Eden is approximately halfway between Sydney and Melbourne and located on the shores of Twofold Bay so named as it is really two bays with an undulating peninsula thrusting into the ocean to create the bifold.
The Aboriginal people of the Eden district are part of the Yuin nation of the Thawa tribe. The Aboriginal population suffered greatly from the same devastating disease that affected Aboriginal people in the Sydney region but well before there were European settlers in the area. It is suggested that these diseases were probably transmitted from whalers and other adventurers that sought refuge in Twofold Bay.
It is the southern section of Twofold Bay that offers protection from most weathers and has probably served this purpose for more than 300 years. Aboriginal history records the arrival of Europeans well before Cook in April 1779 or Clarke and the survivors of the Sydney Cove in February 1797 or George Bass in his whaleboat Tom Thumb II, manned with volunteer naval oarsmen.
The Bass expedition, begun 3 December 1797, took them as far west as Western Port Bay and sometime in December they sighted, examined and named Twofold Bay and sheltered in a protected cove that Bass named Snug Cove. They confirmed these finding, on the suitability of Snug Cove as a sheltering spot, on their return visit on 15 February 1898. In his report to Governor Hunter, Bass indicated that he believed that Van Diemen’s Land and the mainland were separated by a strait.
After his return, Governor Hunter commissioned Bass to undertake another voyage later that year. He was to be accompanied by Lt Matthew Flinders in a sloop built in Norfolk Island and named Norfolk. The purpose was to prove the existence of Bass Strait.
On their journey south, they took refuge in Snug Cove from 9-17 October. During that time they named other prominent physical features, charted Twofold Bay’s coastline and took and recorded soundings. These data became the chart of the bay, produced in 1814.
Twofold Bay was often, and still is, used by ships, yachts and smaller craft seeking a safe refuge from the weather. In earlier days, crews, waiting for the weather to improve or whaling crews in the off-season, were sent to collect wattle bark from the mimosa trees that were in great profusion in the district.
Wattle bark was used in the tanning industry.
The first recorded shipment of wattle bark from Twofold Bay was in 1821 and as late as 1953, there was still a wattle bark grinding-mill located in Eden.
The trade declined in the 1960s against competition from the cheaper South African product.
The first whaling at Twofold Bay was originated by Captain Thomas Raine in 1818. Captain Raine was the Master of the Surry, a ship used to bring convicts to New South Wales between 1816 and 1820. Between transportation runs, he engaged in mercantile pursuits that included whaling at Twofold Bay.
Captain Raine, although he stayed as Master of the Surry until 1827, founded the company of Raine and Ramsay, general merchants, shipowners and agents in 1822 after a trip to England where his most prestigious passenger was Governor Macquarie returning home at the end of his Governorship of New South Wales.
In 1828 Raine & Ramsay established a shore-based whaling station at Snug Cove and employed 25 men to operate it. They built huts, a small slipway, try works and began their shore-based operation, sending their first shipment of oil and whale bone to Sydney on 2 October 1828. This export of whale products continued until at least 1832.
Twofold Bay was also very involved in the pastoral industry. From as early as 1829, William Duggan Tarlinton and others began to explore the Bega Valley and surrounding hinterland from holdings in the Monaro. Their purpose was to establish pastoral runs for their sheep and cattle.
The Imlay Brothers, Alexander (arrived in Sydney in December 1829), Peter (arrived in Hobart, February 1830) and George (arrived in Sydney as surgeon-superintendent of convicts on the Roslyn Castle in February 1833), were all trained as surgeons either in the army or navy. George and Alexander worked on the staff of the Sydney Infirmary. In 1832, Alexander Imlay toured the south coast with Governor Bourke and by 1833 had acquired 518ha on the Bredalbane plains. Peter Imlay in the same year called at Twofold Bay where he saw the possibility of starting another shore-based whaling station to complement his and his brothers’ pastoral interests.
Alexander resigned his post as army surgeon in 1833 and went to Hobart and thereafter was chiefly responsible for the brothers’ Van Diemen’s Land properties. In 1834, he received support from Governor Bourke and Lt Governor George Arthur for plans to introduce trade between Twofold Bay and Van Diemen’s Land. He established large pastoral holdings in Van Diemen’s Land on the Forestier Peninsula where he also established a successful shore-based whaling station.
By 1837, the Imlay Brothers were among the six leading producers of whale products. Alexander Imlay also promised to introduce steam navigation and to develop a trade in fine wool sent from the brothers’ properties in the Monaro District.
By 1834, the Imlay Brothers had established vast pastoral runs and were shipping live cattle and sheep and salted beef to Hobart from their port at Twofold Bay. Peter was joined by George in 1835 who, although he was totally involved in the pastoral/whaling activities at Twofold Bay, was retained as a naval surgeon until 1841.
The 1840s were a time of economic depression and although the brothers held 3,885 sq. kilometres of land, their fortune dissipated so that by 1844 they only controlled four runs (still totalling 15,135 ha) in the Bega district. The Walker Brothers, merchants of Sydney, foreclosed on the Imlay Brothers and acquired most of their land.
George committed suicide in December 1846. It is claimed that he was suffering from an incurable disease. Alexander married and appears to have stayed in Hobart where he died in March 1847. In 1851, Peter migrated to New Zealand, but returned to Sydney to marry Jane Maguire in 1853. Tenant farmers initially worked the remaining Bega properties until they were sold to Henry Wren. Peter Imlay settled in Wanganui and continued a successful trading enterprise in the south-west Pacific. He died in March 1881.
Imlay Street is the main street of Eden and the first house erected in Eden, a small slab and bark hut, was located near the present wharf area in Snug Cove, which, in the early days of Twofold Bay (1832-33), was the site of the Raine & Ramsay and the Imlay shore-based whaling stations. The Imlay Brothers also had whaling stations on the southern shore of Twofold Bay (later known as East Boyd), Tasmania, Wilson’s Promontory and Gabo Island.
In 1834, permission was given for a township at Twofold Bay. The Australian of 3 June 1834 reported that the Alligator sailed to Twofold Bay for the purpose of investigating its potential as a government town.
[Twofold Bay] possesses numerous advantages in itself, as well as forming a half-way house between Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land; it is a safe and accessible harbour, although confined; there is plenty of good wood and water in the vicinity; there is also good land and pasturing; it is the entrance to the finest grazing country in Australia … and when steamboats begin to ply along our coast to Van Diemen’s Land (which will no doubt soon happen), Twofold Bay will be the most important situation on our coast after Port Jackson … It will be necessary that a small military party should be stationed here but in all other respects we trust it will be made an open, free settlement.
Governor Bourke visited the area in 1835 and in 1836 obtained the approval of the Legislative Council to issue licences to depasture vacant Crown Land beyond the limits of location. This legitimised the position of the squatters, of which the Imlay Brothers were one such group, and they obtained licences over large tracts of land in the Twofold Bay area.
They had always argued that Twofold Bay would become the port for the shipment of goods ‘essential to the wellbeing of the colony’. In 1836 they sent the first recorded shipment of wool and in 1837, pigs and pork products were shipped. Beef, mutton, whale projects, potatoes, cheese, bacon, pork and maize were increasingly shipped to Hobart.
However, it was not until 1842 that a survey was done of Eden and the first land sale was conducted in 1843 in Sydney. The town was named Eden after Baron Auckland, the Secretary of the Colonies in the British House of Commons, whose family name was Eden. The area was known as the County of Auckland and became part of the authorised limits of population. Buyers included Benjamin Boyd.
[The author wishes to thank the Management and Ms Jodi White, Collection Manager, Eden Killer Whale Museum and Dr Tim Cory, Director, Public Relations and Volunteers, Bass and Flinders Centre, George Town, Imlay Street, the main street of Eden c.1915. The nearest hotel is the Great Southern Hotel and the one further north is the Australasia Hotel. Both are still serving a cleansing ale. Photo: Eden Killer Whale Museum Tasmania for assistance with the collection of material for this article.] Next month: Whaling, pastoral interests and Benjamin Boyd.
*Gregory Blaxell is an historian and author. He has been boating offshore and in the harbour for more than 25 years. His latest book is The River: Sydney Cove to Parramatta.