Whalemen Adventurers

by W. J. Dakin

Chapter 6


This chapter tells the story of two places on the coast of New South Wales. One of them, Mosman, is now a popular harbour suburb of the City of Sydney. The other, Twofold Bay, is an inlet near the south-eastern point of Australia. Its shores still remain more or less in their natural state; carry but a small population; and have changed little in appearance since the early days, when indeed the bay was probably far more lively than now.

If one can include in the word "romantic" the meanings of "extravagant, quixotic, and even imaginative," then there is abundance of romantic material in the whaling story of Twofold Bay. Naturally , to feel the grip of it one must visit the place and push through the young eucalyptus-trees that almost hide the fallen red bricks of Ben Boyd's little church of ninety years ago, or pick one's way through the ruins of the Sea Horse Inn by the lonely shore. [footnote 1] After these explorations one is in the proper mood for an appreciation of the part played by Sir Oswald Brierly, who painted the picture reproduced in my frontispiece. Still, the kookaburra sometimes laughs sardonically in the little wooded reserve near the only relics of the whaling days; and one can invoke the old atmosphere - so let's away!

From the time the Americans had invaded the Pacific in 1792, there had been many ups and downs in Sperm whaling, consequent upon political events in the more distant civilized regions. One of these disturbing factors was the French Revolution. Then another little war with England in 1812 caught many American whalers at sea in the Pacific, and for three years the number of Yankee ships decreased considerably. And although the American industry began to show signs of vigour again in 1816, the rise was slow. Meanwhile, the English were not doing too badly.

The men of Sydney were, however, rather slow in the uptake so far as marine ventures were concerned. The Sydney Gazette of 7 June 1826, referring to a much-talked-of project for forming a whaling company, declares that it would be a highly important and beneficial undertaking, "but the people in this Colony love to talk and yet do little." The delay in direct participation in whaling on the part of New South Wales colonists is clearly demonstrated again in a dispatch from Governor Darling to Lord Huskisson on 10 April 1828. In this document the Governor, after stating the advantageous geographical position of New South Wales for Pacific whaling, said that up to date, it had been pursued "almost exclusively by one house" - Messrs Jones and Walker - who had five vessels in the fishery. Later on, this same Mr Jones (we must evidently give credit to a Welshman for this very considerable venture into an industry chiefly carried on by ships from overseas), says that he "has been instrumental, without fear of contradiction, in opening up another source of colonial industry, namely, the establishment of the whale fishery from Sydney to the South Seas." The five ships of his company are stated to have cost £25,000 and to have employed 140 men apart from those of the shore establishments. All this is put forward in support of an application for land for sheep-farming! These pioneers certainly mixed their sources of income. Perhaps it was just as well, considering the uncertainty of the times.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Gazette continued recording the arrival of successful "foreign" ships. Most of the notices are very short; one often wishes for a little more information. They run somewhat like the following:

February 1, 1826.
The brig Woodlark arrived on Sunday last from a cruise to the Sperm Whale Fishery, as usual with a full cargo. This is one of the most lucky vessels that ever sailed out of our port.

June 3, 1826.
On Wednesday last the ship Alfred arrived from the South Sea Fishery with 170 tuns of Sperm Oil. On the same day the ship Elizabeth, Capt. Powditch, sailed for Tongataboo the passengers being the Rev. Mr Thomas and Mr Hutchinson, Wesleyan missionaries with their families. Friday evening - a brig in sight from the S. East.

The advent of regular newspapers in Sydney played quite a part in the conversion of the convict settlement of New South Wales into a free, active, and more happy colony of the British Empire. The Sydney Gazette of those days was keen in its advocacy of trade and the initiation of new industries, and in this connexion it often urged the development of the whale "fisheries," between 1828 and 1835, when New South Wales interests were at last becoming aroused.

During this same period the English adventurers ceased to make further progress - the first sign of the decline that was to come. British colonial whaling increased, however, as the old trade of the English ships failed.

Various establishments were set up on the shores of Port Jackson, which were far more beautiful then than now, for the fringing woods have been largely replaced by closely packed suburban houses and flats.

One of the first whaling sites was situated at Bennelong Point, close to Fort Macquarie. The Gazette of 16 June 1829 provides this clue in a statement that the "house of Cooper and Levey are making extensive preparations for the sperm fishery. The beach near Bennelong Point is quite a scene of bustle, crowded casks, whaleboats, coopers, etc. etc."

Perhaps it was the smell of the whale-boats at Bennelong Point which first taught Sydney-siders that it would be better to encourage the establishment of shore stations for this odoriferous trade a little farther away from the settlement, and which led to the use of Mosman's Bay.

On 27 August 1831 the newspapers reported that the ship Australian, a whaler which was to sail in a day or two for the Sperm fishery, "is a very fine vessel and in composition as well as in name - Australian. All her timbers the growth of the colony, and all cordage and rigging our own manufacture. In addition several natives are mustered in the crew ."

Such notes as these provide an indication of the rapid progress of old Sydney. One is struck by the extent of local manufacture then, especially of cordage. A seaman would devoutly hope that such cordage was much better than that made locally a few years ago. There is art in making fine hemp rope!

By the way, speaking of Sydney trade, the advertisements in the newspapers of those early days are often couched in extraordinary language and style. I have extracted one of them which might be regarded as queer even in these days of lurid advertising. It refers to the use and sale of whale-oil. Here it is, exactly as it appeared in the Gazette of 19 February 1832. The words round the rectangle require a little interpretation, but that should not be difficult :

Sperm Oil Advertisement

This advertisement is not by any means the only one of its kind to be found in those Sydney newspapers of one hundred years ago.

On a gay summer Saturday or Sunday, when Sydney Harbour is alive with yachts, the harbour suburb of Mosman (whose picturesqueness has just been saved by the famous Taronga Park Zoo, and a public reserve) looks out on a splendid aquatic picnic. How many of those sailing by, or looking out from the windows of the modern flats, know that Mosman's Bay and whaling were once synonymous?

Archibald Mosman was a Sydney merchant and ship-owner, and about the year 1830 he lodged with Governor Darling an application for an allotment of land where wharves and equipment for whaling vessels might be laid down. There was another applicant, John Bell, whose letter runs as follows :

I am at present fitting the brig William Stoveld for the whale fishery, and not having waterside premises, I am obliged to store and cooper my casks, etc., on the King's wharf, and also at this moment I am compelled to pump oil from one cask into another. These operations, viz., the noise of coopering, lumbering the wharf, and the offensive smell of the oil, the Customs House officers very justly complain of, so much so that if I am not allowed to proceed, it will very materially retard my object and affect my interest. In order to prevent a recurrence of the nuisance when the vessel returns, I beg through you to solicit His Excellency the Governor to grant me a portion of unlocked land bounded by the Harbour of Port Jackson, for the purpose of erecting a wharf and suitable premises for the equipment of vessels employed in the whale fishery.

The authorities of those days, having had some experience, knew all about the smell of a whaling-station, and had evidently a little more care for the comfort of their community than one might have expected. They decided that anything of the kind would have to be on the north shore of Sydney Harbour, and that the most suitablt places were Neutral Bay (still called by that name), and Great and Little Sirius Coves. Both Mosman and Bell selected land at the inner end of Great Sirius Cove, and took possession on 1 January 1831. The spot is wonderfully sheltered; not even a gale would disturb ships anchored there. The total area taken up at first was only about four acres. Later on, Mosman purchased Bell's land and the other allotments until he had as much as one hundred and eight acres. And so Great Sirius Cove came later on to be called Mosman's Bay.

Wharves were erected on the shores of the Cove and in 1833 we hear of them in use. Blubber was "tried out" ; one can easily imagine the activity in progress. It was not fresh blubber, either - how it must have smelled! Seagoing whalers were also careened and cleaned there, whilst their cargoes were transhipped to other vessels.

Both Mosman and Bell were interested in the Bay whaling that was now commencing on the New Zealand coast. Bell describes how in 1831 there were six vessels and three shore parties from Sydney on one section of the coast, and two vessels there from Hobart. Mosman himself lost property, huts, and fifty barrels of oil, through attacks from Maoris at Cloudy Bay in 1832.

If we had been in Great Sirius Cove in 1842 we should have looked upon this whalemen's harbour at its busiest. We should have seen a wooded creek with thick bush covering the shores where today there are brick and plaster and, above all things, poles - telephone poles, electric-light poles and tram poles. Stone wharves limited the margins of the cove where the deep-sea whalemen, countrymen of many different lands, argued, swore, and fought. Here their wooden ships were "hove down." This was a most important operation, very necessary in order to scrape the barnacles and other sea growths off the bottom of a ship, or to caulk the seams, or repair the planking. It was a tedious job, a procedure no longer to be seen in these days of docks and slips, although it may be conveniently imitated with small sailing craft in out-of-the-way places.

A whaler to be "hove down" was first brought alongside the wharf, then the topmasts were "housed" and the ship lightened of everything which could be removed. Floating very high out of the water, she would be securely moored by ropes from bow and stern to the shore. Ropes would then be taken from the mast and purchases set up with blocks and tackle, the falls being taken to capstans on shore. By steady heaving, the ship would be slowly pulled over until one side was exposed practically down to the keel. The operation would be repeated with the ship turned round the other way for the other side.

An old ring-bolt embedded in a rock still remains as the solitary relic of all this gear. It is almost a shrine to a few, but thousands pass it by daily, and have never seen it.

From 1844 onwards the Sydney Shipping Gazette records almost every week the arrival and departure of whale-ships, colonial and foreign ; colonial ships owned by Boyd and Towns and Fotheringham, and Yankee vessels from New Bedford and Nantucket. You can find long lists of ships in those pages ; but only occasionally a note that suggests a tithe of the adventures that befell them.

I append a newspaper clipping of a date thirteen years after the opening of the whale-ship refitting centre of Mosman - 21 April 1846. It exudes the atmosphere of this past industry and of a forgotten Sydney existence :


The attention of the SHIPPING INTEREST of SYDNEY and the Neighbouring Ports is respectfully requested to the above-named locality. Extensive Improvements having been effected during the last twelve months, this establishment is now placed in a much more satisfactory condition than at any former period.

Vessels drawing sixteen feet of water can float at all times of tide alongside the wharf. The new stone building being completed, there is now ample STORAGE for 3000 barrels of OIL; while the accommodation for Ships' Crews, Officers, and Carpenters is in every respect convenient and comfortable.

The HEAVING DOWN GEAR is of the very best description and the premises are placed under experienced superintendence.

The natural advantages of the situation are too well known to require much comment ; suffice it to say that few artificial wet docks are so thoroughly sheltered from the weather, and the operations of heaving- down and repairing vessels cannot be impeded by the heaviest gales. The distance from Sydney is about three miles.

Masters of Vessels who study economy and dispatch are requested to favour Mosman's Bay with an inspection, and to judge for themselves.

Applications to be addressed to Mr Stirling, or to the Superintendent, on the premises.

N.B. Vessels can water at the wharf.
Sydney, New South Wales,
April 2lst, 1846.


H.M.S. Fly, 29th October, 1845.

Dear Sir, - I have much pleasure in saying that I consider your Wharf at Mosman's Bay a very eligible spot to careen a ship and heave her down - that we found all the heaving-down apparatus in good order, and that the locality would be very favourable to a ship of war, from the absence of the temptations of grog, etc., etc., which she would be exposed to at the Sydney Wharves.

I am, yours truly,

John Stirling, Esq.

Sperm Oil Advertisement
Mosman's Bay by John Mather - 1889

What tales of the deep sea must have been exchanged on those harbour shores! When business was brisk the scents of the bush must have been altogether lost in a perfect. "gas attack" from decayed whale blubber ; but this period of activity did not endure. Actually the decline of this great centre was beginning in 1846, and by 1851 Mosman's Bay was no longer a place of industry. Then in 1860, it became a pleasure spot, a delightful place to take one's sweetheart.

Now, Mosman is a residential suburb. The peculiar Sydney trams run prosaically but noisily over the ground where the try-works smoked in days long past. The nurse-maid pushes her pram where some of the hardest "cases" of the sea once lurched, and the prouder house-owners wonder what will be its future since "flat-land" has disturbed the serenity of its complacent suburbanity.

The Barn, Mosman, NSW
The Barn, Mosman, Sydney, NSW

One surprising relic remains - the "Barn." It was built in 1831, and the crews of whale-ships used it when their ships were being "hove down." It was then a sail loft and storehouse. It has since been a "pub," astable, a candle-factory, a Frenchman's tannery, a skating-rink, a hall for election meetings and church bazaars. Now it is a centre for Boy Scouts. The photograph shows it long ago, in the old skating-rink days of 1880. May it long remain, a relic of the pre-machine period of modern history.

This is the most suitable place to break in with a story of Twofold Bay, which is one of the most remarkable in the history of Australian settlement. The whole business was the result of one striking figure, Ben Boyd, who passed like a meteor through the life of New South Wales ; then crashed ; and finally came to a tragic end by murder on a South Sea island.

Twofold Bay is an indentation of the eastern Australian coast, almost at the border between Victoria and New South Wales. It is just a quiet, pretty spot to-day - a small summer holiday centre for a few folk with interests in fishing. Most of the bay is clothed with thick bush which descends to the water's edge. On the northern shore is the small township of Eden, a sleepy hollow, worthy of better things, and a bigger population. No railway links it up with its rich hinterland and few ships now call at its quay. Twofold Bay seems a natural centre for an important seaport between Melbourne and Sydney, a fishing-town at least, and an obvious gateway to an agricultural area. But the peculiarities of Australian settlement with the magnetism of crowded life in a few big towns, have left Eden no opportunity. Indeed Twofold Bay has never been given a chance since Ben Boyd's extravaganza ; even the railway has kept proudly aloof from it. A remarkable fact considering Australian legislation! It is said that had the weather not been very bad when Captain Cook sighted the eastern coast of Australia in April of 1770, he would certainly have seen and explored Twofold Bay. If this had happened Botany Bay might never have been chosen for the first settlement, and Sydney - and the harbour of Port Jackson might have had their development delayed by many years.

Actually, Twofold Bay was mentioned as a possible harbour by the indefatigable Flinders in 1799. He also found the skeleton of a Right whale on the beach. No doubt the natives of those parts had often enjoyed the carcasses of Right whales during a long succession of years.

With the rise of Bay whaling Twofold Bay became one of the well-known Australian centres, although after the beginning made by Raine (see Chapter 4) it was only a small station, probably visited frequently by Launceston men, until Dr Imlay entered the business. Twofold Bay is the only place on the Australian coast where whaling has been continued in the old form until almost the present day, and by descendants of one of Boyd's own men.

Ben Boyd arrived from England on 18 July 1842. He was a man of about forty-five years of age, full of energy, and with a wide outlook. If he were living to-day, he would probably be amalgamating match companies! By profession he was a stockbroker - had been one in London, and was a director of the Union Bank of London. Evidently, Australia attracted him, and he determined to be a "big noise" there. He commenced by floating two concerns in London, the Royal Australian Bank and the Australian Wool Company. Possibly it was the latter which led him actually to descend upon Australia in person. He arrived at Sydney in some style, for he came in his own yacht - the Wanderer - with a few friends who were evidently as keen for adventure as he was. Amongst them were his brother, and the artist, Oswald Walters Brierly, a young man of twenty-five. Brierly had not only studied art, but naval architecture at Plymouth ; two of his paintings had, by 1839, been hung in the Royal Academy. Some idea of the style of Boyd's arrival can be gleaned from a newspaper article of the day, which describes the entrance of the Wanderer as follows :

This beautiful yacht arrived yesterday from Port Phillip after a tempestuous voyage of six days. On coming to an anchor in the cove the Velocity, schooner, belonging to Mr Boyd, fired a salute [footnote 2] and the neighbouring heights were crowded with spectators to witness her arrival. The Wanderer is armed to the teeth and is fitted up in the most splendid manner.

There is pretty clear evidence that Boyd had planned a whaling venture before he left England, although his main object at first was the development of a big pastoral industry. The capital behind him is said to have been over £300,000.

Three steamers of the St George Steam Packet Company, of which Boyd was a director, brought out stores, obviously intended for a whaling fleet. In a very short time large tracts of land were taken up in the present Riverina district of New South Wales and stocked with sheep. Twofold Bay was to be the shipping centre for the district.

Oswald Brierly, after reaching Sydney, remained with Boyd and apparently was ready to take up any sort of job. [footnote 3] His note-books (still in existence, and which I have been fortunate to peruse) don't indicate any great desire to drop all else for the sake of art. They throw a flood of light upon the life at Twofold Bay.

Headman of the whalers
A Sketch from Brierly's Note-Books
"James Imlay" was an aboriginal whaler in the employ of
Imlay Brothers of Twofold Bay.

Brierly left Sydney on 13 December 1842 on a steamer, the Sea Horse, bound for Hobart Town. He describes the trip down the coast, illustrating his account with sketches in pen and ink. The ship was to call at Twofold Bay ; actually she broke a piston-rod thereabouts and after landing some passengers returned to Sydney for repairs. Brierly, however, decided to remain at the bay, where he states Boyd contemplated purchasing some land. Almost his first notes tell us of the active Bay-whaling station there which belonged to Dr Imlay, the owner of a large cattle station: "The natives make very good whalers, and many of them are employed by Imlay, who gives provisions, etc., in return for their services." Brierly was, in fact, so intrigued by what he saw that he sketched the native headman of the whalers, who was decorated with the title, "James Imlay, King of the Tribe and Admiral of the Fleet." The name was inscribed on a brass plate. Many of the other members of the crews also wore brass plates bearing their names and rank and supplied by the far-sighted Imlays.

A few weeks later, after journeying about the district, Brierly and Boyd were picked up by the Wanderer and went on to visit Tasmania. [footnote 4] The following year Boyd took up 640 acres of land on Twofold Bay and then proceeded in a grandiose manner to create a township, called Boyd Town. Here his steamers were to call for wool and cattle, and his whalers were to call for stores.

There were two settlements on the southern shore of Twofold Bay separated by the Kiah River. The western township was Boyd Town. East Boyd was where Brierly lived. The southern shore was chosen by Boyd for his village, church, and landing jetties, whilst on the northern side the government township of Eden was already in existence, a very small village soon to be overshadowed by its remarkable competitor opposite.

Boyd Town was built in lavish style, a brick church on a hill was included, and also an unusually extensive hotel, the Sea Horse Inn. The adjectives used in the last sentence are not by any means too strong when one considers the primitive galvanized buildings which often represent the new outback settlements of more recent years. A lighthouse tower, seventy-six feet in height, was erected at the south-eastern extremity of the bay, and was the finest tower on the Australian coast for many years. But it was never a proper lighthouse, for the Government refused to use it since Boyd would not guarantee the light. It stands to-day as a fine coastal memorial to Boyd's enterprise and it will be there for many years to come, unless vandals deliberately pull it down. The little church, whose spire could be seen twenty miles out at sea, is a ruin. Eucalyptus-trees grow from its former aisles. The hotel might well have been preserved for history's sake, but after years of neglect the ruins have recently been purchased and embodied in a new structure. Some of us would prefer the ruins!

The building of this settlement on such extravagant lines (there were brick houses, veranda cottages, a long row of store buildings and salting and boiling-down houses) was largely under the control of Brierly himself, who had become a sort of resident manager. He frequently refers to the construction of the inn in his early note-books. Boyd often came down from Sydney in the Wanderer. The hotel was slated in August 1844. What gatherings took place there in the pot-room in the years that followed! It is significant that there was an iron drop shutter which could be lowered when the patrons became too rowdy, to cut off the bar counter from the rest of the room!

At this lonely spot, isolated from Sydney by land, and inconceivably far from the rest of the world when measured by modern standards, a little band of men, women, and children constituted an outpost of the British Empire. Deep-sea whalers called on them when it was convenient, to pick up the necessaries of life. The place also became a port of call for the small vessels trading between Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart Town.

On 4 April 1846, Twofold Bay and Boyd Town were advertised in the Hobart Press; the advertisement which follows appeared every month until at least the end of that year:


Boyd Town, Twofold Bay, N.S.W.

Ships can refresh or refit at this harbour, free of all port charges, pilotage, etc. and can obtain wood, water, fresh and salt provisions, vegetables, ship chandlery, stores and slops of every kind and description, and if required the services of experienced shipwrights and boat-builders upon the most reasonable terms.

N.R. Oil or bone taken in exchange.

Boyd's whalers were soon at work, for he plunged into the business with the same disregard for cost as in all his undertakings. And all the time the old Bay whaling still went on, right at the doors of the settlement. Boyd himself took part in a whale-chase on 4 November 1844. And Brierly often went out.

To the people of New South Wales this amazing development, and the facile style of it, must have appeared a triumph of organizing skill. Samuel Sidney, writing in London in 1852, on the Australian colonies, says that "Boyd was a man of apparently unlimited capital, an imposing personal appearance, fluent oratory, and a fair store of commercial acuteness, acquired on the Stock Exchange." It would not be difficult to find Boyd's counterpart in the last ten years, if we looked into some of the great European bankruptcies.

There is a possibility, of course, that with good luck (which in the case of the business man is often mistakenly regarded as foresight or exceptional intelligence), Boyd's wonderful scheme might have succeeded. But New South Wales was passing through a period of insolvency in 1841 and 1842, and the ill-fortune of his steamers heralded the tragic failure that was to follow. One of them, the Sea Horse, struck a rock ; this, however, was not as expensive as the insurance litigation which followed.

It might be regarded as surprising, seeing that Bay whaling was at his doors, so to speak, that Sperm whales formed the bulk of Boyd's captures. Some of the scattered remarks in Brierly's note-books indicate that, at least at the beginning, Boyd's Bay-whaling crews did not do too well. Brierly had a pretty shrewd suspicion that they were bribed by the Imlay men to miss the whale if they possibly could. It is fairly evident that there was competition in the bay. Boyd's ships were not unsuccessful, however, in the pursuit of the Sperm whale at sea ; they earned £42,000 from whale-oil in 1848, and sperm oil was always more valuable than the oil from Right whales.

Boyd became notorious, too, as one of the first men to introduce Kanakas to Australia, and there was some trouble at Twofold Bay on 9 April 1847, when an attempt was made to land a party from the New Hebrides. But these men were for his pastoral industry and not for his whale-ships. We have coupled Mosman's Bay with Boyd Town in this chapter because both places were active during the. same period ; and Boyd himself had a depot at Mosman's Bay. Further, his Sydney residence was near by at Neutral Bay. His ships were at Mosman's Bay frequently. It was the place for refitment.

From the year 1843 onwards to 1847 a growing discontent with the character and control of Ben Boyd reveals itself in Brierly's note-books. In 1847 he wrote :

Nothing proves more the unfitness of Boyd for all the purpose of... [indecipherable] than the events of the last three days. Here is a vessel of moderate tonnage obliged to warp out of the only protection which is afforded by the reef for want of sufficient water...

Boyd is exceedingly tired of Boyd Town, he says he is tired of the people. The people are disagreeable from the rounds of misunderstandings he has had with everybody.

This loss of esteem was the beginning of the end. Boyd knew before this that his affairs were in a condition far from favourable, and so did the shareholders in London. The crash came speedily. In 1848 the shareholders demanded his withdrawal from the company he had founded, but it seems he was allowed to retain his yacht and three of the whalers. The shareholders of the bank lost not only their capital, but £80,000 besides. On 26 October 1849, the Wanderer left Sydney for the last time, with Boyd on board, bound for America to join in the gold-hunt of California. No salutes greeted his departure! Boyd Town was soon deserted and left to decay.

Let us follow Boyd to the end. He had no luck in America and we next find him returning to the Lotus Islands of the Pacific, still with the beautiful yacht. It is said that he yet had schemes of magnitude and hoped to make a Papuan republic.

On 15 October 1851 he landed on Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands, and was never seen again. It is certain that he was murdered by the natives. After vainly searching for him, the crew sailed the Wanderer to Australia, but she was wrecked on the coast at the entrance to Port Macquarie, about 250 miles north of Sydney.

Rumours of Boyd's end kept the mystery alive at Sydney and three years afterwards two ships went in search. We read that the captain of one of them sailed away with a skull reputed to be that of Ben Boyd and for which he had given twenty tomahawks!

So ends the story of Ben Boyd. To-day, even the romance once attaching to his name is almost forgotten, except at Eden, where the ruins of the old church and the famous hotel are attractions for the few visitors from near and far. But we are not finished with Brierly. He is one of the characters who make the story of Australian whaling of wider interest.

The old note-books, practically diaries, of Brierly are amongst the treasures of the Mitchell Library, Sydney. There are several of them covering the years during which he was at Twofold Bay. The early ones were well kept, the penmanship was neat, and everything was well ordered. Later the handwriting became worse and worse; the matter was badly set down - many weeks elapsing with but little of interest. It is clear, however, from these scraps, that Brierly was intensely interested in whaling, and aimed at writing a book which should tell the world the whole story. Over and over again he describes incidents which occurred when he was present, often repeating a description of the same event.

Most interesting of all, however, is the way in which he writes notes on himself. One can almost discern his moods ; possibly the loneliness and the lack of congenial spirits at Boyd Town made him introspective. His literary intentions are set out in programme form ; he tells himself that he must write a daily journal of everything connected with whaling, and must illustrate it. Here, actually, is his plan :

Must begin with preparations for launch of boats, the Tryworks, the Blubber removing, the Boiling - appearance at night - dark figures against the flaring light to be put in sketch, how to test when oil is boiled enough. Danger of burning.

Secure these particulars and this with your daily journal and the sketches will make a work that will at once give you position - but whatever you do make it complete. Let no thing divert you from this one object and do not tell others.

Describe the look-out. How boats are all ready. Yarns in the look-out - give some instances, opposition boats, a ruse, exclamations of people watching, struggles, the death, towing him in. The Killers. [footnote 5]

And so on.

Unfortunately, only a little of the matter that was to come under these heads is given. Brierly at this time seems either to have had too much to do, or to have been troubled with an artistic temperament which set him to do things, but couldn't keep him down to them for long.

'Flurry' by Oswald Walters B. Brierly
'Flurry' by Oswald Walters B. Brierly - 1865.

Photo: Courtesy of National Art Gallery, Sydney.

He did, however, make sketches and paintings and later on these were to be utilized in some of his finest works. They are wonderful records of the sea. Probably no other artist has seen a tithe of what Brierly experienced on shipboard, and certainly he stands alone as an artist with a knowledge of the habits of whalers and their prey. One fine painting of considerable size depicts the whole story of the final "flurry", and no other picture in existence reveals such correct details of a whale-boat at the climax of the chase. It is in the National Art Gallery, Sydney, and is reproduced in the frontispiece. It is worthy of being better known.

Brierly said good-bye for ever to Twofold Bay on 18 April 1848, and returned to Sydney. On 18 September 1847, a certain Captain Stanley, commanding H.M.S. Rattlesnake, a survey ship, had visited Twofold Bay (in H.M. Schooner Bramble to determine the best site for a customs house and to make other surveys. He is known to have visited Boyd Town. This may explain the step which determined the whole of Brierly's subsequent career, for, a short time after reaching Sydney, Brierly was invited by Captain Stanley to accompany him on a surveying voyage to the north of Australia. He accepted, and in so doing, made an interesting contact with a young man destined to become a world-famous scientist, for Thomas Henry Huxley was serving his first appointment as assistant surgeon on this same ship. The Rattlesnake had been away from England about three years and Brierly was on board during her last voyages from Sydney to the Australian coral seas. So Huxley and Brierly must have been close messmates for several months.

HMS Rattlesnake off Sydney Heads
HMS Rattlesnake off Sydney Heads by Oswald Walters Brierly - 1849

Photo: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

One result of this voyage was the famous painting of the Rattlesnake in a storm, carried out in pastel and water colours on the wall of a room in a friend's house in Mosman. It was twenty feet across. Unfortunately, it could not be preserved when the old house was taken down and all we have as a record is a small reproduction in colours.

It would be a pity not to continue the story of Brierly, still a wanderer, unsettled and uncertain. He came back to Sydney, and then accepted an invitation from Captain Keppel, of H.M.S. Meander, to make a Pacific cruise. After this he returned to England. Through Keppel's friendship, he sailed again on ships of the British Navy, and took part in the naval campaign in the Baltic and the Crimean War in the Black Sea. The paintings and other illustrations made on these voyages brought him great renown. His pictures were brought to the notice of Queen Victoria, and he was instructed to make a painting of the grand naval review as seen from her yacht. Thenceforward, he was a friend of Royalty, accompanying the princes on their world voyages, and was honoured with the title, "Marine Painter to Her Majesty, the Queen." He died - Sir Oswald Brierly - in London in 1894.

Probably the scattered whaling notes which fill page after page of Brierly's Twofold Bay note-books would never have reached the public eye at all, had it not been for an occurrence of considerable interest in itself.

The world-renowned anatomist, Professor Richard Owen, happened to say (in the course of some remarks on the urgent necessity of having a collection of whale specimens in London) that the Right whale was confined to the northern hemisphere. This was reported in the Athenaeum in July 1861.

Naturally Brierly (who was even then painting a picture of the Right whales of Twofold Bay) was provoked to reply. His note-books show that he wrote and re-wrote the letter until satisfied with its contents. It contained whole paragraphs from his early diaries of fifteen years before.

Professor Owen responded in academic vein, and it must be confessed that his letter was not altogether a fair retort, for he proceeded to stress the differences between the southern Right whale of Brierly, and the northern Right whale, without admitting that after all both were Right whales.

Brierly was decidedly annoyed at his tone, but his long reply in the Athenaeum of 7 September, 1861, was polite and not nearly so interesting as the first drafted sketch to be seen in his note-book, which runs as follows :

All your readers will be impressed with the profound research and knowledge displayed in Professor Owen's paper and I feel really honoured by the degree of notice which he has thought fit to take of my communication, but practical and unscientific men furnish in many points the data upon which such conclusions are founded.

The natural haunt of the Whale not being the British Museum, there are points of the greatest scientific interest respecting whales which cannot be studied there from any of the stuffed skins and which can only be ascertained by close observation of the animal in its living state.

I like the last part of this!

Some of Brierly's other notes are scattered elsewhere in this book. They are valuable records from a keen observer of the past. In fact, he asserts that the men who went awhaling from ships at sea had never had the same good chance of describing the whales and their antics, as those who, like himself, fished from the shore.

Whilst removing the blubber at the shore the whale can be turned round and round like a cask and examined easily. After the blubber has been removed the whale often lies high and dry on the beach and can be studied at leisure.

It is in this connexion that he described the aboriginals of Twofold Bay feeding inside the carcass of a whale, and coming out so covered and disfigured by the visit to such an interior as to appear totally unlike anything human.

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footnote 1

I leave these words of the first edition, but I am sorry you cannot wander over the ruins of Sea Horse Inn. Instead of being preserved as an historical monument, the old building has been bought and patched up with unfortunate alterations.- W.J.D.


footnote 2

Boyd had sent out four vessels to precede him with stores, etc., but it is hardly correct to say that they belonged to him. There were some shareholders in England. They had put up about £300,000 between them! There is plenty of evidence to indicate that Boyd was very friendly with the richest financiers of London and with members of the aristocracy.


footnote 3

It is difficult to determine how Brierly came to leave England with Boyd in the first instance, except that he was always fond of adventure, and the opportunity of a trip around the world certainly appealed to him. This voyage would give him much knowledge of the sea and of ships. It is imposiible, however, to explain why he remained at Twofold Bay for five years.


footnote 4

A very interesting note in the Hobart Town Courier of 10 February 1843, says that: "His Excellency, Sir John and Lady Franklin, honoured Benjamin Boyd, Esq., the owner of this beautiful marine model, with a visit on Wednesday and partook of a dejeuner a la fourchette on board, provided with every delicacy. The appointments of the Wanderer are such as to gratify the most fastidious; but independently of the perfection of her naval fittings-up, the cabins of this beautiful yacht contain some very attractive paintings, among which the marine sketches of Mr Brierly are conspicuous for their freedom of touch and truth to nature."


footnote 5

See Whaling Extraordinary at Eden, Chapter viii.