The View From Mount Clarence

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

Whalemen, Jumpships and Albany’s Old Waterfront Precinct

An important off-cut from the Newhill/Newell project – 2019/20

 

Above: Albany’s waterfront precinct  cut from Albany 30A, King George’s Sound as marked by Philip Chauncy, Assistant Surveyor, 1851. Source: State Records Office of W.A.

 

 

AS we have seen from our investigations into 1830s and 1840s Albany, behind the imaginary fascia of the town constructed by the moneyed settlers whose role it was to promote and develop a society in the model of well-to-do Britain, Albany’s pre-eminent locale returned the image of a shabby disreputable waterfront populated by heavy drinking soldiers and mariners, foreign sailors running-off or else frolicking on shore-leave, and an otherwise supportive indigenous element sick and dying while embroiled in seedy prostitution.

This changed and improved to a degree from the 1850s with the expansion caused by appointment of Albany as coaling depot for the intercontinenal passenger steamers, especially those contracted to carry the royal mail,  but what needs to be remembered is that based on population statistics and social make-up, Albany as a micrcosm of coastal colonial Australia was one part church and office to nine parts boat and vice. There are so many stories of excess carried out by whalers coming ashore between Geographe Bay and the South Coast over the 1840s in particular, author Tim Blue’s much needed Whale Hunters of the West carries 240 pages of startling insight.

Of course base morality and talentless dross did not comprise the entire mariner workforce, and by the ten percent whose role it was to develop society in the image of mother Britain, men of calibre and substance who showed up at Albany were soon enough recognised. Whalemen, like any, could also be determined, principled and full of valour; effective tradesmen in the form of carpenters and blacksmiths, coopers, butchers, cooks and clothiers; or even just plain labourers with a decent bit of grit. Some had learned the workings of the early steam-powered machinery used aboard and become mechanics, valuable skills in far-flung towns desperate for qualified labour; at times for any labour at all. In places such as Albany it was not out of the question such men had their ears whispered into. Indeed, the likes of Solomon Cook and Edgar Metcalf were most likely lured into deserting their vessel via the prospect of high wages and a progressive new life, the attractive daughter of an ebullient settler perhaps thrown into the bargain, even though it meant a period of hiding at first.

Whaler desertions certainly contributed to the population of the early colony but to what extent isn’t properly understood, other than that men the likes of Solomon Cook, Charles Tondut, Louis Langoulant, Edgar Metcalf, Jimmy Newhill and Henry Dimer made genuine contributions to the communities they fell in with. Many, if not most jumpships simply hopped aboard another vessel and vanished while a few, such as Frank Henke (a mate of Dimer’s who also jumped from the Platina) sadly and tragically perished in the process of misunderstanding the scale and dangers of the territory they were in, while trying to find a way out.

What we can say is that the number of desertions almost certainly decreased with the lowering number of whalers visiting the area. American whaling ships reported in Western Australian waters went from zero to at least 80 in the five years 1836 to 1841, only to drop back to under ten over the next five years. After that numbers regained to an average of around twenty per year until the mid 1860s, during which oil prices continued to fall and the American Civil War took its toll on the number of vessels available. Soon after, numbers halved, then halved again to around five (the Tucker ships). By the late 1880s enough was enough and the Americans stopped coming altogether.

As for those who already lived in the area, the industry provided regular seasonal labour. In 1848 Albany had a population of 428, of which roughly 300 were male, of which roughly 200 were of working age. Around ten percent of these men/boys became seasonally employed by local whaling interests during that decade. However, and this is important, the men who were employed by the whaling parties tended not to be from resident families, but were transient. Because open boat whaling was difficult it required skill and experience which was mostly to be found among the many American deserters who bought time in and around Albany.  This makes the number of  truly local workers engaged with the industry smaller still. By the 1860s the figure had doubled to around 40 men per season. Still not much, especially given the population growth driven by establishment of the coaling depot from 1850, but then Albany’s progress was never exponential. Indeed, the more one delves into the story of old Albany the clearer it becomes how limited the place was. Albany was a small and remote village, bereft of fresh water and quality agricultural land, giving far greater impression by way of mark on a map than its visual reality. The views were great on a fine day and the harbour welcome to storm tossed shipping, but it’s no wonder almost everyone who visited was disappointed. Without prior knowledge the place was set up to counter expectation, the grand title ‘King George Sound’ playing no small role.

According to the research, shore whaling in Western Australia evolved on a much smaller scale than it did in the more advanced economies of the eastern colonies whose individual stations were triple to four times the capacity of the typical South Coast effort, and though there were at least ten different sites from which boats were launched and oil was rendered between Torbay and Cape Arid, there were never more than three operating in any one season. So, while the the number of persons and parties and the value of each investment and return was small by comparison, it is the fifty year period over which the practise took place that is of social consequence, and this because the people who funded and drove the continuation from year to year were a handful of dedicated individuals; Albany’s settlers of last resort. Combine this with the substantial Indigenous component who helped make up the work force and we also catch glimpse of the integration of the Menang into maritime Albany. Nebinyan, one of the most familar Menang of the era, acquired the nickname Bony, short for Bonepart (and most probably an ironic play on his large barrel-chested figure) because he is reckoned to have spent time aboard a French whaler (l’Harmonie) which visited Albany in 1838 and returned in 1840. And he wasn’t the only one to join the ships. Two Menang sailed to Mauritious (Isle de France) most likely aboard the Emma Sherrat  in 1848, returning in 1850, where they ‘took off the French manner and immitated the French language well’.

 

Above: The Mr Owen  named in the excerpt here was the South Australian businessman and politician William Owen who owned the Arpentuer and a contentious half share in the brig Emma Sherratt, built at Torbay for Thomas Brooker Sherratt of Albany.  The Arpentuer sailed to Isle de France in 1847 and the Emma Sherrat the following year. Incidentally, it was the Arpenteur which brought Wylie the gun  John Eyre sent him from New Zealand in 1848. The script above reads as follows; “Two natives who had been taken by Mr Owen to the Isle France on their return took off the French manner and immitated the French language well, were received by their relations. . .” Image: Excerpt from a report by J.R. Phillips, sub-Guadian of Aborigines at Albany to the Colonial Secretary, November 1850. Source: Phillips Letter Book

 

Those Albany settlers of last resort who were tied to the maritime trade before anything else consisted of the following:

Thomas Brooker Sherrat who in 1836 was the first Albany man to get involved.  We have covered the difficult story of Sherrat’s time at Albany in various earlier posts. He was rich, pompous, pious, contradictory and vocal, as well as unpopular and picked upon. He ended up losing his sanity and closing out his days a lonely recluse. His son Thomas Sherrat Jnr is reputed to have begun whaling from age 16. Records show Thomas Sherrat whaling from 1849 all the way thru to 1879, though not consistently. From at least 1860 he was owning and/or managing operations, thereby employing many men over the course of his career. His earliest operations centred around King George Sound but he also set up at Cheyne Beach and Cape Arid during the 1870s. Tom Sherrat married Emma Jenkins, sister to John McKail’s wife Henrietta, also sister to Elizabeth Jenkins who married Thomas Meadows Gillam, father of William Jenkins Gillam who was part owner of the Albany barque Islander and who also became American Consul at Albany from 1877, as such playing a visible role in the story of Jimmy Newhill’s arrival and remaining at Albany from 1883.

Sherratt – Thomas
1849 CB – Thomas, J
1857 KGS owner Sherratt, T
1860 – owner Sherratt, T
1861 KGS owner Sherratt, T
1862 KGS owner Sherratt, T
1863 KGS owner/headsman? Sherratt, T
1864 – owner Sherratt, T
1865 KGS owner/headsman? Sherratt, T
1870 CB – Sherratt, T
1871 EC owner Sherratt, T
1872 EC owner/headsman Sherratt, T
1879 SthCst owner/headsman Sherratt, T
The KGS location recorded is Barker Bay. Although Sherratt not mentioned specifically, the KGS/BB station was
operating 1866-69. Son of Thomas Booker Sherratt. Started whaling at age 16 (see obituary in BL .PR 3205).

 

The McKenzies are another old Albany family whose Scottish ancestry is steeped in seafaring. The family arrived into King George Sound on the family ship The Brothers, which they had sailed from New Foundland right down the guts of the Atlantic and across into the Indian Ocean from there. They pulled in en-route to New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land (possibly even New Zealand) because the old man, Captain Hugh McKenzie Senior (an old Caithness Legionaire) was dying. The ship had ten McKenzie families aboard, those of the sons and daughters of the old captain. The families stayed in Albany until the old man died in January, 1841, and then Hugh McKenzie (jnr) sailed them east, sold the ship in Hobart and came back to Albany with another vessel (I think) and enough money to buy into the hotel business, go into sea transport and start bay whaling. Hugh’s brother John stayed behind as well, I think because they were married to sisters and the two couples had decided to stay together regardless, but also because they found a strong Scottish community in place at the Sound and in it they saw opportunity.

Working out the McKenzies gets confusing (to the point the names are almost interchangable) because there are multiple generations of a broad family who each used the names John and Hugh. Hugh McKenzie’s name is most associated with local whaling endeavours while John’s is closly linked to the running of the pub.  Records show the brothers bought the Ship Inn from John McKail and became involved in whaling from the 1860s. Hugh’s youngest son, Cuthburt McKenzie, became attached to whaling from a very early age, then involved himself in Albany’s commerce and civil issues over many years, to the extent he became mayor, holding down the elected position for over a decade between 1910 and 1922.

McKenzie – Hugh
1861 T owner/headsman McKenzie, H
1862 CB owner/headsman McKenzie, H
1863 DIB owner/headsman McKenzie, H
1864 – owner McKenzie, H
1865 DIB owner/headsman McKenzie, H
1866 DIB owner/headsman McKenzie, H
1867 DIB owner/headsman McKenzie, H
McKenzie – John
1870 CpR owner McKenzie, J
McKenzie – Cuthbert
1870 CpR – McKenzie, J
1872 CpR owner/headsman? McKenzie, C
1875 – owner McKenzie, C

 

John Thomas was another prominent local whaler but his story is less well known. According to The Memories of Captain J. J. Sale, an important anecdotal account of early Albany during the whaling and coal depot years (published in The West Austrlalian 7-3-1936), Sale recalls seeing up to a dozen American whalers anchored between the inner and outer harbours at a single time. John Thomas appears to have been a Tasmanian whaler who came out west and established at Albany. The records aren’t categoric but Thomas appears to have married Fanny Davis in 1847 and had three daughters, all of whom were born at Albany and who married there. Records show Thomas whaled almost continuously between 1846 and 1867 at Cheyne Beach, and it is this site which Martin Gibbs chose to excavate for the achaeological thesis which gave rise to his doctorate. Thomas’s first venture was in partnership with Solomon Cook, a very well known American deserter who jumped from the Dismount in 1837 and ended-up contributing much to his adopted Western Australia, in Albany first but later at York. Captain Sale’s memoir is important as he says he worked for Thomas himself (1866/67) at Cheyne Beach, saying Thomas ‘taught all the boys the whaling business, the Sherrats . . . and Mr Cuthbert McKenzie.’

Thomas – John
1846 CB owner Thomas, Cook & Craigie
1847 CB owner Thomas, J
1849 CB chief headsman/owner Thomas, J
1852 CB – Thomas, J
1854 CB – Thomas, J
1855 CB owner Thomas, J
1861 CB headsman/owner Thomas, J
1862 MI headsman/owner Thomas, J
1863 CB headsman/owner Thomas, J
1864 CB owner Thomas, J
1865 CB headsman/owner Thomas, J
1866 CB headsman/owner Thomas, J
1867 CB headsman/owner Thomas, J
Probably consistently at Cheyne Beach, although not specifically mentioned some years.

 

Captain Nehemiah Harding Fisher is also mentioned in Sale’s memoir. This man originally came to Albany aboard the American whaler Catherine and took a fancy to the place. Some years later he returned under his own volition and commenced to work the shore-based stations, first as headsman for Tom Sherrat at King George Sound in 1862, then for others including Hugh McKenzie and John Thomas. Fisher ran his own operations at Cheyne Beach in 1871 and 1872. He married Jane Morton/Mottram and had two daughters born at Albany, Catherine and Mary, who married into the Gorman and Permain families respectively.

Fisher Nehemiah H. (Capt.) American
1862 KGS headsman Sherratt, T
1863 DIB headsman McKenzie, H
1865 DIB headsman McKenzie, H
1866 DIB headsman McKenzie, H
1867 CB headsman Thomas, J
1870 CpR – McKenzie, J
1871 CB headsman/owner Fisher, N.H
1872 CB owner Fisher, N.H
1877 CB wh. master (headsman?) Bruce, J.R. & Bruce,
1879 EC headsman Cowden, J & Breece,
Initially visited as capt of US whaler Katrine/Catherine in early 1860s. Returned from New Bedford. See also
WA7/3/1936, AA 25/7/1929, Erikson 1054

 

Last of the multiple year station operators were John Green and W. Cooper but I can find nothing sufficient about either to elaborate, except their focus was the so-called East Coast station at Cape Arid, which might suggest the men were otherwise engaged at Esperence or in the pastoral industry thereabouts.

Green – John W.
1874 EC headsman/owner Green J.W. – GG 2/6/74
1875 EC headsman/owner Green J.W. y GG 8/6/75
1878 EC owner Green, J & Cooper W. – GG 4/6/78
1879 EC owner Green, J & Cooper W. – GG16/5/79

 

William Henry Barrett wasn’t an owner but according to records he was the most regularly hired employee along the South Coast. We discovered in Part 1 of this story (relative to the Newells of Albany) that he was second husband to Jane Teanan (daughter of Teanan and Jem Newell), who had previously been married to Jacob Wright. William Barrett and Jane Teanan/Wright  were married in November, 1874. Barrett was an expiree who (according to Erickson) arrived aboard the Runnymeade in 1856 and made his way to Albany. He whaled between 1861 and 1878, graduating to headsman as he moved between the Sherrat, Fisher, McKenzie and Green/Cooper operations. He was a brickmaker in the early 1880s who appears to have died either in 1885 or 1886 under unknown circumstances aged about 60, setting Jane Teanan/Wright/Barrett on her way to marrying her third husband, Thomas Fox, a year or so later.

Barrett – William
1861 Torbay, hand, McKenzie
1863 DIB hand McKenzie,
1865 KGS hand Sherratt,
1871 CB headsman Fisher,
1872 EC boat steerer Sherratt,
1874 EC headsman Green J.W.
1875 – headsman McKenzie,
1878 EC headsman Green, J & Cooper W.

 

One local whaler worthy of extended mention here was Edgar Metcalfe, another jumpship, who interrupted the marriage of  Isabella McKenzie (eldest daughter of  the above described Hugh McKenzie) to her Scottish husband John Rufus Bruce. Metcalfe wasn’t a prominent shore-whaler, on the contrary he makes just a single appearance in the records. But Metcalfe came as a whaler and (eventually) married into the McKenzies. In fact, he was a natural engineer, a blacksmith by trade and a talented early machinist to boot. The story of Edgar Metcalfe belongs very much within the heart of this history (not just the whaling history here, but the entire back story carried through these pages), because of the fundementally human nature of all that occurred in his life journey. It is a sad and tragic tale in as much as it is heroic and beautiful. A story of loves lost and won, of triumph and tragedy, of illness, addiction and suicide, of skill, intellect, ambition and accident.

Metcalfe was born in Maryland, Virginia, in 1826. Aged 24, he was hired as blacksmith aboard the whaler Draco which sailed in 1851. Metcalfe jumped at Albany as early as the ship’s first visit to the Sound in April the following year; though the Draco was in and about the South Coast for at least the next twelve months. Within a couple of years he had ‘built a little boat, about 13 tons’, ‘done a little blacksmithing’, and was the only person within about 300 miles that ‘makes any pretentions toward machinery’. By 1857 he looks to have completed the landing stages at Breaksea Island for construction of the lighthouse. The dates dont exactly add up in the notes I have (not the original letters) but by that time he had also been ‘living in the woods by the King River’ having been awarded contracts to build bridges over it, the (upper) Kalgan and the Hay. The Kalgan contract saw him team up with Cheyne who provided supporting finance as Cheyne was desperate to get overland transport happening eastwards along the coast. By 1858 Metcalfe had his own blacksmith shop and was busy ‘doing all kinds of work’, having made ‘a four horse wagon’ and ‘all kinds of agricultural implements’. He had also been contracted by Chyene to build or assemble his flour mill on the corner of Spencer and Frederick streets, and claims he was offered a government position at £200 per annum as Assistant Surveyor. Metcalf also tendered for the repair of York Street which was suffering under increased traffic caused by the relative boom conditions provided by the coal depot appointment. York Street was described at the time as a series of swamps and gullies. The tender valued the work at £300 subject to provision of 90 days by 15 men convict labour and supervision there-of. (See detail from Albany History Collection research notes on Metcalf drawn up in 1966 between Rhoda Glover and Robert Stephens – IRS/50M/6)

 

Above: Edgar Metcalfe’s story illustrates the connectedness of Albany’s intrepid coastal rangers, singling out the McKenzies and Sherrats as pioneer shore-whalers, sealers and Sandalwood cutters. Social links tied the small community together by way of marriage too, the McKail, McKenzie, Cheyne/Moir Scots association clearly evident. Image: Undated, unverified portrait of Edgar Metcalfe probably very close to the end of his extraordinary though truncated life journey. Source: Rhoda Glover research file from Albany History Collection IRS/50M/6.

 

 

So Metcalf was not only capable and industrious, he inspired confidence. Probably, he was charismatic. His letters back to America suggest he was understated in an outgoing fashion and an (unverified) photograph of him certainly shows a handsome and proud figure.  Against the backdrop of Metcalfe’s arrival at Albany lies the story of yet another moneyed Scott seeking a new life in Albany. This man was John Rufus Bruce who had arrived in his mid-twenties during 1849 and thereupon associated himself with the McKenzies. In 1849 Hugh McKenzie’s eldest daughter Isabella turned nineteen and a sort of romance blossomed, but Bruce had a troubled background. The full story requires more work, suffice to say he had burned down (one of) his family’s homes and left the country rather than face the consequences. Probably a nephew of the McKenzies, Bruce had enough money (or family leverage) to acquire the Ship Inn, which he did (according to Erickson) more or less on arrival. So, Isabella McKenzie and John Rufus Bruce were married on Boxing Day, 1850, and immediately commenced a family. The marriage survived for around 15 years during which time six or seven children were born, the eldest, John Bruce Jnr, falling in the with the McKenzie whaling and seafaring tradition. Then, around 1864 Isabella McKenzie/Bruce met Edgar Metcalfe and very soon after a daughter, Virginia, was born. The Bruce marriage abruptly ended and the new couple moved out of town to start life at ‘Cambellup’ where more children were born (registered in Kojonup) while John Bruce appears to have fallen into a state of depression and perhaps alcoholism. In 1870 and 1872 Isabella’s eldest, the teenage whaler John Bruce Jnr, undertook his first season with Cuthbert McKenzie at Cape Riche. In 1875 he was headsman for John Green at Cape Arid, and in 1877 he formed a shore-whaling partnership under his own name at Cheyne Beach. Back in 1872 however, the Bruces and Metcalfes and McKenzies were met with the news that John Rufus, aged just 47 years, had taken his own life. The Ship Inn then looks to have fallen into disrepair until around 1878 when it was taken up by George Green and apparently refurbished. In the meantime Metcalfe and Isabella McKenzie had continued their out-of-wedlock union well out of sight. Metcalfe is believed to have worked with William Henry Graham for a period, Graham having by that time married John McKail’s daughter Emma. But Metcalfe had business interests in Albany that he was tied to. In 1877 he was cited as landlord of the Weld Arms Hotel. Together, Edgar and Isabella had their own family, raising at least five children under the Metcalfe surname. In 1878, when their youngest child was just four years old Edgar Metcalfe was working on a saw mill which looks to have belonged to George Egerton Warburton at St Werburgh’s near Mount Barker. An accident occurred and Metcalf was badly cut. The wound went gang-green quickly and within a few weeks at just 52 years of age he died. 48 year-old Isabella McKenzie by then had a brood of 13 children, three of whom sadly had not survived, yet four of whom were still eleven years old and younger. Her eldest son, the shore-whaler John Bruce Jnr, became a coastal sailor and contracted cutter and shipper of Sandalwood out of the wheatbelt  (giving his name to Bruce Rock in the process), provided for her during these years. John Bruce remained working for Drew Robsinson when it took over McKail & Co. around 1888 when McKail’s estate was finally settled enough to allow it. Isabella McKenzie did not remarry and passed away in 1890, aged 60 years. There are many descendants of Isabella McKenzie in Western Australia today. (Thanks to Esther Train, daughter of John Bruce Jnr for her family history document dated Dec, 1970, which may be found using the spydus search function at Albany History Collection – MD2004.539.1)

The following list comprises the most active Menang whalers of this time.

Hansome – Jack (alt Ansum, Hansom, Handson, Hanson) Aboriginal?
1861 T boat steerer McKenzie,
1862 MI boat steerer Thomas,
1863 DIB boat steerer McKenzie,
1865 DIB boat steerer McKenzie,
1866 CB boat steerer Thomas,
1867 DIB hand McKenzie, H
1871 CB boat steerer Fisher,
1872 EC boat steerer Sherratt,
1874 EC boat steerer Green J.W.
1875 EC boat steerer Green J.W.
1877 CB boat steerer Bruce, J.R. & Bruce,
1878 EC boat steerer Green, J & Cooper W.

 

Hardy – Jack (alt Hardey) Aboriginal
1861 KGS hand Sherratt, T
1862 CB hand McKenzie,
1865 DIB hand McKenzie,
1866 DIB hand McKenzie,
1872 EC hand Sherratt,
1877 CB hand Bruce, J.R. & Bruce, 
Also reported working for Thomas at CB (date unknown) (WM 10/2/1927). Came with his mother from Hobart in a wh. ship captained by Thomas (WM 10/2/1929)

 

Nebinyan (alt Nepenyan, alias Boney) Aboriginal
1862 MI hand Thomas, J
1863 DIB hand McKenzie, H
1866 CB hand Thomas, J
1867 CB hand Thomas, J
1871 EC hand Sherratt, T
1877 CB hand Bruce, J.R. & Bruce, J.
Nuterwert – Rattler (alias Rattler, alias Nutermut) Aboriginal
1861 T hand McKenzie,
1862 MI hand Thomas,J
1865 DIB hand McKenzie, H
1866 DIB hand McKenzie, H
1867 DIB hand McKenzie,
1872 CB hand Fisher, N.H.
1874 EC hand Green J.W.
1875 EC hand Green J.W.
Screechowl
1866 CB hand Thomas,
1867 DIB hand McKenzie, H
1874 EC hand Green J.W.
Taylor – Dicky (alias Dickey?) Aboriginal?
1861 T hand McKenzie, H
1862 MI hand Thomas, J
1863 CB hand Thomas, J
1865 DIB hand McKenzie, H
1866 DIB hand McKenzie, H
1871 EC hand Sherratt, T
1872 CB hand Fisher, N.H.
1875 EC hand Green J.W.

 

Shipping, Sealing & Whaling, and Coaling Together – How the old town foreshore found its feet

 

So we can say that South Coast whaling found its feet during the tumultuous 1840s and continued in its own fashion for many years to come. From 1850, or thereabouts, it doubled with the coal bunkering era at Albany to substantially increase not only the shipping traffic but the necessary infrastructure ashore needed to cope with it. In the context of the entire Australian seaboard at the time Albany did not compare to the likes of Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart, not even Launceston given its proximity to much larger markets, but it did outstrip Fremantle. Not by way of value as Perth was by far the larger market, but way of traffic, and for a while the town was able to hang its hat on this.

So, after about fifteen years of benefitting from regular sail-driven American shipping concerned with whaling, Albany then became a coaling depot for very large ocean-going steamships whose primary business was not passenger transfer (though it did that in larger numbers than ever before) but the carrying of mail between Britain and the Australian colonies. And here it is that we at last see King George Sound benefitting from the logic its geography afforded, the decision of the British owned and managed shipping companies to coal at Albany sending shock waves through the Perth establishment as Perth realised for the second time that establishing along an open coast without river access held significant negative consequence.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the significance of the establishment of the coaling and mail depots at Albany. . .  During the 1840s Albany had been a small and rather insignificant port settlement whose main existence had been in catering to passing ships and the declining whaling industry. When the 1850s began, Albany appeared to have little future.

 

. . . her selection as mail and coal port was to give her a new existence and an importance which went far beyond the shores of Western Austalia. The 1860s and 1870s were to be a period of quiet stability and slow but steady growth. . .

 

. . . after 1852. . .  (Albany’s) existence  and subsistence relied upon her convenient locality and the excellence of her harbour which made her eminently suitable as a port.

 

Apart from the mail vessels, Albany had little economic activity, and without them would have declined into obscurity. As was remarked in 1869, Not much is ever heard of King George’s Sound, and if it were given up as a coaling depot for the P&O Company, its existence would very probably be forgotten out of Australia.’ Possession of the steamer port enabled Albany to once again become the busiest port in Western Australia in terms of number of ships, far outstripping Fremantle from 1857.

 

(Excerpts from Garden, Albany: A Panorama of the Sound)

 

Albany comes in for significant ridicule during this era, mocked by visitors who expected more and denigrated and defamed by the Perth newspapers for failing to make itself neither more presentable nor more industrious. In any case, we contine. Certainly, shore-based whaling appears to have inherited the non-discriminatory approach toward pay as the Quakers instilled aboard ship. That is, pay rates were determined by way of task, not race or social status. Much work has been done by professor Martin Gibbs on the subject of maritme archeaology and on the role of Noongar whalers of this time, and we have seen through these pages how many of the Albany Aborigines (the King George Men of the 1840s to 1870s) were valued for their skills and participated in this industry on an equal footing. The employment and attraction of the South Coast also drew non-indigenous participants from far and wide. One example was the previously described Nehemiah Fisher, who came to the South Coast as leading hand aboard the Catherine in 1858.

Much has been made of the smaller-scale trade American ships captains engaged with in coastal communities such as Bunbury, Bussleton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Albany and Cape Riche, even though the extent of it made little overall economic contribution. Nonetheless, in exchange for fresh produce, mostly potatoes and peas, kangaroo meat, water and wood, the Americans traded hardware such as axes, hammers and nails, clothing and material, and dried foods, as well as alcohol and likely firearms, powder and ammunition (see Gibbs 2000). There was also a spin-off for the local police who were rewarded for capturing deserters.

By 1873 Albany had addressed the legal issue surrounding non-British citizens deserting ships by appointing a U.S. Consul, a paid position whose role was intended to aid the captains while they were in port. The Albany man given this job was William Jenkins Gillam, sister to Henrietta Gillam and nephew of John McKail. Gillam was an energetic and enthusiastic member of Albany’s committed business community and held the role until 1884 when he was drawn toward opportunities in Newcastle, NSW, where he eventually moved his family to in 1887. The same year he was appointed American Consul, Gillam had gone into business with William Grills Knight and William Henry Graham, respective husbands of his cousins Ann and Emma McKail, to buy and fit-out (at a cost of £4500) the ex-American whaler Islander, which we will see was active during the period Jimmy Newhill was aboard Bartholomew Gosnold as she cruised off-shore.  Islander was the only locally owned off-shore whaling vessel of the pre-engine-driven era.

John McKail died in 1871, aged 60 years, and it seems his children were beginning to benefit from their suitable marriages along with his sizable, although complicated, estate. McKail had many business interests, one of the most profitable being the export of sandalwood out of Albany from 1850, apparently largely via the services of Adelaide’s Captain William Davidson, whose boats Hawk (Omagh) and Emily Smith,  traded (partially) on McKail’s behalf between China, India, Singapore, Java and Adelaide, returning with tea, sugar and other commodities which McKail sold through his warehouse and retail store. (See Reflections on the McKail History by Cecily McKail and related documents held at Albany History Collection.) The Emily Smith was a mainstay element of South Coast transport, mostly plying between Albany and Adelaide until she was disastrously lost off Kangaroo Island on 15th May, 1877. Thomas Penny, perhaps related to Charles Beach Penny, drowned on this voyage, along with about 30 other (mostly South Australian) passengers and (Malay) crew who had boarded at Princess Royal Harbour, after the ship was blown onto rocks and broke-up in a matter of minutes. C.B Penny was an Englishman who became grandfather to the Noongar Penny family of Katanning. He looks to have made his way from Geographe Bay to Cape Riche, home of George Cheyne who may have been a business partner, after a joint whaling enterprise went broke in 1846. It appears Penny found work as a shepherd in the upper Pallinup or Gordon River area where be began his family.  (Note: There is a Thomas Penny of  the Barossa Valley, Sth Australia, evident in the records of this time.)

The King George Sound whaler Islander appears to have been attached in some way to a consortium of Hobart based vessels from an ownership or organisational perspective, probably related to oil market access, but records show she was very active in the Albany area. Naturally enough, being her adopted home port. According to Gibbs 2010, Islander‘s owners did not allow her to engage with any shore-based companies. By 1876 there was talk of more whalers being bought recommissioned out of New Bedford and set to work along the South Coast, the people behind it drafting a prospectus under the King George Sound Whaling Company. Gibbs also points out how far the town had come along in a financial context, citing the difficulty in raising £400 for a whaling venture in 1836 versus a prospectus in search of £12 000 to £20 000 forty years later. The core of this optimism was the repeated apparent success of whaling around Albany over that period. The town’s familiarity with the industry by that stage was indisputable as it was the only locality along Western Australia’s entire coast line involved with it.

Nothing became of the KGS Whaling Co. and for a time, as all shore-based stations had ceased activity by the the end of the 1870s, whaling became no more than a sporadic exercise whenever suitable opportunity arose, such as in 1882 when a couple of whales came in to Princess Royal Harbour and were set upon in what Gibbs 2010 (pg. 27) termed  ‘a form of traditional practice amongst the Albany martime community.‘  In effect this ‘traditional’ act was the last breath of the open whaleboat era as performed by local outfits. Six years later, the last of the Tucker ships, Canton and Platina, set sail for the final time and no more were there wind driven whalers, open boat chases, nor American whalemen about the Sound. Both the whaling and coaling eras had closed and as focus shifted to the railway, the jetty fell into relative quietitude for almost 25 years until fully mechanised engine-driven Norwegian whalers drew in and the industry was revived at a more modern level, giving rise ultimately to the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company which continued all the way to 1978.

Over the entire period, as Albany’s spirit and industry rose and fell upon the undulations of a much wider economic swell, its high-minded business leaders, utterly stuck on the magnificence of her outer harbour and the notion of superior geographic location (as exemplified by the apointment of the town as an international coaling depot) sought to promote Albany as the colony’s defrauded leading settlement, and as such the voice of the 1883 established Albany Mail and King George Sound Advertiser was loud and haughty. Set up in premises on Stirling Terrace it was implicit upon the paper to champion Albany and in doing so had no choice but to pit itself against Perth’s political and economic might as voiced by its own papers The Inquirer (run by James Stirling’s sons and foreruner to the Daily News) and the Perth Gazette (forerunner to The West Australian.) And herein lies the crux of early Albany’s perpetual dilema; the cry of its seeking to be heard voice versus its economic and social impotence. That is, the failure of anyone or anything belonging to Albany to draw new blood and new wealth and new energy into the locality sufficient to make a determining difference.

Across the history of Australia, never was there room for a competing capital in any colony, state or territory. Once Stirling won approval over Major Lockyer for the Swan River to become base for his western colony (1827), there was no turning back. Ever. And it seems old Albany resented this, settlers the ilk of Patrick Taylor appearing to have sat back expecting more and more investors to arrive, but who never did, while understanding the reason for this was its hinterland failing by way of fertility. Something Charles Darwin had pointedly noted in his diary when he visited aboard the Beagle in 1836. The Henty family exodus of the 1830s, predicated upon the reality of poor soil fertility, was compounded by Edward John Eyre’s great intercolonial droving venture falling flat on its face after Kojonup threw-up its poison bush in 1840, and that was it. From an agricultural perspective King George Sound was a non-runner and as a result few outside investors found their way in. Without having been first choice from the beginning there was insufficient impetus for Albany to grow beyond the rate at which it did, and the tag ‘Sleepy Hollow’ was justifiably attached. At least from the Perth contingent who still perceived a threat.

But yet those who did come to Albany, for whatever personal reason, tried.  The enigmatic identity of Chris Ashwell among them. As if speaking to the world at large (or even appealing to the great Lord above), Ashwell was the personal voice and energy behind the Albany Mail and its stirring editorials. Self-assertive and demanding of its population it was as proud and ambitious as any colonial-era paper going. Ashwell owned the majority of shares in the parent printing company and ran the newspaper until it was purchased in a surprise move in September 1889 by the proprietors of the competing Australian Advertiser (soon after to become the Albany Advertiser). The coming railway was a major issue at this time and Ashwell refused to give his paper’s support to Lance De Hamel, another blow-in who had taken up in opposition to the W.A. Land Company’s choice of route. De Hamel was also co-proprietor of the Australian Advertiser (set up as competitor to the Mail in order to drive De Hamel’s quest for mayoral election) and by way of some force or other pursuaded Ashwell to let go of his concern and allow it be subsumed by the Advertiser. Which is what came to pass, and with it came the elbowing into retirement of one of Albany’s short-lived but nonetheless influential collaborations by another. As  Christopher James Ashwell bounced out of Albany’s newspaper and business history, Lance Victor De Hamel swallow-dived in.

By commencement of the 1880s the well-being of Albany’s whaling-based trade had been determined by the flow of American ships and their crews in-to and out-of King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour for near enough to half a century. The 1840s being truly dramatic to the small number of influential settlers in this regard, the evidence being crystal clear in the writing of that decade. As displayed in Nairne Clarke’s letter, for example, the drama and excitement, the angst, was palpable. Albany’s fortunes then rolled with the punches as the decades slipped by, rising and falling as circumstance drew then withdrew shipping favour, but by the time Jimmy Newhill’s whaler Bartholomew Gosnold found fortune in the waters off King George Sound in 1883, it is evident Princess Royal Harbour was a high functioning, well practised Australian port. Though the coaling era was in decline too whaling had become well established, albeit on a smaller scale than anticipated, and the Town Jetty was the focal point. The houses, hotels and drinking establishments which had gathered within easy reach of it, along with the merchants and government buildings up on the terrace behind, comprised a fundamental interconnectedness through which all of local social consequence did travel.

Was it any wonder the rows of houses lined along the foreshore below the Terrace were the most densley assembled and populated? Was it any wonder the post office, customs house and judicial facilities held a direct line of sight down to the Town Jetty? Was it any wonder the notorious Ship Inn, awarded a public licence in 1835 and situated at lot B15, literally the foot of the Town Jetty, became the watering hole of both the transient and domiciled mariner brigades across the entire period?

No, of course not.

 

Above: An 1881 rear-view of a dilapidated looking Ship Inn (circled), first port of call for many of the whalers who came ashore at Albany, most likely including Jimmy Newhill who arrived just two years after this historic photograph was taken. The Ship Inn was born of excess and looks to have become gross contributor to the introduction of alcoholism and disease to the Menang. Established in 1835 by Sergeant Philip Baker of the notoriously heavy drinking 21st Regiment it was his original family home. Baker died of alcohol related illness in Perth after losing the pub in 1836 to John McKail by means unknown. Possibly by way of a legitimate transaction, possibly in a bet. During the 1830s and 1840s, The Ship Inn was haunt of Albany’s fringe criminals, including Bob Gamble, John Bailey Pavey, Black Jack Anderson, and the inimical John McKail himself. In october, 1836, while carousing at the Ship Inn, Bob Gamble was charged with assault on a woman who accused him of moving in with Black Jack Anderson’s defacto partner Dorothy Newell while Anderson was away. By the end of the year Black Jack was dead on Mondrain Island and Gamble nowhere to be found, until (probably) arriving back in Albany aboard John Hassell’s charter out of Hobart, Rhoda, which called in on her way to England and during which Hassell decided the Albany area was to be his future place of living. It seems Hassell and Gamble were well enough known to each other by this time and stayed associates for decades afterwards.  Image: Looking northward down the old Town Jetty toward the government building (customs house, post office & court house) and overlooking grand houses of the southern flank of Mount Clarence, The Ship Inn is in poor condition here, lending creedence to the suggestion it was substantially renovated, if not rebuilt. Source: This copy from John Dowson’s Old Albany photograph book, pg 57. Original by  H.J. Sivyer, 1881.

 

Above: Not just a link to the mail ship era of the 1850s to 1870s, The Ship Inn was among the very first premises to be granted a public licence, having been in operation from around 1834 when it looks as if it was still the home of Sergeant Philip Baker of the 21st Regiment. Ownership of the drinking house passed to John McKail more or less upon his arrival at Albany in 1836 and was then sold to the McKenzie brothers who were deeply involved in the South Coast’s shore-based whaling exploits, which co-incided with the coal-bunkering/mail ship era of the 1850s through to the late 1870s. From 1849 The Ship Inn was owned by the husband of Isabella McKenzie, John Bruce, who died by suicide in 1872. It seems the establishment fell into disrepair then until the late 1880s when it was taken up by George Andrews Green. Image: Frontage to The Ship Inn as approached from Stirling Terrace (the north side). The photograph is undated, though appears to be taken after recent upgrade. The establishment was mourned in an 1959 edition of the Albany Advertiser upon news of its demolition. Source: Albany Advertiser, 7th April, 1959. Courtesy, Albany History Collection. The article accompanying this photograph is below.

 

 

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The Soul of Old Albany?

 

Collectively, the toil, craft and sheer commercial energy the shipping business generated came to forge a distinct corner of the essence or spirit of old Albany, and whaling played a key part. The geography of this activity is centred upon the waterfront in the region of the railway station, old town jetty and old government buildings, an area adjacent to and presided over by the merchants of Stirling Terrace. Together, over time, these elements formed a web of sea-facing humanity woven upon the southern and western foot slopes of Mount Clarence; the height of which grants all who make the effort to climb there a grand panorama. Inland, coastal and oceanic, the view from Mount Clarence is a bounteous spectacle and far greater still when imbued with the perspective of time.

By soul I mean collective spirituality, an all-inclusive emotional strength. The Menang experience goes far beyond the life of the town itself, and if anything the approaching two hundred year anniversary of settlement at Albany represents more of a modern experience in that regard. The Menang were there on arrival and lived through the horrors and exhilaration of colonisation as inflicted Albany style. And the Menang remain today, more finely woven into the social and political fabric of the town than most realise. The Menang experience brings emphasis to the collective multi-generational whole-of-life experience by which we can attempt to define the soul of a place, as they saw most of the pain and suffering. The proposal for a Menang cultural centre down at the waterfront should be met with approval, though I would question the use of modern design and construction materials and would encourage a bush-like environment to surround it. The entire waterfont area at the moment is barren of mood, its structural and cultural heritage lost to concrete, steel and almost inconsequential use of bland plaques and signage. The feel for what it once was has long been lost.

The soul of an old town does not constitute the macro elucidation assumed by today’s life of comparative ease, but I suppose it does include it. The soul of an old town comprises the experiences of the great many, and the great many were of everyday making. And of that great many who participated in the hardships and successes surrounding the fifty year American whaling period are worthy of our attention. Their experiences were as ordinary and timeless as the harbour’s storms, squalls, rain and drizzle so evident from the surrounding heights, as much as the brilliance of the sunshine and warmth and that impossible stillness of sky, land and water which greets the eyes on certain pristine mornings. The slow, endless debilitating tedium counts too, and Albany is so very well acquainted with that, as much as the taste of adventure and speed of success some were and still are met with. Soulfulness recognizes difficulty, it understands fear and pain, forbearance, resignation and capitulation; the failings of all those consumed by the process of life and who fell by the way, as John Bruce did, and the Newell’s, even if the Newells managed to get up again only to leave. All of that, however, in equal measure to the positivity and creative efforts of those who came full of strength, optimism and personal power enough to stay the course, such as the McKails and McKenzies, to gain some more and go on to shape outcomes visible in the old photographs and in the streets of today. Victory and glory dont come for free and soulfulness knows this too. And between those extremes it even pauses to notice the journeymen, those like Ashwell, who came and saw and somehow, somewhere, left their mark; before moving on to whatever and wherever comes next.

From the mid 1830s, for over fifty years, American supported bay and shore-whaling established a relationship with Albany that pressed on again, under its own self-drive, all the way to 1978. This is seen in the form of Albany’s Whaling Museum today, though more subtley through the constant online presentation of photographs and stories by many local families unified by persisting memories of the last days of the Cheyne Beach Whaling Co. and by the involvement of their fathers and friends of their fathers in that company’s activities. Albany has not forgotten the presence of the whalers tied up at the old Town Jetty. They are indelible images pressed upon the minds of the last living dwellers of the town today. Nor have they forgotten the mephitical southerly, when it came, blowing-in over Frenchman Bay, and then the Borthwick meatworks, to steep the streets with the slaughterhouse stench of animal fear and butchery.

 

Above: Whaling at Albany ended in the late 1970s with closure of the Cheyne Beach Whaling Co. facility at Frenchman Bay. The three vessels owned by the company tied up at the Town Jetty for many years, becoming a fixture of almost daily viewing for town residents. But the processing facility across the harbour had its downside. It was a gruesome game, generally offensive to the senses, and under the occasional southerly the fetid stench of butchered innards would drift across the town. Footage: Undated Super-8 footage of Cheynes III steaming out to sea and Cheyne Beach Whaling Co. processing facility in operation. Source: Courtesy Jeanette Moir Private Collection.

 

 

Whaling was far from all though. The role of the coal hulks and large inter-continental steamships, which Donald Garden termed ‘the P&O era’, was every bit as influential. This is a chapter we are yet to properly engage with through these pages, though we have touched on elements through the stories of  the enigmatic James Dunn and strange birth, baptism and disappearance of Cordelia Larkins Mary Ann Dunn, daughter of an unknown woman-of-the-night who lived aboard the Larkins hulk family man and respectable town official Dunn was reportedly making ready for coal storage in 1853; of the Salsette and its devestating secretion of scarlet fever, an inestimable disaster for our Indigenous across the entire region, and of the supply of telegraph poles along the coast to the east during the 1875 construction phase while settlers were driving their flocks the same three, four and five-hundred miles by foot. There are so very many stories. The P&O era overlapped with whaling from the 1850s, bringing with it much envied prowess for the town and significant additional commerce (relative to size), but with the sluggish, corroded, mechanically unsound ships and inept management that accompanied their arrival, along with stop-start beginnings caused by the visissitudes of empire and war, combined with the will of Perth to deprive the town of much, if not all its capacity to flourish under it, Princess Royal Harbour may have expanded its northside inventory and associated population, may have etched within its consciousness a whole new set of coal-dusty comings and goings by way of its lumpers, but in the end found in it little more than continuing difficulty. Nothing came easily to the old town, and so be it. Lockyer lost to Stirling, the proposed resort of Wyndham went down with all-hands in a freak storm outside Calcutta, Spencer and Cheyne were at loggerheads over each other, the British failed to spot the whaling opportunity for themselves, poison bush stunned pastoralism, Thomas Lyell Symers lost his ship to international beauracracy and went broke, the great age of ocean going steamers arrived with just twenty years life left in it, just as the telegraph line came two decades after the real opportunty had passed. For the first nintey years, probably until the ANZAC fleet assembled in 1914, Albany’s apparent quest to live up to an identity it imagined it held, and to build corresponding commercial strength, was on a lower trajectory than even its most conservative proponents anticipated. And this was noticed and pounced upon by anyone and everyone with a pen, paper and willing set of eyes at the other end. Passengers aboard the inter-continental steamers imagined the places they were to call into as scenes of great industry and endeavour, embodiment of the spirit of colonisation, the very building of the brave New World, yet when they got to Albany little did they know the Swan River’s intent lay elsewhere. Little did they know the town set upon the great harbour of King George Sound was a buck-toothed beauty queen, a sandy or else stony or else salty soil farm, a warm welcome too far from home, a strange and disappointing maritime outpost waiting, ironically, in a forlorn state of entropy for its mythical ship to come in.

 

At Albany they don’t farm or grow sheep, cattle or horses. . .  and the fortnightly steamer would appear to be their sole means of  subsistence – just enough to prevent them being dealt with under the Vagrant Act.

 

Quote from the Australian romantic novelist T.A. Browne in his 1861 ships journal, From Marseille to Melbourne (pg 38)

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This is what I mean about the ordinariness of the soul of old Albany.  The town was financed by a handful of mercenary agriculturalists and traders, but it was manned by a regiment of everyday, barely-educated folk, the majority of whom built their existences from the ground up, not infrequently in the form of boats, using their bare hands. In the case of whaling, among the fetid stench of blood and guts using those hands to render the blubber, bone and gristle of a poor harpooned mammal into a week’s or season’s wages; in the case of shipping to man the lighter’s oars and lump coal by the sack from hulk to hull for a few lousy quid, yet money enough to hold up the roof, dress the family and put food on the table, at least for a while, or else to blow on shots of spirit, tankards of local beer or pipes of anxiety-thinning opium if it was just yourself you were concerned with. The hands and feet of many of these ordinary folk also engaging in sport of a Sunday, cycling and motor sports as well as tug-of-war, football and cricket; more way to express the competitiveness, the energy and dexterity there-in, and to perhaps draw a crowd in the meantime.

The waterfront beneath the terrace was woven from the cords of commercial practise contrived by the merchants who overlooked it, latching upon whatever it was the vessels which tied up out there carried in or away. Disease, alcohol and tobacco for starters. Seal skins, whale oil, sheep and cattle and sandalwood; food, food and food; coal, coolies, china-men, convicts and prostitutes, prefabricated housing, putrid salted pork, pharmaceuticals in the form of opioids, cannabinoids and cocaine derivities; guns and rope and tools and nails by the ton; colonial mail, administration of the empire; print equipment, reading glasses, books, letters, jackets and dresses, parcels of all and any kind; tobacco of course and gallon upon gallon of port wine, brandy and rum.

Those merchants gave all it took to accommodate the passage of these ships. From the flapping sails of otherwise silent craft which over the years grew in size and noise and pollutable progress to ply the channel at Point King with giant propellors and come to anchor, letting off their cargos and passengers and crews to walk and wonder and criticise and mock. All this emphasized most fully by the pulling in of Vancouver and Flinders & Baudin, of King and Lockyer, of the sealers and whalers who found their own way, by the coastal traders, the cutters and paddle ships and great multi-funnelled steamers who came by appointment of the coaling depot, and most dramatically of all, by the gathering of the ANZAC fleet in 1914; the pageant of global war made focal on our own last-glimpse loopy lump of land.

Kinjarling, place of rain. From the moment the whiteman came Albany was both fed and festered by the kind and unkind sea. Ask the Menang, they will tell you.

Above: The old Town Jetty at Albany replete with whalers tied alongside, in later years set behind another feature of historic Albany, its railway station.  The foreshore, set between the two, was once a row of houses belonging to an array of old-time settlers, from rogues and renegades to the pious social elite. Forever gone, the view featured here is fondly retained in the memory of today’s older residents who recognise it from the 1960s and 1970s. Image: Albany Railway Station and Town Jetty from Stirling Terrace, 1974 Source: Courtesy Lindsay Watson Private Collection, posted to Historic Albany and Lost Albany facebook pages.

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

Professor Martin Gibbs’ top quality work forms the backbone of almost all understanding relating to the scholarly history of whaling around the south-west corner of Western Australia. Consult the following for detailed information:

Gibbs, M, 2000; Conflict and Commerce: American Whalers and the Western Australian Colonies 1836-1888

Gibbs, M, 2002; The Enigma of William Jackman – ‘The Australian Captive’ –  Fictional character or shipwreck survivor?

Gibbs, M, 2003; Nebinyan’s Song – An Aboriginal Whaler of South Western Australia

Gibbs, M, 2010; The Shorewhalers of Western Australia, Hitsorical Archeaology of a Martime Frontier

Gibbs M, 2015;  A Biographical Index of Western Australian Whalers 1836-1880

 

Rod Dickson‘s invaluable lists of whalers who visited Western Australia may be added to these scholarly works. Dickson compiled two books worth of extraordinary detail.  In 2007, after years of painstaking work he came out with The History of Whalers on the South Coast of New Holland from 1800-1888, an in-depth collection of detail relating to all whaling ships which visited the South Coast during the period we are interested in. In 2015 followed Indian Ocean Whalers on the West Coast of New Holland, a less complex but nonetheless enormously valuable contribution to the West Australian historical knowledge base.

A much needed addition to the work of these two is that of former Bussleton resident Tim Blue who has assembled an impressive collection of anecdotes from ships logs, published journals, settler and seaman diaries, and newspaper reports, added to here and there by relevent local historical background, into a very informative, highy useful and darn-right entertaining book called  Whale Hunters of the West. This is a so-called  popular history style book, eminently readable, and anyone interested in more detail on what it was like to be aboard a 19th Century whaler as it worked the south-west corner during the momentous 1836-1888 period would be well served by clicking on the link and ordering a copy.

 

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