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History of sealing at Macquarie Island

The Revival of the Industry

The Revival of the Industry

Sealers landing a boiler

Sealers landing a boiler at the Nuggets
c. 1911-13 (State Library of NSW)

Intermittent expeditions to the island continued until 1899 when New Zealander Joseph Hatch began to dominate operations by establishing extensive processing facilities and a more regulated pattern of seasonal work. Hatch had gangs of about eight men operating on the Macquarie Island for the next 30 years. During this period the transition was made from a low-technology, small capital operation to a more intensive and expensive industry, with the introduction of large steam boilers and digesters for producing oil.

The difficulties of establishing heavier plant equipment at Macquarie Island were described in 1909:

The first task was to dig out some large rocks which stood between the shed and the beach. A block and tackle was then used to haul the digester, eleven feet long and over six feet in diameter, up to the shed, the roof and sides of which had to be removed to permit its entry. As the digester, when full, weighed twenty tons, timber to make a solid foundation was sawn off the wreck of the Gratitude. Eventually, after a great deal of work with the most primitive of appliances, the digester was in position.

Hatch's headquarters were initially established at Lusitania Bay where the first digester plant was built in November 1899. Coal, timber and firewood then become regular items on the lists of stores taken to the island. In early 1892, Hatch's headquarters were transferred to the Nuggets. Over a number of years digester plants were also set up at the Isthmus, Hurd Point and Hasselborough Bay. The lack of suitable anchorages continually plagued the landing and loading operations and Hatch was to lose three vessels, the Gratitude, the Jessie Niccol and the Clyde, at Macquarie Island.

Sealer's hut at Hurd Point

Wreck of the Clyde, Buckles bay
(Mitchell Library)
/p> Horses and cart hauling blubber

Horses and cart hauling blubber

During the Hatch period, oiling operations at Macquarie Island were extended to the exploitation of the island's resident penguin population of over three million birds. Initially, there was a concentration on the large king penguin rookery at Lusitania Bay. With the transfer of the centre of operations to the Nuggets, however, there was also a shift towards using the smaller but more numerous royal penguins. At the Nuggets, royal penguins were herded into a fenced off enclosure where the 'fats' were picked out and clubbed before being packed into the steam digesters.

In 1902 Hatch had secured a licence for sole occupancy of Macquarie Island from the Tasmanian Government and his confidence in being able to maintain the operation on Macquarie Island was reflected in the continued capital investment in plant and equipment. For example, during the 1913 season the gang obtained 385 casks of sea elephant oil and 447 casks of penguin oil for a total of almost 140 tuns:

The sealers always give the animals time to form their rookeries and then killed the bulls for oil. A well conditioned full grown animal yields about half a tun of oil and, as the commodity when refined has a market value of from £20 to £25 per tun, it will be seen that the industry is a profitable one.