The Best Australian Sea Stories

The Best Australian Sea Stories

by Jim Haynes

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How many people know that the Fenian Brotherhood hired an American whaling ship to take Irish convicts from under the noses of British authorities to freedom and succeeded on Perth Regatta Day 1876? Or that Japanese submarines patroled the east coast all through WW2 and sank over 50 ships? The deep blue sea has always been an endless source of inspiration, wonder,


How many people know that the Fenian Brotherhood hired an American whaling ship to take Irish convicts from under the noses of British authorities to freedom and succeeded on Perth Regatta Day 1876? Or that Japanese submarines patroled the east coast all through WW2 and sank over 50 ships? The deep blue sea has always been an endless source of inspiration, wonder, and imagination to explorers and writers alike. Here, veteran writer Jim Haynes rounds up his favorite tales of the great blue beyond. Here are stories full of fascinating anecdotes, drama, surprises, human interest, and maritime history. Combining fact and fiction, first-hand accounts of voyages in the 19th century, along with modern accounts of refugee "boat people," the book is a dazzling compendium of the famous and obscure, the brave and the jinxed, ships of war and salvation, and much, much more. From the mystery of the mahogany ship and the Dieppe map, which point to Portuguese discovery of Australia's entire east coast in 1522, to the amazing story of early explorer Matthew Flinders' wife waiting nine years while he charted the coast of the land he named "Australia," survived shipwrecks and became a political prisoner of the French, this book is filled with amazing stories of bravery and endeavor, survival and catastrophe. Great Australian Stories of the Sea celebrates the amazing relationship of the land with the oceans that surround it.

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Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited
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The Best Australian Sea Stories

By Jim Haynes

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2012 Jim Haynes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74343-242-6



15th century

1420 — 60 Prince Henry of Portugal develops the caravel as a sea-going vessel, improves navigation and begins sponsoring sea voyages to Africa and into the Atlantic to find and colonise the Azores and Cape Verde islands.

1488 Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz rounds southern Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

1492 Christopher Columbus sails west from Spain, discovering the West Indies.

1493 Papal decree gives Spain the right to new lands west of a line drawn pole to pole through the Atlantic Ocean.

1494 Treaty of Tordesillas gives Spain the right to new land discovered to the west of a meridian 390 miles west of the Cape Verde islands; Portugal has all new lands on the other side of this line.

1497 Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sails to India via the Cape. English begin looking for a Northwest Passage into the Pacific via Canada — John Cabot sent by Henry VII.

16th century

1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral claims Brazil for Portugal, having found it en route to India.

1510 Portuguese seize Goa.

1511 Portuguese seize the Moluccas.

1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa crosses the Isthmus of Panama and claims the Pacific Ocean for Spain.

1520 The Portuguese have established settlements in the Persian Gulf, India and Indonesia, and trade bases in China and Japan.

Ferdinand Magellan enters the Pacific via the Straits of Magellan, finds the Philippines and is killed there in a civil war.

1521–23 Portuguese sailor Cristovao de Mendonca reputed to have explored the east and south coast of Australia in three caravels, one of which is wrecked near Warrnambool, Victoria.

1522 Juan Sebastian Elcano brings one of Magellan's five ships, Victoria, back to Spain — the first ship to circumnavigate the world.

1529 Treaty of Zaragoza draws another meridian east of the Moluccas to delineate two halves of the Earth and divide them between Spain and Portugal.

1542 Jean Rotz map, showing Java la Grande, given to Henry VIII.

1547 The Dauphin Map shows Java la Grande.

1550 Pierre Descelier's world map includes Java la Grande.

1565 Spanish colonise the Philippines.

1567 Spaniard Alvaro de Manana de Neira finds the Solomon Islands.

1576 English still looking for the Northwest Passage — Martin Frobisher makes first of three voyages to the Arctic.

1577 Sir Francis Drake is the first Englishman to enter the Pacific, and the first English captain to take a ship around the world.

1580 The union of Spain and Portugal begins.

1583 Englishman Humphrey Gilbert looks for the North-west Passage and claims Newfoundland for Britain.

1586 English still looking for the Northwest Passage — John Davis reaches Baffin Land.

1594 Spain closes port of Lisbon to the Dutch, denying them access to the spice trade.

1595 Cornelius Houtman pilots four Dutch ships to the East Indies.

1598 Dutch established at Java.

17th century

1600 English East India Company formed (becomes British East India Co in 1707).

1602 Dutch East India Company formed.

1606 Pedro Fernandes de Queiros finds Vanuatu's largest island; thinks it is Terra Australis and names it Austrialia del Espiritu Santo in honour of the Spanish king's Austrian connection. Dutch captain Willem Janszoon in Duyfken explores the Gulf of Carpentaria, thinking it's New Guinea. Luis Vaez de Torres continues Queiros' explorations and sails through the Strait named after him, circumnavigates New Guinea and claims it for Spain.

1611 Dutch admiral Hendrik Brouwer sails south from Africa, then east, then north to the Indies, shaving six months off the trip.

1613 Dutch East India Company orders sea captains to take the 'Brouwer route' and it becomes the standard Dutch route.

1616 Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog lands on the Western Australian coast.

1617 The Dutch and English East India companies sign a friendship pact.

1618 Willem Janszoon explores Australia's North West Cape, assuming it's an island.

1622 The first English ship to sight Australia, Tryall, is wrecked on rocks off the west coast.

1627 Dutchman Pieter Nuyts explores Australia's southwest coast as far as Ceduna and has charts made.

1629 Dutch East India Company ship Batavia wrecked on Abrolhos Islands off Western Australia.

1636 Anthony Van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, encourages exploration to the south.

1642 Dutch explorer Abel Tasman discovers Van Diemen's Land and New Zealand.

1644 Tasman explores the Gulf of Carpentaria.

1652–74 Anglo — Dutch Wars.

1656 Gilt Dragon wrecked on reef 100 km north of modern-day Perth.

1688 English explorer William Dampier repairs the Cygnet on northwest Australian coast.

1689 Dutchman William of Orange becomes William III of England.

1699 Dampier sent to explore Australia's east coast in Roebuck; lands at Shark's Bay and maps coast to Roebuck Bay, then explores islands to north.

18th century

1750s British Navy trials copper sheathing on ships.

1755 Huge earthquake and tsunami destroy Lisbon and the Portuguese archive of the Indies.

1768 Captain James Cook's Endeavour voyage to the Pacific.

1769 British watchmaker Larcum Kendall builds the marine chronometer K1, from clocks designed and created by John Harrison.

1770 Cook finds and maps east coast of Australia and claims it for Britain.

1772 Cook's Resolution voyage to the Antarctic Circle.

1774 Cook finds Norfolk Island.

1775 American War of Independence begins.

1778 Franco — American Alliance; France at war with Britain.

1779 Spain enters war against Britain as ally of France and America. Joseph Banks suggests a convict settlement at Botany Bay.

1780–84 Fourth Anglo–Dutch War.

1781 Entire British fleet copper-sheathed.

1782 End of the American War of Independence.

1783 Problems with copper sheathing become apparent as iron bolts corrode through electrolytic reaction — leaks appear. James Matra's plan of colonisation in New South Wales.

1785 Sir George Young's plan of colonisation.

1786 Decision to found a settlement at Botany Bay.

1788 Sydney founded by the First Fleet. French navigator Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse in Botany Bay, January to March. Norfolk Island settled.

1788–89 HMS Sirius circumnavigates the world through the southern oceans to bring supplies from Cape Town to Sydney.

1789 Fletcher Christian leads a mutiny on William Bligh's Bounty.

1790 HMS Sirius wrecked on a reef at Norfolk Island.

1791 Convicts Mary and William Bryant steal a government fishing boat and escape from Sydney's Port Jackson to Timor with two babies and seven other convicts.

Beacon erected near The Gap along the Sydney coast.

1792 Bruni D'Entrecasteaux and his French expedition explore Tasmania.

1795–96 George Bass and Matthew Flinders make local voyages in Tom Thumb from Port Jackson.

1798 Bass discovers Bass Strait and Western Port, and finds escaped convicts living on island off Australia's south coast.

Bass and Flinders circumnavigate Tasmania in the sloop Norfolk, built on Norfolk Island.

19th century

1801 Flinders sets off in Investigator to circumnavigate and map Australia.

1802 John Murray discovers Port Phillip.

Flinders meets Nicolas Baudin's French expedition in Encounter Bay, South Australia.

1803 Hobart established.

Flinders circumnavigates Australia; he is shipwrecked as a passenger on Porpoise when returning to England, and is imprisoned in Mauritius until 1810.

1806 Convicts and crew seize the brig Venus at Port Dalrymple, Tasmania, and sail to New Zealand.

1814 Norfolk Island abandoned.

1816 Escaped convicts hijack the brig Trial from Sydney Harbour; it is wrecked at Trial Bay, New South Wales.

1818 Macquarie Lighthouse built at The Gap, near Sydney Heads, by Francis Greenway.

1824 Norfolk Island becomes the place of worst punishment for British convicts.

1826 Captain Peter Dillon finds remains of La Perouse's expedition on Vanikoro Island.

Dumont D'Urville sails the Astrolabe into Western Port.

1828 D'Urville salvages La Perouse items from Vanikoro.

1829 Britain claims Western Australia (Swan River Settlement), thereby claiming all Australia.

First immigrants to Swan River.

Convicts seize the brig Cyprus in Recherche Bay, Tasmania, and sail to China.

1834 Convicts seize the brig Frederick from Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania, and escape to Chile.

1836 'Mahogany ship' first seen by European settlers near Warrnambool.

1845 Migrant ship Cataraqui wrecked on King Island: 400 dead.

1850 Lighthouses established in Bass Strait.

Western Australia becomes a penal colony.

Regular coastal trade by sail and steam becomes standard mode of transport around Australia.

1855 Convict transportation to Norfolk Island ceases.

1856 Descendants of Bounty mutineers gifted Norfolk Island by Queen Victoria.

1857 Dunbar wrecked at The Gap: 121 dead; one survivor. Catherine Adamson wrecked just inside Sydney Heads: 21 dead.

1858 Hornby Lighthouse built at South Head, and Sydney Harbour operations modernised

1861 A racehorse called Archer travels to Melbourne by steamship and wins the first Melbourne Cup.

1876 The Catalpa rescues Fenian prisoners from Fremantle and takes them to the US.

Georgette wrecked near Margaret River; 16-year-old Grace Bussell and Aboriginal stockman Sam Isaacs save many lives.

1878 Loch Ard wrecked near Port Campbell, Victoria.

1880 Last confirmed sightings of the 'mahogany ship'.

1890 Robert Louis Stevenson visits Sydney on a Janet Nichol voyage.

1895 Mark Twain visits Australia on a sea voyage from Canada.

1899 Banjo Paterson leaves for the Boer War on the horse transport troopship SS Kent.

20th century

1902 Banjo Paterson dives from a pearl lugger in Queensland.

1941 — 44 Japanese submarines and aircraft carriers attack Australia and sink more than 50 ships.

1945 Voyage of Leaside Park from Liverpool to Fremantle.

1947–82 Massive assisted migration programs to Australia.

1960s With new roads and air travel, the era of coastal shipping as Australia's main form of internal transport ends.

1970s Arrival of 'boat people' in aftermath of Vietnam War.

1980 'First Australian Symposium on the Mahogany Ship' and possible early Portuguese discovery of Australia.

1987 Second symposium on the 'mahogany ship' held.

21st century

2000 to present Public debate and paranoia over sea-borne illegal immigration and 'people smuggling' from war zones in Asia and the Middle East.

Refugee detention centres established on Christmas Island and Nauru.

2001 The 'Tampa incident' sparks fierce political debate and international condemnation of Australia's refugee policy.

2005 Third symposium on the 'mahogany ship' held.

    'The Days When The World Was Wide'

    Henry Lawson (excerpt)

    The world is narrow and ways are short,
    And our lives are dull and slow,
    For little is new where the crowds resort,
    And less where the wanderers go;
    Greater, or smaller, the same old things
    We see by the dull road-side —
    And tired of all is the spirit that sings
    Of the days when the world was wide.

    When the North was hale in the march of Time,
    And the South and the West were new,
    And the gorgeous East was a pantomime,
    As it seemed in our boyhood's view;
    When Spain was first on the waves of change,
    And proud in the ranks of pride,
    And all was wonderful, new and strange
    In the days when the world was wide.

    They sailed away in the ships that sailed
    Ere science controlled the main,
    When the strong, brave heart of a man prevailed
    As 'twill never prevail again;
    They knew not whither, nor much they cared —
    Let Fate or the winds decide —
    The worst of the Great Unknown they dared
    In the days when the world was wide.

    They raised new stars on the silent sea
    That filled their hearts with awe;
    They came to many a strange countree
    And marvellous sights they saw.
    The villagers gaped at the tales they told,
    And old eyes glistened with pride —
    When barbarous cities were paved with gold
    In the days when the world was wide.

    'Twas honest metal and honest wood,
    In the days of the Outward Bound,
    When men were gallant and ships were good —
    Roaming the wide world round.
    They tried to live as a freeman should —
    They were happier men than we,
    In the glorious days of wine and blood,
    When Liberty crossed the sea

    The good ship bound for the southern seas
    When the beacon was Ballarat,
    With a 'Ship ahoy!' on the freshening breeze,
    'Where bound?' and 'What ship's that?'—
    The emigrant train to New Mexico —
    The rush to the Lachlan Side —
    Ah! faint is the echo of Westward Ho!
    From the days when the world was wide.


Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

Winston Churchill

* * *

It's out there ... somewhere


My friend Dennis O'Keeffe knows where the 'mahogany ship' is. In fact, he even showed me!

Dennis and his wife Anne are lucky enough to live on the outskirts of Warrnambool on the southwest coast of Victoria — one of my favourite places and home to one of the greatest jumping races left in Australia, the Grand Annual. Their enormous kitchen window overlooks the coastal dunes and bay, down towards the town of Port Fairy, where Australia's premier folk festival is held every year.

Dennis is a folk singer, erstwhile historian, and the world's leading authority on the history of the song 'Waltzing Matilda'; he wrote a book about it.

We often perform together at the Port Fairy Folk Festival and I'd called in for a visit, as I was passing through Warrnambool a few weeks before the festival.

I happened to mention my interest in the sixteenth-century Portuguese exploration of Australia's coast as we sat discussing our coming performances ... and horseracing.

'Oh,' said Dennis casually, 'I can show you where the mahogany ship is.'

I was stunned into silence for a full thirty seconds and sat, trying to consider the significance of the statement. Why hadn't he claimed the reward offered by the Victorian government? Was he part of some secret local group intent on keeping the knowledge hidden?

'I'll show you where it is,' he added nonchalantly, standing up and heading into the kitchen.

I followed.

We stopped at the large picture window and gazed out across the miles of windswept dunes, along the coast to where Port Fairy sits at the end of the bay. Dennis waved his hand grandly across the horizon framed by the window ... sweeping it slowly left to right over the coastal vista spread before us.

'It's out there ... somewhere,' he said.

I should have known.

It's sad that, at my age and having known Dennis for so long, I could be fleetingly gullible enough to believe he could offer any new revelations about the oldest and possibly most annoying puzzle in Australia's history!

The riddle of the mahogany ship, the Dieppe maps and the Portuguese discovery of eastern Australia will remain unsolved until the long-wrecked vessel — which is very likely not made of mahogany — is rediscovered.


Excerpted from The Best Australian Sea Stories by Jim Haynes. Copyright © 2012 Jim Haynes. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jim Haynes has traveled far and wide to meet and interview the people whose stories make up this book. Before becoming a professional entertainer, songwriter, verse writer. and singer in 1988, Jim Haynes taught writing, literature, history, and drama in schools and universities from outback NSW to Britain. While teaching he gained two masters' degrees in literature, from New England University and the University of Wales. Jim Haynes is the author of many Great Australian titles including books on Railways, Aviation, Horse Racing and Trucking.

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