Bass Strait Traders #2: The ex-slaver brig HENRY
BASS STRAIT TRADERS
Vessels in Colonial Waters 1830-1850
The ex-slaver brig HENRY
1. Arriving in Australia in 1836
Ian Nicholson, 1985, Shipping Arrivals and Departures Tasmania 1834-1842, Roebuck No 33, Canberra
The HENRY, a brig, an ex-Atlantic slaver, registered in London, of 145 tons burthen, under Master and Owner Captain Edwin Whiting, arrived at the Launceston bar on 9 April 1836. The brig had left London, Gravesend on 27 November 1835, making passage via Funchall Bay (22 December) and Tristan de Cunha (10 February), and carrying cargo including pork, butter, beer, rum, brandy and wine.
1.1 A dishonourable past
Ronald Parson, 1983, Ships of Australia and New Zealand Before 1850: (Details of Vessels Registered with Customs at Ports in Australia and New Zealand), Magill SA
"HENRY Wood, 2 mast, square rigged (brig), 144.75 tons, 74 foot 4 inches X 21 foot 8 inches X 9 foot 9 inches...Built time and place unknown and condemned in a court of mixed commission to suppress slavery at Sierre Leone in 1833.
Owners: (ex 395/1835 London), January 1837 Henry Edwin Whiting, master mariner, registered Launceston 2/1837 : January 1837 Henry Edwin Whiting and Edward Primrose Tregurtha, registered Launceston 6/1838..."
Ian Nicholson, 1985, 'Index of Ships', pp 15-16
"Henry, brig of London, (ex slaver, taken by HMS Pluto, off West Africa, 1833), 145 tons, 9-12 men...[Note: Not 'Henry, schooner of Launceston, 33 tons...**29 August 1834, wrecked at Portland Bay**'. Not 'Henry, British ship or barque, 260 tons...Said to be one of the fastest sailing vessels in the three kingdoms (Launceston Advertiser, 17 November 1836)'."
1.2 A distinctive craft
Alexander Hunter, Diary 1839, State Library of Victoria, MS 10300, MSM 151
[Hunter, later an overlander and squatter in the colonies, was travelling from Scotland on board "the old Abircromby". These observations are extracted from his "Sea Log", when he was in the Atlantic approaching South America in March 1839].
"March 18th...AM 12 two brigs in sight to leeward going to the North, the one nearest us by the rake of her mast and her bows bent we take to be a slaver...
March 21st...We are painting and getting the ship in order for going into Rio [de Janeiro, Brazil]
March 22nd...2 Brigs in sight, one very rakish looking, we think she is a slaver...
March 28th...[Abircromby enters Rio harbour and anchors)...
March 30th, Thermometer 78 degrees, Raining. There are 2 English Men of War here, one of them took a slaver yesterday. She came in today with her prize, a schooner. In the afternoon another slaver came in that was taken two days ago by one of the English brigs in the habour...she turns out to be the one we saw on the 22nd and which we thought was a slaver...
March 31st. Could not get off yesterday after all, the Captain was 4 hours in the Customs House passing 6 or 7 pigs and a few oranges, the people here do everything they can to annoy the English whom they hate for stopping the slave trade..."
[The slaver brig Hunter notes here in 1839 is obviously not the HENRY, which was captured in 1833. But his comments illustrate 2 points: First, slavers were purpose built vessels, distinctively designed to make fast voyages (raked masts) with as many slaves on board as possible (bent bows); Second, following the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1830, British Navy ships were actively engaged in seizing slave trading vessels from foreign owners].
2. The dynamic partnership of Whiting and Tregurtha
The effective partnership of Whiting and Tregurtha, (one a careful captain whose role was to ensure the safe sailing of the ship, the other a careful 'supercargo' whose job was to ensure the safe stowage and delivery of the freight), was the foundation of the HENRY's commercial success in the live-sheep trade from Van Diemen's Land to the Port Phillip District. The years 1836 to 1838 were a peak time for shipping sheep to the mainland. The two men worked hard to meet that demand, but without sacrificing their reputation as carriers who got their livestock over Bass Strait alive.
2.1 A booming trade
Ian Nicholson, 1985, Notes
"16 March 1837...Launceston Advertiser: 30,000 sheep left last year for Port Phillip, and it is estimated that 40,000 sheep will leave this Colony this Autumn for Port Phillip. The 'Gulf' people's requirements [ie for the new Colony of South Australia] are not yet known, but may be difficult to supply from Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales."
"23 April 1838...Note: There were currently 150,000 sheep at Port Phillip (mainly from Van Diemen's Land), and 50,000 were on the way from New South Wales (some by droving overland)."
2.2 A cautious captain in unknown waters
Ian Nicholson, 1985, 'Arrivals and Departures'
1836: "Geelong. June 25/27, HENRY brig...Port Phillip, including Geelong, with George Town Pilot Williams. Captains Whiting and Tregurtha explored Geelong Harbour [Corio Bay] and River Barwon and named Point Henry. Log."
1836: "HENRY brig...proceeded up the Tamar and moored off Launceston on 26 July (Captain's Log)...clear for Port Phillip with 12 cattle, 5 horses, 120 sheep, 22 pigs, 4 passengers, Tregurtha...Left the Launceston wharf, 24 August, and anchored in Tea Tree Reach to wait for ship's company, being drunk on shore. Brig held up by fresh gales 25-28 August and, on 29 August, moved down to Spring Bay, grounding en route. On 30 August, negotiated Whirlpool reach and arrived Bryant's Bay. Took on stores and cargo off Lagoon Beach, 31 August, and [finally!] departed Launceston."
1836: "HENRY brig of London...September 11...[from] Port Phillip. Anchored in George Town Cove under pilot Williams. Arrived at Launceston on 21 September...September 23 [to] Geelong, Port Phillip with 200 sheep and 8 passengers. Crew cleared at George Town. Brig left Cove and put to sea, pilot Cordell (Log)...[from] Port Phillip, 6 October in ballast. Anchored George Town Cove, 9 October. No pilot available for arrival [!]."
[It is reasonable to assume that, in unfamiliar waters, Whiting was reluctant to sail without an experienced pilot. And at Geelong, a previously uncharted destination, he thoroughly investigated the situation for himself].
2.3 Down to business
Ian Nicholson, 1985, 'Arrivals and Departures'
November 8, Launceston to Port Phillip with 700 sheep, 5 head of cattle and 8 passengers.
November 18, from Port Phillip to Launceston in ballast. Was aground in West Channel.
December 13, to Port Phillip with sheep etc and 4/6 passengers including John Hunter.
December 28, from Port Phillip in ballast.
January 5, to Port Phillip with 500 sheep and 2 passengers.
January 14, from Port Phillip in ballast.
Note: Registration changed from London to Launceston by Henry Edwin Whiting and Edward Primrose Tregurtha.
Note: Mr Tregurtha is always on board the HENRY with Captain Whiting on these voyages, travelling as supercargo and personally attending to the welfare of the sheep for their safe delivery.
January 19, to Port Phillip with sheep and 6 passengers including Mr Strachan.
January 28, from Geelong in ballast.
January 30, to Port Phillip with 704 sheep and 3 passengers.
February 10, from Port Phillip in ballast.
February 18, to Port Phillip with 750 sheep and 6 passengers. 'Slipped across the Strait 21/22 February with Messrs Gellibrand and Hesse'.
March 2, from Port Phillip in ballast.
March 13, to Port Phillip with cargo and 4 passengers (2 clearances)
March 23, from Port Phillip in ballast.
March 24, to Port Phillip with cargo and 700 sheep.
April 6, from Port Phillip in ballast.
April 19, to Port Phillip with cargo, 700 sheep and 2 passengers, including Thomas Learmonth.
May 10, from Port Phillip in ballast. Brought news of the death of Mr Gellibrand and Mr Hess (ship's log).
May 16, to Port Phillip with cargo and 700 sheep.
May 24, from Port Phillip in ballast.
May 30, to Port Phillip with cargo, 700 sheep and 3 passengers.
June 12, from Port Phillip in ballast.
3. Shipping the Clyde Company sheep to Geelong
Captain Whitings reconnoitering of Corio Bay in June of 1836 was not wasted. Geelong was the key point of entry for aspiring squatters (and their sheep) from Van Diemen's Land into the unsettled basalt plains of the Western District of Victoria. Among the first of these was George Russell of Golf Hill, who, with the guidance of his canny older brother Phillip, was the frontline manager of Clyde Company's pastoral ambitions in the new lands.
In many ways, the contractual meeting of the competent partnership of Whiting and Tregurtha with the shrewd men of Clyde Company was a perfect match. The sheep owners were prepared to pay for a reliable service and the ship owners were prepared to provide it. Other less forthright souls may have baulked at the penalty clauses or the price. But not these men.
3.1 The squatter's account
Phillip Brown (ed),  1935, The Narrative of George Russell of Golf Hill, Oxford University Press, London, p 121
"After I left Tasmania my brother chartered a brig called the 'Henry', belonging to a Mr Tregurtha and a Mr Whiting, one of whom was always in command of her. This vessel was chartered to bring over the Clyde Company's sheep from George Town, as well as my own and Mr Anderson's. The first cargo arrived about the middle of December 1836. The vessel brought about seven hundred each trip.
I went down to Point Henry, where the sheep were landed, with a horse and cart to receive them and bring them home [to Golf Hill station on the Moorabool and Leigh Rivers]. I did this every time the vessel arrived. It took six trips to bring them all over, and each trip occupied eight or nine days. The owners got 5 shillings for each sheep that they landed alive; they found men to attend to the sheep, and provided hay and water for them. Very few losses occurred: the few that died almost always died after they were landed. A clause in the agreement was that the owners paid us 10 shillings for every sheep that died on board ship. The usual rate for bringing sheep from George Town was 3 shillings and 6 pence each, the owner of the sheep finding men and hay for them and receiving no allowance for those that died on board."
3.2 Confirming the terms and conditions
The Narrative, Editor's Note, p 126
"In October, before he left Van Diemen's Land, George Russell bought from Eddie, Welsh & Co., for the Clyde Company, goods valued at 83 pounds 1 shilling and 10 pence. [These goods] were shipped across to Port Phillip with the following letter:
'Dear Sir, Launceston, 13th Dec 1836
We beg to hand you a list of articles shipped in the Henry for the Clyde Company, which we trust you will receive safely.
The Henry is chartered to take over all your stock etc, and you will have to give the Captain a receipt for all he lands alive, as they are shipped under guarantee.
We remain Dear Sir, Yours truly, EDDIE, WELSH & Co.'"
3.3 The squatter's final tally
The Narrative, Editor's Note, p 127
"The brig that brought [Gellibrand and Hesse] to Point Henry carried seven of the following eight lots of sheep landed there for George Russell:
DATE NUMBER DIED AFTER LANDING DIED ON THE ROAD UP
1836 Decr 21st 755 2 -
1837 Jan 8th 677 13 2
Jan 21st 686 4 3
Feb 4th 702 4 -
Feb 23rd 722 5 1
March 10th 412 - -
March 20th 97 (per 'John Dunscombe', 3 having died on board)
March 31st 161 3 -
(1 having died on board the 'Henry')"
[In summary: the HENRY shipped 4,115 Clyde Company sheep for the loss of one on board, although 31 died soon after landing at Point Henry in the ship's boats, and a further 6 died on the road up to Golf Hill station. The Whiting and Tregurtha partnership where clearly successful in avoiding the misfortunes of the NORVAL a year before.]
3.4 The NORVAL debacle
3.4.1 - Nicholson, 1985, 'Arrivals and Departures'
"Arrived at Launceston, 25 September 1835, NORVAL, barque of Launceston, 295 tons, Captain Robson Coltish, Owner Henry Reed, from Sydney (6/9), with general sundries and passengers, including the Reed family, and 'will henceforth sail under the flag of the Temperance Society, In lieu of daily "grog" allowance, the seamen get more monthly pay.
Departed Launceston, 21 October 1835, to Port Phillip with 52 head of horned cattle, 500 sheep and circa 34 passengers, including John Batman and 23 steerage (arrived at Port Phillip on 9/11).
Arrived at Launceston, 27 November 1835, from Port Phillip with 4 passengers including Mr Saunderson and Mr Batman, to load sheep off George Town.
Departed Launceston, December 11 1835, to Port Phillip with 1200 sheep and 5 passengers.
Arrived at Launceston, January 8 1836, from Port Phillip in ballast and 1 passenger, Mr Mudie.
Departed Launceston, January 11 1836, for Port Phillip with 1100 of Captain Swanston's sheep, and passengers including Mr Mudie, and JT Gellibrand and his son.
Some concern was felt for the NORVAL by early February, when she had not reached Port Phillip, until it was learnt that she had gone round via Western Port and protracted her voyage (12/2). The barque landed her sheep at Settlement Point after many died in Bass Strait gale, but more [in fact most] were lost when ashore at Western Port."
3.4.2 - The Narrative of George Russell of Golf Hill, p 100
[George Russell recalled this incident in his memoirs, and it was no doubt formative in his thinking when the time came for his own sheep to cross Bass Strait later in that year...] "Early in the summer [of 1836] one or two ship-loads of sheep belonging to Captain Swanston of Hobart Town were landed at Western Port, the vessels having to run in there owing to strong westerly gales which prevented them reaching Port Phillip. The sheep were landed at Western Port; but owing to the carelessness and neglect of the persons in charge of them they got astray in the bush, and great numbers were destroyed by wild dogs. Very few of them were recovered".
3.4.3 - 'Epilogue'
[In May/June 1836, the abstemious but unlucky Captain Coltish loaded the NORVAL with 676 bales of wool, 94 tons of bark from Western Port, 1,642 horns [presumably from cattle], and 6 passengers, and sailed for London (arriving late November). In 1838 the vessels registration was changed from Launceston to London.]
4. Specialist sheep-shippers
Ian Nicholson, 1985, Arrivals and Departures
After a stormy and difficult trip to South Australia in August 1837 (with Turnips, 250 sheep, 50 pigs and 1 horse), the HENRY made three trips to Twofold Bay on the south east coast of New South Wales in September, October, November, 1838, for sheep to replenish the VDL flocks (for example, November 1 in ballast to Twofold Bay, returning to Launceston November 20 with 744 sheep). The brig then returned to the Port Phillip run until the boom trade in live sheep began to diminish, and the one way traffic of taking sheep out and sailing empty back became less profitable. The remaining 'boom-time' trips included:
3 January 1838, Launceston to Geelong, with 950 sheep, with note of pride in Log entry 'Arrived at Port Phillip settlement 10/1, having landed at Geelong 903 out of 905 sheep'; 16 January, Port Phillip to Launceston, with Wool.
20 January, to Geelong, with 900 sheep, returning 29 January in ballast.
1 February, to Geelong, with 700 sheep, returning 13 February in ballast.
15 February, to Geelong, with 495 sheep, cargo and 10 bags flour, returning 28 February in ballast...
9 April, to Geelong, with 780 sheep, returning 19 April in ballast.
23 April, to Geelong, with 800 sheep, returning 10 May in ballast.
Note: April 1838, 'There were currently 150,000 sheep at Port Phillip (mainly from VDL), and 50,000 were on the way from NSW (some by droving overland)'.
5. Dissolution of the partnership
Ian Nicholson, 1985, Arrivals and Departure
On May 30 1838 Captain Whiting returned to Launceston from Geelong. It was his last trip as master of the HENRY. Tregurtha remained as part-owner of the vessel, employing Captain Thomas Ruffle in Whiting's place.
At some point in the last months of 1838, the registered burden of the HENRY was reduced from 145 tons to a more modest 107 tons. It is not clear if this re-assessment was intended to reduce to port duties and charges, or because the brig was beginning to have issues with seaworthiness. (The early history of the HENRY as a wooden hulled ship sailing in tropical waters may well support the latter interpretation).
While Tregurtha continued to sail the HENRY from Van Diemen's Land to the Port Phillip District, it was no longer as a specialist shipper of sheep. Cargoes were mixed and varied ('Sundry cargo'), and both ways (not 'in ballast').
In July 1842 Tregurtha employed his son John as captain of the HENRY. In 1844 Tregurtha became sole owner (registered Launceston 4/1844). In September 1848 the HENRY was 'lost' in the Tamar River.