Watching the replica tall-ship Enterprize tack its way today out of Warrnambool’s Lady Bay is a stark reminder of the dangerous conditions Europeans experienced voyaging aboard small-ton vessels bound for Victoria’s coast.
There seemed a fair swell up though the Enterprize left Lady Bay in what is relatively calm conditions for this stretch of the coast, and though someone aboard commented she was steaming along at a ‘comfortable 3.5 Knots’, there was time enough to watch her pass by Middle Island (where the Oddball movie theme has its origins) on her way west past Pickering’s Point.
The Enterprize is on a five day voyage from her berth in Melbourne to the seaport village of Port Fairy on Warrnambool’s west, but she seems a couple of days ahead of schedule as the Port Fairy visitor centre said today the Enterprize was not expected until 5 pm Saturday.
The original Enterprize is acclaimed by many for bringing the first European ‘permanent ’ settlers to Melbourne though I doubt Indigenous Australian’s share the that feeling, as this was at time their ancestors were robbed of traditional lands, by the pioneering Europeans who had long and carefully planned the event.
For well over a century it was also wrongly believed the Enterprize which brought Europeans for the pioneering settlement of Melbourne was wrecked at Warrnambool, and that her remains lay buried in Lady Bay.
The ‘Enterprize wrecked at Warrnambool’ myth started in the 1880’s when Portland, Port Fairy and Warrnambool began to explore its European history. The myth in particular was perpetuated by Warrnambool museum curator Joseph Archibald, an ex-policeman and father of J. F Archibald of the Archibald Prize, Australia’s most famous portraiture prize as well as a succession of local newspaper editors.
However it was a different Enterprize – a 68-ton coastal trader with a cargo of local spuds and wheat from Port Fairy and Warrnambool which came ashore at Lady Bay, before a south-westerly September gale. in 1850.
That Enterprize was on the ‘western ports’ run and usually under the command of Captain A.T. Farley, when she end up broadside ashore and bilged on Warrnambool’s foreshore. She rode out the gale but at 1 pm on the 22nd September 1850 she began drifting to shore where she lost her rudder and swung broadside onshore.
As Warrnambool settlers watched helpless from the Lady Bay beach, it was an Indigenous Australian named as ‘Buckawell’ in European newspapers who was the only person brave enough to swim out to the vessel in the merciless rough seas.
By Buckawell’s getting a rope aboard he saved the lives of all aboard ship, yet no local landmark is testimony to his actions and unlike European settlers who saved live from drowning in those days, there was no public accord and financial reward for Buckawell.
The 68-ton Enterprize’s register was taken from Warrnambool to the police office at Port Fairy (as there was no local station at Warrnambool in 1850) and she went up for auction.
The original Hobart-built, 55-ton Enterprize which carried the Europeans to settle at Melbourne in 1835 had been long wrecked, at New South Wales, and it is for this vessel which the Enterprise replica is named.
One of her crew in 1836 was John Peter Armstrong, for whom Armstrong’s Bay below Tower Hill is named, between these coastal bays of Port Fairy and Warrnambool.
The crew of today’s Enterprize will experience the coastline which Armstrong traversed in 1834, when he was brought over to take soundings for the establishment of the first whaling station at Port Fairy.
It was the only time Armstrong spent on this part of the coast, he retreated to Launceston to a failed hotel venture before working his way in 1836 to Port Phillip and the formative settlement there.
Today’s Enterprize is the first square-rigged commercial sailing ship built in Melbourne for well over a century, and according to the not-for-profit Enterprize Ship Trust, the vessel was built to preserve a significant part of Melbourne’s history.
The modern Enterprize is certainly an opportunity to experience the remarkably-cramped quarters of life aboard ship in the 1830’s, when weather alone could see passengers bobbing round Australia’s rough southern seas for weeks longer than anticipated as these little floating bath-tubs battled their way between barely discovered colonial ports.
The replica tall ship Enterprize will be in Portland on Friday before sailing for Port Fairy on Saturday, with an estimated berthing time of 5 pm. Visitors should make haste though, for she is due to sail again early Sunday morning.