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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!

28 October 2022
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.

29 September 2022
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.

14 July 2022
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.

28 June 2022
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.

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.