Peat of Peats Ferry

Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Peat descendant Jeanette Bradley

Boat builder and trader

Within a year or two of his return from India – a journey which perhaps proved financially lucrative – George had extended his interests from employee ship carpenter to boat builder, owner and trader. Details of one business enterprise are found in correspondence resulting from a complaint he made in November 1818 that his boat had been seized by the authorities. It proved to be a case of overzealous bureaucracy according to a letter written by the Colonial Secretary to the Chief Magistrate of Police dated 23 November 1818:

It has been represented to His Excellency the Governor by Samuel Stephens and George Peat that each of them has had a boat seized in Cockle Bay by a clerk of the Police Department assigning as a reason that such boats being laden with wood with an intention of being landed in said Bay was contrary to the Government and General Order of the 24th October.

His Excellency regrets that so very erroneous and oppressive a construction should be put upon any of His Orders, as the foregoing case bespeaks, and desires me to inform you that the order in question in express terms alluded to “Spirits and Merchandise”, and by no means to fire wood or the common and necessary articles of life collected from the adjoining coasts of the interior, by the boats ordinarily so employed. A reference also to the Port Regulations (Article 9) alluded to in said Government and General Order will shew that the intention of it was to guard against smuggling of spirits or any other articles of trade liable to an import duty.

If therefore you should find on enquiry that the boats have been seized merely for having on board or landing firewood or other timber from the interior in Cockle Bay, it is His Excellency’s desire that you will cause them to be released and a reasonable compensation to be made to the owners for the illegal detention of them by the person who made such illegal seizure of them.[33]

In a letter sent the following day to “George Peat, Boat Builder, Cockle Bay [now Darling Harbour], Sydney”, the Colonial Secretary informed him that permission had been given for the release of his boat “provided the circumstances of said seizure should on investigation be found to be such as you had represented”. The letter also granted approval of George’s petition to “build a schooner in Cockle Bay of the following dimensions, viz. 36 feet long, 15 feet in the beam and 8 feet deep” provided that he complied with all the relevant Port and Colonial Regulations.[34]

No further references to these vessels have been found, however George evidently continued shipbuilding as he built a sloop named Sally at Cockle Bay in mid-1820.[35] This vessel was later described by George and his partner as follows:

She is built of substantial timber, her floor timbers and foot-lock are of Iron Bark and Mahogany, her upper timbers of English Oak, Beams and Carlings[?] are of English Oak, Deck, two inch New Zealand Pine, planking 1½ inch Blue Gum, Bilge Streaks 2 inch, Bends 2½ inch, Rigging complete and in good order. Sails: Main Sail, two jibs & aft topsail, & square sail. One anchor and two cables.[36]

The first reference to the Sally is found later that year when shipping records reveal that she sailed from Sydney for Hobart on 30 December 1820 under the command of William Simpson with a cargo of ballast.[37] Numerous references are found thereafter. The Sally returned to Sydney on 27 January 1821 with 1695 bushels of wheat, departing again on 17 February for Hobart carrying “sundries”. After returning to Sydney on 14 March with 1629 bushels of wheat, George was apparently unable to acquire an outgoing cargo and despatched the vessel to Newcastle on 21 March with ballast. The Sally returned on 31 March with 33 tons of coal.[38]

Determined to acquire a cargo for the next voyage, George advertised on 7 April 1821 that the “substantial, well found and fast-sailing sloop Sally” would shortly sail for Port Dalrymple in Tasmania. He added that the vessel could carry about 10 tons of freight and had “excellent accommodations” for those interested in a passage, and that applications could be made to him on board or at his residence in Cockle Bay.[39] The same issue of the Sydney Gazette included a claims notice reporting that George Peat and nine others were to depart for Port Dalrymple on the Sally.[40] Additional passengers were probably carried when the sloop sailed for Port Dalrymple on 26/27 April 1821 with a cargo of sundries.[41] 

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George sailed the vessel back to Sydney in July 1821, berthing at Sydney on 14/16 July with a cargo of 900 or 1000 bushels of wheat, ½ ton salt meat, 3000 lbs of “tolerably assorted wool and a quantity of fair Derwent mutton”.[42]

He was listed as the master of the Sally for that voyage, with shipping records adding that the vessel was owned by one William Smith.[43] In fact, Smith apparently jointly owned the vessel with George Peat at that time which suggests that George needed some financial input and solved this problem by acquiring a partner.

Shipping may not have proved as financially lucrative as George had hoped as the partners offered the vessel to the Government for the sum of ₤750 in August 1821. On 18 August the Colonial Secretary informed “Messrs Peat & Smith” that the Governor “considers the price at which you have tendered the Cutter Sally for the service of Government as much too high, but if she should be found on regular inspection to be sound and in the condition stated, the Governor is willing to give ₤600 for her”. The Committee appointed to inspect the Sally reported that she was a “well built and serviceable vessel” and that she was “fit for His Majesty’s Service”. However they agreed that the price was too high as the vessel required a “few knees to strengthen her” and was also in want of an anchor, cable, caboose and a boat and was neither coppered or copper plated. On 27 August 1821 the Governor offered George and his partner ₤600 for the vessel, and a day later they responded, declaring that “the sum though very low” is accepted. The paperwork was signed on 31 August 1821.[44]

George returned to shipbuilding at this time, applying to the Governor two months later for permission to build another vessel. A letter addressed to “Mr George Peat, Shipwright, Cockle Bay, Sydney” and dated 3 November 1821 informed him that in response to his memorial of 27 October, the Lieutenant Governor (in the Governor’s absence) “had no objection to your building a vessel at Cockle Bay of the dimensions described in your memorial”.[45] This vessel was probably the Elizabeth, which was owned by George Peat, sailed by Samuel Stuart, and first documented[46] as arriving in Sydney on 19 July 1822.[47] However earlier voyages had clearly been made as a letter written by the Master Attendant at the Dock Yard on 4 July 1822 revealed that George owed harbour fees:

In answer to the letter of Mr Peat you left with me this morning: I beg leave to inform you that Mr Peat came to my Office a few days back, and asked what harbour fees he had to pay, when I informed him that he had sailed the last voyage without paying any, and that he had moved three times in that voyage, also that the sum of five shillings was to pay this voyage, as he had not moved this time from his first coming to an anchor, but in consequence of his complaining that his vessel was small and the charge high, I thought proper to make a deduction by his only paying five shillings for each of the before mentioned voyages, which he consented to and a printed certificate was made out for that sum and which he promised to call and pay, instead of which he proceeded without either paying or saying he intended to depart, subjecting himself to the penalty of ₤5 according to the Government and General Order on that head.[48]

The Elizabeth had obviously sailed for Hobart at that time, returning on 19 July 1822 with 5 bushels of wheat and 617 of maize.[49] She sailed again for Hobart on 25 July 1822 with ballast, and returned on 22 August with 300 bushels of maize. George was the captain when the Elizabeth departed for Newcastle on 28 August, returning on 6 September with 1686 feet of cedar and 3 tons of coal. She sailed with ballast on 18 September for Botany Bay, returned to Sydney, and was captained again by Samuel Stuart when she sailed for Newcastle on 4 October 1822.[50]

Over the following few months, the movements of the Elizabeth are not known, as the vessel is not documented as arriving again in Sydney until 17 May 1823. It is possible that George was using the Elizabeth for small runs to the Hawkesbury during this period, as he, his brother-in-law James Webb, and John Jenkins Peacock sent a petition to the Governor on 14 April 1823 regarding the loathed Port Fees:

Your Petitioners, owners of Colonial Craft and small Vessels trading to the Hawkesbury for the purpose of procuring freight of Grain &c and with the view of obtaining the same more speedily as well as lessening the heavy expenses they labour under in the payment of the Port fees, which every trip is exacted, do carry up goods, wares, and merchandizes for the purpose of barter and which the settlers conceive to be a great accommodation yet Petitioners lay liable under the Hawking Act, still with due submission they avert the fees of Harbour they pay is adequate far more to the price of a Licence, and in order to obviate any misunderstanding, they respectfully pray that you will be pleased to guarantee them harmless in the following such business by a written document from under your hands so as to prevent litigation and all molestation of those who may endeavour to interrupt us in such dealing or bartering.[51]

Valerie Ross refers to George’s trading enterprises in A Hawkesbury Story:

Further up toward Lower Portland were George Peat and John Peacock who had land almost opposite each other at Maun’s Point.[52] With James Webb on 14 April 1823, owners of small boats trading to the Hawkesbury, they petitioned against having to pay Port Fees in Sydney. Then on 22 May 1824 Peacock asked for permission to retail tea, sugar, etc, to the settlers which he did for some years in such vessels as the Governor Brisbane and The Star. The settlers would supply grain and maize leaving it in Peacock’s granary and buy household requirements, clothing material, etc., from the store Peacock ran from the house. Peat was running the Sally O, the Betsy O, and the Elizabeth O[53] between 1821 and 1824.[54]

As no remarks were appended to the trader’s petition nor has a response been located, their appeal was probably unsuccessful. George perhaps returned to his Tasmania trade after sending this petition as the Elizabeth was recorded as arriving from Hobart on 17 May 1823 with a cargo of wheat, maize and barley. After two more voyages to Hobart carrying ballast on the outward journey and returning with grains, George assumed the captaincy. Sailing to Hobart on 6 September 1823, he had apparently made two return journeys to Sydney by 18 February 1824 when Richard Kelly was listed as the master. George possibly sold the vessel to Richard Kelly in March 1824, as Kelly was listed as the master and owner when the Elizabeth sailed again on 3 April 1824, and in May and June of the same year. Curiously, however, George was again listed as the master and owner when the Elizabeth sailed for Hobart on 22 June 1824. No further information is known about George’s involvement with this vessel as the Naval Officer’s Quarterly Reports ended in June 1824 and the movements of local vessels were no longer documented.[55]