History of Whaling in Twofold Bay

| , | January 12, 2021

On the South side of Twofold bay in Eden, hidden in the Ben Boyd National Park, there is a tiny cottage. This cottage “Loch Garrah” is the last building standing in what used to be a thriving whaling industry. Twofold bay has always been synonymous with whaling, from the Yuin people who were involved in whaling practices with the Killer whales for as long as they have lived in the area, to the first European whalers arriving in Twofold bay in 1828, to the now abandoned site being heritage listed and the tourists who now come to the whaling museum in Eden.

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Since Indigenous Australians traveled through the land, the Yuin people benefitted from the natural hunting strategies of the local Killer whales. The orcas were adapted into their belief systems and traditions as the orcas would regularly herd migrating baleen whales into the bay and the whales would commonly strand themselves on beaches to escape the killers.

As a result, the Yuin people believed that the orcas were deliberately providing food for the tribes and that the killers were the reincarnated spirits of tribal members. Early European explorers documented rituals where the Yuin’s would “call” the orcas to drive whales to shore. Whale oil played a part in tribal rituals up and down the east coast.

And then came the colony. The first European whaler in Twofold Bay, Eden was Thomas Raine in 1828. Establishing the area as a well known hunting ground and the bay as a wonderfully large natural harbour for ships. This encouraged the urban settlement of Eden in 1843.

It was Alexander Davidson who settled in the area and truely established Twofold bay as a capital of East Coast shore-based whaling in 1857 by Alexander Walker Davidson when he built a large house from the timber of the wrecked ship ‘Laurence Frost’.  ‘Laurence Frost’ was a British ship on voyage from Melbourne to Sydney when it was shipwrecked on October 26, 1856 on the beach in Twofold bay due to a leakage. The wood was salvaged and used to build many historical homes in the area, the most famous being the cottage “Kiah House”.

Alexander Walker Davidson emigrated to Australia in 1841 with his family from Scotland. The voyage was long and difficult, lasting 11 months, included fires, ship repairs and docking along the way. Davidson spent time working on the boat to pay for his children’s passage. Their youngest daughter died on the voyage. The family landed in Australia, traveled through Cowra and eventually made their way to Eden where Davidson worked as a cabinet maker for Benjamin Boyd.

in 1844 Benjamin Boyd was one of the largest squatters in New South Whales, owning property, steamers and sailing ships. Boyd’s coastal steamships concentrated on the southern route to Twofold Bay and Hobart Town, and by May 1844 he had become one of the largest landholders and graziers in the colony. His fourteen stations in the Monaro and four in the Port Phillip District included 426,000 acres (172,398 ha). At the time he was building an enormous property on the south side of Twofold Bay called Boyd Town, with a church and lighthouses and a huge jetty. He also had 9 whaling ships operating out of the bay.

Large strips of blubber were pulled off with a winch and dragged to the try pots

Boyd’s adventures quickly blew out of proportion, and unable to get adequate cheap labor and sufficient cash flow, his adventure in NSW went bust. Ben Boyd left to return to Europe.

It was the whaling equipment left behind by Benjamin Boyd that enabled Davidson to establish the most notable and longest running of the shore-based whaling enterprises of Twofold Bay. Davidson purchased the equipment at a discounted price and with his sons, Archer, John and Sandy, started shore-based whaling.

The Davidsons were able to establish a connection with the orca who hunted in the bay, and as the Yuin people had been doing for centuries so to were the Davidsons able to hunt and work together with the orca.

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Davidson’s children became Master Whalers, and have their names associated for all time with the stories of whaling and Twofold Bay, with 4 generations of his family continuing whaling until 1929.

Although up to 30 whaling boats were launched from the area in its hey-day, the Davidson’s were the only ones alerted by the Killer Whales. This may have been because a large proportion of the Davidson’s crews were Aboriginal and the local Thawa tribe had a long established co-operative relationship with the Orcas, whom they called ” Beowas” and revered as reincarnated warriors reborn to the sea from the dreamtime.

Try works 1900
At the try-works, located below Loch Garrah, circa 1900

Over time, the number of killers dwindled until the 1920s when rarely more than 3 were spotted. The Davidsons had been told that Norwegians operating in Australian waters had shot a lot of them.   Kiah House was burned down during bush fires in 1926.   Old Tom died and floated into the bay on Sept 13 1930, effectively signaling the end of bay whaling from rowing boats in NSW.

The stories of the Davidsons have continued to inspire stories of fantasy and heroism in literature and film.

Inspiration in literature. The novelist Shirley Barrett was so inspired by the stories she wrote the novel Rush Oh!, a creative interpretation of the whaling adventures at the Davidson station which focused on the lives of the women at the station. While many stories document the lives of the Davidson Brothers and their whaling, many forget that there were sisters and wives living at the station as well.

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Tom Mead also wrote the book Killers of Eden which was a fictionalized representation of the events of the whaling industry and the eventual conclusion of the Davidson whaling company.

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1 thought on “History of Whaling in Twofold Bay”

  1. Je ne connais pas bien la loi pour les photographes, mais je pensais qu’à partir du moment où on prenait une personne inconnue en photo et qu’elle était reconnaissable, il fallait lui demander une autorisation formelle et écrite, avec d’ailleurs pas mal d<uoqexpricasions (cadre d’utilisation, etc.). Ou sinon… flouter la personne.Mais bref. Si la loi n’est pas claire, il me paraît anormal que ce (célèbre) photographe n’ait pas respecté le souhait du photographié.


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