THE FIRST PHASE: WHALING
AND SEALING. By J. B. COOPER.
A news paragraph in the "Portland Mer- cury," dated November 30, 1842, refers to the finding of two graves on Lady Julia Percy Island, in Portland Bay. Upon one of the graves was a sealer's oil cask, and this extemporised tombstone bore the inscription on its upturned butt. "W. Hard- man, 25th December, 1828." Apart from Lieutenant Grant, in the Lady Nelson, discovering Portland Bay, and Lawrence and Lady Julie Percy Island in December, 1800, no such early authentic date as that of Hardman's death was known in the history of Portland Bay. Hardman was an old sealer who was shifting his hunt- ing-grounds. He came from Kangaroo Island to Julia Percy Island in the sealing schooner Fairy, bound for Launceston. When Captain Wishart put Hardman ashore the man was sick unto death. While the sealer of the legion of Bass Straits lay dying the crew of the Fairy went sealing on the Lawrence rocks. Recalled, the crew stood bareheaded on that Christmas morning, just over a hundred years ago, listening to Captain Wishart reading the burial service for the dead sealer, lying rolled in a piece of old sailcloth, while the white-lipped surf thundered below them and the seals barked on the rocks.
Portland Bay was named by Lieutenant Grant after the third Duke of Portland, William Cavendish Bentinck, Prime Minis- ter of Britain in 1783. Grant called the island the Lady Julia Percy Island in honour of a daughter of the Duke of Northumberland; the duke himself he honoured with Cape Northumberland. The sealers at Portland Bay ante-dated the whalers. Captain Mills and Captain John Hart were two of the first sealing captains in Portland Bay. Captain Hart, in the schooner Elizabeth, was sealing in Decem- ber, 1831, on the Lawrence rocks. A year earlier a boat's crew had been left on Port- land beach, and the crew procured 400 seal- skins. Sealing was a ruthless business. Captain Flinders refers lo the crew of the Nautilus having obtained 9,000 skins in a very short time, and it is on record that 35 men collected 36,000 skins in 18 months. Sealers in Bass Straits traded eight to a dozen sealskins for a gallon of rum valued at 5/. A gallon of seal oil was worth 6/. Deprived of their mothers, seal pups died in huge numbers. On one occasion 300 pups perished on the rocks. In Portland Town on December 21, 1842, many seal pups, taken from Julia Percy Island, were creep- ing about the streets and in front of the houses of the residents.
Portland Bay in season was frequented by schools of sperm and black whales. On March 29,' 1843, in the bay, with an area of 17 miles by eight miles, 30 whales were seen; nine were taken. Three whale boats' crews in the bay fishing procured in one season 296 tuns of oil and 13 tons of whalebone. In 1832 Alexander Campbell became a member of the first bay whaling shore party living at Portland Bay. Camp- bell had two boats employed in the bay fishery. This party built the huts on the shore, and William Dutton had charge of them. Twenty-four men were engaged in the bay whaling. Dutton was at one period a chief mate with Captain Hart. Born at Sydney on August 31, 1811, he was taken to Hobart Town in 1813. He died in 1878 at Narrawong, where he worked as a split-
ter. When aged l8 years he became a sea- man on a whaling vessel. He killed his last whale, making a tally of 100 whales to his harpooning, at Portland Bay in Sep- tember, 1866. He was sealing in Portland Bay in December, 1828, and January, 1829, his ship being the Madeira Packet. In 1829 he stated that he had built a hut on the beach, and had lived in it for 12 months with Captain John Griffiths, owner of the schooner Elizabeth. Griffiths was a ship- owner, a shipbuilder, and ship's chandler. An Australian, born at Sydney in 1801, ho fitted out all the early whalers to Portland Bay. He constructed a punt in 1837 for "cutting in" whales, and at Port Fairy in 1847 he built a schooner, The Brothers. Another boatbuilder of 1833 was named James Sinclair. His workshops were near the Salt Water Creek. The chief ship- building yard was close to Whalers' Point. Such place names at Portland Bay as Whalers' Point, Point Dangerous, Discovery Bay, and Convincing Ground touch the intimacy of adventure with sea and shoal, rock and shore. They were common- place names on the tongues of whalers and sealers with such a man as Dutton. Dut- ton always claimed to have been the first settler at Portland, but he was only a whaling beachcomber. When Captain Hart, in March, 1833, took the first cargo of whale oil from the port to Hobart Town,
Dutton was the chief whaling headsman of
Whaling vessels were earning 300 per cent on their capital expenditure, and in sight of those profits the formation of whaling companies proceeded apace. The Henty brothers were members of a whaling com- pany, operating along the Victorian coast from Portland Bay to Port Fairy during 1833. When the Hentys decided in 1833 to settle in the Portland district, and to engage both in sheep farming and in whal- ing, they employed Dutton as the heads- man of their whaling establishment of 24 men. The Henty brothers' enterprise ex- tended from bay to ocean whaling. Their whaler, Lady Mary Pelham, went cruising as far aseas as as New Zealand, and their
"fine ship" the Rowena was wrecked at Otaheite with 28 tuns of sperm oil aboard. She was insured for £9,000. In 1835 the Hentys sent to Van Diemen's Land from Portland Bay 700 tuns of sperm oil, receiv- ing in return cargoes of sheep from Laun- ceston. A few days before Major Mitchell arrived at Portlland-August 29, 1836 -five over-straits' vessels, which had brought stock for the Hentys, lay at anchor in the bay. Alexander Campbell was then in charge of Hentys' whaling establishment.
Some Thrilling Encounters.
They were exciting days in Portland Bay in the whaling season. The boats' crews
of various owners were keen in rivalry.
Between leading harpooners was a jealousy equal to that between famous toreadors. Night and day there was ceaseless move- ment at Hentys' boiling-down establish- ments. The whaling season attracted mobs of aborigines. They and their dogs camped at Whalers' Point, led by their chiefs, Cold Morning, Jupiter and Cock- nose, whose names appear to be those of whaling sponsors. In August 1843 abo- rigines, 200 of them, clad only in skins, were collecting and eating the offal washed ashore from blubber cleaned, dismembered whales. Dutton, an all-round man, was one of the leading whaling harpooners. The whaleboats of the ship Prince of Den- mark fastened to a whale, one of 14, in Portland Bay. With a flash of its tail the whale shivered the boats' timbers to fragments. Dutton with hiss, crew, in one
of Henty's boats, rowed into the turmoil and rescued the men in the water, thrashed to a foam by the whale. Headsman Wood, of the splintered boat, and headsman Clarke, of Dutton's boat, then cap- tured the infuriated whale. At the time, Dutton's boat, on which they all were was also threatened with wreck ing by the whales flurry. A whaler named Robertson, employed by the Hentys, saw a hunchback whale on January 18, 1843, in difficulties inside the reef. He ran through the surf, which came as high as his neck and harpooned the whale. It measured 40ft., was in poor condition, and yielded only three tuns of oil.
In February 1841, the coastline was strewn with a ship's timbers. Mixed with them were vast quantities of wax candles of a peculiar foreign make. A page of a French nautical almanac for 1828, and a compass, with barnacles adhering to it, made by Devot, of Havre, were picked up. Captain Irving, of the brig Fox, in May,
1840, exchanged colours with a French whaler of about 400 tons, name unknown, to the windward of Cape Northumberland.
That is all there is to it. Was the French whaler listed as missing at Havre? Is her compass still at Portland?
(The concluding article will appear next Satur- day.)