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Historical people

Image credit: Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Corps During "Smoko" at Chowder Bay (1945). Australian War Memorial Collection (089236.)
Want to meet some of the historical figures associated with our beloved destinations on Sydney Harbour? 

Check out our library of articles, below, introducing you to famous, infamous and obscure individuals (as well as a few contemporary personalities). These include Captain Thunderbolt, Lachlan Macquarie, Bungaree, Mary Gould… and many more! 

Written by passionate volunteer researchers, the articles include comprehensive biographies and entertaining yarns. Some are informed by folk stories, tall tales and hearsay. Others draw on archival newspapers and reliable, first-hand accounts. Enjoy!

Macquarie Lighstation
Governor Lachlan Macquarie: Nation builder

In 1810, a humble Scottish soldier by the name of Lachlan Macquarie ended a rebellion and became the fifth Governor of New South Wales in Australia – a role he held for more than a decade. In this article, volunteer researcher, Michele Harper considers Governor Macquarie's reputation as a nation builder and details his achievements, including the eradication of corruption, the implementation of societal improvement policies and the advocacy for emancipists.

Cockatoo Island
Louis Samuel: The legacy of the Sutherland Dock

Louis Samuel was a young engineer who cemented his place in the history of Sydney Harbour with the construction of Cockatoo Island’s Sutherland Dock. According to volunteer researcher Faye, despite Louis’ untimely death at the tender age of 26, the maritime landmark is a symbol of his enduring legacy.

Cockatoo Island
George Lucas: Controversial superintendent of Biloela Industrial School

In 1871, the Newcastle Industrial School for Girls closed, and its inhabitants were transferred to Cockatoo Island. The new establishment was divided into two institutions: the Biloela Industrial School for Girls and the Biloela Reformatory. In charge of this transfer and the treatment of those incarcerated at Biloela were superintendent George Lucas and his wife Mary Ann. Trigger warning: In this article, Harbour Trust volunteer Michele exposes the horrific mistreatment and abuse of the girls, arising from the Lucas appointment at Biloela.

North Head Sanctuary
Richard Fullford: Storied serviceman and author

The late Richard Kennedy Fullford is perhaps best known as the author of ‘We stood and Waited: Sydney’s Anti-Ship Defences, 1939-1945’. The acclaimed tome delves into the fascinating defence history of North Head in Manly; however, it worth noting that Fullford himself led a storied military career.

Cockatoo Island
James Gorman: Respected Vernon Officer

From 1871 to 1892, the NSS Vernon – a nautical school ship for at-risk boys – had a permanent mooring at Cockatoo Island. A person charged with supervising and educating the youth who’d been placed aboard the vessel was James Gorman. In this article, Harbour Trust volunteer Michele canvasses the achievements of the brave and well-respected seaman, which include being the first recipient of the Victoria Cross to reside in NSW.

Cockatoo Island
Sir Henry Parkes: The Father of Federation

A self-made journalist and writer, Sir Henry Parkes has the distinction of serving as the premier of NSW on five separate occasions during the late 1800s. As Harbour Trust volunteer Michele writes, the British expat was also instrumental in exposing the mismanagement of Cockatoo Island’s penal establishment and paving the way for at-risk boys to receive education aboard nautical school ships, including vessels moored off the island.

Cockatoo Island
Mary Gould: Eight years a boy

In 1879, James Gould – a teenaged orphan from Central West NSW – was arrested for vagrancy and sentenced to Cockatoo Island for education aboard the Vernon, a nautical school ship for boys. According to volunteer researcher Michele Harper, the sentence exposed a secret James had kept for eight years; namely, the youth was a girl who had spent years disguised as a boy.

Cockatoo Island
William Smith: The escapee in leg irons

One of the prisoners incarcerated at Cockatoo Island during the convict era (1839 to 1869) was William Smith. Volunteer researcher Michele shares the story of a man whose prison sentence was cut short by an ill-fated gaol break involving a swim in leg irons.

Cockatoo Island
Reverend Dillon: Cockatoo Island’s controversial clergyman

During Cockatoo Island’s convict era (1839-60), inmates atoned for their crimes through hard labour. For a brief period of time, the God-fearing could also confide in – and seek spiritual absolution from – Reverend George Francis Dillon.