Monthly Archives: December 2010

Taking a break

There is joy in blogging as there is joy in travelling. Arrangements for the next few weeks are somewhat nebulous, as perhaps befits unhurried travel. The plan is to resume blogging in the second week of January. In the meantime, thank you to those who have shared in these explorations and observations. May we meet again soon knowing that there is much more to explore and understand.

Christmas shopping in Canberra in 1935

An article on Christmas shopping in the Canberra Times of 12 December 1935 encourages readers to buy early ‘to save undue strain right on Christmas to those who are at your service’, and so that everyone can approach Christmas ‘in more tranquil and befitting fashion.’

Readers are also advised that ‘giving is not the only thing that matters’, as there is ‘much scope for Christmas feeling’ in how you select and acquire your gifts. In particular, it is ‘more in keeping with Christmas’ to buy from fellow townsmen rather than deal with strangers.

Details are given of a selection of twenty-one Canberra businesses ‘who invite you to visit their premises this Christmas.’

FOOD. E.C. Harris and Co. has first class quality groceries and other foodstuffs at Manuka, City, Kingston and Queanbeyan. ‘Prices are at bedrock’ and goods are delivered free of charge. There are cakes and puddings, ‘Allowrie’ and ‘Norco’ hams, nuts, fruit mincemeats, and all kinds of ingredients for making Christmas puddings and cakes. There is also boxed confectionery, from 1/- to 5/6.

The Capitol Cafe, in the Civic Centre, has a ‘full range of Miss Daveney’s sweets.’ Cool drinks, ice cream, and fruit and fancy sundaes are served ‘in the modern refreshment parlour.’ The Cafe also has a large stock of tobacco, cigars and cigarettes. Leo’s White Gate Cafe has sweets and fancy boxed chocolates, and fruit and fountain drinks. There will be special 3/- dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, between noon and 2 p.m., with poultry, pork, lamb and beef. The Cosy Dell tea rooms in Manuka always has sweets and cakes at keen prices and is the sole Canberra agency for Marchant’s soft drinks, for which orders are being taken for Christmas. The Cosy Dell is proving ‘a popular rendezvous for tasty morning and afternoon teas.’

VARIOUS GIFTS. Christmas cards are mentioned only once. J.W. Prowse at Civic Centre has art chinaware, ladies’ toilet and manicure sets, gift books, writing materials, fountain pens and propelling pencils, and many other useful items, and ‘a splendid range of Christmas cards in pretty designs and colours.’ Riley’s Newsagencies, at Kingston and Manuka, have in stock the ‘leading Christmas annuals’, which ‘make excellent gifts to send to friends in other lands.’ Other gifts include calendars, fancy stationery, books, magazines, writing materials, children’s picture books and a great array of toys, and ‘presentation boxes of cigarettes.’ Miss Yellands, at Manuka, has gifts and novelties for all tastes – books, pottery, craft-work, toys and other things ‘too numerous to mention.’ The June Baby Shop (noted under the heading of Yellands) has all baby’s requirements. Arbuckle’s in Manuka has presentation boxes of cigarettes, and ‘many Christmas novelties in smokers’ requirements, shaving sets, and many other lines.’

PHARMACIES. Thomson’s Pharmacy, at Civic Centre, has ‘Attractive presents at attractive prices.’ No mention is made of pharmaceutical items. There are cut glass articles ‘of neat design’, perfumes, flap jacks, dusting powders, puffs, eau de Cologne (‘Yardley’s favourite lines’), brushes, bath salts, manicure sets (‘Cutex’ brand), and art pottery. There are also Baby Brownie cameras for 6/-. The Manuka Pharmacy has a ‘host of articles eminently suited for Christmas gifts’, including perfumes, soaps, Atkinson’s toilet sets (powder, perfume, face cream), Yardley’s Old English lavender sets, Roger and Galet’s 10-10 sets, Potter and Moore’s lavender “Evening in Paris” sets, and hundreds of novelties.

ART AND FRAMING. C. Tobler’s at Manuka has newly imported reproductions of works by famous artists, ‘framed in modern style to please those of discriminating taste’, and at prices to ‘suit every pocket.’ Other articles include fancy mirrors.

CLOTHING. Peterson Bros. sell men’s wear and Chinese hand-worked napery (everything from d’oyleys to bedspreads). Customers can lay-by, and the prices ‘are equal to those ruling in the other capital cities.’ Their watchword is ‘give something useful’, and they have displays in six new ‘special display windows.’ Hughes’ Service Store at Kingston, selling clothes for men and women, has been trading for nearly ten years, and is now opening another branch at Manuka. There is a host of ‘seasonable gifts’ including lingerie, hosiery, gloves and handbags for the ladies, and half hose, shirts, ties and handkerchiefs for men. The store has a reputation for ‘honest trading, value, and keen prices.’ The long-established Adelaide Tailoring Company, with branches all over the Commonwealth and a reputation for value, quality and style, has suits ‘at unprecedented value’ for ‘the man who wishes to be well dressed.’

FOOTWEAR AND LEATHER GOODS. The skilled workers at W.H. Morris, bootmaker and repairer, use only the best materials and the workmanship is first class and guaranteed. Customers can also buy leather goods, including suit cases and ports.

SPORTS. Keith Carnall’s sports depot in Manuka Arcade has requirements for all sports – cricket, tennis and angling are mentioned – and also sells radios (Univox Sherwood and Sterling) and vacuum cleaners (Eureka).

HOME AND ELECTRICAL. The Canberra Furnishing Company has an emporium at Kingston with ‘Everything for the home’, including linos, carpets, glassware, crockery and kitchenware; radios and sewing machines; and for ‘the ardent gardener’ tools and lawn mowers. There are also toys for children. Strangman Bros., at the Civic Centre, sells electrical goods and radios. ‘Nothing will gladden the heart of the housewife more than labour-saving electrical appliances’ such as grillers, jugs, toasters, kettles, irons and immersion heaters. The electrical store Harris and Freeman in Manuka is the ‘home of the famous “Tasma” radio.’ This is one of the ‘leading radios of to-day’, a ‘wonder set that has established a record of achievement and progress’, priced from £19/19/-. ‘Its appearance, modernity, tone, rugged construction and reliability all defy competition.’ Customers are offered free demonstrations.

BICYCLES AND CARS. Williams’ Cycle Shop encourages customers to ‘Pedal along through a prosperous new year on a popular ‘Malvern Star’ cycle.’ Cycling offers ‘cheap and healthy transport’, and there is no better gift for a boy or girl. Rayment’s Garage at Braddon is ‘equipped with modern plant’, including ‘the famous Stubley re-boring machine’, and offers a ‘car repair service equal to any in the district’ and at prices ‘comparable with those charged in metropolitan repair depots.’

In this last reference it appears that Canberra was not yet regarded as a full metropolis. Rather, it seems to have had the character of a large country town, where some of the latest technology had infiltrated but aspects of availability and price had still to be judged in comparison with what was usual in the major cities. Three shopping centres are represented, Manuka, Civic Centre (City) and Kingston, and the suburb of Braddon; Queanbeyan also features. It is noticeable that pharmacies then as now supplemented their income by selling cosmetics and novelty items. Besides brand names now uncommon or extinct, one finds some old-fashioned expressions, including refreshment parlour, fountain drink, flap jack (a powder case or compact), half hose and ports; and immersion heaters are among the items desired by the housewife. A custom of sending Christmas annuals ‘to friends in other lands’ is notable. Christmas dinner at the White Gate Cafe seems cheap at 3/-. The most expensive confectionery from Harris and Co. is nearly twice that amount, while a Baby Brownie camera is 6/-. A good quality radio is over three times the price of the camera. Radios (here called radios and not wireless sets) are at the forefront of the wonders of the age.

‘Round the shopping centres’, Canberra Times 12/12/1935, p. 8. Keith Carnall: cf. ‘Keith Carnall: A short biography’, Canberra Photographic Society website; also ‘Looking back with pride’. Keith Carnall was admitted as a member of the ACT Sport Hall of Fame in 1996.

Holidays in Sydney in 1827

In a notice dated 26 June 1827 and advertised during July in the Sydney newspapers the Monitor and the Australian, the Bank of New South Wales announced that, ‘The Bank in future will be open for Public Business from Ten o’Clock in the Morning till Three o’Clock in the Afternoon,’ and that holidays would be observed on stated days. Church festivals that fell on Sunday (e.g. Easter Sunday) were not mentioned, as Sunday was not a business day. Thirteen days were set aside for holidays as follows:

Half Yearly Settlement of the Books (four days): at the beginning of January and at the beginning of July: New Year’s Day and the following day, and 1 and 2 July.

Official celebrations (three days): 31 January, Governor Macquarie’s birthday; 19 July, the King’s Coronation; and 12 August, His Majesty’s birthday.

Church festivals (eight days): as well as Good Friday, Easter Monday and Whit Monday: 17 March, St. Patrick’s Day; 23 April, St. George’s Day; 30 November, St. Andrew’s Day; 25 December, Christmas Day; and 26 December, St. Stephen’s Day.

If any holiday fell on a Sunday, it was to be kept on the following day.

Monitor 3/7/1827, p. 6 (also 5 and 12 July); Australian 11/7/1827, p. 1.

The five Macquarie towns

Just before Christmas in the year 1810, Governor Lachlan Macquarie issued an Order in which he noted the ‘frequent Inundations of the Rivers Hawkesbury and Nepean,’ the calamitous effects of these inundations on the crops in that vicinity, and the consequent serious injury to the subsistence of the Colony. To guard against a recurrence of such calamities, he had ‘deemed it expedient … to erect certain Townships on the most contiguous and eligible high Grounds in the several Districts subjected to those Inundations.’

The stated purpose of the townships was to provide accommodation and security to the settlers affected by the floods. Accordingly the townships were organised on a particular basis. Each settler was to be assigned ‘an Allotment of Ground for a Dwelling house, Offices, Garden, Corn-yard, and Stock-yard proportioned to the Extent of the Farm he holds within the influence of the Floods.’ These allotments could not be sold or alienated separate from the farms in connection with which they were allotted; they were always to be considered part of these farms.

The five districts concerned, and the names of the townships to be established, were: Green Hills, Windsor; Richmond Hill, Richmond; Nelson, Pitt Town; Phillip, Wilberforce; and Nepean, Castlereagh.

The local constables were to submit returns listing the settlers whose farms were affected by flood, the number of persons in their families, the size of their farms, and the number of animals in their flocks and herds. These returns, on the relevant form, were to go to the Principal Magistrate, William Cox, and from him to the Governor. The Acting Surveyor was then to mark out allotments.

Following this process, settlers were to erect houses as soon as possible and move in. The houses were to be of brick or weather-board, with brick chimneys and shingled roofs, and were to be no less than nine feet high. Official plans for the houses and offices would be left with the District Constable, and each settler had to build in conformity with these plans.

Christmas Day holiday and services

Just before Christmas in the same year, the Sydney Gazette also carried orders concerning Christmas Day (which fell on a Tuesday). ‘By divine Permission’ the church of St. Phillip, at Sydney, was to be consecrated on that day by the Principal Chaplain, Rev. Samuel Marsden. The Governor announced that he ‘is pleased to dispense with the Labour of all the Prisoners, and other Men working for the Government, on Christmas Day and the Day following.’ They were required to work as usual on other days of the week. Moreover, they were required on Christmas Day to parade at the usual hour and place for Divine Service.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 15/12/1810, p. 1; similarly, ibid., 22/12/1810, p. 1. Cf. ‘The Macquarie Towns’, State Library of NSW website. St. Phillip’s church: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 22/12/1810, pp. 2-3. Christmas Day holiday: ibid., p. 3.

Inheritors of the consequences

When the British Government took possession of territory on the continent of Australia, it did so confident in its strength of arms and documentation. These were capabilities which the Aborigines lacked. The battle was very uneven and the outcome predictable. The newcomers, believing that they had the superior and stronger culture and resources, were not minded to negotiate a general agreement with the Aborigines over matters of ownership and government of the land and its peoples.

A notable exception to this attitude was the attempt by John Batman to establish a form of treaty with Aborigines in the Port Phillip area, where he wanted to take up grazing lands. The treaty document survives, with its symbols supposed to represent marks of agreement by Aboriginal chiefs. The treaty was a device designed partly to demonstrate peaceful co-existence with the Aboriginal population, but partly also to assert private rights over land not granted by the Crown.

Batman’s treaty with the Aborigines is dated 6 June 1835. On 26 August His Excellency Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, K. C. B., Commanding His Majesty’s Forces, Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies, and Vice-Admiral of the same, &c. &c. &c., issued a Proclamation to make clear that he was having none of John Batman’s stratagems:

Whereas, it has been represented to me, that divers of His Majesty’s Subjects have taken possession of vacant Lands of the Crown, within the limits of this Colony, under the pretence of a treaty, bargain, or contract, for the purchase thereof, with the Aboriginal Natives; Now therefore, I, the Governor, in virtue and in exercise of the power and authority in me vested, do hereby proclaim and notify to all His Majesty’s Subjects, and others whom it may concern, that every such treaty, bargain, and contract with the Aboriginal Natives, as aforesaid, for the possession, title, or claim to any Lands lying and being within the limits of the Government of the Colony of New South Wales, as the same are laid down and defined by His Majesty’s Commission; … is void and of no effect against the rights of the Crown; and that all Persons who shall be found in possession of any such Lands as aforesaid, without the license or authority of His Majesty’s Government, for such purpose, first had and obtained, will be considered as trespassers, and liable to be dealt with in like manner as other intruders upon the vacant Lands of the Crown within the said Colony.

This was a unilateral assertion of rights which took no account of the Aboriginal view of the matter. The concept of ‘vacant lands of the Crown’ ignored the very existence of Aborigines, let alone their needs and rights. In these respects Governor Bourke’s Proclamation arguably had even less moral authority than Batman’s treaty, particularly if Batman had indeed managed to secure a meaningful expression of good-will and co-operation from the Aborigines with whom he sought to deal.

To what extent might Aborigines of that time be amenable to letting the newcomers use the land over which they had roamed for thousands of years? Robert Dawson, in his Present State of Australia (page 12), offers some interesting evidence, which reflects the psychology of the Aboriginal who guided him from Newcastle to Port Stephens and whom he named Ben. He had promised Ben rewards for his efforts and Ben was delighted with the gifts, so much so that, in uplifted and expansive mood, he offered Dawson a great deal in return:

On the following morning I went on board the schooner, and ordered on shore a tomahawk and a suit of slop clothes, which I had promised to my friend Ben, and in which he was immediately dressed. They consisted of a short blue jacket, a checked shirt, and a pair of dark trowsers. He strutted about in them with an air of good-natured importance, declaring that all the harbour and country adjoining belonged to him. “I tumble down pickaninny here,” he said, meaning that he was born there. “Belonging to me all about, massa; pose you tit down here, I gib it to you.” “Very well,” I said: “I shall sit down here.” “Budgeree,” (very good,) he replied, “I gib it to you;” and we shook hands in ratification of the friendly treaty.

Dawson does not represent this as a legal transaction, as Batman might have. He would have been less than honest to do so, given the naïveté of the Aboriginal inhabitants, ignorant as they necessarily were of European habits of mind and techniques of diplomacy. But he was no doubt encouraged by the level of good-will which had been generated.

However, whether there was good-will or ill-will, the fact remained that the newcomers were not going to relinquish their plans for possession and use of the land, whatever the Aborigines might think; and the Aborigines were not equipped to develop the sort of strategies needed to beat the British at their own game.

Robert Kenny has argued that Batman’s treaty need not be interpreted (as it usually is) as a mere ruse. Batman’s dialogue with the Aborigines raises the question of whether the usurpers of the land could have entered into genuine negotiations with the traditional occupants, as Batman did to an extent, so as to make the outcome fair. What was actually done, Kenny argues (p. 38.10), poses moral problems for all concerned then and now, since we are all ‘inheritors of the consequences.’

State Library of Victoria, Batman’s treaty (including images). National Archives of Australia, Documenting a Democracy, Governor Bourke’s Proclamation 1835 (UK) (including images and transcription). Cf. ‘Government Gazette’, Australian 8/9/1835, p. 3. Robert Dawson, The Present State of Australia, London, 1830, p. 12. Robert Kenny, ‘Tricks or Treats? A Case for Kulin Knowing in Batman’s Treaty’, History Australia 5 (2), 2008, 38.1 to 38.14.

Robert Dawson and Port Stephens

The Australian Agricultural Company was formed in London in 1824 and was to take up a million acres in New South Wales, mainly for sheep farming. The work was to be guided by a local committee, in which the Macarthur family was influential. Robert Dawson (1782-1866) was appointed the Company’s first agent.

The committee was able to choose where to take up land. John Oxley, Surveyor-General and explorer, recommended in order of preference the Liverpool Plains (in northern New South Wales), or alternatively the head of the Hastings River, or the area between Port Stephens and the Manning River. The committee at first declined to follow Oxley’s advice regarding the suitability of the Liverpool Plains, and sent Robert Dawson to examine the area around Port Stephens, which had the advantage of being nearer the coast.

In 1826 Dawson inspected the area and established the Company’s headquarters on the northern shores of Port Stephens, where Carrington and Tahlee stand now. From the Company’s point of view it turned out to be an unfortunate decision, as the area did not prove suitable for sheep farming. In 1830 the Company was able to give up portion of its grant in that area in exchange for a similar acreage at the Liverpool Plains, where as Oxley had predicted the conditions were favourable.

Oxley had explored the Liverpool Plains in 1818 and had discovered the Peel River on 2 September. On the occasion of the centenary of that event, an article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald recalling Oxley’s achievements and the role of the Australian Agricultural Company in opening up the Tamworth area to farming and settlement. The writer commented:

In these days of land hunger and Government resumptions it is hard to look upon any huge land monopoly with feelings of reverence or gratitude; but in those days the outlook was vastly different, and what would to-day be denounced by many people was 90 years ago considered to be a blessing. The colony was then a wilderness. Many parts of it had not been explored. There was no settlement outside the fringe round Sydney. The prospect of opening up the trackless forest and raising “fine wool, and cultivating the vine, olive, flax, and other productions” was too appalling for ordinary settlers to contemplate.

Dawson had to bear some of the blame for directing the Company’s time and resources towards an area that proved unsuitable, and he was recalled. Conscious of having his reputation unjustly blackened, he undertook newspaper publication of some relevant correspondence, and wrote a book, published in London in 1829, explaining matters from his point of view.

In 1830 appeared another book by him on The Present State of Australia. This book is especially interesting in its sensitive insights into the lives and attitudes of Aborigines whom Dawson encountered in the course of his travels and work. Early in the book he gives a detailed narrative of his journey overland from Newcastle to Port Stephens, describing the country and the assistance rendered by local Aborigines. He comments (p. 11) on a meeting between their guide ‘Ben’ and another aboriginal:

I was much amused at this meeting, and above all delighted at the prompt and generous manner in which this wild and untutored man conducted himself towards his wandering brother. If they be savages, thought I, they are very civil ones; and with kind treatment we have not only nothing to fear, but a good deal to gain from them. I felt an ardent desire to cultivate their acquaintance, and also much satisfaction from the idea that my situation would afford me ample opportunities and means for doing so.

Centenary of Oxley’s discovery of the Peel: V.T., ‘The old A.A. Company’, Sydney Morning Herald 7/9/1918, p. 11. E. Flowers, ‘Dawson, Robert (1782-1866)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 298-300; and online. Correspondence: ‘The Australian Agricultural Company and Mr. Dawson’, Australian 27/6/1828, p. 4. Robert Dawson, Statement of the Services of Mr Dawson, as Chief Agent of the Australian Agricultural Company, with a Narrative of the Treatment He Has Experienced from the Late Committee at Sydney, and the Board of Directors in London, London, Smith, Elder and Co., 1829; idem, The Present State of Australia: A Description of the Country, Its Advantages and Prospects with Reference to Emigration; and a Particular Account of Its Aboriginal Inhabitants, London, Smith, Elder and Co., 1830.

Nelson Bay or Nelson’s Bay?

Whatever may have been the original form of the name of this bay at Port Stephens, ‘Nelson’s Bay’ seems to have been usual in the late 1820s and 1830s.

In 1829 the Australian newspaper refers to Nelson’s Bay in reporting a near-disaster that overtook the New South Wales Attorney-General Alexander Baxter in the course of an attempted voyage from Newcastle to Sydney on the schooner Samuel. After departure from Newcastle, heavy squalls blew up at night, sails had to be taken in, and by 9 o’clock there were two feet of water in the hold. The pumps were inadequate, and passengers and all hands had to bale with buckets. The ship managed to limp into Port Stephens (spelled Port Stevens in the newspaper account) and came to rest in Nelson’s Bay, with 4 feet 7 inches of water in the hold. Some of the coal on board was taken off, the ship was reprovisioned and the pumps re-rigged, and finally the Samuel was able to make it safely to Sydney; but Mr. Baxter, who had helped with the baling, remained behind. ‘His exertions and fatigues … left him, by the latest accounts, in rather a feverish state.’

A shipboard adventure of quite another type was reported by the Sydney Gazette in 1835. Nine convicts, five of them assigned servants of William Charles Wentworth, escaped from Sydney on Wentworth’s ketch Alice, which had been lying in Vaucluse Bay, taking with them some provisions, wine and plate stolen from a house belonging to him at Vaucluse. One of the convicts was already among Wentworth’s men on the vessel, which was under the command of Hamilton Ross and the Mate John House. The boat sailed past Newcastle and entered Port Stephens, coming to anchor in Nelson’s Bay or Salamander Bay. It was dark by then. The next morning one of the convicts and House, who knew the harbour, were put ashore to get water. The convict came back with an aboriginal who wanted to sell some fish. House remained on shore, and Ross was allowed to go ashore as well after he refused to join the convicts. One of the convicts, Joseph Kay, gave Ross a written discharge and an order on Mr. Wentworth for his pay, which Kay signed as commander of the Alice. (According to evidence, he had a grudge against Mr. Wentworth for punishment dealt out some six weeks before, and was threatening to murder him, a threat Mr. Wentworth took seriously, especially as he discovered some poison hidden away.) Ross and House came across a camp of aborigines and persuaded one of them to guide them to Newcastle. Three days after seizure of the vessel the Revenue Cutter Prince George under Captain Roach went in pursuit. The ketch had been seen passing Newcastle and Roach, proceeding towards Port Stephens, saw a sail at sea and gave chase. The vessel put off a boat and ran into shore itself, the convicts escaping into the bush. The cutter put into a bay and some of the men walked round to the Alice and threw the provisions into the sea to deprive the convicts of them. Roach and six of his men tracked the pirates for four or five miles but then lost the trail. They returned to the Alice and dismasted her, then sailed on the cutter back to Port Stephens, where they alerted the Police Magistrate and joined a party of police in pursuit. Some aborigines were able to point out the location of the escapees, about fifty miles from Port Stephens. Meanwhile the cutter proceeded up the ‘Miaul River’, and the crew took the captured pirates on board for the return trip to Sydney.

Over the next few years we find a number of reports of land sales which refer to Nelson’s Bay. There is also the incident of the Daniel O’Connell, reported ‘high and dry on the beach at Nelson’s Bay’ in 1836. Finally in 1839 we encounter the Sophia Jane on a voyage from Moreton Bay to Sydney, anchoring in Nelson’s Bay for supplies.

Then in January 1840 comes news of another maritime incident and a change in terminology. On 23 December the cutter Water-Witch, putting out from Port Stephens, failed to cross the bar, went broadside to the breakers, and came to grief ‘on the rocks off Nelson Bay.’ Her cargo of maize and cedar was saved; but the possessive ‘s’ and its attendant apostrophe had gone.

Samuel: Australian 16/9/1829, p. 3. Alice: Sydney Herald 2/11/1835, p. 2. Daniel O’Connell: Australian 17/6/1836, p. 3. Sophia Jane: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 23/5/1839, p. 2. Water-Witch: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 4/1/1840, p. 2. ‘Baxter, Alexander Macduff (1798-1836?)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 74-75, and online.

Port Stephens and an island in the Pacific

On 6 May 1770 James Cook in the Endeavour left Sting Ray Harbour, which he subsequently decided to call Botany Bay, and sailed further north along the coast. On 11 May at four in the afternoon he sailed past, at a distance of one mile, ‘a low rocky point’ to which he gave the name Point Stephens. On the north side of this:

… is an inlet which I calld Port Stephens … that appear’d to me from the mast head to be shelterd from all winds, at the entrance lay 3 small Islands two of which are of a tolerable height and on the Main near the shore are some high round hills that make at a distance like Islands, in passing this bay at the distance of 2 or 3 miles from the shore our soundings were from 33 to 27 fathoms from which I conjector’d that there must be a sufficient depth of water for shipping in the Bay.

Twenty-five years later, on 16 December 1795, Commander William Robert Broughton, sailing across the Pacific in the Providence, saw an island on the weather-beam and tacked towards it. At a distance of five or six leagues it appeared to be a low island covered in trees, probably coconuts, perhaps five miles long in a north–south direction.

I named it Carolina Island in compliment to the daughter of Sir P. Stephens of the Admiralty.

The island is now part of Kiribati and has been renamed Millennium Island. Through a shifting of the date line, it was one of the first places to see in the new ‘millennium’ in the year 2000.

Philip Stephens (1723-1809) was Secretary to the Admiralty from 1763 to 1795. He was created a baronet in 1795 and was a Lord of the Admiralty from 1795 to 1806. His daughter, Carolina (or Caroline) Elizabeth Stephens, was born out of wedlock. She married Thomas Jones, 6th Viscount of Ranelagh, an army major, in August 1804, thus becoming Viscountess of Ranelagh. In June 1805 she died giving birth to a baby daughter, who also died. Lord Stephen’s son Thomas Stephens had died in a duel in 1790, and there were no descendants.

Stephens, while Secretary to the Admiralty, somehow acquired one of the three copies of Cook’s journals, the one which Cook sent to the Admiralty while staying in Batavia for repairs. The journal seems to have been passed on to Caroline’s husband Lord Ranelagh, whose son sold it in 1885 (or 1868?). The purchaser, F.W. Cosens, sold it in 1890 to John Corner, an admirer of Cook, and hence it is known as the ‘Corner Journal’. After Corner’s death it was sold by his executors in 1895 to F.H. Dangar, who presented it to the Australian Museum. From there in 1935 it was transferred to the Mitchell Library, now part of the State Library of New South Wales.

Corner was hoping to arrange for publication of the journal but died before he could carry out his plan, and his son completed the task. The Corner Journal was published in 1893, with insertions from the later Admiralty copy where necessary. A distinctive feature of the Corner Journal is that New South Wales is called New Wales, the longer name apparently being a later decision.

In Captain Wharton’s Preface to his edition of the Corner Journal (1893), Sir Philip Stephens is described as ‘a personal friend and appreciator of Cook.’ Cook was also highly esteemed by William Broughton, who in the Preface to his Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean speaks of the ‘persevering researches and unwearying activity of our immortal Cooke.’

South Seas Project, Cook’s Journal, Transcription of National Library of Australia, Manuscript 1, 11/5/1770. Comparison with readings in the other journals is needed. William Robert Broughton, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean … in the Years 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, London, Cadell and Davies, 1804, pp. 28-29; cf. Andrew David (ed.), William Robert Broughton’s Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific 1795-1798 (Hakluyt Society, 3rd Series, No. 22), London, Ashgate, 2010. Corner Journal, (1) manuscript: James Cook – A Journal of the proceedings of His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour on a voyage round the world, by Lieutenant James Cook, Commander, commencing the 25th of May 1768 – 23 Oct. 1770 (Call No. Safe 1/71), Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW; (2) edition: Captain W.J.L. Wharton, R.N., F.R.S. [Hydrographer of the Admiralty] (ed.), Captain Cook’s Journal during his First Voyage round the World Made in H.M. Bark “Endeavour” 1768-71. A Literal Transcription of the Original Mss. with Notes and Introduction, illustrated by Maps and Facsimiles, London, 1893.

If, at sunrise, you chance to stroll

A number of waterways enter Port Stephens, on the coast of New South Wales above Newcastle. One of these is the Myall River, which winds its way in from the north, flowing today between the suburbs of Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest.

A 1936 article in the Sydney Morning Herald notes three suggested explanations for the name Tea Gardens: (i) fishermen made tea there in their billies on the foreshores; (ii) wicker baskets of tea were brought ashore from a ship that foundered on the ocean beach; and (iii) Lady Parry, wife of Sir Edward Parry, who was associated with the Australian Agricultural Company, suggested that it would be a good place for the company to grow tea. None of these explanations sounds very adequate, though a connection with the Australian Agricultural Company sounds not impossible as they were influential in the area.

The article contrasts the unprepossessing appearance of Tea Gardens, on the north of the harbour, with Nelson Bay on the southern shores, ‘with its mathematically arranged camping sections fringing the bay, its park and pleasant outlook.’ Tea Gardens has a ‘picturesquely untidy’ riverbank against a background of swamp lands and ‘uninviting scrub’. And yet (says the author) Tea Gardens has its own ‘unassuming attractiveness.’ It is significant for its role in timber, trading and fishing. In particular, it serves as a transit point for timber from upstream, the logs then being shipped from wharves or transferred by barge to a sawmill on the Hawk’s Nest side, in a locality known as ‘Windy-wappa’ (a corruption of an aboriginal word).

Among notable pioneers in the area were the Engel family. There was hardly any non-aboriginal there in the 1870s. In 1888 the Engel brothers took up grazing land further upriver, but the venture was unsuccessful owing to the tendency of the area to flood. They then began to supply provisions to people in the area and across to Nelson Bay. This service was still going in the 1930s. For example, the following advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1932: ‘Tea Gardens, Port Stephens, business centre, G. A. Engel and Sons, Universal Providers, Supply Bread, Meat, Mail, and Papers to all parts.’

One of the islands in the Myall River is Slip Island, so called because of a slipway built there by Henry Engel, who leased the island in 1913 for boat-building. The name Slip Island is used in the 1936 article. Later it was replaced by the name Witts Island. A local historian, the late Rex Hill, agitated to have the old name restored in recognition of its earlier usage and connection with the Engel boat-building enterprise. He did not live to see his proposal come to fruition, but in 2007 the name was officially changed from Witts Island to Slip Island.

An enormous amount of red cedar and other timber was felled and shipped off to various places. According to the 1936 article, the sawmill, built during the Great War, had been in continuous operation since that time, and puts out 1,000 super feet of timber an hour, for total annual purchases of 3 million super feet of logs. In its boom period ‘it produced more timber than any other mill on the North Coast.’ It is difficult to imagine the effect of this on the landscape and ecology of the area.

Despite all this activity, the writer finds specially attractive the scene at daybreak, before the birdlife is frightened away by human encroachment on its domain:

If, at sunrise, you chance to stroll along Tea Gardens’ extensive “promenade,” you will see a heterogeneous group of waterfowl stationed in the shallows between the mangroves of Slip Island and the mainland—black and white shags, drying their wings in the wind; fragile, motionless snow-white cranes, stealthily eyeing the flow about their stick-like legs; and dignified old pelicans, the last to take flight at your approach.

W. Gilmour, ‘Port Stephens. Story of the Tea Gardens’, Sydney Morning Herald 18/4/1936, p. 13. Universal Providers: Sydney Morning Herald 17/12/1932, p. 5. Rex Hill, Slip Island, Tea Gardens, NSW, Rex Hill, 2006. Name change: New South Wales Government Gazette 72, 1 June 2007, pp. 3114, 3115; cf. the Geographical Names Board entry for Slip Island.

From railways to resources

It would be hard to imagine Alexander Johnston, railway contractor, involving himself in the sort of idealistic scheme which William Lane promoted under the name ‘New Australia.’ If Mr. Johnston had been involved in such a scheme, one could readily imagine him making a success of it. He certainly would not have neglected to organise the money and machinery necessary to make it work.

Alexander Johnston (1839-1916) had emigrated from Scotland in 1856. He had been in Queensland for a time, then came to New South Wales. As partner and contractor he was involved in a number of construction projects, including tramways in Sydney, a section of the railway between Goulburn and Cooma, construction of cattle yards at Homebush, parts of the Nepean water supply, and water works in Melbourne. With his accumulated wealth he was able to invest in and contribute to a number of enterprises which benefited from his experience in the fields of engineering, geology and project management.

In the 1890s, while the ‘New Australia’ colonists were trying to establish an ideal society in Paraguay, Alexander Johnston was helping to open up the North Shore of Sydney to investment and development. He was associated with a private syndicate (the North Sydney Tramway and Investment Company) responsible for construction of the North Shore (or Long Bay) Suspension Bridge (which gave the suburb of Northbridge its name) and the opening up of new land. Progress was not without its problems. There was a protracted period of delay caused by complications over ownership. Finally in 1912 the bridge was handed over as a gift to the New South Wales Government. The elaborate stone superstructure remains. Although the old metal deteriorated and a concrete arch now supports the weight, the structure is still referred to informally as the suspension bridge.

Political developments to the north of Australia offered a new field for enterprise. The British Government had long been wary of French designs in the Pacific. Then in 1884 Germany annexed the north-eastern part of New Guinea. Britain responded by proclaiming a Protectorate over the south-eastern portion, which was extended to neighbouring islands. This gave a new context for imperial and colonial action in suppressing lawlessness and fostering business expansion in the region. The discovery of gold on some of the islands off the east coast of New Guinea in the 1890s prompted a gold rush in a number of places, including Woodlark Island (also called Murua) from 1895 onwards. Despite the difficulties of the climate and the problems of disease, many individual prospectors took up claims. There were reports from time to time that the gold was giving out; whether this was an entirely objective assessment or a way of deterring possible competitors, the methods of extraction being used were fairly primitive and the gains were necessarily limited. Circumstances were ripe for a man like Mr. Alex Johnston, one of the directors of the Woodlark Island Proprietary Gold-mining Company, formed in 1899, to buy up small prospectors and introduce technically advanced methods to locate, identify, mine, process and transport gold and other deposits, and so prove that the riches of Woodlark Island and elsewhere were far from exhausted.

It was an era when able people, energetic and optimistic, were expanding the reach of investment and technology, with profound implications for political and economic control over land, resources and populations, in Australia and elsewhere.

‘Death of Mr. A. Johnston’, Sydney Morning Herald 17/6/1916, p. 11. Gold on Woodlark Island: e.g. Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1897, p. 6. Sydney gold syndicate: e.g. Advertiser [Adelaide] 18/7/1899, p. 5; Sydney Morning Herald 21/12/1899, p. 9.