Rich history revealed in Eden Pilot Station museum exhibit

Brian and Sue Williamson with Steve Hughes and furry friend, Peter. Captain David Williamson was Eden's harbour master 1954-1962. Photo: courtesy of S Williamson.
Brian and Sue Williamson with Steve Hughes and furry friend, Peter. Captain David Williamson was Eden's harbour master 1954-1962. Photo: courtesy of S Williamson.

The rich history of Eden's Pilot Station can be explored in a new display, 'Navigating the way', at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

The Port of Eden is the southernmost deep water harbour in the state, and services the needs of recreational, commercial and naval vessels.

Established in 1860, the pilot station precinct slowly eroded over time as technologies became outdated.

Today, Eden's harbour master lives on the same headland on the Lookout close to the original site of the station with his office now more efficiently located at Snug Cove Wharf.

There are only four harbour masters across the state, with Eden's post combining with the role of marine pilot.

The position is filled by a master mariner charged with controlling shipping, enforcing state regulations and overseeing the maintenance and repairs of the port's infrastructure, as well as ensuring our waterways are managed against the effects of pollution.

For vessels over 30 metres, pilotage into Eden's facilities are mandatory, which sees a pilot board the vessel four miles out from the port via a rope ladder, in all types of weather, requiring skill, much practice and a great sense of timing the rhythm of the swell.

Once onboard, they safely navigate and berth the vessel before the reverse is done again for the return journey.

Eden's first harbour master, Bourn Russell Junior (1819-1900) arrived in Eden aboard the steamer Wonga Wonga, on August 19, 1860.

Bourn Russell Junior (1819-1900). Photo supplied by Eden Killer Whale Museum, source unknown.

Bourn Russell Junior (1819-1900). Photo supplied by Eden Killer Whale Museum, source unknown.

Also on board were his boatmen, Robert Collins, Martin Hanson, Henry Scott and John Andrews and their supplies.

Despite Captain Russell's complaints, their temporary tent accommodation on the exposed headland would endure at least nine months of rain and wind until the cottages and essential infrastructure such as the flag mast and lighthouse were built.

Captain Russell's journey wasn't an easy one in the beginning, as vessels had entered Twofold Bay at their own risk for several decades before his arrival, the sudden change in regulations and expense of engaging his pilot service were often met with varying degrees of wrath from the captains.

Exemptions from needing a pilot were available but it took some time before a new routine was eventually established.

Over the 160 years they have been here, Eden's harbour master's have been a part of, or witnessed, historical events with local, national and international associations, including bushfires, comets, eclipses and other astronomical events, visits by dignitaries and naval vessels from around the world.

Eden Pilot Station. Photo: C E Welllings.

Eden Pilot Station. Photo: C E Welllings.

Physical changes to the port and technologies are another obvious chapter of the local history.

The new display, Navigating the way, in part is the result of a digitisation and transcription project the Museum's volunteers have been undertaking over the past seven years.

The log book associated with the first dozen years of the pilot station was discovered to be held at the State Records office in Sydney and Phillip Helmore kindly agreed to photograph the nearly 700-page ledger.

Written over the early part his 33 years of service, Captain Russell's entries provide a great snapshot into the local practices, events and shipping history of Eden.

Collection manager at Eden Killer Whale Museum Jody White said, "For Barb Reed, Chris Bingham and I, his spelling and handwriting has proven to be a challenge during the transcribing process! His personality however has definitely shone through in his daily entries and correspondence."

...master drunk, took charge out of my hand. Stopped me from giving the ship more than 35 fathoms. Offered him the regulation. Said he did not care a pain for me or regulations or anyone else. 11 pm left the ship. Luff broke his arm. Master threatened to choke me. 10 October 1863

Bourn Russell Junior

Disgruntled captains were not his only source of personal conflict, boatmen also proved difficult. The wreck of the City of Sydney in 1862 at Green Cape was one instance that the boatmen tried his patience. Though after many hours of rowing in their pilot whaleboats to reach the Cape, and faced with another long row back, it is no wonder conflict between boatmen arose.

Though a small display, 'Navigating the way' highlights the value of the harbour master logs for researchers and some of the interesting events that unfolded between 1860 and 1873.

Photographs, film and objects from the Museum's collection and a miniature navigation marker set on loan from the Port of Eden brings together more of the associated histories. 'Navigating the way' is on display from August 19, until at least the end of 2020.

For more information visit the museum's Facebook page or website.

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