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Port of Newcastle 1856

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Port of Newcastle 1856


In 1856 twelve Newcastle men petitioned parliament to establish a Local Trinity Board, constituted by law for the Port of Newcastle. They petitioned at the same time for the establishment of a first class Steam Tug, to be supported by Dues to be regulated and applied by the said Board to be collected from all vessels entering the Port of Newcastle.

Following is an extract from the petition giving three of the testimonies of the several men who had long been associated with maritime concerns at Newcastle. Their evidence gives insight into the many dangers of Port of Newcastle at that time. Three of the men who gave evidence were:

John Bingle

Robert Lorn Pattison

William Mulhall

The full Report submitted to Parliament can be read here

Their petition was apparently unsuccessful as John Bingle afterwards claimed to have brought the first steam tug, Lowestoft, to Newcastle in the late 1850s. The Lowestoft was wrecked in a storm off Newcastle in 1864.

Introduction to the Report


26 November 1856

To the Honorable the Legislative Council of New South Wales in Parliament

The Petition of the undersigned, the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, and Committee of the Chamber of Commerce of Newcastle:

Humbly Sheweth:
That the trade of Newcastle (the great and increasing importance of which will be admitted) is endangered and its character as a Port prejudicially affected, by the number of Shipwrecks which occur at the entrance of its Harbour.

That, besides that these wrecks are frequently fatal to life, the destruction of property which they involve is seriously injurious to Commerce.

That it is notorious that, while these wrecks occur with disastrous regularity, and almost without exception, proceed from causes against which it is not difficult to provide, no sufficient means have yet been taken for their prevention.

That first, in indispensable importance, as a means to be used under local direction, is the establishment of a powerful Steam Tug, which would be valuable as well in the prevention of Shipwrecks as in assisting vessels in and out of the Harbour and in removing them to and from the Coal Shoots, the necessity for a Steam Tug being incidental to the whole economy of the Port.

Barque Norham Castle Abandoned by the Steam Tug Mystery - Illustrated Australian News 9 August 1875
The Barque Norham Castle Abandoned by the Steam Tug Mystery off Newcastle


John Bingle


Monday 3 November 1856. John Bingle, Esq., called in, and examined :—

By the Chairman: You reside in Newcastle?
A. I do.

2. I believe you are a merchant and commission agent there?
A. Yes, and Lloyd's Agent.

3. How many years have you been resident in Newcastle?
A. Between five and six years.

4. You were originally brought up to the nautical profession?
A. Yes; both in the merchant and East India Company's service.

5. You have had, of course, since you have been resident in Newcastle, great opportunities of witnessing the disasters that have taken place there to vessels entering and leaving the harbour?
A. I have.

6. What wind do you consider the most dangerous and difficult for a vessel to enter that port in?
A. A southerly wind.

7. When there is westing in it I suppose there is less sea?
A. Yes; but you cannot get in.

8. What are the most prominent dangers in entering the harbour with a southerly wind?
A. The Oyster Bank is right to leeward of you.

9. What time of tide is the most dangerous and difficult for vessels to enter?
A. No particular time of tide.

10. During your residence in Newcastle have you seen any vessels wrecked there?
A. Yes, several.

11. Can you state to the Committee about how many vessels you have seen wrecked there, or in any particular instances the circumstances under which they were wrecked?
A. I must have seen five or six, or more - I cannot tell you from memory.

12. Did it occur to you, in any particular instance, that had a different course been pursued the accident might have been prevented?
A. Had there been a steam-tug, or, in some cases, a life-boat, they could have been got out, and it would have been prevented.

13. Would it be desirable to have a steam-tug of moderate power stationed under Nobby's Island, in heavy weather, with the steam up?
A. Yes; that would obviate almost every difficulty.

14. There are buoys, I believe, at Newcastle?
A. Yes; there are some that have been laid down lately.

15. Are those buoys at present in the best positions in which they could be placed?
A. Yes, I believe they are; they are in mid-channel, where a vessel could be warped in safety.

16. Have any shipwrecks or disasters taken place since the buoys were placed?
A. Yes, I believe one or two. I was not there at the time. It was about a month ago. It would require a steam vessel to take a hawser. The Oyster Bank is just to leeward. Generally these vessels have not had good ground tackling; it has not been sufficiently heavy

17. Will you explain what are the dangers to which a vessel is liable in entering Newcastle from the southward - taking into account the position of the harbour, placing yourself on board ship, and running in with a southerly wind?
A. As soon as you get off the Oyster Bank you must let go the anchors, and clue up every thing, and if your ground tackling is good you may hold on and ride out the gale; but if your tackling does not hold, you will drive, and go right on and over the Oyster Bank to the beach.

18. There is no space or distance to give a ship cable?
A. No; because you are nearly on the Oyster Bank when you let go the anchor. The winds that bring ships down are generally southerly gales. A prudent man would lie off the moment he got in sight of the light, and not run for the harbour until the weather moderated.

19. There is a light at Newcastle at present from sunset to sunrise?
A. Yes.

20. Is that light sufficient at present for the protection of shipping?
A. Yes, I think it is.

21. It is only looked upon as a temporary light?
A. It has been there upwards of forty years.

22. By Captain Lethbridge: It is still a heap of coals, burning day and night?
A. Yes; it does not go out in the day time, and is just lighted up in the evening. There is no alternative when a man stands in with a southerly gale than to run under Nobby's, and anchor there; Port Stephens runs out so far to the eastward that he cannot clear it by lying off - he gets into the bight.

23. By the Chairman: You say that if a moderately powerful steam-tug were stationed under Nobby's, in any weather, moored to a buoy, all ready to help a vessel entering the Port, it would be sufficient, generally speaking?
A. Yes. There is a case mentioned in to-day's paper of two vessels which, if it had not been for the exertions of the pilots, would have gone on to the Oyster Bank.

24. I suppose this steam-boat could be rendered available for other purposes besides bringing ships in, in bad weather?
A. Yes; it could be made available for bringing ships in and out of the harbour, and taking them under the shoot, or elsewhere.

25. You think a steam-tug of that description not only desirable for the salvation of vessels, but for its general utility?
A. Yes. I have known vessels to lie in harbour nine or ten days with north easters, which would have been a favorable wind if they could have got out

26. Do you think, from your knowledge as a shipping agent, and the intercourse you have had with the owners of coasters, that there would be any hesitation on their part to pay the expense of a steam-tug of that description?
A. I think not.

27. As a shipowner yourself, you would have no objection?
A. Not the slightest.

28. In point of fact, the services of such a tug would be paid for from an extra charge for pilotage?
A. Yes; the present charge for pilotage is five shillings a foot, in and out; the other would be a trifle in addition.

29. How many pilots are there at Newcastle at present?
A. Two; one of them is sick - he has been sick for the last three weeks or more.

30. They have to do all the duty?
A. Yes, inside and out, harbour, and every thing.

31. Do you think that number of pilots sufficient for the wants of the Port?
A. No; there ought to be three outside pilots, as long as you have no steam-boats; to allow one for sickness, and contingencies of that sort; and there ought to be two inner pilots, as harbour pilots, to transfer ships from the shoots to the Horseshoe, and one river pilot for Morpeth.

32. That would be four altogether?
A. Yes, if you have a steam-tug; if not it would be five.

33. In the event of a steam-tug being employed, you would have the master a pilot?
A. Yes, one of the pilots should always be in charge of the steam-boat during the day, to go out, under the Harbour Master's direction.

34. By Captain Lethbridge: I suppose there is scarcely more than one vessel shifting at a time?
A. Yes, sometimes four or five. Now, there is a constant confusion, spars being carried

35. By the Chairman: Which you think would he obviated if there were a steam-tug?
A. A vessel is first brought up in the Horseshoe, then she is removed to the Ballast Wharf, from the Ballast Wharf to the Shoot, where she takes in, perhaps, a hundred and fifty to three hundred tons of coals, and then she is brought down again and put into the Horseshoe. I have known vessels to be delayed for days for want of a pilot. If there are ships outside, with only two pilots, nothing can be done in the harbour.

36. When a vessel heaves in Sight the pilot must leave off whatever he is doing to bring her in?
A. Yes.

37. Has the trade of Newcastle much increased of late?
A. Yes; I should say the trade of Newcastle has increased to nearly half the trade of Port Jackson; the number of tons entering in and out, as near as I can recollect, amounts to half as much as Port Jackson.

38. Have you any particular data, on this point, with which you can furnish the Committee?
A. Yes, my Lloyd's Book will show; I think forty or fifty thousand tons a year without the small coasters - an average of one vessel arriving and departing every day.

39. Will you furnish the Committee with a memorandum on that subject?
A. I will.

40. How far do the pilots go out to sea to meet ships in moderate weather?
A. Some distance; according to circumstances.

41. Where are they able to board them in bad weather?
A. Under Nobby's.

42. They cannot look at a ship, I suppose, in bad weather, until she is in difficulty?
A. They do so sometimes.

43. Have you a code of signals?
A. Yes, Marryatt's.

44.. To communicate to ships in the offing how to act according to circumstances?
Yes. The first questions are - Where are you from? what are you? what is your name? If it is blowing from the southward they make the signal to stand off - it is more prudent than letting them come to anchor under Nobby's - unless they have run in too close. A prudent man, the moment he sees the light, should stand off the land at once, and wait for fine weather before he comes in.

45. In bad weather a pilot cannot board a vessel until she is in the midst of danger?
A. They do; I have seen our pilots venture out a long way; they have good boat's crews, New Zealanders; they go out a long way. If they are not engaged they manage to get on board ships in some way or other.

46. Do you think a pilot boarding a ship, under such circumstances, can be of much service, that is when rounding Nobby's?
A. Not a great deal, unless everything on board is prepared.

47. Supposing a steam-tug were placed there by the Government, and a regular tonnage charge were made on all vessels going in and out, with or without the use of the tug-boat, would such a charge be cheerfully paid, do you think?
A. Yes, I think so.

48. Do you recollect a steam-tug that was at Newcastle at that time?
A. Yes, the Sophia.

49. What was the reason that that tug-boat did not succeed as a private speculation?
A. She came during the winter, and as during the winter months the winds are strong from the westward, the ships did not require her to take them out. There was, besides, a great dearth of shipping at that time; I never saw so slack a time as when she was there.

50. How long ago is it since she was there?
A. She arrived the Queen's Birthday before last, and, I think, she was there about six or eight months.

51. By Captain Lethbridge: She did not stay there the year round?
A. No.

52. By Mr. Hood: Were there any instances of ships being saved from going on the Oyster Bank while she was there?
A. Yes; one lost a rudder on Nobby's, and Captain Pattison, who formerly had the Rose, took her out and fetched in the vessel.

53. By the Chairman: During the time the Sophia was there one vessel was saved?
A. One, I recollect; there might have been more.

54. Do you consider Newcastle a difficult port to enter and depart from?
A. No. It is not so easy as many other ports, but speaking generally it is not a difficult port. It has its share of difficulty, and the entrance is narrow, but if you have a fair or leading wind there is no difficulty. The difficulty is to get out with a foul one; you cannot get out with that.

55. Was the steam-tug Sophia of sufficient power for the purpose contemplated?
A. Yes.

56. What was her power?

57. Would a vessel like the Sophia be able to tow a ship to sea in an ordinary Seabreeze?
A. Yes, I have seen her do it. If you were purchasing a vessel I would prefer a little more power.

58. You would recommend more power for a vessel to be thoroughly adapted to the purpose?
A. Yes; then let the weather be what it would she could either tow a vessel in or out.

59. Are the present buoys of any service - are you aware how they are moored, and whether the anchors and chains are sufficient?
A. Yes, the anchors are quite sufficient, as far as weight goes; I do not know anything about how they are placed. I know there is one buoy under Nobby's.

60. Would it be possible to pull a hawser from that to a vessel anchored off the Oyster Bank?
A. Yes.

61. Is there a life-boat at Newcastle?
A. Yes.

62. Where is she kept or moored?
A. Close by the Harbour Master's place, in the shed.

63. Is that, in your opinion, a proper place?
A. It was not for the other life boat, because she could not be got under the bridge very readily; but I do not see the utility of having the life-boat at Nobby's, as people would have to go that distance to man her; a life-boat could be more easily manned from the Wharf.

64. In the position in which the life-boat is placed, at present, can she be made use of at all times of the tide?
A. I cannot answer that question. The former life-boat could not, for she could not be got under the bridge, and when she was wanted there were neither oars, rowlocks, or anything else ready.

65. Is this boat in the same shed?
A. Yes.

66. And would be in the same position?
A. I cannot say; I have not seen her. The other life-boat was far too large

67. Have you seen the life-boat go off to ships in distress?
A. Formerly.

68. Will you state to the Committee how things are managed on such occasions - say a ship Is likely to go on shore on the Oyster Bank, and the crew are in danger?
A. The pilot would take the life-boat to her.

69. Under the directions of the Harbour Master?
A. He stopping on shore, or going himself.

70. But the pilot acted under his directions?
A. Yes.

71. Have they found any difficulty in getting volunteers on such occasions?
A. No I have seen men very readily jump in, in such cases, and a boat or two would convey parties to the north shore with blankets, to pick up men in the surf. I have generally been over there myself on such occasions.

72. I suppose there are regulations for the harbour?
A. Yes

73. Are those regulations, in your opinion, carried out?
A. No. I myself, with Colonel McPherson, had the Harbour Regulations gazetted, and a board has since been erected on the wharf.

74. Are the regulations strictly complied with, and does the Harbour Master keep the channel clear for the navigation of ships passing up and down?
A. No, it is not kept clear; there is great difficulty in doing so, for the want chiefly of harbour pilots

75. A steam-tug would be useful in that respect?
A. Yes; that would obviate all difficulty.

76. Is it the case, generally speaking, that vessels in the trade to Newcastle are badly found in ground tackle and sails?
A. I do not think it is a general thing. When wrecks have taken place, it has been too often the case that the ground tackle has been too light, and when they let go their anchors they did not hold; they were not heavy enough. In one case the vessel turned over at the turn of tide at anchor, and part of her drove over the Oyster Bank, and nearly every one on board was drowned.

77. Do you recollect a vessel called the Martha being wrecked there?
A. No; I was away; but that was, I believe, from a similar cause.

78. I think you are Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce at Newcastle?
A. I am.

79. In reply to a communication from myself, you kindly furnished me with the correspondence between the Chamber of Commerce and the Government?
A. Yes.

80. Will you have the goodness to look at these papers, and say if they are the documents you sent from the Chamber?
A. They are.

81. Will you kindly state to the Committee any further information in your power, and offer any suggestion that may strike you, which would be conducive to the safety of Vessels entering and leaving the port of Newcastle?
A. I beg to hand in various suggestions, which I have committed to writing.

82. 82. By Captain Lethbridge: Do you think a steam-tug would be self-paying?
A. I think it would, although it did not when the Sophia was there, for the cause I have stated; but it would be far better for the Government to start it in the first instance, as was done at Adelaide; there the Government had a steamer; they found it answered, and now they have sold it.
83. Now it has become a private speculation?
A. Yes, and I think it would after a year or two here, if set going in the same way.

84. You have already stated, I think, that one great cause of disaster at Newcastle has been from vessels being badly found?
A. Yes; the greater part of those that have been lost have been badly found in ground tackling. Of course ships with the best ground tackling will drive in some weather, and there is little room for them to drive when anchored in the channel.

85. Since the breakwater has been completed, do you imagine the harbour of Newcastle has been filling up?
A. No, I cannot see much difference; I surveyed the harbour thirty-five years ago, and I do not see much difference.

86. By the Chairman: In speaking of the steam-tug as a private enterprise, you seem to think it would be better as a Government establishment?
A. I do.

87. Do you derive that opinion from the circumstance that some people would take the steamer, and others would not, and thus leave the speculators unremunerated?
A. Yes. I would have a tonnage duty.

88. Which you cannot apply to a private speculation?
A. You cannot do that.

89. If it became part and parcel of the pilotage, it would be an increase of pilot rates?
A. Yes.

90. If she were a Government boat, she would still be equally serviceable in the winter season in towing vessels up
A. Yes.

91. You think the reason why the Sophia did not pay was, that there was no compulsion that the steam-tug should be used?
A. Yes, and there was a greater dearth of shipping than I have known at any other time.

Having been called upon to give evidence on Shipwrecks and Disasters to Shipping on the Coast, and also to suggest any means by which such losses may be lessened, I do myself the honor to submit, for the consideration of the Committee, the following observations -

The first subject to which I would call attention is the imperative necessity of the immediate purchase of a steam-tug of sufficient power for towing vessels in and out of the Port, and moving them to and from the shoots and harbour. I would suggest that the tug should be placed under the direction of a Trinity Board , and commanded and manned by the pilots and their crews.

Harbour - That an active and efficient Harbour Master be appointed, under the Trinity Board, Master and that a light tonnage duty should be levied on all vessels entering the Port, to defray the expense of the tug.

Trinity Board - That it is indispensable that a Local Trinity Board - on the same plan and principle as those established in England - should be instituted at Newcastle, with full power to regulate the Harbour Master and Pilot Establishment, there being at present no local authority to investigate cases of misconduct or incapacity.

An additional outside pilot should, at once, be appointed, there being at the present time but one to carry on the whole duty of the Port, the other being incapacitated sickness, and it is necessary that provision should be made for such a contingency inside pilots should also be employed, and one river pilot for the service of vessels bound up to Morpeth.

It is a matter of importance that a Lantern should be erected at the end of the Queen's Wharf, to serve as a guide for steamers coming into harbour after dark.

I would recommend the immediate erection of a Lighthouse upon the Flagstaff Hill Light, {the site of the present Beacon), which situation I consider far preferable to that proposed at Nobby's, being visible at a greater distance from seaward. Should it be deemed necessary to have a small Light at Nobby's, it will serve well as a guide for vessels entering the harbour when close in, or anchoring, which they are obliged to do in strong southerly weather, while the Lighthouse is specially needed by vessels running for the Port.

Additional moorings might be laid down with advantage in the Horseshoe, for large Moorings, ships to ride at while loading, by which arrangement much delay and inconvenience would be avoided, and more security against driving, during westerly and southerly gales, obtained, and a greater number of large ships accommodated. I would recommend that an Act should be passed obliging all coasters and other vessels at all times to carry a Mast-head Light, to prevent, as far as possible, collision. The number of steamers constantly running on the Coast calls for such measure.

In conclusion, I cannot refrain drawing your attention to the relative advantages enjoyed by Port Jackson and Newcastle; the former has an resilient staff of pilots and port officers, with a safe and easy entrance in all weathers, while the latter, with—(I speak but from memory, not having my books with me)—half the tonnage of the elder Port, and a dangerous entrance with certain winds, has an establishment of officers totally inadequate to the requirements of the place; and to this want of officers arid appliances I attribute much of the loss of life and property during the last two or three years. JOHN BINGLE,



Robert Lorn Pattison

Mr. Robert Lorn Pattison, called in and examined :—

Chairman :

1. You are now in command of the " Paterson " steamer?
A. Yes.

2. You have been for many years trading to the Port of Newcastle?
Eighteen or nineteen years.

3. Chiefly in steamers?
A. Chiefly in steamers.

4. Of course you have entered the Port in all weathers?
A. In all weathers.

5. What do you consider the worst wind that a vessel could have when entering the Port of Newcastle?
A. A west-north-west wind is dead out of the harbour.

6. Running in with a gale of wind, which is the worst wind to enter the harbour?
A. The most dangerous is an easterly gale, because there is such a tremendous sea running.

7. Would you not lead up to smooth water with an easterly wind?
A. You would, if your vessel would steer; but when a vessel is going in under such circumstances, the rudder is out of the water at times, and you have no control over her; she takes a sheer, and a sea takes her on her quarter, right for the Oyster Bank, and her head towards Nobby's Island. When I went in last Thursday morning the sea was breaking right across Newcastle; the wind a little to the southward of east; the sea caught the steamer on the quarter, and sent her just to the rooks, and then went off to the Oyster Bank. The " Ulalong" was worse off than I was.

8. You were present the other day at Newcastle, when those unfortunate wrecks took place?
A. I was not present when the vessels got on shore.

9. How was the wind then?
A. East-south-east. When the " Eleanor Lancaster" was entering the Port the wind shifted to the S.S.E.

10. You came in while the vessels were on the strand?
A. Before they went on shore I went up the river. I was there as a witness after they were ashore, the following morning.

11. Were you present when the life-boat went to them?
A. Yes, and saw the life-boat go down.

12. Seeing, as you did, the positions of these vessels, and knowing, as you must have known, the positions they occupied when they first entered the harbour, what means do you think should have been employed to save them, if they could have been saved at all?
A. When they first entered the harbour during the gale, the Eleanor Lancaster let go her anchors in smooth water, but the roll of the sea caused her to drag, and she continued dragging. Now, if there had been a steam tug to have buckled to her, she could have been taken to a place of safety.

13. You think that if a powerful steam-tug had been in readiness, with the steam up, and sufficient hawsers for tow-ropes, ready to have caught hold of the Eleanor Lancaster, that vessel might have been towed into safety?
A. I am confident of it.

14. And the other vessels, I presume, in like manner?
A. Just in the same way they might have been drawn into smooth water.

15. Would there have been any danger or difficulty in getting a tow-rope to either of these vessels at the time when the life-boat communicated for the purpose?
A. Not the slightest.

16. Could the life-boat have taken a rope down?
A. A steamer could have managed it with a little boat. The life-boat that saved the crew was a steamer's life-boat, and the one that went alongside was a ship's jolly-boat, with a line fast to her from the life-boat.'

17. You were present when the life-boat went off?
A. I was up on the hill.

18. Had you examined her before she went off?
A. Yes; I never thought her a nice boat.

19. You did not think her suitable?
A. No; they were up to their knees in water. I saw her go down about four feet, and then rise again, several times; the men waved their hats for assistance, and managed to keep themselves up till the steamer took them off.

20. By Captain Lethbridge:
A. Had she air-tight compartments?

21. By the Chairman: She filled as soon as she got into the surf, did she not?
A. She was not in the surf at all - mean the second attempt.

22. How did the men preserve their position and save their lives?
A. I do not know; I was not there at that time; that was at night. I am told she rolled over, bottom up, and one man under her for some time.

23. Are you aware whether it was light or dark when she first went ashore?
A. About four o'clock in the afternoon.

24. Do you know the cause of the disaster to the life-boat in the first instance?
A. The sea breaking over her; she was never adapted to go through the surf. I would sooner go in a whale-boat.

25. By Captain Lethbridge: Of what size and what power would you recommend the proposed steam-tug to be? She should not be under eighty or one hundred horse-power, with a disconnecting shaft.
A. It would require something of that kind, with a long hawser. With a disconnecting shaft so that they could have a line aboard.

26. By the Chairman: In addition to the steamer, a powerful capstan on the outer point of Nobby's has been recommended?
A. It would not be a bit of use. Whichever way the tide is the scope would be too much for any hawser. The Sydney Griffiths, (she is 500 tons,) about two years ago, got on shore in the same position as the Eleanor Lancaster. They burnt a tar cask on deck to show the position she was in. Six hands and the mate came ashore and said they wanted a steamer. I commanded the steamer Ben Bolt, and went out to them; I got a line on board, and they commenced unshackling their cable; I called out to them not to unshackle it in case my warps might part, but to do so the moment they found we went ahead, and then if one anchor gave way there was the other to stand by; the result was just as I remarked, my hawser broke after I got her in the fair way; however, it was a flood tide, and I did not lay hold of her again; she came to anchor in a safe position. That ship was in the same position as the Eleanor Lancaster, and it was a dark night.

27. By Captain Lethbridge: When you speak of a disconnecting shaft, you mean a vessel that can turn one paddle without the other?
A. Yes. A steamer would be of no use without that at Newcastle. With a disconnecting shaft, a vessel can turn round in its own length.

28. I suppose the tonnage of the vessel would be governed by her horse power? A. Yes.

29. By the Chairman: There are certain buoys at Newcastle now?
A. Yes.

30. Are they useful?
A. For small vessels. All the boats that rendered assistance to the wrecks hung on to one of them. The tide was running eight knots. One boat, belonging to the " Lord Burleigh," got outside nearly among the breakers, and they were six hours getting back.

31. By Mr. Lord: Are these good substantial buoys?
A. Yes, they are.

32. Do you ever get on the Flats going up the river with the steamer?
A. No; if it is so dark that I cannot see the buoys I do not attempt to go in.

33. By the Chairman: Have you seen other vessels, besides those that were wrecked the other day, get ashore in a similar position?
A. Yes, the Tigress, schooner, sprang a leak inside Nobby's in one of those gales like that on Wednesday, and they came to me for assistance; the ship was well to the eastward at the time, and the captain asked me if I would tow her into port. I told him he could save the expense if he stuck her on Scott's Point; he did so and stuck her to the southward of Scott's Point.

34. By Mr. Lord: I suppose the tug boat would be useful for towing vessels in?
A. Yes; I have known vessels to be for three or four weeks with a beautiful north-easterly wind and could not get out.

35. By the Chairman: Do you know how long the Eleanor Lancaster was detained before she got out?
A. Six days.

36. Is it possible, that if there had been a steamer to take her out, she might have been out of danger before the gale set in
A. Yes, she might have been half way to Launceston

37. By Captain. Lethbridge: Are you aware whether a steam engine can be constructed in 11 Nov., 1866. Sydney with a disconnecting shaft?
A. Yes. They have one on the " Yarra Yarra." You can hook on half a dozen vessels, and away you go.

38. By the Chairman: Has the " Washington" sufficient power to answer as a steam tug at Newcastle?
A. Yes. There would be no expense to the. Government; she would pay her expenses.

39. Do you recollect a steam tug being down there last year?
A. Yes; I commanded her during the absence of her captain at Melbourne.

40. What was the reason that vessel did not pay as a private enterprise?
A. There was scarcely any thing doing at the time; every thing was very slack; there was a strike among the colliers. She was started as a private enterprise by people at Melbourne. I had instructions to tow vessels at so much per ton, but I found it would not do, and when the steam was up, I made arrangements the best way I could, and made her pay very well.

41. By Captain Lethbridge: You think that on account of the charges being so high people would not employ her?
A. No, they would not; but when the steam was up, I would go out and make a lower charge and bring in three at a time.

42. By the Chairman: Is there anything else you could suggest to the Committee for the safety and security of the navigation, and for the salvation of life and property?
A. The tug is the only thing, having a disconnecting shaft and properly fitted with hawsers suited for the purpose; and she should carry about a dozen life-buoys, and two or three handy life-boats to run to a vessel in distress.

43. You think the present life-boat totally unsuited for the purpose?
A. Yes; and it will be a great pity if she is ever found again.

44. Do you know the number of men that went out in the life-boat?
A. Sixteen.

45. Did it require sixteen men to handle her according to her equipment?
A. Yes, with short oars to meet the surf.

46. Were they double-banked?
A. Yes.

47. By Captain Lethbridge: Was she tried here?
A. Yes; they tried to capsize her, but they could not do that in smooth water.

48. By the Chairman: In your opinion, if a suitable steam tug, properly equipped and manned, was kept at all times available for the purpose of rendering assistance to ships entering and departing from Newcastle, that is all you can recommend for improving the navigation?
A. That is all as far as that is concerned; but I would advise that she should be managed by the pilots and their crews, except in the engine room.

49. Do you find the channel much impeded by vessels lying in it?
A. Very much.

50. In the event of their being such a steamer, I suppose she would expedite the moving of them?
A. Yes; they are lying in the passage, waiting for a wind to get up to the shoots, but the moment they came in the tug could take them right up to the shoots, without their letting go anchor.

51. Independently of the salvation of life and property, it would be equally advantageous to transport ships to and from the shoots, and to and from sea?
A. Yes; it would be a great boon to the shipping.

52. By Mr. Lord: The pilots have to move vessels four or five times, under present circumstances?
A. Yes.

53. By Captain Lethbridge: They are going to build a Lighthouse at Newcastle?
A. Yes.

54. What position would you recommend for it?
A. It should be on Nobby's j that is the proper position.

55. If carried up a good height, it would be on a level with the present light?
A. I do not approve of a high light; there are so many fogs on the coast.

56. By Mr. Lord: Do the freshes change the bar?
A. No I have known no difference in the flats these eighteen years. I take old Captain Taggart's landmarks, such as trees

57. By the Chairman: Has the trade of Newcastle increased much within these last few years?
A. It has increased, immensely; but the produce from Morpeth is double what it is from Newcastle.

58. Do you think there would be employment for a steam-tug, of the power you have mentioned, constantly?
A. Yes; if it were only to go up the river and take vessels over the flats, it would be of the greatest benefit.

59. Then you think you, yourself, having commanded the steam-tug that was at Newcastle, as a private enterprise, that if a tug were established as Government property, and under the surveillance of the pilots, all vessels being obliged to pay a tax or extra charge for pilotage, that that would be the best mode of carrying it out?
A. Yes; and in fine weather, if the tug is used a second time; except that in cases of distress, there should be no charge.

60. Do you think there is a sufficient number of pilots at present at Newcastle?
A. No; there is one sick, just now, confined to his bed.

61. How many are there?
A. Three, with the Harbour Master, and he does as much work as any of them.

62. In the event of having this steam-tug, the number of pilots at present there would be sufficient?
A. Yes.

63. By Captain Lethbridge: The smaller vessels can work out? A. Yes.

64. And if they were a little bothered, the tug could take a string of them?
A. Yes.

65. Would it be fair to tax them?
A. Yes, everyone; none would begrudge it; these ideas are their own—what they said the other night.

66. By the Chairman: You think the smallest proprietors would not grudge it?
A. No; the smaller ones would not: the larger ones might.



William Mulhall


Thursday 13 November 1856

Mr. William Mulhall, Master of the steamer "Collaroy," called in and examined

1. By the Chairman: You command one of the A. S. N. Company's steamers?
A. Yes.

2. And have done so for many years?
A. About sixteen years—ever since they commenced.

3. And you have been constantly trading to the Hunter?
A. I have; but I have been a few. trips to Moreton Bay.

4. You have, no doubt, entered the harbour of Newcastle in all weathers?
A. Yes, in all weathers.

5. What winds do you consider the worst for entering the harbour of Newcastle - what wind raises the heaviest sea, and makes it most dangerous for entering.?
A. The wind at south raises the heaviest sea, and a south-west wind is equally as bad.

6. From south to south-west is the worst wind a ship can enter the harbour with?
A. Yes.

7. During the time you have been trading there, have you seen many vessels stranded or wrecked in entering the harbour of Newcastle?
A. A great many.

8. And under various circumstances, I suppose?
A. Yes.

9. Will you be good enough to state to the Committee what, in your opinion, has been the chief cause of these shipwrecks?
A. You know the weather is so bad there sometimes that a vessel has no business to attempt to enter at all.

10. But I suppose in such cases, when they get down to leeward they are afraid to haul out again?
A. With the wind at south a vessel can always haul out, unless she is a very light vessel; if in very light trim she might go to leeward; but with the wind to the eastward of south she would not be able to haul out, especially a light ship, and they generally go down there in ballast.

11. I suppose a vessel running down with a strong southerly wind, when she came to haul round Nobby's, would have the wind right in her teeth?
A. Yes.

12. The channel is very contracted?
Yes; with the ebb tide they have no business to attempt it, nor even with a flood tide when there is any sea on.

13. When they do attempt it, the difficulty of getting within the harbour is very great?
A. Yes; they find they cannot work up, and let go anchor; and as the holding ground is not good, the vessels drag, and get on the Oyster Bank. I suppose I have seen some dozens of them there in my time.

14. Would a vessel running down with the wind at south carry way into sufficiently smooth water to creep into safety?
A. She would not.

15. She would then be obliged to anchor?
A. Between the Oyster Bank and Nobby's.

16. Where the sea runs high?
A. Yes.

17. If there were a steam boat of sufficient power to take hold of a vessel, and prepared, of course, with tow ropes and a suitable boat to carry a rope out, do you think that in most cases she would be able to tow vessels so situated into safety?
A. Yes, I think there would be no difficulty in it at all. She should be a proper steam-tug, of one hundred horse power at the very least—a short vessel with great beam, with engines having a disconnecting shaft, so that she could go ahead with one wheel and astern with the other; such a vessel would be much more manageable in a narrow place.

18. Were you ever in a vessel with such a shaft?
A. Never; I only speak from what I have heard. There is one at Port Phillip, I believe.

19. Would such a vessel as the "Washington" answer the purpose?
A. It should be a vessel not longer than her; if she were even shorter she would be better, with a great beam, because a short vessel will go round much quicker than a long vessel.

20. How many pilots are there in Newcastle?
A. I think there are only two now besides the Harbour Master.

21. In the event of a steam-tug being sent to Newcastle, would a pilot's crew commanded by a pilot be sufficient to man her, with the exception of the engine room?
A. You would require two engineers, first and second, and then a pilot's boat's crew would be quite sufficient on board.

22. Then you think that a steamer so equipped and manned would be all that would be necessary for the safety of ships entering the port?
A. I think that is all that is necessary.

23. It has been suggested that a capstan, fixed on the' eastern part of the point close to Nobby's, to be worked either by horses or manual labour, is desirable, so that if a hawser could be passed to a vessel she could be moved up?
A. It would be a very good thing, but if you have a steam-boat you will not require such a thing at all. You would require to have heavy anchors to the steamer.

24. If a steamer were provided for the purpose suggested, would she not be otherwise useful in towing ships to sea, and moving them from place to place?
A. Certainly.

25. For instance, a vessel is first towed into the Horseshoe, from the Horseshoe to the Ballast Ground, from the Ballast Ground to the Shoot, from the Shoot back again to the Horseshoe, and then out to sea?
A. Yes.

26. All that could be done by the steamer with greater facility, and great saving of expense and time?
A. Yes.

27. As the owner of a coasting vessel, do you think there would be any objection to paying a small additional pilotage fee or tug tax, if such accommodation were afforded?
A. I think they would be all willing to do so. I know when I had vessels I would have been very glad.

28. From the immense trade of the Hunter, if every vessel had to pay, it would be a mere trifle individually?
A. It would.

29. And you think it would not be looked on as an oppressive ta s, but rather as an acquisition?
A. Yes, I think so. It would enable vessels to run in with safety when they are now afraid to go in.

30. I suppose it is not at all unusual for even small vessels to be detained in the harbour of Newcastle after they are laden?
A. They are very often detained with a flood tide and a strong north-easter. I have been offered £;50 to tow a large vessel out, but it was against my instructions to do it.

31. If such a steam vessel as we have spoken of were placed in Newcastle, I suppose she would clear the harbour in a very short time?
A. Certainly she would. Vessels would not be delayed an hour after they had their cargoes on board. Especially in the summer season, when these strong north-easters set in, it is impossible for a ship to get out.

32. And then they would be no sooner towed round Nobby's than they would have a fair wind?
A. Yes, and make their passage, while they would otherwise be lying in the harbour.

33. And double their voyages?
A. And double their voyages.

34. You recollect there was a steam tug at Newcastle as private property?
A. Yes, there were two there; the " Huntress" was one, but she was of very little use - she had not power enough.

35. The " Sophia" was the other?
A. Yes.

36. Do you recollect the reason why that vessel, as a private enterprise, did not pay?
A. On account of the charges being so high she was not employed except in cases of necessity. I paid £;12 myself for towing a vessel of mine in, and she was only one hundred and twenty tons.

37. It would be necessary probably to put a limit on the tonnage dues to be collected for the steam tug—a vessel under fifty tons would hardly require her?
A. She would hardly require her certainly as a general rule; but I have even seen them detained.

38. The tax on a fifty ton vessel would be very trifling in itself?
A. Yes.

39. Then you think even small vessels would not have any objection to pay their proportion?
A. I should say not, if the tax be levied according tonnage. I may mention that I think it would be very requisite to have a life-boat attached to the steamer.

40. In your trips to the Hunter do you find much inconvenience from ships lying in the channel between the shoot and the other anchorage?
A. They are moored no way now - they are lying all over the harbour; and sometimes it is a difficult matter to find the way to the wharf.

41. The steamboat could easily keep the channel clear?
A. Yes, the channel need not be interfered with then.

42. That would be a further convenience arising from the employment of the steam tug?
A. Certainly it would. Very often I have seen the vessels moored so thick that you could not get near the wharf at all.

43. Is it the case that vessels that generally trade to Newcastle are badly found in ground tackling, sails, hawsers, and so forth?
A. I think they are generally pretty well found, because they know the place well, and they have usually one heavy anchor of extra weight for lying at Nobby's. The " Storm King," which belonged to me at one time, had immense ground tackling, but it would not hold her, and she went ashore.

44. By Captain Lethbridge: Did she break up?
A. No, they got her off again.

45. By the Chairman: Do you recollect the " Martha" that was stranded there?
A. Yes.

46. Do you know whether it was the fact, as has been stated, that she entered the harbour with her foresail split, and in working in it blew to ribbons, and that was the cause of her going aground?
A. I heard that all her sails were split; I did not see it.

47. Were you present during the last storm?
A. Yes.

48. And you witnessed the disasters that took place among the shipping?
A. Yes.

49. Did you, as was stated in the newspapers, rescue the crew of the life-boat?
A. Yes.

50. Will you state the particulars?
A. I was coming in round Nobby's Island about two o'clock in the afternoon; there was a heavy sea breaking right across; the wind was about south south-east, and the life-boat was lying at anchor just inside the break; the sea used to break close to her stern each time; there wore twelve men in her. 51. Was there a vessel ashore at the time? Yes, the "Eleanor Lancaster;" she was lying about south-west from where this life-boat was, further in: the life-boat had drifted away to leeward of her.

52. Could they not pull her?
A. No; the men were up to the middle in water; you could not see the boat, only the men. I thought it was a raft at first, only seeing the men above the water. Seeing they were in distress, I lowered my life-boat down, with four of the crew and the chief mate in her, and they took all the men off, twelve of them. They had a kellick down, or something of that sort, but the boat was dragging all the time out seaward. The men would have been all drowned, as sure as the world, if I had not come in at the time. The current was running so strong that the moorings were bringing the boat right under water; I should say her gunwale was a foot under water; we could see nothing but the men, and they were holding on to the oars.

53. At what rate was the current running?
A. The tide had only begun to ebb about an hour; I should say it was running from four to five knots.

54. What became of the life-boat after the men were taken out of her?
A. She sank directly the men were out of her, the moorings took her right clown, she disappeared directly; it was a most extraordinary thing. She was afterwards found some four or five miles along the beach, but she is all to pieces.

55. Had you seen that boat before at Newcastle?
A. Yes.

56. As a practical man, what did you think of her?
A. I had not paid particular attention to the build of the Boat.

57. But now you have seen her performance, what do you think of her?
A. I confess I expected more from a life-boat.

58. What do you think was the cause of her behaving so badly?
A. I think it was on account Mr. W. of the boat not having sheer enough. I have seen a life-boat with a bow standing up an immense height above the men's heads, and they have such a sweep of keel that they will turn as if on a pivot.

59. What description of boat did you lower to save the people?
A. She was a very nice boat, but not a.regular built life boat; she was life-boat shaped and fitted with cork, and she had more sheer than the Newcastle life-boat had.

60. Do you recollect her dimensions?
A. Twenty feet on the keel. She was built after the whale-boat fashion; I do not think she is as long as a regular whale-boat, but she has more beam, and is much deeper; I do not think she is more than twenty feet on the keel, but then she has a rake fore and aft, with a sharp stern like a whale-boat.

61. By Captain Lethbridge:
A. How did your boat behave?
Very well.

62. Did she ship any water?
A. Not a drop.

63. Do you think a small boat like yours would answer the general purposes of the Harbour of Newcastle?
A. No; I would give her a great deal more sheer. If a boat happens to capsize it is the sheer makes her right; a straight boat will never come back again; but the keel of a boat with a great sheer is so far out of the water when she is capsized that she will turn again immediately.

64. Has your boat a curved keel?
A. Yes, she has got a very round keel; I think from each end it drops six inches in the centre, and that is a great deal in twenty feet.

65. Was it in the smooth water or the surf where you found the life-boat?
A. Just at the very edge of the break, not in the break; the sea use to break very near her every time, it might break over her occasionally.

66. Did the people give any reason for the boat having filled in the first instance?
A. The boat, I believe, was half full of water when they started.
Leaking? Yes; she had been stove the day before, I believe.

By the Chairman: Do you recollect how long the crew of the "Eleanor Lancaster" were on the wreck before they were taken off?
A. The ship got ashore the evening previous to our getting in;—they were on the wreck about twenty-four hours, or more.

67. Were the people on board the wreck when you took the men out of the life boat?
A. Yes.

68. Did you see them taken off?
A. No, I was gone when they took them off. I gave them my advice how to manage it.

69. Will you describe the measures that were taken?
A. There were three Pilot boats, whaleboats, and I told them to man these three boats, to take a small anchor with them, get the three boats in a string, one after the other, and let go the kedge from the headmost boat. In this way they were to get as near as they could to the wreck; then they were to drop an empty boat, with a Hue right alongside, and if the boat got capsized, they could haul her back. This was the plan, I believe, they adopted. One man volunteered to go in the empty boat, and after he went alongside the first time, two others volunteered. He must have been a brave fellow; for it was a most awful sea.

70. During the whole of the time these people were on the wreck, what efforts were made to save them?
A. None at all, only by means of the life boat.

71. Do you know anything of the particulars of the first attempt?
A. The life boat went alongside the wreck, and the sea broke over the ship at the time, and sent the life boat right astern. The boat was capsized after that—that is only what I heard.

72. Did the life boat capsize?
A. Yes.

The Captain of the "Lord Burleigh" was in the boat each time, and he told me of it.

73. Have you ever seen any other life boat afloat attending a vessel in distress?
A. Yes, I have seen the old boat they had there; the first one.

74. Do you think a life boat, properly constructed, could have rescued the "Eleanor Lancaster's " people from their perilous situation?
A. Certainly. I think there would have been no risk in it in a properly constructed life boat. There was more sea when I went in than the first day.

75. And you reckoned it then very bad weather?
A. Yes; it could not be worse.

76. What other vessels were ashore at the same time?
A. The "Storm King" and the schooner "Rover."

77. Were the crews of those vessels on shore then?
A. Yes; the crew of the " Rover" were taken out by the life boat, and the crew of the other, I think, could nearly have walked ashore.

78. By Captain Lethbridge: How was it the " Eleanor Lancaster" got nipped in that position?
A. She was too far to leeward; she had been out and was coming back again, and dropped her anchor when she found she could not beat in; she was so deep, and being an old ship, that they could not carry much canvas on her.

79. By the Chairman: Do you recollect how long she had been lying in Newcastle, ready for sea, before she went out?
A. She was there a good while, but I cannot recollect how long. She would have missed that gale if she could have got out.

80. You are aware they are about erecting a Light House at Newcastle?
A. Yes, I have heard of that.

81. Do you consider the position of the present light or Nobby's the best?
A. I consider Nobby's to be the best place.

82. Are there any other suggestions you wish to make to the Committee?
A. I think it is a very requisite thing to have a light at Port Stephens. On a dark night there is no guide at all there. If there was a light at Port Stephens a ship could run for that port when she could not make Newcastle.

83. By Mr Tooth: Do you know the quantity of tonnage that enters Newcastle during the year?
A. I cannot tell.



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