HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

9 January 2015

The shark infested waters of Jervis Bay.


A dramatic headline, but that was how Jervis Bay was often described by early sailors and correspondents.
Since the earliest recordings, sharks have always featured in writings about Jervis Bay.
Countless reports in regional newspapers attest to the excitement of shark encounters.
Sailors have always had an uneasy relationship with sharks, and non more so than the early sailors, and steam ship crews that plied along our coast.
I have found numerous reports of fishermen catching sharks in the 1800’s, and upon examination of their stomach contents, found, buttons and pieces of rotting cloths.

Fishing was mostly carried out on small timber launches. Jervis bay was seen as a “Fisherman’s Paradise”

Below are just a few of the more interesting examples of stories that appear in newspapers all over the country. There are many more.
1886. Evidence of a man eater.
A correspondent of the “Colonist” writes:
Mr G. Dent, snr, on Saturday last, caught a shark of the Blue Pointer species, measuring 10ft, in length. Upon opening the monster, Mr Dent was surprised to find a pair of boots and a pair of trousers inside.
Making light of the situation the correspondent goes on to say.
” We have often heard of persons finding their cloths gone after coming from bathing,  and being unable to trace the thief. Perhaps this shark incident explains it.  Still one can hardly understand the shark leaving the bather and taking his cloths.
1893. Disecting Sharks
An article in the Sydney Morning Herald about fishing in Jervis Bay
goes on to explain the practice of dissecting sharks.
”Everyone, and more especially sailors, love to see a shark caught, and as a general rule they are dissected to discover what they have been eating last. Sometimes there are buttons, or hideously suggestive fragments of clothing, fortunately we did not come across any traces of man eating”.

1914. Shooting Sharks. The Evening News Sydney.
These images appeared in the Sydney Mail 1926. This photo appears to be taken inside Honeymoon Bay, a popular spot for fishermen to seek shelter.


The story of Sydney fishermen on a trip to Jervis Bay.
“While out fishing on a sandy bottom for whiting, were surprised to see the water simply swarming with sharks. Fishing under the circumstances was out of the question so the launch returned to the shore. Two rifles, and a couple of harpoons were secured, and the boat returned to the shark infested spot.
When a large shark rose to the surface two shots were fired at it, after dashing around in a circle, the wounded brute came close to the launch, again, when the harpoon was embedded in it’s side. The shark did not put up much of a struggle”.  This pattern went on all day until the tally of sharks accounted to no fewer than thirty.
A typical early fishing party at rest in Honeymoon Bay.
Doesn’t everyone fish in a suit and tie?

1925. Capture of a shark at Jervis Bay.
Cootamundra Herald.
his story is about a couple from Wagga who had just returned from a holiday at Jervis Bay.
“Standing on the beach watching a number of fishermen hauling in their nets, when a large shark was seen to break through the nets, and it became stranded amongst the breakers on the beach. After much struggling, and telling how the shark lunged at their legs causing great excitement, they lashed the tail with a rope and hauled the shark on shore, tied it to a tree overnight, next day it was discovered to be a 9ft Whaler, with jaws 21inches across.
Early Huskisson wharf, this shark attracted quite a crowd.

1937. DRUM FISHING. The Shoalhaven News.
A story appears about Reg Jarman and S. Parnell using heavy lines set to oil drums for a float, “it didn’t take them long to land three blue pointers – one 5ft, one 8ft, and one 9ft”.

The slaughter of the Grey Nurse shark.
SHARKS - Jervis Bay Wollongong City Library.Large hauls, up to 30 sharks at a time have been reported, mainly used for their oil, fishermen knew where to find them, and how to catch this slow moving beautiful harmless creature.

Grey Nurse Shark Catch, Currarong NSW.
Wollongong City Library.

By 1937. A big game fishing angling club
Was established at Huskisson. Tournaments attracted anglers from all over the country.
“The visit of so many head-liners of the angling world was very gratifying” -  sharks were an easy target and put up a good fight.
1953. “Bikini’s and sharks disturb Jervis Bay. Canberra Times.
The bikini part of the headline, referred to an amusing story about the trends in swimming attire, and the angst they were causing in Jervis Bay. I will post that as a separate article in the future.
Shark Net Beach.
Because of complaints at the amount of sharks seen in Jervis Bay and the common fear that comes with such creatures, a large shark net barrier was suspended across the small beach that became known as “Shark Net Beach”, Remnants in the form of large concrete supporting blocks can still be seen on either side of the beach today.
The story continued: 
”Sharks have again invaded the swimming pool, according to the second letter from the association.
The association complained that the pool had not been cleaned out, and the gap in the net not mended, despite promises by the council 12 months ago.
The association claimed a shark 7ft long, swam into the pool recently.
Many large sharks have been captured.
1937, White Death.
‘Another fishing record was created at Jervis Bay last Saturday night, Milton Kent, well known Sydney airman and big game fisherman landed a 1000lb white pointer shark, after a fight lasting 4 hours and 40 minutes.

1928. Torpedo hits shark.
One of the more unusual stories appeared in the Northern Standard. Darwin.
”A shark was struck by a torpedo fired from the Cruiser ‘Sydney” at Jervis Bay and lost it’s tail. When it was struck it swam in a circle several times leaving a trail of blood. The tail was later seen floating on the surface of the ocean.
With a small amount or research one can find numerous stories in old papers about sharks, shark fishing and close encounters in Jervis Bay.

These days most sharks that are caught in our local waters are tagged and let go, occasionally someone will bring in one of these magnificent creatures to hang on the scales at Huskisson wharf. This practice still draws a crowd, fascinated by these denizens of the deep.
1918 An old time swimmers miraculous adventure.
The late Henry Gordon of Nowra N.S.W is credited with winning the first swimming race in Australia had a lucky escape from death while swimming in Jervis Bay.
One of his exploits was to swim across the mouth of the Shoalhaven river and back with one of his boy’s on his back.
This day in Jervis Bay, while going for a dip.
He swam out half a mile and on the return swim and within 20 yards or so of the shore, he saw and heard a great commotion among the blackfellows on the beach,
They were shouting out and gesticulating in a most excited way, and Mr. Morton at once jumped to the conclusion that a shark was after him.    He at once made frantic efforts to reach the landing-place, but before he could get there a huge shark bore down upon him
   And then a miraculous thing happened, which almost passes belief. So fierce was the rush of the shark after it’s intended prey that the speed it attained proved the swimmer’s salvation.
The onward rush of the monster carried it past the swimmer as he was just a few feet from the rock where he was trying to land, and it landed high and dry out of the water. As it dashed past the swimmer it scraped his thigh, the marks of which he carried with him his to his grave.   While the stranded shark was withering to get back into it’s native element the startled swimmer was able to clamber out safely.   The shark measured about 20ft in length, and the swimmers escape was one of the most remarkable on record.
The mirror Feb 1918.

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