Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 25 March 1909, page 7OLD WATSON’S BAY. In the Whaling Days.
THE SAILORS WHO BUILT THE CHURCH. Looking out- from .this beautiful spot out on to the glorious harbour of Port Jackson, and hearing behind us the booming of the Pacific rollers, I feel impelled to call this new church by the beautifully appropriate name of ‘The Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea.” The voice of the Cardinal was listened to at Watson’s Bay on a glorious Sunday afternoon, a fortnight, or so back, by men and women who had with them their children and their children’s children. They are a long lived people, those folk at Watson’s Bay! The men’s early lives were lives mostly of hard trouble and toil — lives passed on the world’s seas, either in deep sea ships, or in the long whale boats of the early pilots. There are amongest them men who settled in the old Bay in the early fifties— foreign sailors who made the port in whaling ships, saw that the land was fair, and promptly deserted. The story of one is pretty well the story of the many. Back in those long-gone days, greasy whaling ships out of New Bedford, with Yankee skippers and mates, and crews in the foc’s’les picked up promisuosly from off .the ports of the universe plagged tirelessly through the South Seas in search of sperm whale — to harpoon the life out of him — to cut him out and barrel him up. Ninety- nine barrels for the. ship and one for the crew was the law of the whaling days. The barrel of sperm oil ran to about ten pounds apiece; and 100 barrels could easily be got from a decent-looking fish. Given good weather, many whales, no scurvy, and anything in the way of luck, there were dollars ahead for the sailorman — but the port of Sydney, which he sought for fresh water and vegetables, was invariably too much for him. The smelful whaler had hardly swung round to her ground tackle in Port Jackson before the crew were devising means of giving her the slip. Generally, the sailor was successful. Sympathy was with him. The bush round the harbour was thick, and covered him well, He hid until the £10 reward, offered for his capture, had got into the regions of the intangible, by reason of the vessel putting to sea again, and then he stepped out into the open and made for Watson’s Bay, where there were pilots who wanted boatmen. The pilots of those days always wanted boatmen. Their boatmen worked long enough to earn the passage money to the diggings at Bendigo. The deserters from the whale, ships stepped into the vacant jobs, earned some English money, and in due time, joined the never-ending procession to the gold fields. A. number of these sailors were the early
settlers at. Watsons Bay. Less fortunate, less ambitious, less adventurous — what you will — they elected to build homes in the. place that had offered them a sanctuary. And they were the men who in the year 1865 had a that amongst themselves, and without formality built the little old church which, after 40 years, is being superseded by the fine new Church of the Star of the Sea. Prior to 1865 Catholic worship at Watsons Bay was carried out in private dwellings. One of these afterwards became a hotel, had a wavering career, finally sold its last beer, and shut its doors, and after a long spell of ignominious idleness became the council chambers of the. Vaucluse municipality. Another dwelling used by the early Catholics was built for a pilot’s residence; then it became a public school, and eventually a police station. Mass was celeihrated on the first Wednesday of every month, and later on every fourth Sunday, A frequent visitor to the old church was the late Mr. W. B. Dalley. He would attend (on horseback) from the home at Greycliffe, and after Mass he would call on his old friend and fellow parliamentarian, .Sir John Robertson, whose house, ‘Clovelly,’ was near by.
Mr.Jack Want was also a pretty frequent visitor to the Bay, he being, to a great extent, in a political sense, a protege of Sir John’s. Sir John, though a non-Catholic, had a big place in his heart for the people of the faith He took more than a friendly interest in the little local church. For it he secured its title to its land, and contributed generously to its monetary requirements. Having regard to the fact that the Catholic population of Watsons Bay is a comparatively small one, the building of the. new church at a cost of over £1400 is a somewhat ambitious effort. The spirit of the early settlers is, however, in the people. It has come down through the .generations, and they speak cheerfully of the bank overdraft of the debt, and look forward to the bright. dawning of a day when the last kopeck shall have been paid. JOHN GONSALVES.