A Single Handed Voyage in a Small Craft

Picture drawn from a photograph taken some time in the 1860s when he had ‘retired’ to work as Barranjoey lighthouse keeper
Pittwater Online News, May 17-23 2015, Issue 214

A “remarkable” maritime story from Moruya’s history

A well known waterman based in Circular Quay, George Mulhall was hired with his skiff by a passenger bound for Moruya on the NSW south coast.  They travelled on the steamer Juno sailing to Port Phillip on 18 November 1848.  The purpose of hiring George and his skiff was to transport the passenger from the Juno to the Moruya River.  The passenger’s name and reason for travelling from the Juno to Broulee is not recorded, but the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the intention was to return to Sydney via the Shamrock. 

The Sydney Morning Herald of 9 December 1848 continues the story:

On the morning of the 27th (November), there being no appearance of the Shamrock, it was concluded she must have passed during the night.  Accordingly the passenger immediately started for Sydney overland, and Mulhall, being well acquainted with the coast, quitted the Moruya at the same time in his skiff, by himself.  The same evening he arrived at Batemans Bay, where he stopped for the night; starting early the following morning, he by evening reached Ulladulla; left there on Wednesday morning, and arrived at Shoalhaven the same night.  Here he was detained two days, in consequence of heavy gales, but on Saturday morning made another start, and contrived to reach Port Aiken by 9pm; left there early on Sunday morning, and arrived here about Midday, thus accomplishing a distance of 180 miles by sailing and pulling, in an open waterman’s boat, which we may remark was built by Howard, and is 21 feet in length.

A remarkable achievement!

A painting by Dickson Gregory showing watermen rowing skiffs similar to that used by George Mulhall in his quick 180 mile trip back to Sydney from Moruya along the coast.  The watermen are rowing to and from the PS Sophia Jane, the first steamship to arrive in Australia in 1831.  It provided services along the NSW coast (including Jervis Bay).
Image # 2805501, State Library of Victoria

George Mulhall was a married man in his late thirties with a young family around the  time of this trip.  The Mulhall family were well known watermen operating from Circular Quay. His brothers Thomas and Patrick were also watermen. They were all born in the colony, their parents Patrick Mulhall and Rachael Griffiths having arrived as convicts in 1806 and 1805 respectively.

During the rest of the 1840’s, 1850’s and 1860’s George was worked as a waterman at Circular Quay.  The brothers were not just rowing people around the harbour – they were regularly competing in Regattas.  These very challenging regattas were very competitive and betting was popular.  George was a renowned rower winning many races.

He went on to become the first principal keeper of Barrenjoey Lighthouse, his son of the same name was First Assistant and William Steere Second Assistant. The census of 1828 states George Mulhall was born in Australia in 1811 (his headstone states 1814).

For other fascinating Australian maritime stories see the Moruya Museum’s current exhibition, “Remarkable” on loan from the Australian Maritime Museum until Wednesday 15 June 2022


  • Wendy Simes, Librarian, Moruya & District Historical Society
  • Sydney Morning Herald, (SMH) 9 December 1848
  • Pittwater Online News, Aug 4-10 2013, Issue 122

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