Captain Sale's Memories Part 1: Pioneer settlers and whalers

In 1932, early Albany resident, Captain James Sale,  inspired by interest shown in his contributions to the West Australian concerning the history of Albany, decided to write down his memories of the people he grew up with and who he had associated with for much of his life. He wrote about 30 letters setting down isolated facts as they came into his memory.
Captain John J. Sale (my father) accompanied by his wife, reached Tasmania from Britain over 100 years ago. He was a soldier in the Dragoons, to which he held a commission. Later he was drafted to the 96th Regiment and sent out with 450 prisoners to Van Diemen's Land. From there he was sent to Norfolk Island and thence to Sydney, still on military duty. A transfer to Fremantle followed and finally he was sent to Albany to take charge of the prisoners there, his detachment relieving the 51st Regiment.

At Albany he was pensioned off and instead of returning home he elected to stay. I never saw my father. He died in 1848, six weeks before I was born. There had been 79 babies born in Albany before me. I arrived there without a shoe on my foot or a rag to my back; now I am all rags. Standing back from the corner nearest the harbour on the west side of York Street was a house on high ground. This we called the 'Brass Castle' because it had a brass knocker on the front door. I believe this is from where I arrived in 1848.

There are only two or three of us left who went to the first government school which was held in the First Institute, a small building at the back of Mr McKenzie's residence behind where now stands the Freemasons Hotel. My mother re-married, my step-father being James Peter Covert, who was closely associated with the development of Albany, both the town and the waterfront.

He erected a good number of buildings in Albany and two bridges over nearby rivers as well as building the town jetty. The bridge across the King River was a suspension all-wooden bridge. The other bridge was across the Kalgan River. This was a pile bridge. I can remember the opening well. We had a picnic and the Colonial Secretary Mr F Barlee came down from Perth, together with the government clerk of works, Mr Manning. They appointed my mother to declare the bridge open.

Mr Covert was an expert at roofing - all sheoak shingles in those days. All the timber was got by hand from the bush. He also assisted in the erection of the Church of England at Albany and procured the timber for the P&O floating dock. Although I started to earn as a storekeeper, I early took up a seagoing career and saw a lot of the progress of the maritime history of Albany and the south coast. The first jetty built at Albany was the P&O one and was used for coal landing opposite where Millars' timber yard now stands - it was also known as Mrs Foot’s Jetty and built about 1852.

The structure that Captain Wakefield had built which was wrongly called the York Street Jetty, consisted of only a few piles worked into the sand. It was a landing stage for small boats. There were several of these along the waterfront. Captain Aspinall had one west of York Street. All cargo had to be landed by boats along the beach at Parade Street until the town jetty was built and connected with Parade Street. The only access to the Terrace in those days was by Parade and York streets.

At each end of Parade Street there was a hotel. The one on the west was kept by Captain McKenzie the father of the McKenzie family. This was called the Ship Inn. The hotel on the opposite side was the Sailors' Rest and was kept by a Mr Humphries. York Street was just a watercourse and had to be bridged to connect the west and the east sides of the town.

The Albany Town Jetty was built by Mr Covert, about 1859 or I860. The contract was for a length of 1,147ft. This only took the jetty to the edge of the bank, but some years later the government lengthened it. The present condition of the jetty speaks volumes for the durability of our West Australian timber, jarrah. In those days a great deal of responsibility devolved on the contractor for any job, because all the timber had to be cut by hand. The piles of the jetty were 12 inches square and had to be hewn with a broad axe.

The stringers were 12 inches by 5 inches. They were sawn as also were the rails and the planking. The whole thing was supervised by Mr Covert who was highly congratulated by the government for his skill in surmounting the difficulties that presented themselves. One of the difficulties was the driving of the piles. At first Mr Covert thought that he could bore and by placing the pile in a case, it would then slip down as the bore went down. He found that this would not work because of the clay underneath the top coat of sand.

Another plan had to be evolved. He went to the Little Grove and cut down a huge yate tree. Cutting a piece off this he made a monkey and each pile was driven with the wooden monkey. All the piles and the planking had to be boated up from the King and Kalgan rivers. The jetty was called Covert's Jetty for many years. Notwithstanding the fact that the town jetty was built in 12ft of water, all cargo had to be lightered into small boats and lifted onto the jetty by cranes.

Previous to that it had to be carried on shore and drays from the stores would come alongside the boat wherever she grounded. In the early days supplies were obtained from the American whalers. Things such as salt pork and beef, biscuits, molasses and clothing were brought by the whalers for trading. I have seen as many as 10 or 12 whalers in the inner and outer harbours at the same time. They came in for water and to give their men liberty. This was provided for in the ship's articles because of the possibility of outbreaks of scurvy.

Firewood was also taken to be used as fuel for the boiling down of the oil. The names of some of the whaling boats that regularly came were Lapwing, Draco, Europe, Mermaid, Hunter and later the Canton, Swallow, Stamboul and Vigilant. Of course there were many more, but their names escape me. Whaling was one of our major industries. In the early 1850s many whaling people left Tasmania and some of them eventually made their homes to and near Albany. Among them were John Thomas, Mr Touser, R. Gamble, Captain Aspinal and T. South. From Tasmania, these people crossed to New South Wales and whaled for the Henty Brothers who later became large squatters.

The whalers then worked for a company with headquarters first at Botany Bay and then at Port Phillip, with great success, for whales were very numerous to those days particularly the humpback. The next place they whaled was at Kangaroo Island for a South Australian company and later they worked at Holdfast Bay now called Glenelg. Each whaler had two or three whaleboats with crews of six. Working westwards these whalers finally arrived at Middle Island situated about 40 miles off Cape Arid. Together with Goose Island this formed a good harbour. These whalers reached there about the middle of the 1840s.

John Thomas was the owner of the biggest whaling fleets and was the acknowledged leader. He used the Harpenture to bring provisions and take away oil. The base at Middle Island was very successful for a time, but finally the whaling leaders moved into Albany. John Thomas located himself at Cheyne's Beach, 40 miles east of Albany. The Harpenture was wrecked there to a south-easterly gale. After Thomas established himself at Cheyne's Beach he used to go after humpbacks from June until August and then go to Cape Riche and Doubtful Island during October and November right whaling. The right whale is the only whale with no trigger on his back and he is black and smooth – a very pretty fish.

Right whales make from five to 15 tons of oil. This is the whale that gave a black bone that was so much used in those days. A 10 ton whale would give l0cwt of bone, which at one time was worth £1.000 a ton. The blue whale, which lives mainly in the frozen seas, made as much as 30 tons of oil. The average yield from a humpback was about four tons. This whale is a regular coaster and he called into all the bays open to the east while going that way and all the bays open to the west on his return trip. I have seen as many as 200 humpbacks going past Cheyne's Beach on one day - of course, we got as many as we wanted. Oil then, was worth from £40 to £50 a ton. The first humpback I saw was fast to come on the boat and tore the side out of her. No one was hurt and Mr William Sherratt killed him on the spot and handed our line to an accompanying boat - that was in 1865.

Captain Hassell the father of all the Albany Hassells came from Tasmania. He bad a vessel called the Brenda named after his daughter, the late Mrs Dymes. Misfortune overtook her at Middle Island when bound from Albany she was wrecked after striking a rock in a bay - afterwards called Brenda Bay. A long point there running out north is also called Brenda Point after the vessel. Captain Hassel finally reached Albany with his wife and family - five sons and a daughter. A. Y. Hassell was a member for Albany to the House of Representatives. They were some of the thriftiest pioneers of the early days and held large interests in the town and at Kendenup and Jerrymungup - their stations.

John Thomas continued to whale at Cheyne's Beach for a number of years. He brought up three daughters who all married in Albany, becoming Mrs R. Geek, Mrs John Cowden and Mrs George Broomhall. I was with Mr Thomas for a couple of seasons and so had all his history and those of his fellow whalers at first hand. He taught all the boys the whaling business, the Sherratts and Mr John and Cuthbert McKenzie. Sherratt was the first whaler at Albany, but I don’t think that he had an established fishery. I think he used to go out after the humpback when they came into the harbour, which was frequently during June, July and sometimes August.

There were two other very skilful whal-ers around the coast. One was Captain Fisher, who was captain of the American whaler Katrine. He left her at Fre mantle and whaled for John Bate-man and J. Harwood. The other was Mr William Parr, a New Zealander, better known as Butty. He acquired the name because he always called butter, 'butty.' Both these men came to Albany in the early 1860s and whaled with Mr Thomas at Cheyne's Beach.

At that time John McKenzie was whaling at Doubtful Island Bay, Cape Riche and Cape Arid and the Sherratt brothers were out around Rabbit Island and in King George Sound. One season John McKenzie had a bad mishap at Doubtful Island Bay and had two men, Abraham Appleyard and John Rason were killed by a small whale. McKenzie was knocked overboard, but scrambled back into the boat. Both Appleyard and Rason were buried on Doubtful Island Bay. That was in 1868. In those days Captain Fisher was McKenzie's chief headsman.

Both American and French whalers often visited Albany. The American whalers seldom troubled about bay whaling except at Cape Arid. They went out after the right whale, the whale with the valuable black bone. They used to anchor under Howes Island. The Americans also went after the sperm whale, which used to stay about 40 or 50 miles off shore. These whales abound even today off the coast, their feeding ground lying between Pollock Reef and Cape Leeuwin. These American whalers used to put to at Fremantle, Albany and Bunbury to give their men liberty. The French whalers used all the bays - King George Sound, Two People Bay, Cheyne's Beach, Cape Riche and Doubtful Island Bay.

These Frenchmen left a lot of names along the coast. I think they must have named Esperance Bay and also Cape le Grand. Frenchman's Cape is a mountain some 2,000ft high. There is a cave at the top of the mountain with trees growing to it. Duke d'Or leans Bay is the best harbour on the coast. Eucla is another French name meaning safety. I am not sure that the Frenchmen whaled further east than Doubtful Island Bay.