Shipbuilders’ Memorial Overview
Traditional Aboriginal people were the first boat builders in the Brisbane Waters & they constructed many types of water craft including rafts, bark canoes & dug-out canoes. Many canoes were constructed out of tree bark, with sticky tree sap & twine to hold them together and the use of fallen tree limbs. Dug-out canoes were superior to the bark canoes & easier to build. This ease of construction played a significant role in the dugout canoes’ widespread use. In some early dugout canoes, aboriginals would not make the bottoms of the canoes smooth, but would instead carve “ribbing” into the vessel. The widespread use of dugout canoes had many impacts on Aboriginal life. The boats had the strength to travel long distance and transport larger prey. The dugout enabled the Aboriginals to vastly expand their hunting grounds. These boats were also used for fishing and the collection of shellfish during the many thousands of years before white settlement. These canoes were used widely by the Darkinyung people in the Brisbane water area.
The first European settlers arrived in Brisbane Water in 1823. Water transportation was the only practical way to travel to and from Sydney. As more settlers came to the district, industries developed including running cattle, timber-getting and the gathering of shells for lime-burning. With these industries came a need for staunch and seaworthy ships to carry the products further afield. The local shipbuilding industry grew from very humble beginnings in the 1820s.
Hardwoods that grew in the hills around Brisbane Water were well suited for the purpose. Individual shipbuilders worked with rudimentary tools to build one or two vessels at temporary yards. Demand steadily grew for the products of Brisbane Water shipwrights. Old hands mentored young newcomers, and families joined in.
Between the 1829 and 1953, over 500 named vessels are known to have been built in and around Brisbane Water. There were probably many more built that are now lost to history. As iron and later steel ships were built in Australia and Overseas, the craft of timber shipbuilding began to wane. The shipbuilders of Brisbane Water contributed greatly to the economic and maritime history of New South Wales.
The history of this period of shipbuilding is very well documented in Gwen Dundon’s book “The Shipbuilders of Brisbane Water NSW” (National Library of Australia ISBN O 646 28082)
The Rotary Club of Kincumber, in conjunction with Gosford City Council, will construct a permanent memorial to these shipbuilders. In addition to this main memorial we are planning to erect a number of smaller individual memorials dedicated to the memory of individual shipbuilders. These individual memorials will be located adjacent to the existing and proposed 2 km cycleway / pathways.
Women of the four Villages
The following extract from “Women of the Central Coast” produced by the Brisbane Water Historical Society outlines why information in the publication is limited.
“ Few details exist of the life of any particular woman of the Central Coast in the history books because of the nature of her duties. If a child was born in the year 1846, the birth notice in the Sydney Morning Herald may only give the father’s name! That was the order of things and accepted in its day.”
The role of any woman, either Aboriginal or European of the pre-colonial and colonial communities was also rarely recorded and nothing published in detail. No streets or villages recognised their considerable efforts in shaping their new life, in isolation.
This information is based on published information.
Aboriginal Women of Pre Colonisation
The Shipbuilders Memorial Walk is on the land managed by the Darkinjung Land Council
The role of the Aboriginal woman was certainly misinterpreted or filtered by the European colonisers of the time. Their attitude appears to be one of total disrespect.
The Aboriginal woman was the leader of her community while the man led in areas of hunting and conflict. The woman’s role was one of bearing and nurturing the children, providing for the community’s wellbeing with foods gathered from the surrounding area, medicines and the like as well as being the custodians of sacred sites.
The census of the Aboriginal (native) population in Brisbane Water Area identified a total of 65 people living in the area from Broken Bay to Wyong. There was not a group of people living in the area of the Four Villages walk at that time but there was evidence of recent settlement in the area.
When Captain Cook sailed east coast of Australia he described the Aboriginal people he observed as “…in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans….”
Wives of the Shipbuilders
The lives of the early colonists in the area of the Four Villages Walk were extremely difficult, largely because of the hard work and the isolation.
Wives of the shipbuilders were drawn from local communities or accompanied their husbands to the area. They generally married very young (by today’s standards)
The role of the wives of the colonists were not very different from those of their Aboriginal sisters but according to the order of things accepted in those times they were expected to perform their duties wearing clothes to the European climate that they had emigrated from. This added to their difficulty of working in their new home.
“For the women there is the added burden of bearing and rearing their children in a primitive environment away from medical help.” (Dundon, G. 1997)
Below are the details available from local resources of the wives of some of the significant ship builders of the Kincumber, Saratoga, Yattalunga and Davistown.
Mrs Jonathan Piper
Ann Piper (nee Bates) from Pitt Town married Jonathan Piper in 1835. The Pipers moved to live at Cockle Creek with Jonathan’s sister and her husband, Joseph and Sarah Spears. Joseph was working as a sawyer. Sarah had encouraged Jonathan to bring his shipwright skills to the new area. The Pipers had three children.
Mrs Ben Davis
Eliza Cordelia Davis (nee Wheatherall) married Ben Davis in 1850 when 20 years old. Eliza had been living in Kincumber with her aunt Mrs James (Margaret) Woodward.
Mrs Rock Davis
Mary Ann Davis (nee Ward) married Rock Davis in 1855 when 17. Mary Ann was the daughter of William and Catherine Ward the first settlers in Killcare. Mary Ann had two daughters and two sons.