The first boatbuilders to use all local timber and build an ocean going vessel were the most unlikely boatbuilders … possibly of all time.
John Boston was a young republican who decided to emigrate with his wife and three children. At the time, five Scottish radicals were convicted of treason and sentenced to transportation. Known as the Scottish Martyrs, they had considerable support and as well as John Boston, James Ellis a young Dundee weaver emigrated as he had been working as a servant for the Rev. Thomas Fyshe Palmer.
They arrived in October 1794, and set up house together, initially at Sydney Cove and used plans and instructions in Palmers set of Encyclopedia Britannica build the sloop “Eliza” in 1795. There is no record of where it was built, however it is possible it was built on the Hawkesbury. Initially it would have been used to transport corn and wheat to Sydney and when not needed for this, trading between Sydney Cove and Norfolk Island.
There is no record of when Palmer bought land on the Hawkesbury however it was probably earlier than when Boston received a grant of 170 acres at Mulgrave Place (Pitt Town) and seven convicts, and here he grew corn. 15th September 1796
In 1796, Boston again used instructions in the encyclopedia to brew a beer from malted maize and bittered with the leaves and stalks of the Cape gooseberry.
In 1797, the governor commandeered the “Eliza” and sent her with “Francis” to rescue the crew of the “Sydney Cove” which had run aground in Bass Straight. Having taken on board some of the crew, she set out for Sydney and was never seen again.
The government paid Boston and Co. and provided resources for them to build another schooner “Martha”, which was launched in 1799 and used as a “sealer” and merchant vessel.
William Reid who had been Quartermaster on HMS Sirius joined the company as captain of “Martha”. Many of its voyages were without the permission of Governor Hunter, who Palmer disliked. In 1790, Reid was sent to “Newcastle” to load coal to sell n Sydney. He mistook Lake Macquarie for Newcastle and hence it was called “Reid’s Mistake for many years. On the return voyage, she sank in Little Manly Cove.
Because the newspaper only began in 1803, there aren’t many reports or records available to confirm what happened. It is highly likely that the coal was salvaged, the ship refloated however deemed too costly to repair as she is recorded as lost. Palmer had always planned on returning to England and therefore probably decided that it wasn’t worth the time or money to rebuild her.
It is also highly likely that James Underwood who was just beginning his boat building business at Sydney Cove repaired her and launched her as “Endeavour”. More about him later.
In 1801 when Palmer’s sentence expired, they bought a Spanish ship that was in a pretty poor state and yet attempted to return to England. After running into a reef, they put in to Guam where the Spanish Governor seized the ship. For an unknown reason, Boston, Ellis and Reid left on another boat bound for Manilla while Palmer remained in Guam where he died. A non-Catholic, he was buried in a graveyard reserved for pirates and heretics. When the Americans heard of this, they sent a ship to retrieve his body, and in 1804, took it to Boston, Massachusetts and reburied him.
Boston and Ellis established a distillery in Manilla while Reid took command of an American ship that he and Boston bought in partnership. We have no knowledge of what happened to Ellis or Reid, however Boston made a voyage to collect Sandalwood in Tonga and all were killed by natives.