The View From Mount Clarence

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

Jimmy’s Harbour – Part 3: Summary & Conclusion

It was Newell, then became Newhill.


The argument was opened by the mid-20th Century Albany historian Robert Stephens who, while establishing his accountancy business during 1935, spotted something in the early settlement papers he was perusing and decided rather than Jimmy Newhill, an old German working-class Catholic whose aging wife was still living out on the Perth Road, the name of the picturesque Torndirrup harbour belonged to James Newell, a limeburmer who died of a heart aneurysm at Little Grove more than 80 years earlier.

Stephens was challenged by local residents and the Albany Advertsier newspaper, but despite being unable to cite or hold up any document to substantiate the claim, held firm on it. In exasperation, Stephens finally declared in the Albany Advertiser, 31st October, 1946, that James Newell had been a convict aboard the Amity.

The only solution to the derivation of the name Jimmy Newhill’s Harbour (sic) is that included in Major Lockyer’s party from N.S.W. 121 years ago was a convict named; James Newhill (sic), who remained here when his time expired and for years sailed the coast around Albany, mutton birding and sealing.

Much to Stephens’ chagrin, the newspaper had printed his Newell as Newhill, either by design or mistake; and therein lies the eternal uncertainty. Yet there was no James Newell aboard the Amity. There was a Thomas Noel, whose name was later written in colonial documents as Thomas Newell, but it was Stephens who decided Newell’s christian name was James; when it wasn’t and had never been.

Records show that Thomas Noel was convicted of vagrancy in Cork, Ireland, on 5th April, 1824, and shipped out to Sydney Cove on a seven year sentence aboard the Hooghley, departing Cork 5th January, 1825. He was described as being a boatman from Co. Galway, 23 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches tall, of brown freckled complexion,with brown hair and grey eyes. His condition being very well. Over one year after arrival Noel was transferred to King George Sound aboard the Amity and recorded at the Sound as part of the 1828 N.S.W. census. He was also listed in Captain Collet Barker’s September, 1830, K.G.S. muster, and then again, multiple times, in Barker’s journals up until 2nd February, 1831, just six weeks prior to the handover.  By March 29th that year Noel was just one calendar week away from completeing his full seven year sentence.

At King George Sound on 16th April, 1831, in a letter adressed to the Swan River Colonial Secretary, Peter Brown, regarding departure of the N.S.W. contingent, the opening lines read;

Sir, I beg to state for the information of his Excellency the Lieut Governor that an emancipated convict, Thomas Newell, has remained here by permission of Captain Barker and Lieut Carew.

The return muster in Sydney was accompanied by a letter from the N.S.W. Colonial Secretary’s Office dated 21st May, 1831, in which it stated two prisoners, Willliam Thacker and Thomas Newell had been granted permission to remain behind at King George Sound. Specifically;

Thomas Newell, per Hooghley, and William Thacker, per Asia, having become free received certificates accordingly, and were permitted, the first to remain at K.G. Sound, and the other to proceed to Swan River by the Nimrod.

Matthew Gill, a third member of the original Amity convict party, also stayed behind at Albany. His term expired earlier and documentation to that effect had already been lodged at Sydney.

Thomas Noel/Newell stayed at Albany until at least October 1832 when Alexander Collie returned to Perth to take up the position of Colonial Surgeon. We know this because Surveyor General, J.S. Roe had written to Collie at this time stating the Governor, Sir James Stirling, had agreed to Thomas Noal (he spelled the surname NOAL) being granted a town lot as well as a suburban plot of 4 acres.

On account of his ‘boatman’ qualification, Thomas Noel/Newell/Noal probably helped form the very early mariner brigade, becoming a sealer and muttonbirder, but there are no surviving records to say he did, nor is there any evidence of him building on his grants, or even where they were located, nor of his death or departure. There are no known shipwrecks in the vicinity of Jimmy Newell’s/Newhill’s Harbour which occurred at the time, but boatmen today claim the waters between Eclipse Island and the mainland granite cliffs contain treacherous reefs and that in challenging conditions access to the cove would provide genuine relief.

There is therefore some reason to believe Thomas/Noel/Newell/Noal is the man who first gave his name to the cove. The nickname Jimmy could easily have been applied on account of his rural Irish demeanor and the Newell pronunciation and spelling may have gained traction over Noel or Noal. However, it would mean that over time the identity of this Jimmy Newell was almost completely forgotten.

It would appear Robert Stephens, one hundred years after drifting from the records, cast his eyes across one or other of the official documents relating to Thomas Noel/Newell/Noal and upon later noting a man by the name of James Newell had come to live in the town, decided they were one and the same person.

But James Newell, and family, did not appear in the record books until 1834 when James was granted A22, a suburban lot of four acres on the north face of Mnt Clarence. This James Newell was head of a family of seven. Research shows he was an English farm labourer and that he and his family were from Elstead, Surrey. Moreover, on account of their children’s birth registrations they could not have left England before October 1832. There is only evidence to suggest this James Newell was not a convict, and that somehow (probably aided by the Spencer family) he managed to obtain passage to Albany for himself and his family. The Newell family, except for daughter Mary, all appear on the Albany census of January 1836. James Newell Snr being described as a labourer.

Three of the children of this family, specifically Mary, Dorothy and James Jnr (Jem), attempted to leave Albany for the eastern colonies by the coastal cutter Mountaineer in March 1835. This voyage failed when the cutter was wrecked east of Esperance. The passengers and crew were transferred to Middle Island where they lived for a time amongst a sealing gang commanded by John ‘Black Jack’ Anderson. Jem Newell and another man on the island, James Manning, were deposited to the mainland at Cape Arid and by good fortune made it on foot back to Albany, though not without being rescued by the Menang in the region of Cheyne’s Beach. Mary and Dorothy then after returned to Albany with Anderson and crew in the gang’s small boats. Until Anderson was murdered on Mondrain Island a year or so later, Dorothy Newell lived with him as defacto spouse. This story now comprises significant portion of Albany’s mariner folklore, aided by corrupted oral versions passed down through generations, and has become so attached to the Newell family their association with the town has become defined by it.

Beyond this short lived but certainly dramatic episode, the Newell family leave few records to suggest they were mariners. On the contrary, father and sons are associated with farm labouring, while later James Newell Snr became known as a lime burner at Little Grove. Younger son Charles died by spear at Mt Barker in September 1841. James Newell Snr died by heart bleed in July 1855. Jem Newell, working as a farm labourer at Takalarup, died in 1874, aged 55, while Dorothy Newell died in Albany in January 1886, aged 70 years. After Anderon’s death she had two further relationships, both with Albany businessmen: James Cooper and George Petit. The family’s story is compelling and an important one as it tells of the struggles of working-class people of the time but shows little by way of association with the disputed harbour. Nonetheless, large portion of the lives of both James Newell Jnr and Snr are undocumented, and the notion James Jnr was married to an Aboriginal woman who may have been one of the sealers wives or children, persists. These sealer associations therefore tie James (Jem) Newell to the mariner brigade and make it hard to entirely dismiss the possibility he was the one who gave his name to the harbour.

Of the Newell family only Dorothy was alive and living in Albany in 1883 when Edward Newhill arrived aboard the American whaler Bartholomew Gosnold. Newhill was a Bavarian economic and religious refugee, born in 1853, who left his homeland for the United States in 1868, or thereabouts. After twelve years in the New York/New Jersey area he boarded the whaler as E. Neuhuhl. He is described in the log on a number of occasions. He was a foremast hand, serving as lookout, oarsman and flenser/boiler. His ship cruised the waters off Albany from March 1882, to May 1883. When a new captain was installed while at anchor in Princess Royal Harbour the crew revolted and 23 of its 32 strong contingent walked off the job. The circumstances appearing to be related to the initial captain’s sickness, possibly induced by the role of a cabin boy picked up at Albany during the previous ‘coming in’. It was a very serious affair and Newhill was described in the Albany Mail newspaper as one of two ringleaders. After being fined by the American Consul William Gillam and serving a 12-week hard labour sentence imposed by Resident Magistrate R. C. Loftie, Newhill was free. Less than a year later he assisted in the desertion of well-known Nullabor pioneer Henry Dimer from sister whaler Platina and is believed to have gone to Cape Arid for a spell. In the lead-up to this Newhill looks to have been camped around the cove, fishing in a flat-bottomed boat and possibly working as a limestone carter to the Little Grove pits. Newhill likely hid Dimer and his fellow jumpships in this area until their vessel sailed one week after absconding. Newhill seems to have worked in the brewing business, probably for Gus Heinzmann of the Great Southern Brewery, and may have spent some time in later years working the coast as supplier, via Esperance and Fanny Cove, to the Goldfields. He married Elizabeth Cullinane, daughter of expiree Tim Cullinane and Margaret Sounness, daughter of William and Mary Sounness lately of Merryup, Mnt Barker; though there is some suggestion Elizabeth may have been adopted or even Cullinane’s daughter to another woman. Newhill derived the nickname Jimmy, probably on account of his ethnicity and working-class status. Elizabeth Cullinane bore him 12 children, of which eight survived, the descendants of whom live about the town of Albany today.

The historian Robert Stephens began influencing description of Jimmy Newell’s Harbour from 1935, but it wasn’t until November 1936, a year before Newhill’s wife Elizabeth died, that it was published in one of Stephens’ serialised Albany Advertiser pieces ‘The First Settlement In Western Australia’. As time went on the Albany Advertiser publicly challenged Stephens’s assertions over the spelling but the paper had nothing to back up its own claims, citing ‘long use’ as its defense for the Newhill spelling. Thus, Stephens continued, even recruiting an editorial ally in the Perth papers to support him.

If it were not for one public mention the case against Robert Stephens and the imposition of Jimmy Newell’s Harbour over Jimmy Newhills, which had been in undisturbed practise for over forty years, could be dismissed. However, searches of the West Australian newspaper database prior to 1936 reveal a solitary entry for Jimmy Newell’s Harbour. In September 1886, the Albany Mail published a humorous fictional piece called A True History of the Seige of Albany, in which the author speaks from the future, telling of the arrival in 1890 of two war ships off the coast. A commanding slice of satire, it advocates for the erection of war defences around Albany. Soon after (1897) materialised as The Forts. The writer of this piece isn’t identified but the reference is quite clear and quite specific and quite familiar, as if Jimmy Newell’s Harbour was as well-known at that time as any other place along the coast.

‘A True History of the Seige of Albany’ – Albany Mail and King George Sound Advertiser – 11th September 1886


Despite being wrong, was Robert Stephens right all along? Or was the Mail‘s mention a simple or mischevious case of error?

Whatever the result, Jimmy Newhill appears to have acquired the title by his own means and lived with it for the better part of his Albany life. For forty years the harbour went unquestioned as his, not because it was a mistake, but because it was given to him. Multiple generations of Newhill’s have been trying to keep his memory alive. If it ever was called Newell’s, which does seem likely, it was forgotten as such, erroneously resurrected and still today claimed by no one with a vested interest.





7 responses to “Jimmy’s Harbour – Part 3: Summary & Conclusion”

  1. Marc Avatar

    Your research is amazing. I have been reading a lot of your articles. I live in Albany WA. Are you still living here? I have a lot of interest in the John Anderson (Black Jack) story. But in regards to Jimmy Newell’s harbour, now called just called Newells Harbour on the sign, I was told 40 years ago there was a fisherman/boatman who decided they could not make it around the head because there was a bad storm (I assume a howling easterly) and decided to pull in there instead and that’s why it is called Jimmy Newell’s Harbour. Having seen the place on a big South West swell it wouldn’t offer much shelter unless you got lucky enough to make it past the wave that breaks off the east side. It made some sense to me that this was a one-off retreat and not a regular harbour. The hill isnt much fun to climb. Anyway it could be an unfounded story but I thought I’d share it with you. Thanks for the great research into a neglected part of Australian history.

    1. Avatar

      Hi Marc, thanks for your comments, and thanks for taking the time to read through. Good on you. I am aware of the stranded boatman story but there is no recent memory of it. By that I mean no one living has any memory of that actual incident. It too forms part of the folklore. My feeling is that the story probably belongs to Thomas Noel, the expiree boatman from Galway, Ireland, whose convict sentence came to an end while he was at Albany during the military garrison period. Noel was aboard the Amity when it sailed in and by official account stayed behind. His name was misspelled as Thomas Newell in one document and my belief is that he may have been the man who was a long time sailor and sealer around King George Sound and that he may have been the man whose legend is attached to the harbour. But there is a problem with that. His name wasn’t Jimmy, it was Thomas. Or Tommy, more likely. So, I don’t think we’re any closer to a resolution there, other than to say the name ‘Jimmy’ was very often attached to men of foreign origin, especially working class origin, as with Edward ‘Jimmy’ Newhill. In any case, thanks again for getting in touch and good on you. Oh, and by the way, I don’t live in Albany. I’ve been trying to return for some years now but there is a covid-enhanced administrative hick-up that has left me waiting. Currently I’m in Indonesia. Best wishes…

  2. Likeclick Reward Avatar
    Likeclick Reward

    it is good to know someone else has heard the stranded boatman story. I used to fish around that area as a young teenager (in the 1980s) and I fished with guys who were in their 60s then – who would have heard the story from someone else I guess.

    Your feeling about Thomas Noel is not too far a stretch from that story either. Scots sometimes call each other Jimmy (I think, I’ve heard that but I’m not Scottish) – wikipedia says “(Scotland, informal) A colloquial (potentially unfriendly or disparaging) way of addressing any male whose name is unknown to the speaker.” Now, I remember my grandmother saying how surprised people were in finding convict ancestry in their families as this was always a massive shame to a family and always hushed up. So it would not surprise me if Thomas semi-changed his name to Jimmy and people probably didn’t have much problem calling him Jimmy. Australians never had much of an issue changing names. If you have blond hair you could be called Snowy, Bluey etc and (as you know) Black Jack Anderson’s whose name was John.


  3. Dylan newhill Avatar
    Dylan newhill

    Hi ciaran. My surname is newhill and I’m blown away by this entire piece. I literally remember being a really young kid and hearing very simplified poorly detailed versions from my grand father about how the first ever newhill who was of German descent fled to Western Australia and how newells harbour was actually our jimmy newhills harbour or newhills cove. It’s really sparked my interest in researching our family tree as I haven’t had contact with anyone one on my fathers side(newhill) it’s a very complicated family that began completely distant many years ago. Can you recommend any sources to learn more about my relative jimmy newhill? Thanks.

    1. Avatar

      Hey Dylan, I can’t offer more than what Ive put in to researching Jimmy Newhill already. I think the way forward may be for you to contact relatives in Albany today and start working through the past with them. I am sure they will want to connect. I am always interested in origin stories such as Jimmy Newhill’s, but beyond that it is the private business of the families. Was your grandfather a brother to Martha Newhill/Jackman?

      1.  Avatar

        I would like to contact you Dylan

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