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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!

Thursday 1 October 2020
James Barnet: The Colonial Architect

During his nearly three-decade tenure as the Colonial Architect of NSW (1862 to 1890), James Barnet dominated pre-federation architecture. Volunteer researcher Michele Harper canvasses the career of the tireless public servant including his design work on Macquarie Lighthouse and the other buildings that speak to his enduring legacy.

Tuesday 29 September 2020
Nicholas Maclay: Russian Polymath

The former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove was built as a place for Russian expat Nicholas Maclay to study marine life. Now protected by the Harbour Trust, the sandstone cottage is a monument to the celebrated Russian polymath and humanist. Volunteer researcher Michele Harper celebrates his remarkable life, including his contributions to science and society, globally.

Wednesday 2 September 2020
Mary Ann Bugg: Breakout mastermind

As the old saying goes, ‘behind every great man is a great woman’. According to Harbour Trust volunteer Karyn Johnson, however, Worimi woman Mary Ann Bugg was always a few steps ahead of her celebrated husband: Fredrick Ward, the bushranger and escaped convict better known as Captain Thunderbolt.

Wednesday 2 September 2020
Charles Ormsby: The Convict King

During his nearly two-decade reign as Cockatoo Island’s Superintendent (1841 to 1859), Charles Ormsby gained a reputation for his willingness to bend the prison system to his will. Volunteer researcher Michele Harper canvasses the colourful life of the controversial, convict era figure.

Thursday 23 July 2020
Don Donkin MBE: Gentleman Officer

At one time stationed at North Fort in Manly, Don Donkin MBE (1929 to 2016) belonged to a very special era of gentlemen warrant officers who led by example, writes Harbour Trust volunteer and presenter Ron Ray. In his words, "The Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery has been blessed by a number of gentlemen but sadly they are a dying breed."

Thursday 23 July 2020
Cockatoo Island's First Nations convicts

Toby was a Wonnarua man and one of a dozen Aboriginal people who died in custody during the early years of Cockatoo Island’s convict penal establishment. Volunteer researcher, Michele Harper canvasses the life of the man who was born ‘Booral’ and spent his twenties actively resisting European settlement.

Friday 3 July 2020
John Crudden: The Boy Convict

Despite a life punctuated by prison escape attempts and floggings, John Crudden – one of Cockatoo Island’s convicts – might ultimately be remembered for his bravery. Michele Harper, a volunteer researcher for the Harbour Trust, charts the troubled life of the Irish expat, sentenced to the island’s penal establishment before he had even reached manhood.

Friday 29 May 2020
JW and TR Miles: Brothers in arms

The Australian Memorial Walk at North Head Sanctuary features monuments to the major conflict periods in Australia’s history. Located in idyllic coastal bushland with views of Sydney Harbour, the paved pathway is engraved with the names of servicemen and women who defended Australia in peace time and war. Harbour Trust volunteer, Andrew M, honours two of the men inscribed on the walk: Privates JW and TR Miles, his great granduncles.

Friday 29 May 2020
Captain Harris: The Biloela raid stopper

In 1871, the former convict penal establishment at Cockatoo Island transformed into an industrial school for girls and a reformatory for young women who had broken the law. Sadly, the reformatory was cruelly mismanaged. Volunteer researcher Michele Harper shares the story of Captain Harris, an American ship master who literally fought for the women of the reformatory.