In the winter of 1816 two schooners, the Edwin and the Jane, sailed from Sydney for the Hawkesbury River. They were caught in a storm and driven north to Cape Hawke where the Edwin was disabled and forced ashore. The Jane disappeared.
John Oxley Crosses The Manning
In October 1818 Lt. John Oxley, a retired British Naval officer and Surveyor General of New South Wales, travelled south along the coast from Port Macquarie, which he had discovered and named. According to his log, the party camped for the night fourteen miles [about 22.5 km] south of the Camden Haven River.
On the beach adjacent to their campsite they found a small boat half buried in the sand. Oxley identified the boat as having belonged to the Jane, lost with all hands two years before.
The next day Oxley and his party continued south. A short way from the half buried boat they discovered a hut which had been built using axe and saw. Four miles [about 6.5 km] further on, they reached ‘a very extensive inlet’ which Oxley described as being nearly a mile wide. With their horses exhausted and unable to effect a crossing of the barrier which Oxley named Harrington Lake, Oxley sent a party back to recover the Jane’s lifeboat. After an arduous 20 odd miles [about 32 km] round trip the boat was brought to the camp site at Harrington, repaired, and with newly made oars used to ferry the whole party, including the horses, across to the northern spit of Mitchell’s Island.
Four miles further south the party found another inlet, now known as Old Bar, which Oxley named Farquhar’s Lake. They were able to cross the mouth of the inlet at low tide without unloading the horses - an early indication of some of the problems that would be met by shipping at one or other of the river’s mouths.
Having crossed the bar they continued along the beach. About a mile from the entrance, just north of the present village of Old Bar, they came upon the wreck of a vessel. They had found the Jane.
While these events were a low key start to the maritime history of what was to become the Manning River, they nevertheless set the scene for a kaleidoscope of’ activity ranging from ship building, through cargo and passenger handling, traders boats, recreation, triumph and tragedy. The river was for a century to come to be one of the important foci in the lives of the whole of the valley’s population.
Many years were to pass after Oxley’s visit before the next chapter of the saga of the Manning would be written.
Following Oxley’s return to Sydney and the delivery of his report to Governor Macquarie, it was decided to establish Port Macquarie as a penal settlement, the remoteness of which would help secure the prisoners. Non official visits to the settlement could only be made with the Governor’s permission. These visits had to be by sea and were actively discouraged. Visits over land were forbidden.
More Exploration On The Manning
After 1825 the Australian Agricultural Company owned all the land on the southern bank of the Manning while settlement on the northern bank was officially prohibited.
By October 1827 the Australian Agricultural Company, having mapped the southern bank of the river from its upper reaches to Farquhar Inlet was ready to undertake a survey by boat. Two attempts had been made to enter the river earlier in 1827 both via Farquhar Inlet. Both had ended in failure.
In February a seaman named Cromarty, employed by the Australian Agricultural Company, mistook the entrance to Khappinghat Creek [now known as Saltwater Lagoon] for the Inlet and was stranded. He explored the creek for several miles until it became too shallow whereupon he proceeded on foot, carrying a boat (hopefully not on his own) to Port Macquarie.
Later the same year, in September, Government Surveyor Ralf was surveying the coast in the vicinity of Cape Hawke when he was wrecked on the bar of the Farquhar Inlet mouth of the Manning River. He walked back to Port Stephens, but did not carry a boat and swam the inlets. On his return he reported that no ship could enter either inlet as there were both partly closed by sand bars.
At this point the Australian Agricultural Company’s superintendent Robert Dawson, resolved to settle the question of the river’s navigability and in October despatched Assistant Surveyor John Armstrong to explore the river and its channels.
Armstrong was specifically directed to examine both inlets to the river. By 2 November, Armstrong had travelled upstream to the limit of navigation in the vicinity of the present clay Wingham Brush and by the time he left the river he had explored all its main channels and a number of side channels and creeks. He had also confirmed the presence of large quantities of cedar trees.
Armstrong’s report of large areas of land suitable for grazing and agriculture led to the government opening the northern bank of the Manning River to settlement in August 1830 by which time three settlers were already in possession of large areas. Their comings and goings were mainly by boat although they had driven their cattle overland.
John Armstrong’s party had included John Guilding who was to be the first settler on the northern bank of the river. As soon after the expedition’s return to Port Stephens that he could arrange transport, Guilding returned to the Manning and proceeded to establish himself at ‘Mooto’ near Ghinni Ghinni.
Apart from commencing farming Guilding set his convicts to work cutting cedar and on 3rd March 1828 the Sydney Gazette reported the arrival in Sydney of the schooner Darling from the Manning River with a load of cedar belonging to Mr. John Guilding. This is the first report of a vessel arriving in Sydney from the Manning River.
William Wynter Builds The ’Tarree’
In 1829 William Wynter having secured his grant of four square miles at ‘Tarree’, arranged for the Government vessel Mary Elizabeth to convey his family and goods from Sydney to the vicinity of Cape Hawke where he would transfer into a smaller unnamed vessel which he had hired to transport him into the river.
Although there was a fleet of small itinerant schooners working the NSW coast commercially, there is no record identifying shipping visiting the Manning, other than the Darling, until 16 November 1833 when the Sydney Gazette reported the Abeona (or Abeone) arriving from the Manning with ‘cedar and sundries’. Advertisements of cedar for sale in Sydney during 1833 include cedar from the Manning River via the Jane and the Abeona however, the arrivals were not specifically reported.
Wynter indicated in his letters that he and his family were living in isolation because of the unwillingness of ship captains to regularly visit the river. This circumstance no doubt was the reason he set to work to build his own vessel. The Tarree which he launched in 1834 - the first ship built on the Manning River. During 1834 the Tarree was reported to have visited Sydney on several occasions and the schooners Hope and Governor Bourke were also mentioned as plying to and from the Manning with cedar and supplies.
The building of the Tarree is attributed to William Wynter who no doubt financed the operation and probably supervised construction. However, the man in charge of actual building appears to have been a convict, William Bird, described as ‘Boat builder’ in the return of “persons on the establishment of William Wynter JP at the Manning River, taken 2nd day of September 1834”. Bird, who had conic to NSW in 1824 with a life sentence, spent his first nine years in the colony working for Mrs. Clarkson, Shipbuilder of Sydney.
The Tarree was described as being of 48 tons, two masted, brigantine rigged, 52ft 6in [about 18 m] long, with 7ft 6in [about 2.5 m] depth of hold, the Master was Richard Kingsmith. She traded along the NSW coast for several years, not always to the Manning. She is recorded as being the second vessel to enter the Clarence River and ended her life there, wrecked on the bar.
Manning Ship Building Increases
Over the next ten years at least twenty six vessels are known to have been built on the banks of the Manning River and the tidal creeks running into it. Some, like the Vulcan of 28 tons had a short life. She was built in 1837, entered the coastal trade in August of that year and was wrecked at Newcastle on 23 December 1837.
Others like the Triton a 143 ton brig built in 1844 by John Nicholson in his yards close to the flag pole in Taree’s Fotheringham Park, had long productive lives. The Triton, which had been renamed the Benjamin Boyd, was involved in a collision while carrying coal between Cardiff and Belfast in 1905 - 63 years after she had been built.
There was a large variation in size from the Vulcan’s 28 tons up to the Julia Willis’ 177 tons.
The builders in that first ten years had many and varied reasons for being in the business. Wynter, of course, was looking to provide himself with a guaranteed access to transport although he sold the Tarree, or at least shares in her, within a few months. Gillies built ships to sell, and the Hero, Fairy and Echo were all put on the market as soon as they arrived in Sydney.
Taylor Winship was a professional boat builder. He arrived on the Manning River some time in 1836. His first ship was a 23 ton cutter, the Trial, which he owned and operated in partnership with Messrs. Anderson, Potts, and Scramble for a few years; the Emma he operated alone. However, the others he built at Chatham, were all sold almost off the slipway. Winship built seven ships in five years ranging in size from 23 tons to 177 tons and established the Manning as a source of quality ships built by quality tradesmen out of quality timbers.
Captain William Sandilands Amner built and operated the schooner Mary Ann. He had previously been Captain the cutter Sarah which had visited the Manning on several occasions while regularly trading between Port Macquarie and Sydney. When the Sarah capsized and was lost in 1839, Captain Amner built his one ship on the Manning and launched her in November 1842. She was lost on the Richmond River bar in 1852.
A second vessel named Mary Ann was built on the Manning in 1842. She was a two masted, 38 ton schooner owned in equal shares by Richard Dawson, an ironmonger of Sydney, and Mary Cann, widow, of the Manning River. The Mary Ann was built by Alexander Kidd and traded between the Manning and Sydney until 1849, when she was wrecked at north beach, Harrington.
Entries in William Board’s diary indicate that this vessel called at several wharves between the river entrance and Wingham including Taree, Redbank, Croki, Cundle, Sidebottom, Chatham the Woola Woola and Mondrook. Her master, Captain George Stevens, carried letters, took bank notes to exchange for coin, did general banking and shopping. Another entry in Board’s diary for 4 Nov. 1846 includes:
By 1842 there were more than twenty coasting vessels trading to the Manning. Some were regular visitors while others were chartered or looking for opportunity cargoes, mostly cedar.
A number were lost or damaged at the bar; one or two just disappeared. There was a lengthening casualty list of both ships and people - something that would continue to lengthen for the next 100 years.
written by Eric Richardson 1998
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