watercolour by O.W. BRIERLY 1863
(held by Art Gallery of NSW)
Brierly wrote extensivly about his experiences while whaling and the following is from 'The Cetacea or Reminiscences of the Sea' held by the Mitchell Library
"It so happened that I was in the boat which was the first to come up with the whale which we had sighted. After the harpooner had successfully cast his harpoon and fastened to the whale it turned towards us & made a dive – him coming to the surface exactly under our boat. I shall never forget the new & sickening sensation of finding the whole boat suddenly lifted out of the water by the rising back of the whale, and the sliding gliding helplessly slipping motion of the boat as it shot down the back of the monster under us. The powerlessness of the situation flashed through the mind – oars were of no use. We were literally 'out of our element' but truly only for a moment and then as we touched water again down came the great tail of the enraged monster cutting our boat in twain with one smashing blow as a hatchet would chop a pat of butter and in a moment the whole party were plunged into a boiling eddy of foam & water made by the whale as it plunged into deep water & left us struggling for dear life, & handicapped by a thick coat and sea boots – Luckily for us assistance was at hand and beyond a ducking and a fright none of us were any the worse for the novel experience".
Oswald Brierly also described in his diaries the Orcas behaving much as they would later when helping the Davidson whalers but the early whalers did not reward their efforts and would drive them from the kill. Brierly described how the Killers would sometimes drag a harpooned whale with boat attached under water when the early whalers did not honour 'the law of the tongue'.
Boyd's schemes proved too grandiose and by 1849 his empire had collapsed. His whaling enterprise along with that of the Imlay brothers was taken over by George Barclay and Solomon Solomons who operated until 1857.
Amongst the carpenters working on the construction of Boyd Town was a recent immigrant from Scotland, Alexander Davidson. In 1857 Alexander and his son, John, began shore based whaling with boats and equipment purchased from Barclay and Solomons. With help from the killer whales the Davidson family worked in the industry for four generations. Their boats crewed almost exclusively by family members and local Thawa men.
While some of the Killers alerted the whalers to the presence of whales, other members of the pod would herd the whales into the shallow waters of the bay like dogs herding sheep. They often led the attack, harrassing, biting, driving the whales underwater where they could not breath, even attempting to cover the blow holes of the whales. Some times the Killers were less helpful and like all intelligent social animals liked to play as recalled by Effie Davidson*:
"Round and across the bay would go the whale, and round and across in hot pursuit would go the whalemen. Now assisting, now playfully hindering the chase would go the familiar Killers - Old Tom, Hooky, Humpy, Youngster - every one of the pack was known to the men."
Still from the documentry 'Whale chase in Twofold Bay' by C.E. Wellings & C.B. Jenkins, unfortunaly now lost.
By 1890 Alexander's grandson George Davidson (Fearless George), who had begun whaling at the age of 14, had became the master whaler and took over the family whaling business still using hand held harpoons and the small rowing boats. The Davidson's boats were all painted green and many believed it was this that helped the Killers distinguish the Davidson's boats from those of other whalers.
The Davidson Whaling Station was built on the shores of Kiah Inlet and while the origional home built by Alexander 'Kiah House' burned down in 1928 the old cottage built by George Davidson ‘Loch Garrah’ still stands. The Davidson Whaling Station has been preserved as an historic site that is administered by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Even in those early days alternative medicine was practiced. The Yuin people had a rather strange cure for rheumatism and other maladies. They would climb into the rotting flesh of a dead whale where they stayed for hours with only their head protruding. The heat of decomposition and the whale oils were claimed to cure rheumatism and other maladies. Despite the awful stench that was said to cling to the patient for up to two weeks the cure was also practiced by Europeans as reported in the Australian Town and Country Journal in November 1894 "The Blubber Cure"
A cure for rheumatism; Bob Wiles inside the carcass of a whale, Twofold Bay circa 1910
"But what about Tom?" asked George to which Logan replied, "Bugger Old Tom!"
'The upshot was a tug-of-war between Logan and Old Tom, which led to Old Tom losing a couple of teeth. Logan's daughter, who was with them that day, remembered her father saying, "Oh God, what have I done?" Being a former military vet, he knew what a problem missing teeth could be for a killer whale. Seven years later his fears were realized when Old Tom's body floated into the bay on September 17 1930. Examination of his mouth revealed an abscess caused by the missing teeth, it is believed he died of starvation.
Old Tom's body was first sighted floating in Twofold Bay by retired whaler Allie Greg who was soon joined by George Davidson and John Logan. At the suggestion of Logan it was decided , that Old Tom's skeleton should be preserved and displayed in a museum. George Davidson towed the body of his old friend back to shore. At the Davidson Try-works George and his son Wallace cleaned and numbered the bones for reassembly, for which they were paid by John Logan for their time and expenses.
It has recently been established that Eden is an important feeding ground for whales, with mothers and calves stopping here from September to late November on their return migration south to the cool waters of Antarctica.
After Old Tom's death Orcas where not seen in the waters around Eden for many years. In recent years there have been increasing sightings.
As in the old whaling days a siren still sounds in the town when whales arrive in the bay but instead of rushing to the hunt, locals and visitors now simply enjoy the sight of these magnificent creatures from various vantage points around the bay or from the deck of one of the whale watching vessels that sail from the Port of Eden.
1 Orcinus orca: The term Killer Whales is used in this article as that was the term that was commonly used at the time to describe these wonderful creatures. They are in fact dolphins and were originally known as 'Killers of Whales'. On reflection it is perhaps not so surprising that they cooperated with humans in their hunting activities - they are like wolves, the ancestors of modern dogs, and indeed like our own ancestors - intelligent social mammals that engage regularly in cooperative hunting.
Whales Revenge, campaigned to gather 1 million signatures for a petition to stop whaling.
Wild About WhalesFollow the epic adventure of Australia's long distance swimmers as they make their next appearance along the Sapphire Coast
The story of the relationship between the whalers of Eden and the killer whales has been made famous by the excellently researched and facinating book 'Killers of Eden' written by Tom Meade. Firsh published in 1961 it is still in print. If it is not available at your local bookstore or library it can be ordered online from Dolphin Press
In 2005, the Australia Broadcasting Corporation produced an award winning documentary, 'Killers of Eden', based on the book. In 1999 the ABC's Beatrice Barnett produced a radio feature "Whaling in Eden" for Radio National's Hindsight program, interviewing those who were witness to these remarkable events.
Another interesting publication about Eden's whaling days is "Whalemen of Twofold Bay" written by George Davison's grandson the late Rene Davidson. It features many photographs of the old whaling days. Copies can be seen in the local library or can be ordered by faxing Fay Davidson at 612 64963369 or mail to Fay Davidson, 31 Maling St., Eden, NSW, 2551 Australia.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography: Entry for Oswald Brierly
Hawkesbury Gazette: The King of the Killers
Killers in Eden Nature Documentary An very interesting PBS documentry about Eden's Killer whales posted on Youtube
One of the best online resources for the study of Australian history is the website of the National Library of Australia which has in recent years commenced the massive task of digitally reproducing many of Australia's newspapers. Here if you search you will find many contemporary articles on Eden's whaling history. Public fascination with the Killers of Eden is not new and the papers of the time regularly reported the first kill of the season for the Davidson whalers and the Killers along with many other stories concerning this subject.
We have included links to some of these stories but there are many more you can find for yourself:
1904 EXCITING WHALE CHASE
1928 even at this time there were calls to protect whales SLAUGHTER OF WHALES - to the editor of the Herald
1929 What must have been one of the last kills by the Davidson crew and Old Tom FIGHT TO THE DEATH - Monster Smashes Boat
Finally a sad announcement in 1930 KING OF KILLERS - Dead Body Washes Ashore
Another interesting website about Eden's Whaling history is Greg McKee's website 'Killers of Eden' featuring many old photos.
*Also on this site "An Old Lady Remembers": Published in Rene Davidson's book and reproduced here are the often poignant reflections of Euphemia (Effie) Davidson, wife of John Simpson Davidson as told to her niece in 1940 two days before Effie's 100th birthday.
Historical Images of Eden's whaling history can be found at the website of the National Library of Australia
An interesting interview with Lynne Thomas, daughter of Yuin elder Guboo Ted Thomas, can be heard at ABC South East radio. Lynne tells some of the stories she was told by Guboo, and in rare recordings we hear Guboo telling stories of his family working as whalers in the early 20th century, and a childhood experience of being taught how to call in the dolphins so they would drive fish to the shore.