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ian hoskins : sydney harbour, 2009 

Ian Hoskins : Sydney Harbour, 2009.

Hoskins, Ian:
Sydney Harbour - A History.
UNSW Press, Sydney, 2009. 

Introduction
This

Page 60

Daniel Paine was writing in 1795 and 1796 as confidence in local timber was growing.
Captain Henry Waterhouse was another enthusiast.
He had sailed to Botany Bay and Port Jackson in 1788 with Phillip in the Sirius.
In 1794 Henry was the commander of the Reliance which brought Daniel Paine to the colony, returned Bennelong to his harbour home and delivered John Hunter as the new governor.
A naval man with a good eye for commercial opportunities on land, Waterhouse was the first to import merino sheep to the country.
Some of these he sold to John Macarthur on whose estuarine estate, Elizabeth Farm, they would begin to multiply and seed the flocks that came to cover the colony in the next century.

Waterhouse was very impressed with the quality of the wood used to
 
Page 61

1796 by attempting — unsuccessfully — to cross the mountains that confined the settlement to the harbour and hinterlandrepair his decrepit Reliance as it lay 'alongside the Rocks in the town of Sydney' in 1796.
Both straight and crooked timbers were easily obtained ''close to the Water's edge ... through the whole Harbour of Port Jackson''.
The planking wood was so hard that nails ''drove in'' could not be removed.
The timber's essential oils and gums were good for more than medicines and balms, giving remarkable protection against rot. Unlike northern hemisphere naval timbers such as black birch, this wood could survive voyaging in warm and cold waters. Responding to the demand for new sources of naval timber in 1802, Waterhouse wrote about his own observations of the first wood that had been felled around the harbour and his incidental experiments conducted over two tours of duty in the colony.
He examined the trunks that had been cut and rolled into the harbour to create the first clearings back in 1788.
They had apparently survived a decade in saltwater unaffected: "Logs when taken up again in 1798, were as sound as when cut down — not the smallest appearance of decay."(32)
The peculiarities of this perverse nature were at last delivering benefits.

The official activity on the harbour occurred in the government boat-shed built on the eastern side of Sydney Cove in 1788 and the new yard laid out on the west side in 1797.
By the end of that year there were 16 shipwrights, boatbuilders, labourers and watchmen working.
These men built a pinnace and other small craft for the Reliance and the Supply.
Repairs were carried out on the boat that came out with the Pitt.
Several small boats used at the South Head fishery and by the hospital were also reconditioned.
The boatyard had been improved further with various sheds and a ''steamer'' erected for seasoning planks.(33)
For the settlement up at Parramatta they had also built a 'whaleboat', a long rowing boat often fitted with a sail.
This was probably the ''excellent'' cedar-and-banksia craft made available to the adventurous surgeon George Bass so that he might explore the south coast while his ship the Reliance was being overhauled in Sydney Cove.
Bass had proved his ''active disposition'' in

Page 62


1796 by attempting — unsuccessfully — to cross the mountains that confined the settlement to the harbour and hinterland.
He had already investigated Botany Bay and the Georges River with Lieutenant Matthew Flinders in an 2.4-metre boat called Tom Thumb.
A similarly small craft, also called Tom Thumb and built in Port Jackson, took Bass into Port Hacking farther south.(34)
He would later explore the coastal coal seams at what would be called Coalcliff.
In December 1797 Bass and six others took the harbour-built whaleboat down past Point Hicks, the place where James Cook had first sighted the Australian coast.
The 1900-kilometre trip took 12 weeks and along the way Bass found Jervis Bay, Shoalhaven River, Twofold Bay, Wilsons Promontory and Western Port.
So great were the swells off the southernmost tip of the mainland that Bass thought he was in a strait of water separating the mainland from Van Diemen's Land.
He would prove this with Flinders later in 1798 when the pair circumnavigated the island.
(35)

In this way the vast colony of New South Wales was slowly consolidated: ships and small boats setting out from Port Jackson naming bays and interesting rivers and claiming distant islands.
Bass's discovery — which promised to shorten the trip from Britain's South African Cape colony to Port Jackson - was named Bass Strait in the surgeon's honour by Governor Hunter in 1799.
The whaleboat survived for a time as a waterside shrine: 'preserved in the harbour with a kind of religious respect', in the words of the visiting scientist Francois Peron.
A few snuff boxes were made from its keel and treasured as 'relics' by those lucky enough to obtain them.
On the French map of Sydney Cove, the position of 'Chaloupe de M. Bass' - Mr Bass's rowboat — was expressly marked sitting below the Rocks.
Its inclusion placed it alongside other noteworthy sites, such as the granary, the defensive battery and the governor's house.
A fragment of its timber was decorated with a silver band engraved with the details of Bass's discoveries.
Hunter's successor as governor, Philip King, presented this to Nicholas Baudin, Peron's commander, in 1802.(36)


Page 63

It was a poignant gift for a Frenchman.
Enacted in a brief moment of peace between the two nations, the act was undoubtedly a gesture of conciliation.
King had already extended extraordinary hospitality to the crew of the two French ships — providing fresh food and care for the many suffering from scurvy, and even approving the sale of a locally built schooner to the expedition (the Casuarina, so-named after the useful she-oak that lined the harbour's edge).
King knew the presence of these ships was a temptation for would-be stowaways and he ordered that a government cutter be rowed round and round the little fleet all the while it was in the harbour.
Yet there was suspicion of the French as well.
Baudin's ships were sharing the har¬bour with the Investigator, captained by Matthew Flinders and sent to chart the Australian coast in response to the French expedition.(37)
With its cartographic inscription, the embellished chunk of wood from Mr Bass's rowboat might also, therefore, have served as a subtle reminder to the French of who had been quick enough to claim the spoils of discovery in 1788.


For his part, Matthew Flinders sailed out from Port Jackson and turned left as Baudin went right and headed south.
George Bass's little harbour-built boat still lay near the place where the colony had been declared in January 1788: a memorial to the imperial endeavour and, perhaps, the skill of the local boatbuilders.
Flinders continued his circumnavigation around the northern coastline and returned to Sydney's harbour in June 1803.
He named the continent he had circled ''Australia".(38)


Page 143

While Pockley, Harnett and the Milsons were enjoying the salt spray aboard their racing yachts, others were immersing themselves in the har­bour itself.
The therapeutic benefits of the sea had been appreciated by Europeans for a hundred years.
The English went to Brighton, the French to Nice - to bathe and be rejuvenated by sea air.
Some even drank the salty liquid in the hope of curing jaundice and other ailments.
The physical stim­ulation was enhanced by the underlying sense of danger and awe generated by the Sublime vastness, power and coldness of the sea.
With temperate waters and no waves, the main threat in Sydney's saltwater came from the ever-present sharks.
Fifty years earlier, Governor King had warned con­victs of these ''voracious'' fish and forbade them from bathing in Sydney Cove — presumably for fear of attracting the monsters to the bay.
Nonethe­less, bathing, often nude, was very popular.
So much so that Macquarie had again forbade the practice at the government wharf and dockyard, this time

Page 144

in the interest of decency.(59)
But the governor could recognise a good beach himself.
In 1821 he had noted that the pilot's station at Watsons Bay was ''admirably well calculated for sea bathing, there being a very fine smooth sandy beach below the House for that purpose''.(60)
In 1828 Ralph Darling's castellated bathhouse provided more accessible privacy for the governor's vivification.
By then a fondness and aptitude for swimming was being rec­ognised as a defining characteristic of a distinct colonial ''type''. Local boys seemed oblivious to the dangers of sharks and many of the girls of the port could ''swim and dive like waterhens''.(61) There were baths in Darling Har­bour in the 1820s and, in the 1830s, swimming enclosures had opened for men and women in Woolloomooloo Bay.
The men's baths used the hull of an obsolete American-built paddle steamer called the Ben Bolt and took its name from the same.


By the 1860s children were swimming around the wharves of Dar­ling Harbour without supervision and also, it seems, from the beach at the bottom of the Brisbane House garden across the harbour.
That small spot was known colloquially as ''the reserve''.
James Milson disapproved of the bathers while coveting the waterfront and he applied to acquire the fore­shore and the land down to the low-water mark.
The attempt prompted the local member for the Legislative Assembly, William Tunks, to mobilise his constituents and oppose the application on the grounds that so much of the waterfront to the west and east had already been alienated from the public.
Tunks was developing a passion for defending public lands around the har­bour.
When Milson's application was approved, Tunks took it before a par­liamentary committee and ensured he was the chairman.


The value of controlling foreshore land had dawned on colonial authori­ties rather late.
Had Milson confirmed his 20 hectares before 1828 the water­front would have been his.
For the first 30 years of colonisation there was, apparently, plenty of foreshore.
The land between Rose Bay and Watsons Bay, where Vaucluse would subsequently be built, was alienated from 1793.

Page 145

In that year John Piper acquired his 285 hectares to the east, having already secured the Point Piper estate opposite.

It was not until 1825 that Governor Brisbane was instructed to consider the importance of reserving public ownership of land near, among other places, ''navigable streams or the sea Coast, which may be convenient at some future time to appropriate Quays and Landing Places''.(62)
In 1828 Dar­ling decreed that 100 feet (30 metres) be reserved above high water around ''the Sea Coast, Creeks, Harbours and Inlets'' on all Crown land still unalien­ated.
(63)
But by then much of the foreshore land around the harbour had been sold or simply given away.

By the 1860s the government was clawing back some of this foreshore.
Land at Middle Head and Georges Head was resumed for defence.
In 1866 the democrat Tunks was more concerned about public access and recreation.
There was the Domain enclosure and a ''warm and cold seabathing estab­lishment'' at the popular resort of Manly Cove — near the spot where man and shark had fought for possession of the
Dunbar corpse — but little else in 'ninety-five miles [150 kilometres] of water frontage''.
Tunks was as tena­cious as he was dismissive of the evidence that suggested that Lavender Bay was in fact not well suited to bathing.
His committee duly recommended that ''facilities should be afforded for public recreation and cleanliness espe­cially among the working classes; and that places for sea-water bathing are desirable, as affording a healthful and invigorating recreation, and calcu­lated to administer to the comfort, as well as to develop the physical powers and courage of the people'', and that the contested site at Lavender Bay ''be permanently reserved as a place of public recreation and as a site for public baths''.
(64)

By the early 1900s there were baths at Lavender Bay, Pyrmont, Balmain and more up the river.
''Professor'' Fred Cavill operated enclosures at Farm Cove and Woolloomooloo.
He had leased baths below the Milson property since the 1880s to instruct Sydneysiders in the 'noble art' — for

Page 146


they were, after all, ''constantly on the waters of the Harbour''.(65)
It was there, reputedly, that his son Dick developed the Australian crawl, the overarm style that revolutionised competitive swimming around the world.
It was at Lavender Bay also that the young Barney Kieran, the graduate from Henry Parkes' nautical school, broke the world record for a 440-yard (400-metre) swim in 1905.
Kieran travelled to Britain to compete that year, where he bettered more records and was declared, by an astonished onlooker, to be ''a fish, not a man''.(66
)

Kieran was not the first ''colonial'' champion to emerge from the peo­ple's harbour.
The rower Edward Trickett had a local pedigree to rival Kieran, having grown up beside the Parramatta River and married the daughter of the South Head lighthouse keeper.
In 1876 he became ''the champion sculler of the world'' after defeating the Englishman James Sadler on the river Thames.
The following year ''the harbour was dotted with every imaginable species of craft'' as Sydney's traditional Anniversary Day regatta celebrated both imperial foundations and Trickett's achieve­ment on the water.(67)
The presentation of a public purse of ''900 sovereigns'' made the sentiment all the more tangible.
The water and the quay was crowded again in 1887 with well-wishers trying to glimpse and touch the muscular sculler William Beach when he returned from another successful colonial assault upon the British.
The Illustrated Sydney News described the ''magnificent affair'' in a manner that was both biblical and almost profane: ''To see Beach, to touch him, to rub shoulders with him, was an enviable joy, while to walk in his footsteps around the town was the consummation of all earthly joy.''(68
)

The adulation accorded Trickett and Beach reflected the incipient sense of nationalism in the colony, an identity increasingly separate from the imperial centre that immigrant and local-born still called ''home''.
Four years after Federation, the world champion Kieran was one of Australia's first truly national heroes.
He soon became one of its first tragic heroes

Page 146

Kieran died of appendicitis within weeks of returning to the harbour city - at the age of 19.
The inscription on his grave echoed the intent behind William Tunks's campaign for public bathing at the bay where Kieran broke his first record: ''He won his laurels by courage, self-denial and patient effort.''(
69)


Page
167

The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia probably did more than any other single publication to bring quality illustration to the people.
Some fifty thousand subscribers received their monthly instalments between 1886 and 1888.(23)
The Picturesque Atlas included some of the best engraved images yet published in the colony.
Three of its staff artists, Frederick Schell, W. T. Smedley and W. C. Fitler, were recruited from North America and the pub­lication also employed some of the finest colonial artists working commer­cially.
Among them were Tom Roberts, AH Fullwood and Julian Ashton, all,of whom socialised with Arthur Streeton at the Curlew Camp.

The subject matter of this and other illustrated publications was domi­nated by rural rather than urban scenes.
As one contemporary observer noted, next to the dramatic subjects, Australians loved ''horses, cows or sheep'' in their pictures.(24)
The Picturesque Atlas also included a great many city views.

Most were of grand buildings and boulevards but some, such as Fitler's engraving of Sydney's Haymarket area, captured the intensity of

Page 168

the urban crowd.
The harbour, not surprisingly, was well represented.
Fitler and Schell executed most of these, including the boatsheds at Lavender Bay and a very Venetian rendering of waterside villas at Elizabeth Bay and Dar­ling Point.
Ashton pictured Fort Macquarie with discoloured stonework and shell-encrusted foundations, which spoke of an ''ancient'' lineage and would have delighted its originator and namesake.
Ashton's Shipping, Circular Quay showed tall-masted ships being loaded and unloaded on the east side of the quay.
The image was probably copied from a glass-plate photograph and it accompanied a brief mention of ''the strong-pulsed life and bustling activ­ity'' at the cove.(25)


Yet the lumpers in Ashton's picture were hardly bigger than ants.
There was no place for character studies of wharf workers, sailors, fishermen in the Picturesque Atlas, no portside equivalent of Ashton's rangy Boundary Rider, who appeared in volume 3, or the axeman of Streeton's The Selector's Hut.
The situation was different 40 years earlier, when one of the earliest illus­trated newspapers had shown a one-legged mariner looking out at the har­bour through a waterfront window.
It accompanied a poem called ''The Retired Seaman'', a nostalgic romance of the sea
 But that was in 1847, when memories of a Port Jackson whaling fleet were still fresh and the gold rush and Selection Acts (which made land for grazing and cropping available to those with limited means) had yet to tempt the adventurous to the interior.
In 1896 one Royal Navy officer from the harbour's Australian station could generalise that the Australian-born does not appear to take readily to a sea­faring life as a profession'.(26
)







Hoskins, Ian:

Sydney Harbour - A History.
UNSW Press, Sydney, 2009. 

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Geoff Cater (2015) : Ian Hoskins : Sydney Harbour, 2009.
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