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DigiTales Library

arrow Gother Kerr Mann: Colonial engineer (NEW)
'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!

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 Thompson: Pontoon Pioneer

In the late 1800s, James Thompson 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.

25 February 2021
Sandra Hall: Veteran volunteer

In the 20 years since the Harbour Trust was established, our heritage sites have emerged as rich sources of intrigue and exploration, beloved by many Australians. For their contribution, we owe a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of volunteers who have generously shared their time, knowledge and passion. In this DigiTale, veteran volunteer Sandra Hall reflects on her journey with the Harbour Trust and celebrates the diversity of our volunteer team.

29 January 2021
Captain Thunderbolt: Legendary bushranger

The most famous figure from Cockatoo Island’s convict era (1839 to 1869) is arguably Fredrick Wordsworth Ward. A convicted horse thief, Ward cemented his place in Australian folklore when he escaped Cockatoo Island and embarked on a bushranging spree that culminated in his death. In this DigiTale, volunteer Michele Harper examines the life and the legend of the ‘currency lad’ turned bushranger better known as ‘Captain Thunderbolt’.

17 December 2020
Annie Egan: A life sacrificed to duty

Between 1881 and 1925, more than 240 people were interred at the Third Quarantine Cemetery at North Head Sanctuary in Manly, having succumbed to epidemic and pandemic diseases. In this DigiTale, volunteer Michele Harper celebrates a notable occupant of the historic cemetery. Annie Egan contracted Spanish Flu in 1918 while nursing at the North Head Quarantine Station and her fight for religious freedoms, during her final days, captivated the nation.