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Port Arthur Historic Site

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Natural Wonders

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Amazing Walks

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Unique Wildlife

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Stunning Coastline

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Amazing Locations

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3.1 Norfolk Bay (Taranna): The Whaleboat

The Whaleboat, its Heirs and Successors

When passengers and goods on the convict railway reached Long Bay at the head of Port Arthur, they transhipped to the settlement by boat - almost always by whale boat. Transport was very water-oriented in southern Tasmania in the 19th century and whale boats were the light transport workhorses of their day. They looked rather like today's surfboats and performed all the tasks that we associate with a light truck or a small bus. There was no road to the Tasman Peninsula in the convict days. Transport was by water.
Convict Constable, Jack Longworth, in a bitter moment, asserted that one whale boat was worth 20 men in the bush when pursuing 'bolters'. Forced by a superior to abandon his beloved boat and patrol on foot, Jack's party returned “naked and not got a shirt to their back”, graphically illustrating his point about the advantages of water transport in this rugged, densely forested country.

Norfolk Bay, Taranna - The Whaleboat

After the Peninsula was opened up for free settlement in the 1880s, transport was still by water and many of the sheltered bays and inlets were exploited as harbours for loggers. The timber industry went from convict punishment to capitalist enterprise; scarcely missing a beat and rapidly re-populating the Peninsula after the exodus of the convicts. Now, however, the tasks that had once been performed by square-rigged ships and whale boats were done by trading catches and river steamers.

Norfolk Bay, Taranna - The Whaleboat

The Tasmanian trading ketch’s development was completely tied up with the timber trade. Fore and aft rigged and shallow-drafted, these boats were much more versatile than the small square-riggers that they replaced. A late but beautiful example of the class, the Margaret Twaits was built at Gathercole's Oakdale sawmill near Port Arthur in 1933 for the cross-Bass Strait trade.

A smaller version of these ketches was developed for the trade in the estuaries, rivers and channels of southern Tasmania, and these were known, somewhat prosaically, as barges. The barges carried general cargo on occasion, but timber, their original cargo, was what kept them in service longest. The May Queen, now preserved in the Waterman's Dock in Hobart, carried timber for the sawmiller Chestermans’ for 107 years, and she was active around the Peninsula until well after the Second World War.

Norfolk Bay, Taranna - The Whaleboat

The boats that held on to the trade longest in these waters however, were the river steamers - steam powered, screw-driven ferries that ran regularly around the settlements of Norfolk Bay and to Nubeena. Many Peninsula children were able to go to school in Hobart thanks to the reliable ferry service, and a couple of days in town on a shopping trip was always great fun. No fun at all was the anxious wait for the twice-weekly ferry to take a sick child to the doctor; even more painful, the agony of an injured logger awaiting transfer to hospital.

The largest of the class and pride of the fleet, the Cartela, was as late as the 1960s moving 7,000 cases of apples off the Peninsula in a load, before finally ceding the trade to trucks. Nowadays, like the Peninsula, she has taken to the tourist trade, daily cruising the Derwent River.

James Parker

Norfolk Bay, Taranna - The Whaleboat