Butcher Boat Meeting Place

A Barnett Built Butcher Boat 1907

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 28 December 1913, page 1




Drawn up on a sheltered beach at Watson’s Bay may frequently be seen a cedar-built boat, which, to the uninitiated, looks like a large variety of double-sculled racing skiff. But though she is always ready to compete in a race against time at midday or at midnight, in fair weather or in foul, her races are run over no set, smooth-water course, but out beyond the harbor heads, where the great rollers of the Pacific, scorning to injure an object so frail, glide noiselessly beneath her keel, to hurl themselves a moment later in a thundering cloud of spray against the walls of the iron-bound coast.

It is not for pleasure that this delicate looking craft braves the wrath of the elements on the high seas. For she sometimes even ventures out beyond the five-mile limit. In appearance she looks as though sport or pleasure were the object of her life. In reality her course is set on strictly business lines. She is part and parcel of the commercial life of the city, for she is owned by a great firm of ship chandlers, and is used as the means by which to get into communication with the tramp steamers and ships which are constantly making for this port, and whose masters are free to do their own providoring.

GOING OUT OF FASHION ; ‘Butcher boats,’ for such is the name of these ocean skiffs, are gradually going out of use. In the days of steam they could put out to sea much more quickly than the launch that had to wait until steam was up. Petrol, however has altered all that. But, strange as it may appear, the fragile butcher boat, that looks as if a breeze on the harbor would be about the limit of her weather-withstanding capacity, can go out to sea with comparative safety where many a motqr-launch would do so at great risk. Nobody seems to know exactly how much sea a butcher boat can stand, but it is safe to say that it is more than half a gale that keeps her harbor-bound.

Some years ago, when launches were not so plentiful, and the providoring was not so completely in the hands of agents as it is to-day, it was quite a common occurrence for a butcher boat to range north as far as Broken Bay and as far south as Wollongong, to meet an incoming vessel, and secure the shjps business when she made port. _

An ordinary butcher boat is about 25ft long, with a beam of 3 ½ ft. She is built of cedar, and carries two pairs of sculls. Sailing is always resorted to when possible, and for this purpose she has a lugsail and a jib, but she has neither centreboard nor keel, though some of the larger boats used to be equipped with a centreboard to help them keep up to the wind. A crew of two is all a 25-footer carries, and one of them is the accredited representative of the firm he works for.

SOMETHING ABOUT THE CREW.  The men who undertake this arduous work practically live beside their boat. At any rate, they are always prepared to launch her and put out to sea the moment a likely vessel is, signaled from the Round House on South Head. Weekdays, Sundays, or holidays, it is all the same to the men of the butcher boat. The call is just as likely to come in the silent watches of the night as in the middle of the day and it is just as promptly responded to. The game little craft may shoot out to sea when the deep-keeled yachts are running for shelter under close-reefed, topsails, and battened hatches, and get through, too. The men who do this seem to be imbued with the spirit of William Pitt’s manner, in ‘The Sailor’s Consolation,’ when he sang:

”A strong nor’ -easter’s blowing, Bill I -Hark !                               Don’t ye hear it roar now ?                                                                             Lord help ’em. how I pities them                                                                                Unhappy folks on shore now!

It is claimed for the butcher boat that it is a difficult matter to upset it, and there must be a good deal of truth in this contention, seeing the weather they go out in.

A STRENUOUS CALLING. With all its drawbacks, the few men engaged in this strenuous calling appear to like it. There is just that spice of danger in it which calls for courage and resource, and helps to break the monotony of mere routine.  It is also one of the few walks in life in which business ability is as essential to success as physical endurance, and the capacity to undergo hard and exhausting labor. But the man with ‘nerves’-or the man afraid of work, or a wet jacket-should leave this branch of industry severely alone. The man who loses his head in a time of danger is as great a menace to life on board a small craft as a homicidal maniac let loose in a crowd.

 Fortunately, seamen of our race are not often troubled with funk, which is all too often the active agent in boating fatalities.  It is safe however, to forecast that disaster never overtakes men who run butcher boats on this account, for if they were not totally callous to danger they would, never think of putting put to sea in a butcher boat.

Sydney Mail (NSW : 1860 – 1871), Saturday 3 August 1867, page 5





Scarcely have the effects of the late disastrous floods softened down in the public mind, ere it is our painful duty to record a terrible disaster on the return of boisterous weather. On Sunday last, about 9 a.m., a heavy shower of rain fell over the city, and as the day advanced the wind veered round from the north to the south, and at about   4 p.m. it was evident that the night would be a wild one. At that hour the wind began to blow stiffly from the southward, and heavy rain fell, which only abated at distant intervals. The night was very stormy, and heavy gusts of wind, almost reaching the force of a hurricane, swept over the city. At daylight yesterday morning the gale continued from the south, and as may be supposed, a very heavy sea was rolling in at the Heads, the rain and mist obscuring the horizon.

The ship Strathdon, from London, hove in sight, about 8 a.m., and it was in endeavouring to board this vessel that the unfortunate catastrophe occurred. The men who yesterday lost their lives were in the performance of a perilous and not overpaid duty—braving the angry waters to reach the vessel, the pilot boat in command of Mr. Robinson was capsized. Another boat in charge of Mr. Robert Green, brother of the champion sculler of this colony, was near, and picked up the men who had been thrown out of the pilot boat. In a short time, the succourers met with a similar disaster.

One of the boats that had put off to the rescue of the crews, when the accident was noticed from the shore, shared the fate of the other two, and thus eight lives have been lost— valuable lives, for men that follow the occupation of the brave fellows that have perished are not ordinary people—by day and night, in calm and storm, they have no choice but to go where duty calls them; and while we mourn their untimely fate, we cannot but feel a glow of pride that no prospect of danger, or even of death, as shown by the upsetting of the first two boats; prevented others from starting to the rescue, and as it afterwards proved, even sacrificing their lives in the terrible adventure. The scene at Watson’s Bay, during the time that elapsed between the occurrence of the first accident, and the return of the boat in charge of Pilot Jenkins, was of a distressing character; the wives, children, and friends of those known to have been in the capsized boats were collected on the pier and the beach, the intense anxiety to learn who had been saved and who lost might be traced on every countenance, and when the fatal truth was disclosed it was indeed pitiful to witness the result; some idea of the extent of grief this calamity has caused may be formed by the fact that three of those drowned leave thirteen orphans and three widows to weep and mourn.

The details of the catastrophe may be told in a few lines; they are unfortunately but too common as connected with the pilot and lifeboat service—they will show that every effort, was made to save life, and to recover the bodies of those who perished. The following are the particulars, which we believe to be correct— The ship Strathdon was signaled off the Heads at 8 a.m. yesterday, and it being Pilot Robinson’s turn, he went off to meet her. Mr. Robert Green with the brothers M’Cleer, proceeded in their own boat in company with the pilot-boat. At this time, it was blowing a strong gale from S.W., with a high sea. Between the South Reef and a point of land known as the Old Man’s Hat a sea broke on board Pilot Robinson’s boat and immediately capsized her; Green, being close along-side managed to get Mr. Robinson and his crew of four men in his boat, but immediately after he was capsized. The accident being observed from the lookout station at the South Head the alarm was given, and Pilot Jenkins in one boat, and Pilots Shank and Reeder in a second, put off to the assistance of the drowning men; but just before reaching the scene of the accident, Pilot Shanks’s boat was capsized. With the accumulation of misfortunes Pilot Jenkins could only act as he has done, viz., to take on board all his boat would carry, and he managed to save Pilot Shanks, the brothers M’Cleer, and three of Pilot Robinson’s crew—Pilot Reeder having at this time gone down. Pilot Jenkins, seeing that his boat would be overpowered if any more weight was placed in her, pulled direct for Manly Beach, and after landing the rescued men returned to the spot where the accident happened, but all vestige of boats or crew had disappeared.

Shortly after the pilots leaving, the life-boat, manned by fishermen and residents of Watson’s Bay, pulled out to render every help, and after cruising about for some time in the hopes of falling in with some of the men, had to run for Manly Beach. Captain Hixson, immediately on hearing of the accident, engaged the steamer Vesta, and proceeded to the Heads, crossing and recrossing in the vicinity of the accident several times, but beyond the broken portions of the boats nothing could be discovered.

Inspector Ferris, with a boat’s crew from the Water Police Office, also proceeded to Watson’s Bay, and will make diligent search for the missing bodies when the weather moderates. Three of the men rescued are so badly hurt that they could not be removed from Manly Beach. It is stated that Mr. Green desired his boatmen to take their chance in Pilot Jenkins’s boat, determined to remain by his own swamped craft until further aid arrived.

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Friday 30 August 1867, page 2                   THE LATE ROBERT GREEN

(From the Evening News.)

Mr. DRIVER has given notice of his intention to move, on Friday next. ” that the House will resolve itself into committee, to consider of an address to the Governor, praying that His Excellency will be pleased to cause to be placed on the estimates for the present year a sum not exceeding £1000 to be paid to the widow and children of the late ROBERT GREEN, who lost his life in consequence of having endeavoured to save the lives of persons engaged in the performance of a public duty.”

Applications of a similar character have been made from time to time, and very recently on behalf of the widows and children of officers of the Government, whose lives have been sacrificed from various causes, and reasons of a very forcible character have been given for declining to give assistance from the public purse. In a case brought before the House on Friday last, Mr. MARTIN pointed out the advantage to the relatives of Government officers of the Superannuation Fund; and moved an amendment reducing the sum asked for from thirteen hundred to three hundred pounds; the latter named sum, together with the seven hundred pounds due from the fund, making up one thousand pounds.

ROBERT GREEN was not a public officer ; he had no special, certainly no official, reason for risking his life. No superannuation allowance acted as a stimulus to bravery in his case; no actual estimate may or can, perhaps, be made of the value of the life of such a man ; but a chord is struck that does not measure merit by position or association. GREEN managed to get Pilot ROBINSON and four men into to his boat. These were so far saved when a sea struck the boat, and all were thrown into the sea. The McCLEERS urged GREEN to get into Pilot JENKIN’S boat, but he refused, it is supposed, because he thought his weight too great; and he clung desperately for dear life to his own boat. He was last seen standing on his overturned boat; with a flag in his hand. – What were GREEN’S feelings at that time? How nobly he had obeyed the sympathy he felt for the distress of those he thought about to perish! With how much heroism he risked his life to be himself a victim ; and standing on his boat looking towards Watson’s Bay, his thoughts doubtless being of his wife and four children, possibly to be left destitute by his noble self-sacrifice when in the water he turned a deaf ear to the suggestion that he should got into the boat; he feared to peril the lives of all, and trusted in his strength, to gain the shore. This is not a case to be debated; it is not to be measured by precedents, or calculated by actual formula; it appeals to all ; a brave man has performed an act , of self-sacrificing heroism, and the public will be disgraced if some substantial recognition is not given to the widow and children of brave ROBERT GREEN.

A considerable sum has been contributed from a private charity, in which GREEN’S family will, of course, participate, but, beyond this, it will be no loss to the colony to vote, from the public funds, a Sum of money to provide for the family of the poor fellow who lost his life in an attempt to save others.

Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), Thursday 22 August 1867, page 4

Recovery of the Body of one of the Drowned Pilots-                                              An inquest was held on Saturday morning, on the body supposed to be that of John Reeder, one of the pilots who lost his life in the recent calamitous accident at the Heads, and which it appeared from the evidence had been found on the beach at the Quarantine Station, lying on a rock.  The right arm was gone to the shoulder, with the exception of the bone as far as the elbow ;  the flesh was off the left arm from the elbow to the wrist ; the skull was bare, and the flesh all gone from the face ; several of the teeth were out ; the body was naked with the exception of a small portion of white shirt, consisting of the collar band and part of the bosom, on which were marks corresponding with the shirts worn by pilot Reader. It was said that pilot Reeder was the only one of the party who wore a white shirt on the day of the accident ; the height of the body found, and the general description, also corresponded with that of Mr. Reeder.

The inquest was adjourned until Monday.-Abridged from S. M. Herald, Aug. 19.-On the enquiry being resumed, Mrs Jane Reeder positively identified the portion of a shirt found upon the body as having belonged to her husband ; she identified it by the button which she had sewn on with her own hands just before he left home. ‘The circumstances of the accident were detailed by various witnesses, but they do not differ from the accounts already published. A verdict was returned that the deceased, John Reeder, lost his life accidentally, while attempting to rescue the lives of several persons. The jury also desired to express their approbation of the conduct of pilots Shank and Jenkins, and also of constable Parkinson, who risked his life in a small boat, for the purpose of rendering assistance.

Mrs Jane Reeder stated that her husband was a pilot in the New South Wales Pilot Service; on the 29th of July last he left home about half past 8 o’clock; he had light brown hair, blue eyes, was of medium build, and about 5 feet 8 inches in height; he had on a pair grey trousers, grey waistcoat, white shirt, white scarf, oilskin coat, and a sou’wester, the white shirt produced was one of her husband’s; she gave it to constable Parkinson on Saturday last; the shirt her husband had on when he last left home was similar to that produced; she identified the collar-band produced as the one belonging to the shirt which her husband wore; she identified it not only from the maker’s mark and trade mark, but also from the button which she sewed on with her own hands shortly before he left  home; her husband was a native of Norfolk, England, was thirty-four years of age, and has left one child

Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), Saturday 30 November 1907, page 11 PORT JACKSON’S PLEA-SURE FLEETS.

NO. 8 SPECIALLY WRITTEN FOR THE ‘EVENING NEWS’ BY LANYARD       (in this report, he refers to an old man he spoke to about the disaster)


He remembers the day the pilot-boats and the butcher-boat were capsized, and, bit by bit, you drag from him the story of the drama he saw enacted on Monday, July 29, 1867, an which the actors played their parts according to the best traditions of their race. The entrance to Sydney Harbor was the theatre and among the spectators, who watched from the cliffs, were those nearest and dearest to the actors. The day had broken wildly; a gale of almost cyclonic force was blowing, with driving, blinding squalls of rain and a heavy topping sea was running. 

About 8 o’clock the ship Strathdon, from London was sighted close to the Heads, and Pilot Robinson and his crew put off to bring her in. About the same time a butcher-boat with Robert Green in charge was making for the ship. There was in those days the keenest competition for orders, and many a stirring race took place between the rival butcher-boats, whose Crews were picked from our best professional scullers. Midway between South Reef and the Old Man’s Hat the pilot boat was struck by a sea and capsized. Green promptly, went to the rescue in his swift, lightly-built boat, which was manifestly unequal to the increased weight of the rescued crew, and she was almost immediately swamped. Two pilot boats under charge of Pilots Jenkins and Shanks were then despatched to the scene; the latter’s boat was overturned, and to Pilot Jenkins was left the dangerous and difficult task of attempting to save the three boats crews. He did his work well, and succeeded in landing at Manly as many as his boat could carry. Robert Green, the master of the row-boat, observed the etiquette of the occasion as punctiliously as if he had been the captain of a battleship; he insisted on his men saving themselves, and then refused to add his weight to the overladen pilot boat. Pilot Jenkins returned from Manly, and, with a number of villagers and fishermen, from Watson’s Bay who had put off in their boats, resumed the now hopeless search. The sound of mourning— the mourning of the widows and the fatherless— was heard in the little village; eight of the men, including Robert Green and Pilots Robinson and Reeder, had played their last part. 

The old fellow is away before dawn next morning, slowly sweeping his crazy old craft out with the tide, while you, gentle reader are sleeping in your cosy cabin. You pass him off the Hole in the Wall, and he waves his hand to you; you are pleased at his kindly recognition. He is one of our toilers of the sea, a class that the people of Sydney should indeed be proud of. But as old Sanger, the circus proprietor used to say, ‘Let’s cut the cackle, and come to the ‘osses.”   

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