Captain George Watson

Most passengers experienced cramped conditions when travelling on 19th century emigrant ships. All were required to provide suffient clothing, utensils, and bedding for the long sea voyage and even cabin class passengers were required to outfit their own berths for the voyage.

The family sailed over the seas from England and arrived in Van Dieman’s Land on the Resource on 28 December 1830. The ‘Resource’, 417 ton with 4 guns, left London 26 July1830 carrying goods and 37/50 passengers. Sailing via Rio and Cape Town it arrived in Hobart Town 28 Dec 1830.

In an application for a grant of land 31 March 1831 George Watson said that he was a native of England, aged 30 and had bought with him 1000 pounds in cash and 2000 pounds in goods. He was married, with 5 children. He was granted 1000 acres immediately and another 1560 acres the following November when he had converted his goods into cash.

Early in 1834 he became the proprietor of the Surprise steam ferry and took over the Government contract to carry government personnel across the river.

In September 1835 he entered into a contract to provide a bonding store and warehouse on the New Wharf but became insolvent and the contract lapsed.

George Watson was the owner and master of many ships including the Amity, Surprise, Mary Ann, Flying Dutchman, Macquarie, Jane, Rebecca, Huon, Esperance and Britons Queen. There are numerous references to him in the Blue Gum Clippers by W. Lawson.

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 from the 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.

Captain George Watson died in May 1857 from an epileptic fit. An obituary referred to his mercantile and shipping interests extending over nearly a quarter of a century. One account referred to his burial from the Independent Chapel Brisbane St and the other mentioned the family vault in the Wesleyon Cemetery.