FOSTER of Launceston, Australia, Chapter 3.

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This page describes George FOSTER’s further career from about 1853 to 1879.

River Pilot: ~1853 - 1861

George was now a River Pilot, living at Launceston. On 30 June 1853 George was listed in a Return as a Pilot on the River Tamar with the 3rd highest seniority. An 1856 Return lists George as a "River Pilot stationed at Launceston". In 1853 and 1855, the Assessment Roll showed that George now occupied a house in William St, Launceston and later was listed as both owner and occupier of this house in 1860. In the period 6 May 1854 - 5 Aug 1861 children Harriet, William Wood and Ann were born, and his sons William and George were accidentally drowned ...... all events recorded in Launceston. George’s dangerous job and the risk that he would be drowned would also weigh heavily on the family. Note the account of George’s near drowning in 1863 where the women of Low Head Station had to help in the rescue. Small wonder that a poem on drowning at sea was kept in the family records!

George FOSTER’s home at 41 William St, LauncestonGeorge FOSTER’s home (right), 41 William St.
Photo: D. Burbury 2003

His part of William St between George and Tamar Streets served the needs of the sailors who would tie up their clippers at the wharves next to the Esplanade a little over 100 metres away. Next door to his home was the old Tamar Hotel and on the corner of Tamar and William Streets was the Terminus Hotel (built 1834) with extensive stables, which were at the end of the coach service from George Town and Low Head. George’s bakery was at the other side of his house and two of his sons may have worked there. Between the two hotels there were gardens, which may have supplied the seamen with fresh vegetables. Pictured here is George FOSTER’s home at 41 William St, Launceston, with the Tamar Hotel on the left (now re-decorated as "Boag’s Centre for Beer Lovers") and site of his bakery on the right (now a parking area).

General ship supplies were probably obtained from the ironmonger’s store (Alfred Harrap— past Master Warden and Collector of Customs may have occupied this in 1880). Cargoes of guano or compressed bird dung were brought in by ship from Tasmania's outlying nesting islands and processed in the guano mill next to the Terminus Hotel. Opposite George's home was the brewery established in 1832 and now owned by Boag. George walked to work just around the corner where the ‘Tamar’ tug was moored outside his employer's building (Launceston Marine Board). Just down the street were the Customs house and the Bond Store, which were the official points of entry for ships that George’s tug brought into the colony.

George obtained the grant of his William-street land from Joseph Cordell in 1844.

"GEORGE FOSTER. Launceston. 0 Acres. 1 Rood. 11 Perches. (Originally Joseph Cordell, who conveyed to applicant.) Bounded on the north east by 2 chains 51 links south-easterly along an allotment granted to George Radford commencing at the west angle thereof on William-street, on the south east by 1 chain 28 links south-westerly along an allotment occupied by or belonging to John Tibbs, on the south west by 2 chains 55 links north-westerly along an allotment occupied by or belonging to Charles Mann and William Mann to William-street aforesaid, and thence on the north west by 1 chain 26 links north-easterly along that street to the point of commencement.

Source: Hobart Town Gazette. 15 Oct 1844; 1315.

A partial look at the records relating to Joseph Cordell, showed that it was possible for Pilots to become quite wealthy. Joseph was appointed as a Pilot in 1825. The "Return of Pilots on the River Tamar" 1838-39(i) listed Joseph Cordell as the most senior pilot. Branagan(ii) describes him owning and farming most of Low Head where he built "Bermondsey Cottage", a stone cottage now classified by the National Trust. We have already described his William-street transfer(iii) to George FOSTER in the 1844 Hobart Town Gazette. In the same Gazette(iii), Cordell is gazetted receiving two parcels of land (20 ac, 80ac) near his Pilot Station. And there is more in the same Gazette… Joseph also sold land in Cimitière-street (1 rood, 13 perches), and… engaged two convict pass-holders as private servants. Later, Cordell's name is mentioned in the 1848 shipwreck of the new 22 ton schooner Trial(iv), where Cordell is listed as the owner, master, and a Tamar River Pilot. Did George have similar opportunities to become wealthy? His home in William-street was certainly substantial and has lasted until today! Further details of George’s property holdings are given in the appendix.

Sources: (i) Return of Pilots on the River Tamar 1838-39. Low Head Pilot Station Archives.
      (ii) Branagan, JG. The historic Tamar valley: its people, places and shipping— 1798-1900. Regal Publications Launceston; 1991;170.
      (iii) Hobart Town Gazette. 1844; 977, 1039, 1315, 1425, 1458.
      (iv) Broxam, G, Nash, M. Tasmanian Shipwrecks (Roebuck series, no. 51). Navarine Publishing Woden ACT; 1998; 1:63-64.

George’s record term of 41 years as a Pilot and his location at this important part of Launceston must have enabled him to network with powerful people. George jointly owned two yachts with the Bishop of Tasmania. Other associated Launceston names detailed later are George Babington (Town Surveyor), James Boag II (brewer), Peter McCracken (Ironmonger) Thomas Gladman (Accountant) John Hammond (general dealer), Murdock Munro(e) (Baker).

George’s reputation was on the increase. Captain E.D. Edgell, of the ship ‘Whirlwind’ presented a testimonial to George for his work on surveying and sounding the shore end of Tasmanian submarine cable. A statement of Pilots for 1856 described George as a River Pilot stationed at Launceston, who received £263/16/11 for pilotage for 1856, but had to find a boat and one man out of the fees he received for pilotage. A return of the number of Vessels piloted by each Pilot from the Harbour Masters Office Launceston, dated 4th February 1857 showed that George piloted 27 vessels in and 45 vessels out of the Port of Launceston, which made it possible for him to live in Launceston.

In subsequent years there was apparently some difficulty with staff discipline. On 24th May, 1858, a letter to the senior pilot complained that he had failed to report the grounding of the brig ‘Triton’ on Middle Ground in eleven feet of water. Pilot Waterland was found guilty of being drunk on duty and reduced in rank and salary. Senior pilot Scott was reprimanded for failing to report the grounding of the schooner ‘Willing Lass’, which vessel consequently had to put into George Town Cove. Pilot Scott (not the senior pilot) was in trouble over a collision between the tug ‘Tamar’ and the schooner ‘Circassian’ caused by going too fast.

On 3rd March, 1859, senior pilot J. Scott was reprimanded for careless conduct on several occasions and leaving the station for private purposes. On one occasion the Master Warden arrived at the station unexpectedly and found that Mr. Scott was away with a Marine Board boat and crew fishing on the western side of the river. The Master Warden was not pleased!

The tug ‘Tamar’ was purchased for the Launceston Port for £16,000 in 1855. In July, 1859, the tug ‘Tamar’, in charge of Captain Thom, collided with the cutter ‘Rovers Bride’. The captain was severely reprimanded and the Marine Board had to pay for the damage to the cutter. A boatman, John Wilton, was reported for being "mad drunk' while steering the steamer ‘Titanic’ in 1859.

Captain Thom of the tug ‘Tamar’ was often in trouble for carelessness and disobedience. On 26th April, 1860, he was asked to explain why he opened two telegrams addressed to the master warden and one to the Marine Board secretary. Four days later he was asked why he carried passengers on the tug in direct contravention of orders, and warned that he was risking dismissal from the Marine Board service. "George FOSTER, a pilot, was promoted to Thom's position on 8th August, 1860. George Smart was appointed pilot in place of Mr. FOSTER." Note that George's obituary stated that he was entrusted with the command of the steam tug ‘Tamar’ on May 3, 1858, which does not fit the record of his 1860 promotion. The problems of indiscipline among the other pilots may have led to George's subsequent promotion to Senior Pilot in 1861.

Source: Branagan, JG. George Town: History of the town and district. Regal Publications Launceston; 1980;134-135.

On 19 Jan 1858 the Launceston Marine Board held its inaugural meeting. In its first year the Launceston Board set up a Pilotage Department comprising J. Waterland, J. Scott, G. FOSTER, D. Stewart, W. Thompson. This formalised an arrangement, which had existed for some years. The pay arrangement was also changed. Previously all pilotage monies were divided equally between the pilots. The result was that in 1857 each pilot got £390 per annum and out of that he had to provide his own boat and boatmen. The new 1858 arrangement was marginally better for the pilots and placed them on a fixed salary and they didn't have to provide their boat and crew. Their rates were:

  1. Senior Pilot: £315 per annum(ii)
  2. Pilot: 15 or more years of service: £300 per annum
  3. Pilot: 7 or more years of service: £265 per annum
  4. Pilot: Less than 7 years of service: £220 per annum
  5. Coxswain: £90 per annum
  6. 4 boatmen: £50 per annum
  7. Leadsman: £90 per annum

Changes in 1858 must have been too much for the officer in charge at Low Head. In October 1858 he told the Board that he didn't consider himself competent enough to operate the new telegraph. The outcome of this is not known. Perhaps this was a bad mark against that Senior Pilot and contributed to George's promotion in 1861.

Sources: (i) Ferrall, RA. The story of the Port of Launceston. Port of Launceston Authority Launceston;1983; 17-18.
      (ii) Branagan, JG. George Town: History of the town and district. Regal Publications Launceston; 1980; 134.


Low Head Senior Pilot: 1861 to 1879

Lighthouse Engraving1879 Engraving of the Low Head
Lighthouse and the Tamar River
From Annie Foster’s scrapbook

On 1 Sep 1861 George was promoted to Senior Pilot in charge of the Low Head Pilot Station. His daughter Harriet died at Low Head of diphtheria on 14 Oct 1861 on the month after his promotion to Senior Pilot. His daughters Emily and Fanny’s births were registered in George Town (near Low Head) 1862-64. Branagan(i) reproduces a George Town District Directory for 1867 - 1868. This lists George FOSTER as Senior Pilot, Low Head. As Senior Pilot he was required to be based in Low Head.

The historic engraving (left) of the Low Head lighthouse was in a scrapbook clipping from the 1879 Australasian Sketcher(ii), kept by George’s daughter Annie….. what a find! Other engravings are found in the FOSTER Photo Gallery.

Wayne Shipp of the Low Head Station told me that the duty of the Senior Pilot was to be taken out to sea by the coxswain to meet incoming ships, pilot them in, and then to delegate the subsequent piloting. Branagan(iii) also says: "It was the duty of the lighthouse staff to keep a constant lookout for incoming ships and to signal the information to the pilot station by dipping the flag. At the same time the news was signalled to the semaphore station on Mount George for relaying to Launceston... On receipt of the signal at the pilot station, one of the pilots would be rowed out to the incoming vessel so that it could be piloted into port. It appears that the senior pilot usually brought the ship as far as Lagoon Bay, from where one of the other pilots would take it up the river to Launceston. The tug ‘Tamar’ was used to assist most sailing vessels, even with a pilot in charge. Note(iv) that the semaphore system was superseded by an overland electric telegraph system in 1858 and was then used almost exclusively by the Marine Board for shipping movements. Captain D. Cruickshank(v), of s. ‘Investigator’ gave credit to George for further sounding and survey of the shore end of Tasmanian submarine cable. The cable was laid in 1869 between Flinders (Victoria) and Low Head and communication obtained 1st May, 1869.

Sources: (i) Branagan, JG. George Town: History of the town and district. Regal Publications Launceston; 1980; 68-69.
      (ii) Sketches going up the Tamar. Australasian Sketcher; Apr 12 1879.
      (iii) Branagan, JG. Ibid. 133-134.
      (iv) Ferrall, RA. The story of the Port of Launceston. Port of Launceston Authority Launceston;1983; 18.
      (v) Obituary: George FOSTER. Launceston Examiner, Launceston; 6 Dec 1899.

George’s job as Senior Pilot was extremely dangerous. George placed "some striking facts" to an investigating sub-committee of the Launceston Marine Board in Jan 1879, just before he retired. The complete report and the related documents can be viewed here. Section of this report said:

"Your Committee having given their attention to the efficiency and working of the Low Head Pilot Station, have taken into their consideration whether it is advisable to make any reduction in the staff now employed there.  From the evidence which has been placed before them and from their own observation, they are aware that it is absolutely necessary to have at all times in readiness well found boats and an efficient crew to communicate with vessels when entering or leaving the port, and in the event of a wreck, stranding, or accident to any vessel, to enable the pilots and men to render assistance.  In boisterous weather and under the influence of strong tidal currents it requires the full complement of six men and the coxswain to man the large boarding boat, and under such circumstances if any accident did happen to the boat there is little help to be obtained from the station.  This contingency makes it necessary for the pilot in charge to exercise great caution in communicating or boarding vessels in bad weather.  But notwithstanding every precaution incidents are frequently occurring when some effort as well as risk must be run to give assistance, and in exemplification of this your Committee submit to the Board some striking facts, which have been represented to them by the late Senior Pilot in charge of the station (Mr George Foster).

Mr Foster states—“On Wednesday, 24th June, 1863—“Mr Foster after boarding the brig ‘Fawn’, from London, outside the Heads with a strong N.W. wind, ordered the coxswain to run in with the boarding boat.  After passing Low Head Point the boarding boat got into some heavy rollers which swamped her.  The men after a severe struggle and the assistance of the women from the station got on shore.  The boat was smashed to atoms."

On Friday, June 26th 1868 —"The wind north, blowing fresh, with thick rain and squalls, saw a brig anchored north of the lighthouse, distant about two miles.  Mr Foster after two hours’ heavy pull got alongside, and found her to be the brig Victory, from the Mauritius.  The captain informed Mr Foster he had the Mauritius fever on board, and that two men had died, and several were sick.  Mr Foster ordered the coxswain to return with the boarding boat and to inform the health officer.  Mr Foster went on board and found that only the captain, one man and the cook were able to work.  He found that the vessel was dragging her anchor, so he slipped the cable with 45 fathoms of chain, and set the fore and aft sails.  Proceeded into quarantine.  As a heavy gale came on, Mr Foster stated if he had not been able to board the vessel she would in all probability have gone on shore in East Bay."

31st August, 1878—"The coaster ketch ‘Ruby’ got on shore on the N.W. end of the West Reef, and hoisted the ensign half-mast high, with the union down.  Mr Foster manned the large boarding boat with six men and the coxswain.  When they had proceeded close to the vessel she drove over the reef, having received considerable damage, with loss of rudder, and making water.  Mr Foster laid the boarding boat alongside and made her fast at the bow and stern, and with the assistance of the large steer oar of the boarding boat brought her into safety.  Mr Foster considers but for this assistance promptly rendered the vessel must have been wrecked."

Your Committee, from the evidence placed before them, and also from their own knowledge of the arduous nature of the duties to be performed in the boats at particular times, combined with the liability there exists of one or more of the men being invalided, consider that the strength of the boat’s crew employed at the Low Head Station is rather under than in excess of the complement required for the safety of the public service, and therefore they recommend that no reduction be made."

George must have been an amazing person. These events described above happened between 1863 and 1878 when he was aged 58 and 73 respectively! The Board’s committee recognised the age problem and went on to say:

Your Committee desire to call the attention of the Board to the fact that some of the boatmen now employed at the Low Head station are from advanced age and long service becoming unfit for arduous duties afloat. The names and ages and date of the year each man joining the service are as follows:—

Names Age Year
John Hewett, coxswain 57 1858
C.W. Kidd, boatman 64 1860
Thomas Fox, ditto 54 1860
Ralph Place, ditto 46 1860
William Stevens, ditto 40 1863
Peter Mullay, ditto 39 1864
William Moncur, ditto 38 1863

Many of these boatmen when physically unfit for boat work are still quite capable of doing duty on shore as attendants in lighthouses.

Your Committee suggest that as the control of lighthouses is under the Hobart Town Marine board, it will be well to ask for their assistance in order to provide some employment for these men.  It is only reasonable to expect that in those lighthouses which are situated on the northern side of Tasmania, an application of this description from the Launceston Board will meet with favorable consideration.

Your Committee desire to bring under the notice of the Board that in order to make some provision for their employees who from age and long service have become unfit for work the initiation of a superannuation fund is requisite and worthy of their attention."

The committee concluded their report by saying:

Your Committee desire to express their unqualified approval of the late Senior Pilot, Mr Geo. Foster, who has been in charge of the Low Head Station for many years, and is now retiring on his pension after as service of nearly forty years.

George may have had another problem….. required to live at Low Head, also with a need to keep in touch with his Launceston business interests. On 1 Jan 1869, the Marine Board in Launceston instructed him: "to give up the command of the Tamar Tug to John Thom ..... services that you may henceforth be called upon to perform are such as belong to a Senior Pilot." This would mean fewer trips to Launceston on the Tamar Tug! In 1862 George's father-in-law John HAMMOND occupied George's home in William St.

Subsequently, George expanded his business interests in William St Launceston. He bought back the William St property (held in trust for sons George and Thomas) on 10 April 1863.... following the death by accidental drowning at sea of his son George on 5 Aug 1861, from the surviving son, Thomas who is described as a baker of Launceston in 1863. George's will made on 10 Apr 1863 described himself as a pilot of Tamar Heads (Low Head) and appointed as executor and trustee his son Thomas (baker of Launceston) and his father-in-law John Hammond (general dealer and baker of Launceston). The Rate Assessment rolls for 1865/1870 (see "Property") showed that George now owned but did not occupy 4 houses and a house and shop, which was a bakery, rented by Murdock Munro(e). John HAMMOND had previously owned a number of these houses and the house and shop between 1853 to 1862. George’s sons Thomas and John, who were both bakers, may have worked for their grandfather at the shop/ bakery as well as for M. Munro(e) who rented the bakery from George until at least 1892. Note that Thomas and John both left Tasmania for NSW where Thomas married in 1879 and John in 1875. They both remained there and raised their families in NSW, and remained bakers.

The Story Continues