Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

History Revisited - full steam ahead for Billy into a busy port

LAST STAGE OF THE JOURNEY. Ships travelling to Port Macquarie sometimes had to wait for days to dock according to the diaries of Annabella Innes
To those who read this column on a regular basis, I must seem very slow in telling the story of William Tydd Taylor and Margaretta Lucy Lind. Somehow, I seem to get sidetracked.

That’s very true. I am using their early story to take you on a ramble across the early colonial history of Northern NSW, the broader New England.

Walter and Margaretta arrived in Port Macquarie on the Steam packet William the Fourth in early 1940. Today, we forget just how important coastal shipping was in nineteenth century before the expansion of the railways. That part of the history of Northern NSW has almost been air-brushed from memory.

William the Fourth, the Billy, is quite a famous ship. Ordered by Sydney Merchant Joseph Grose in 1830 for the Hunter River trade, it was built on the Williams River at the Clarencetown yards established by Scottish shipwrights Lowe and Marshall.

This was Grose’s first venture into shipping. Born in Deptford, London, in 1788, Gose had become a successful pastoralist and merchant in the new colony. Hearing of the success of steam propelled vessels overseas, he decided to build one to extend his commercial interests into shipping.

It proved a profitable decision. For much of the 1830s, Grose dominated the Hunter River trade and also serviced Port Macquarie. Another of his well known vessels was the steam packet Sophia Jane, a ship that also became very familiar to those living at Port Macquarie or using it as their main port.

William the Fourth, a wooden paddle steamer with two masts, was the first ocean going steamship built in Australia. At 59 tons she was not a big ship. But then, she could not be to get across the difficult bar at the mouth of the Hastings River.

At Port Macquarie, ships sometimes had to wait for days to enter across the bar. Some went to Trial Bay to anchor and collect water, while others would by pass Port Macquarie completely, forcing passengers and freight to come by other routes.

The diaries of Annabella Innes, later Boswell, are full of references to ships, ships delayed, people waiting impatiently. These problems would doom the dreams of those who saw Port Macquarie becoming the main port for the southern New England.

Upon arrival in Port Macquarie, the Taylors took up residence on Thrumster, a 640 acre block owned by Taylor’s cousin, Archibald Clunes Innes and adjoining Innes’ main holding around Lake Innes.

Innes was then at the height of his power and influence in the colony.

Like Joseph Grose, he had benefited from the rapid expansion in population and economic activity over the 1830s. Like Joseph Grose, he had benefited from the Government contracts for supply to the convict establishments, providing cash flow to support other activities.

Both men now faced a perfect economic storm as the convict system wound down and depression gripped the economy with low wool prices and the ending of rapid migration.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 4 May 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

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