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.

5 June 2018

The Barque Sapphire and the Barque Narramissic 1874

The sea near Jervis Bay and the clear waters of the bay ran red with the blood of the whale industry.|

Whaling was a dangerous and unforgiving enterprise.

When a whale was spotted, ships would begin the chase, trying to draw near enough to lower their boats, manned with hard weather-beaten men, armed only with a hand-propelled harpoon, determination, and hopefully, luck. If they managed to catch and kill this great leviathan the men would now have to tow the whale by sheer back-breaking effort back to the waiting ship.

Death and injury was a common occurrence for the chasers, but the danger didn't stop there, when the whale was drawn on board, danger was ever present.

Sailors survived on limited rations in cramped quarters aboard creaking ships, as one sailor expressed, "we worked like horses and lived like pigs." Timber decks soaked in the fluid from processing whales were extremely slippery, men came down hard onto the deck, men slipped overboard to the waiting sharks drawn by water running with blood, men could be crushed by the weight of blubber being hauled into copper cauldrons in the try-works, they suffered deep lacerations from the sharp tools used for processing the whales.
Everything, including the men were covered in whale oil, all this aboard a ship pitching and rolling on an unsettled sea, hot oil from processing cauldrons could spill onto the fires, this could easily spread engulfing the ship and the crew, many ships left port and were never seen again.

When the processing was complete which could take 6 hours or more depending on the size of the whale, the crew would scrub and clean the ship as best they could,  despite their best effort, ships sailing downwind would always know when a whaling ship was approaching by the smell.

Collision at sea.

There were dozens of ships plying the coast chasing whales, collisions between ships occurred.

One such incident occurred 30 miles south of Cape St George between the whaling barque Saphire and the barque Narramissic.

10 September 1874 - The barque Narramissic left Newcastle bound for Melbourne and ran into heavy weather and was forced by leaks into Sydney Harbour.

20 - September 3am - The barque Narramissic left Sydney Harbour continuing her voyage to Melbourne, 30 miles south of Cape St George, in the pitch black the silence was shattered by the violent sound and vibration of two timber ships coming together.

The Hobart Town barque Sapphire,which was not displaying any side lights, struck the Narramissic with her flying jib-boom on her mizzen chains. The Sapphire lost one boat and her spritsail yard.  The Narramissic had her stanchions and gaff carried away, her covering board and spritsail were also damaged, five of her crew, thinking she was about to sink, jumped on board the Sapphire, leaving the master and three men to bring her into Jervis Bay, where repairs would have to be carried out before she could sail again.  The Sapphire came into Jervis Bay the following day.

The Narramissic stayed in the bay for 4 weeks wind bound because of terrible gales which had damaged other vessels caught at sea.

Once the repairs were finished the Narramissic sailed out of Jervis Bay continuing her journey to Melbourne.  She ran into more heavy weather, the second mate and a seaman named Christopher Tomkin went aloft to secure the yard-arm of the upper main topsail, which had got adrift from the gaskets. The sail caught Tomkins, who was 36 years of age and a native from Berwick, England, and knocked him overboard. A life-buoy was thrown to him, and the master hove a line to the drowning man, which he almost clutched but did not catch, the vessel drifted away from him, the weather being so bad as to preclude the possibility of rendering
him any assistance.

The Narramissic's voyage had been cursed with near disaster and tragedy.


The whaling barque Sapphire was a regular visitor to Jervis Bay,

1872 December - she put into Jervis Bay after a 10-month voyage from Hobart Town to recruit. She had taken 28 tons of sperm oil.

1875 February  - during a 14-month voyage she came into the bay to try-out 9 tons of oil,
the total take of oil for the trip was 21 tons.

By 1885 the romance of going to sea chasing whales was starting to decline, many whaling ship owners found it difficult to secure suitable crews and were forced into taking anyone that offered himself.  The Sapphire was involved in an incident when as was customary at the time, the owners would advance the willing a small sum in advance of the voyage.  Taking the advance these larrikins would often spend the money, then not join the ship as required when it was time to sail. The police would be called and these reluctant absconders would be arrested and taken aboard the ship.


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