Refuge Coves Whaling Past

Travis Easton

Boronia, Australia

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Many visitors to the pristine Wilsons Promontory National Park today would be surprised at Refuge Cove’s dark past as a whaling station and Granite Quarry. I found this old whale rib leaning against the rangers hut at Refuge Cove, a relic from it’s whaling past. Hauling it down to the beach (it’s huge and heavy) I used it as a nice element of foreground interest (not to mention visual link to its sinister past) for my pic before returning it to its home.

European Prom/Refuge history started in:

George Bass and a crew of six travel in an open whaleboat from Port Jackson (Sydney) to try and establish whether a strait exists between NSW and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). Due to poor navigation equipment he initially mistakes the Prom for the Furneaux Islands (Flinders Island) and sets out to sea, presuming Van Diemens Land to be close. When their boat starts to leak they head back stopping at Great Glennie Island lured there by a plume of smoke. To their great surprise they find seven half starved convicts who they help upon their return from Western Port. They take two onboard for the return journey and help the remaining five to the mainland where they share their meagre rations; they are never heard from again. Poor weather kept them in the area for another 15 days during which they explored Sealers Cove, Seal Island and Corner Inlet. Later upon the suggestions of Bass and Flinders, Governor Hunter names the Prom after their friend, Thomas Wilson, a London trader who had recommended Matthew Flinders to the Governor.

Captain Charles Bishop (who later became a business partner of Bass and after whom Mt Bishop is named) accompanies Bass and Flinders on the first part of their circumnavigation of Tasmania (confirming the existence of Bass Strait) and commences sealing. Less than two months later he returned to Sydney with 5,200 pelts and 300 gallons of Seal oil.

Up to 200 colonial and foreign operators harvest seals in Bass Strait landing over 100,000 skins in Sydney. This decimated the population to such an extent that it became unprofitable upon which Whaling and Mutton birding took over. Refuge Cove, Home Cove and Rabbit Island are used as bases with the slaughter being great enough to run their waters red. Today, over 200 years later seal numbers are estimated to have recovered to about 30,000.

A whaling station is established at Lady’s Bay (now Refuge Cove). Whales hunted out by 1847, local timbre used to boil down the blubber.

Crushed granite quarried from Refuge Cove for Port Albert road making.

Crushed granite quarried from Refuge Cove for the new entrance to the Gippsland Lakes.

Former Refuge Cove Quarry Site

Wilsons Promontory National Park is created becoming Victoria’s second National Park, 30,350ha are permanently reserved. The land however is still subject to the mining laws and the timber was under the control of the forestry department. Many areas are also excluded, including Sealers Cove, Refuge Cove, Waterloo Bay, Oberon Bay, Mt Singapore, South-east Point and a half mile wide strip of coastline. Existing grazing leases are used to fund the management of the park.

Yanakie Run, Refuge Cove and Great Glennie Island, Dannevig Island, McHugh Island, Ramsbotham Rocks and Rabbit Rocks added to the Park (park now 50,460ha).

‘Friends of the Prom’ remove graffiti from rocks at Refuge Cove.

Sealers to Refuge Cove Track re-aligned.

Refuge Cove added to the Victorian Heritage Register (due to its whaling past).

For more shots from this area check out my Wilsons Promontory gallery.

10% of all profits go to the Wilderness Society

Artwork Comments

  • Dennis Stewart
  • Travis Easton
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  • Travis Easton
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