Each DigiTale has been written to inform people about someone famous, infamous or obscure. As we publish new articles, you’ll get to know a colourful line-up of true-life characters, including Lachlan Macquarie, Captain Thunderbolt, Bungaree, Charles Ormsby... and countless others!
You’ll also discover the distinctive voices of the passionate history buffs and writers within our volunteer team. Above all else, DigiTales are meant to be entertaining yarns. Some are informed by folk stories, tall tales and hearsay. Others draw on archival newspapers and reliable first-hand accounts. Whatever the case may be… we hope you enjoy them!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Libby Bennett, Director of Projects, is an award-winning heritage architect who has worked for the Harbour Trust since the agency’s inception. Over the past two decades, she has guided the delivery of important heritage conservation and restoration works across our network of protected sites on Sydney Harbour.
Brigadier Dianne Gallasch has the distinction of being one of the final graduates of the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) School at Georges Heights in Mosman. In fact, Gallasch came first in her class and, in 2013, became the first female commandant of Duntroon, which had at one time prohibited women.
Hannah Taylor was one of six children fathered by Charles Ormsby, the superintendent of Cockatoo Island’s penal establishment from 1841 to 1859. In this DigiTale, Harbour Trust volunteer researcher Ross shares the tragic tale of how Hannah became the first European woman to die on Cockatoo Island.
In the late 1800s, James Thomson helped install an innovative pontoon dock at Clarke’s Point, Woolwich when the area hosted the Atlas Engineering Company’s shipbuilding yard. In this DigiTale, Harbour Trust volunteer researcher Reto introduces readers to the talented Australian engineer and inventor.
One of the nation’s foremost engineers during the 19th century, Gother Kerr Mann played an instrumental role in the development of Cockatoo Island’s penal establishment. Today, the remnant convict structures, including Fitzroy Dock, are a testament to his enduring impact. This DigiTale, jointly written by volunteers Michelle Harper and Fay Jubb, shows the civic-minded engineer was a man who wore many hats well.