderous waters of the Sound and we get to see who those people the young Maori William Hook couldn’t remember the names of were.

Lockyers Sealers 10 March 1827 - Official Journal Entry

Above: Lockyer’s Official Journal Entry for March 10th, 1827 : Excerpt from Historical Records of Australia – Series 3


Lockyer describes the groups according to the boat the men arrived in and who that boat’s steerer was, not by which mother ship they belonged to. Because of this we can’t say categorically that Randall’s boat contained only men from the Governor Brisbane simply because Randall was from that ship. Likewise for James Everett’s whale boat. However likely it may seem that the people in each of those boats belonged to their original employer’s ships, we can’t actually make that claim. It’s too easy for them to have formed new and different relationships over the period of time they were in the same vicinity.

So, from these sources we still only have the following names which may be directly attributed to the schooner Hunter;

Richard Symonds – Black Canadian – Sailed with d’Urville on the Astrolabe
William Bundy– Steerer
Thomas Toolen
Robert Williams – Black man
James Everett – Steerer
Pidgeon – An Australian (Aborigine) from Port Jackson (aka Sydney)
Edward Edwards – the mixed-race boy, Ned Tomlins

Remember, d’Urville made a point of saying there were six people in the second boat, one of them an Australian from Port Jackson. This was Pidgeon, aka Sydney, who features in other East Coast stories relating to early coastal exploitation. Therefore, we now have one person more than was observed during that initial meeting with the French ship.

Later, on October 19th, d’Urville said the two boats returned, this time carrying five Australians. Two he said were young women from Port Dalrymple (Tasmania), two were from the mainland opposite Kangaroo Island (a male and a female) and the fifth, he said, was the little girl Lockyer later called Fanny who was taken from the mainland opposite Middle Island.  Above, we can see it was Dinah and Mooney who were the Palawah women and that Sally was from the mainland opposite Kangaroo Island.

With regard to the women and younger men (Hook, Edward Edwards and possibly Harry), the association is not so much with the mother ship as it will have been with the men whose control they were under.  As with the boys, Dinah, Mooney and Sally will have ‘belonged’ to one or other of the sealers and in all likelihood rode with them in the boats, particularly when they were going somewhere or doing something specific, such as turning themselves in so as they could find a way home.

We took from d’Urville two of the women belonged to the Governor Brisbane gang, just not which two.  Lockyer clarified them as being Dinah and Sally, the two in John Randall’s boat on March 10th. Because all the men in that boat can be grouped as one, logic dictates Dinah and Sally are the two d’Urville mentioned as being on Eclipse Island. Further, information on the Palawah women associated with the Bass Strait sealers, gathered mostly from the records of G.A. Robinson, Protector of Aborigines at Tasmania, and available, amongst other sources, on the Bass Strait People website, reveals Dinah was associated with James Kirby.

Pierrapplener [AKA Perrruple/Warkerlarepeterner/Diana/Dinah/Ann, sister was Jock, lived with Robert REW [1832]. Previous, in 1824 was likely with James KIRBY, and travelling between islands between Bass Strait and Kangaroo Island when the Nereus encountered them, with James EVERETT and Henry WHALLEY. In 1827 Major Lockyer met Dinah with James KIRBYat King George’s Sound [Albany WA] Dinah and another VDL woman and a Kangaroo Island woman were then expatriated to Sydney? on the Ann arr. 11/6/1827 having called at Port Dalrymple, where Dinah and the other woman likely disembarked, ‘This woman, Dinah, was probably Pierrapplener who in 1832 was living with Robert REW. This woman was taken from Robert REW by WJ Darling in October 1832, and in a petition a few weeks later REW sought her return to him, stating he had obtained her on the death of John MYETYE about three years earlier, who had in turn obtained her from James THOMPSON.’ She had been seventeen or eighteen years with white men.


This means there are three remaining names which can’t readily be attached to either ship but which through sheer convenience we should probably tag as those unaccounted for from the Hunter. We can say this because we know there were two boats belonging to that ship but only have seven attributable names. The first boat was steered in by William Bundy, the second by James Everett. It’s impossible to be 100% certain about this but the numbers total ten, two short of a complement of two six-man whale boats. So, after being as rigorous as possible and in the absence of any other meaningful allocation it seems right to follow the logic and accept the likelihood. Thus, those belonging to the schooner Hunter must have been;


Schooner Hunter Individual Status
1 Bundy, William Adult male European
2 Everett, James Adult male European
3 Edwards/Tomlins, Edward/Ned Young mixed-race male  (about 15 yrs)
4 Harry Young male Kaurna Aborigine (about 19 yrs) S.A.
5 Leadenhall, James Adult male European
6 Mooney Young female Palawah Aborigine (abt 16 yrs) Tas
7 Pidgeon Adult male Eora Aborigine (Sydney)
8 Simmons/Symonds, Richard Adult male African origin (Canadian)
9 Smidmore, John Adult male European
10 Williams, Robert Adult male African origin (probably American)


Now, Lockyer refers to the Governor Brisbane men John Hobson and George Thomas in his journals as being employed as pilots into Princess Royal Harbour once the Amity departed, but not before the Amity took both men back to Middle Island where they asked to be delivered so that they could could fetch ‘their things‘; consisting in large part of another whaleboat and (presumably) skins. The two returned, apparently towed in by the arriving Government relief ship Isabella, along with what Lockyer decided to call ‘two seamen requiring a passage to Sydney.’  Would these two have been from the Hunter? Their number rounds those gangs up to six a piece, filling the two empty seats.


Lockyer - Hobson ThomasAbove: Lockyer’s journal entry referring the the arrival of the Isabella on Wednesday, February 14th, 1827. The sealers Hobson and Thomas returned with the schooner, along with two other seamen, 14 days after leaving King George’s Sound. Also, entering the harbour with the Isabella was a whaleboat Lockyer concluded contained those who had been involved with the murder and abduction case. This was probably John Randall’s boat. Excerpt from Historical Records of Australia – Series 3

In the above passage we see that another whaleboat was also with the Isabella. Bare in mind this is mid February, six weeks after the events began to unfold and three weeks after theAmity had left them without communication to the outside world. Lockyer will have been feeling anxious, the arrival of the Isabella a big relief and opportunity for him to express it.

Not only did Hobson and Thomas return with two other seamen, but the whale boat apparently with the still missing Menang woman in it, had come in as well. (The first of the two Menang women abducted from the Oyster Harbour area had been recovered from Eclipse Island -south of the headland- along with the little girl Lockyer called Fanny, on January 13th.) Lockyer is furious his resident doctor Mr Nind didn’t detain the sealers and with the idea that as soon as they seemed to understand the commander was interested in their whereabouts, they vamoosed.

The whale boat Lockyer is referring to looks to be that steered in by John Randall a month later on March 10th, as in Hook’s statement the second Menang women was awarded by the gang to George McGinnis who was also in that boat.

Lockyer doesn’t say if the second Menang women was ever recovered.

Remember too that John Sigsworth was said not to have been at King George’s Sound in October, but at Middle Island. This means there was small-boat travel between Middle Island and King George’s Sound going on between October 1826 and February 1827 (when the Isabella arrived), suggesting Middle Island was occupied for about twelve months, from about March 1826 (when Hunter and Governor Brisbane deposited their gangs) to at least February 1827 when all appear to have gathered closer to King George’s Sound.

The gang which came in with the Isabella on February 14th but then disappeared was thought to have made its way to Chatham Island, 90 miles to the westward. Chatham Island’s use was reported to Lockyer after William Bundy brought the first whale boat in on January 10th. The sealers told Lockyer the gang (from the Governor Brisbane) who had the second kidnapped Menang woman with them were ‘daily expected to arrive here from the eastward on their way to Chatham Island.’

Remember, at that time only Hobson, Thomas, Hook and Tasmein (a Blackman) were from the Governor Brisbane, the rest of the men in Bundy’s boat were from the Hunter.


Chatham Island - Sth CoastAbove: Chatham Island, off Mandalay Beach, about 90 miles west of Albany. The island was reported to have been used by some of the sealers attached to the Governor Brisbane and could have been the base they used to explore around Cape Leeuwin as far as Rottnest Island and the Swan River. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.


Now,  Major Lockyer returned to Sydney on HMS Success on April 3rd. The Success, with James Stirling and Peter Belches aboard, was on its way back to Sydney after that all important March 1827 investigative excursion to the Swan River. Lockyer wanted six of the sealers returned to Sydney on the Success (John Smidmore, John Randall, James Kirby, George McGennis, James Leadenhall and Edward Edwards) but Stirling refused, eventually allowing just Kirby and Randall aboard. This is doubly interesting because it further strengthens the association between these two sealers and also begs the question why in particular these two were selected.

It may have had something to do with the opinions Kirby and Randall held on the Swan River and of the coastal locations between it and King George’s Sound. Lockyer later remarked (in 1829 when addressing potential N.S.W. investors in the newly sanctioned Swan River Colony; HRA Pg 604) that he had attempted to go overland from the Sound to the Swan River in February but had turned back because one of the soldiers in the party had taken ill. Lockyer did enter into his official journal on January 22nd, that. . .

I am informed by the sealers, some Statements of them having been a considerable way up the Swan River, which is by sealers. about 180 miles to the W.N. West of this, that there is plenty of fine Cedar on its Banks and plenty of fine pine of very large size. I propose leaving this on an Expedition in about a week or ten days. (HRA -3 pg 472)


Lockyer wrote this well ahead of Randall and Kirby coming in from the islands, so reflects the interest in the Swan River locality the original eight sealers had generated in him when they arrived on January 10th. Curiously, none of whom, in fact, were in the six Lockyer wanted brought back to Sydney on the Success. The original eight comprised four from each of the two different mother ships while the latter six is made up of those directly involved in the botched raid on the Menang camp and subsequent killing and marooning scenario.

Anyway, it was on the return journey of the Success to Sydney that both Lockyer and Stirling wrote up their reports; Stirling advocating the advantages of the Swan River in order to secure confidence in his proposal to establish a colony there, and Lockyer, almost out of personal competitiveness, ranking King George’s Sound as the ideal location for permanent settlement. Lockyer even went so far as to use information gleaned from the sealers (though he doesn’t specify anyone in particular) about the short-comings of the Swan River locality compared to the advantages of the harbours at the Sound.

My inclination here is that Kirby and Randall held all the first-hand information on that subject. That is, it was they who led the gang (most probably including William Hook) which had been longest and most adventurous about the coast and who may in fact have been stationed at Chatham Island rather than Eclipse.

See Lockyer to McLeay, Pg 487 Historical Records of Australia
See Stirling to Darling, Pg 551 Historical Records of Australia

The Historian Neville Green first noted the possibility of the Randall/Swan River connection in Broken Spears, his 1984 book on early Aboriginal and European relations. When Stirling got to the Swan River in the Success his exploration party split into two and took differing directions. One, led by Stirling, followed the river over the Melville Water mud flats via Heirisson Island and onwards to the north east. At a spot opposite today’s Burswood (see Love and War; Henry Camfield’s View) the party found a fresh water brook entering the river from the west which Stirling named Clause’s Brook after Frederick Clause the ship’s surgeon who was also amongst them. At or near that point the explorers are supposed to have been met with by less than welcoming Aborigines. This appears to be the sighting by the Botanist Fraser of three Aborigines at a spot Stirling subsequently called Frazer/Fraser Point.


Swan River - Natives angry at men in small boatsAbove: Historical Records of Australia – Series 3: Pg 556


Nothing terrible happened, the explorers pressed on upriver to the area of Jane Brook where by accounts they met a much more welcoming mob. Now, Green ties in with that information a report by Francis Armstrong (the Noongar language interpreter) some ten years later, by which time Clause’s Brook  had been mistakenly assumed as Claise Brook. The relevant excerpt reads as follows;


Sealers on Swan River PGWAJ 29.10.36Above: Perth Gazette and West Australian Journal; 29 October 1836

Green rightly thinks there maybe something to this because there were no Aborigines or persons of African origin on the Success. The Claise Brook Aborigines of the Swan River were guarded about meeting with the previously unseen white men when they thought two in that boat were northern Aborigines of whom they were afraid.

It makes sense of course, that the small boat did not belong to the Success but was the whale boat of the sealers Lockyer had encountered at King George’s Sound. As to the identity of those sealers we can never be certain, but it seems very likely John Randall  (a great favourite) was the man handing out the handkerchiefs and whatever else.

Now, it was Captain Wakefield who succeeded as commander of the King George’s Sound settlement. A little over six weeks into his tenure, on May 21st, Wakefield was writing up his report and in it described the departure of fifteen of the sealers who were still there after the Success left. The sealers caught a lift on another sealing vessel, the Brig Ann, which sailed from the Sound on May 19th. But, Wakefield added, the fifteen were made twenty by the addition of another five who had arrived in distress into the encampment on April 4th, the very day after the Success sailed.

Wakefield doesn’t give any names and we don’t know if they were men, women or children, or if they were of Maori, Aboriginal or European origin. It’s possible the five belonged to either the Hunter or Governor Brisbane parties and also possible they had been left along the coast somewhere by another vessel, all we know is that there were, in another boat, five more sealers who came in out of the blue one day after the major left.


Vessel Number of Gangs Number of Persons
Governor Brisbane 2 13
Schooner Hunter 2 10
Unknown Seamen 14th Feb 1 2
Unknown distressed  4th April 1 5
Totals 6 30


Of the 30 coast-ranging souls associated with the birthing of settlement at what became the town of Albany, three left on the Amity (Fanny, Hook and Bailey), two more left on the Success (Kirby and Randall), twenty (including the three women) left on the brig Ann, and one, (John Hobson) sailed on the Mermaid in January 1828, leaving six persons unaccounted for. Nothing else is known about them.

So, George William Robinson, having sailed from Hobart on December 14th 1825 and spent six weeks at Kangaroo Island, and who had deposited his gangs at or about Middle Island and/or King George’s Sound in March 1826, sailed on against the winds into the deep Indian Ocean toward the islands of Amsterdam and St Paul (upon which he had been left for 23 months by the master of the American sealing brig General Gates, eight years earlier.) At Amsterdam Island he left two men whom he said he would fetch on his return from Isle de France (Mauritus) to which he was bound with cargo. The Hunter then proceeded to Port Louis, Isle de France, via the neighbouring island of Rodrigues, where it made good its trade before rounding and heading again to Amsterdam Island with a return cargo of sugar and rice. However, Robinson found himself at Isle St Paul instead and for reasons unknown decided not only to head for Hobart without picking up the two men he had left to slaughter seals at Amsterdam Island but those he left at King George’s Sound (and thereabouts) as well.

Why would he do this? Had his own experiences hardened him to the perilous role of sealer and instilled in him the reckless attitude of the ambivalent master?

But, so it seems, Robinson hadn’t given up on them completely. Cerchi discovered that back in Hobart in October 1826, at the same time the Astrolabe was anchored at the Sound and d’Urville and his crew were acquainting themselves with both the sealers and Aborigines to be found there, Robinson began making plans to go fetch his men and their skins. However, confronting winds saw the Hunter wind up in Launceston where a small commercial opportunity arose and she took on a local delivery to King Island ahead of apparently heading west again. At this time the brig Amity on its way to King George’s Sound was forced in to the Tamar estuary to repair and to replace tainted water supplies. The newspapers were full of the story, reporting on the decision of Governor Darling to establish settlements at Western Port Bay and King George’s Sound in order to disrupt any intention a reported French presence off the southern coasts might have of claiming that portion of the continent for themselves. Cerchi doesn’t speak of any known meeting between the masters of the Amity and George Robinson but concludes that the Hunter changed its plans once it was known Lockyer and his contingent were to establish at the place where his gangs would most probably be found.

Did George William Robinson know some of the men he had engaged as sealers were runaways and/or were associated with the pirating of the Governor Brisbane and did he, upon hearing of the establishment of a government settlement at  King George’s Sound, decide he’d better not go there himself lest he was implicated and jailed himself?

We know what eventually happened to the gangs he left between Middle Island and King George’s Sound, but what of the two he left way out there on Isle Amsterdam? The story of James Paine and Robert Proudfoot, both from Edinburgh, made news around the world.


Hunter - Paine and Proudfoot Rescue 1aAbove: Opening passages from the account of the rescue of Paine and Proudfoot who were aboard the Hunter when it left off its gangs along Western Australia’s South Coast in March 1826. Clink on the below link for the astonishing full story. Hobart Town Courier, 12 April 1828.

Precarious was the life of the sealer in those days, that’s for sure.


Conclusions. . .

Now, to try and render some rational conclusions from the above;

1. The crews assembled at Tasmania prior to the departure of both the Governor Brisbane and Hunter in late 1825 were different to those who landed in the waters of Western Australia.

2. Both vessels coincidentally rendezvoused at Kangaroo Island and subsequently delivered two gangs each to the waters between the Recherche Archipelago and King George’s Sound around March 1826.

3. The masters of the two schooners may have realised the leading sealers, who were for some time based at Kangaroo Island, were known to each other, and may, at the behest of the sealers themselves, left them in close proximity at the Recherche Archipelago.

4. The sealing gangs comprised men, women and youths of mixed origins but were probably led by European men who had previously visited the waters of Western Australia as members of gangs attached to either the Belinda or Nereus, or an earlier sailing of the Governor Brisbane. Some of the sealers were equipped with dogs and their own forced labour, indicating the expectation of an extended stay.

5. Claims that some of the men had been between Middle Island and the Swan River are accepted. This means one gang probably  had  been in the area for 18 months or more. However, it is not possible to determine which sealing vessel this belonged to at the time of their being left off or indeed if they belonged to any at all. Unlikely as it seems, they may, as Lockyer himself concluded, have made their way in open boats directly from Kangaroo Island.

6. It is not possible to determine which of the sealers were in the boat that visited the Swan River prior to March 1827, though it is likely Randall and Kirby were amongst them.

One response to “Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – 3 (b)”

  1. Annie Dabb Avatar
    Annie Dabb

    Hi my name is Annie Dabb and I’m researching my grandparents who worked for Campbell Taylor. Do you have a list of Aboriginal names for Lynburn Station that you can email me. My email address is Also any information on the two brothers Dib and Dab and if they had a sister named Margaret(Maggie) Bland. Thanks

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