James Kelly’s commercial enterprises are many and varied, but sealing and, increasingly, whaling, are pre-eminent among these.

The abundance of whales in the Derwent estuary and Storm Bay generates a flourishing local industry, with whalers operating from a series of shore stations, of which there is a cluster along the east coast of Bruny Island. These stations are crude low-capital installations, typically consisting of a makeshift lookout tower, a small number of purpose-built and outfitted whaleboats, docking facilities to secure landed whale carcasses, and the cast-iron try-pots in which blubber is rendered down. Whaling is high-risk for the entrepreneurs who back it, and dangerous for the men in the boats.

Kelly is a prominent pioneering figure in the development of shore whaling. He is instrumental in the founding, in 1826, of the Derwent Whaling Club, set up to promote whaling and train prospective whalers. He owns or part-owns five stations, including those nearby, at Bull Bay and Trumpeter Bay, and another at Adventure Bay. He acquires coastal land to the east of here to secure the overview of, and quick access to, the principal whaling grounds of Storm Bay. The cottage ‘Waterview’ (to the east of here), commands the estuarine vista today, and may have been built for this purpose.

In the late 1820s prohibitive duties on oil are removed. This, and the near-extermination of ‘right’ whales in the inshore, sees the emphasis shift to deep-sea whaling. Here, too, Kelly is a pioneer. His epic journeys in Birch’s small brig, Sophia, a decade before colonial involvement in deep-sea whaling becomes really profitable, were usually the only voyages then operating out of Hobart, and even during the shore whaling days, Kelly has ships further afield, sperm whaling in the Tasman Sea. By the 1830s Kelly owns several boats within a large, local fleet. In the 1840s Hobart is the world’s second largest whaling port, and in 1849 there are 49 local whaling ships.

By now, though, Kelly’s involvement is much reduced. His eldest son is killed while whaling in 1841, and his third son drowns in the Derwent. Hard hit by the economic depression of the early 1840s, and with the ‘right’ whales now gone from the inshore, in 1842 ‘the father and founder of whaling’ (as he is often called) closes his Bruny stations.

Further reading and image sources

Bowden, K.M. (1964), Captain James Kelly of Hobart Town, Melbourne University Press.

Evans, K. (2006), ‘Whaling’, in The Companion to Tasmanian History, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania. Also available online.

Mercer, P. (2002), A Most Dangerous Occupation, Runnymede Committee, National Trust of Australia (Tasmania), New Town (Tas.).

Nash, M. (2003), The Bay Whalers: Tasmania’s Shore-Based Whaling Industry, Navarine Publishing, Woden (ACT).

Walker, P.B. (compiler) (1986), The Log (of the Circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land by Captain James Kelly 1814-1815) and Other Accounts, Government Printer, Hobart.

The William Duke images were sourced from the Tasmanian Archives, where several others can be found.

(Click to enlarge images)