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The Watson's

An Australian Story

During the late 40's whaling activities were at their height and these provided big business for Hobart Town. It was recognised by all in the colony that whaling was of vital importance to Van Dieman's Land and if Hobart had not proved to be the natural head-quarters of the whale fisheries of the southern seas, the island might have remained nothing more than a convict settlement for many years longer. Quite apart fromthe home fleet the port also had to service the foreign whaling ships which happened to drop in. On Good Friday, 1847, for instance there were no less than 27 foreign whalers refitting at Hobart Town. The presence of the American Whalers in Hobart led to some rivalry between them and Hobart Town men, especially as regards the speeds of their respective boats. In February 1838 a boat race for ten pounds took place between the crew from the American Whale Ship Stateman and a local crew, whose boat was steered by George Watson. The course was from Hobart Cove to Sandy Bay and back, estimated to be six miles. The native sons won the race. A few days later having exchanged boats the race was rowed again with the same result.

Bay whaling was a rough game, one of the hardest and most dangerous in the world. It thrived in Hobart Town for half a century. Bay whaling was very popular with the native youth many of whom looked forward every year to the excitement, perils and profits. Exports of whale oil and bone from Hobart Town showed a big increase in the period between 1827 -31. Bay whaling entailed as many risks as deep sea whaling and there are records of many deaths. The bay whalers lived hard and worked hard. They risked life and limb every time they set out after a whale. Though the black whale was not as dangerous as the sperm whate of the middle grounds, boats were sometimes smashed and the men drowned. By 1847 bay whaling had been discontinued. The last whale to be taken in the Derwent River was at eight o'clock in the morning of June 23 1856. When the whale spouted in the river off Hobart Town a crew of whalers from a ship in port set off after it. The harpooner was Captain George Watson.

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