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DigiTales Library

arrow Gother Kerr Mann: Colonial engineer
'Cockatoo Island, Parramatta River' (illustration, 1842) by John Skinner Prout, National Library of Australia, Rex Nan Kivell Collection (NK4395/11).
DigiTales are detailed articles, by knowledgeable Harbour Trust volunteers, acquainting you with historical figures synonymous with our heritage places on Sydney Harbour.

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!

16 June 2022
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.

2 March 2022
Libby Bennett: The Heritage Architect

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.

1 March 2022
Brigadier Gallasch: Barrier-breaking Serviceperson

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.

11 January 2022
Hannah Taylor: Tragedy Befalls Gaoler’s Family

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.

10 November 2021
James Thomson: Pontoon Pioneer

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.

16 April 2021
Gother Kerr Mann: Colonial engineer

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.

1 April 2021
Sir George Gipps: Ninth Governor of NSW

During his eight-year term as the Governor of New South Wales (1838-1846), Sir George Gipps withstood criticism to make a principled stand against ‘squattocracy’. He was also instrumental in the establishment of a prison at Cockatoo Island. In this DigiTale, volunteer researcher Michele Harper canvasses the life of the statesman who possessed “a fine sense of justice” but was not always popular.

2 March 2021
Voices of our Volunteers

"I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have served as Harbour Trust Volunteer Manager since 2003 and have witnessed or played a part in a number of great initiatives. Many of these undertakings would not have been possible without our amazing team of volunteers. The Harbour Trust has benefitted greatly from their unique perspectives, special skillsets and length of service. This DigiTale shares the stories of some of the volunteers we’ve been privileged to work with." – Volunteer Manager

1 March 2021
Joseph William Melrose: The Sobraon Boy

Between 1871 and 1911, Cockatoo Island hosted two nautical school ships: first the ‘Vernon’ and later the ‘Sobraon’. These ships operated as industrial schools for wayward, neglected, and homeless boys. One of the boys enrolled with the Sobraon was Joseph William Melrose. In this DigiTale, written with the help of Joseph’s surviving family members, we offer insights into his time aboard the Sobraon as well as his later years.