The Brig Amity - Western Australia's colonial history
The world has long been a mystery to humanity, with recent centuries leading us to learn more and more about the mysterious world that we inhabit. However, consider what we know about the world today with all of the means of research and travel that we have – and also consider how much we have yet to learn. Think, then, about the challenges that those in previous eras would have faced when it came to learning about the world. Thankfully, manmade inventions such as ships have helped us to find out about the world as we never expected.
And through the years, many ships have been built that have played a leading role in helping us to learn about the world. One such ship that deserves recognition for this is the Amity, a popular brig. It was used in various voyages during the exploration and eventual settlement that took place in Australia across the 19th Century.
The Amity itself was a 148-ton brig and was well recommended in the days of its usage. It was seen as a top quality vessel; perfect for the job of exploration and settlement. Quick and nimble whilst still having enough power and strength to see it out of trouble, the Amity was a ship that gained immediate traction within the nautical community.
Its history, though, is an interesting one – a tale as much of the time as it is of the reaction and the mood of man. Let’s take a look at what made the Amity such an interesting boat for historians.
Early days and development
The brig itself was designed and built at St. John’s, New Brunswick, in 1816. The ship took many months to build, and it was an undertaking to get the look and feel of the boat just right. This took a fair amount of effort on all sides, but the ship was built and by 1823 was sold to the Ralston’s, a successful Scottish family. They intended to emigrate to Van Diemen’s Land, and wanted a ship to take them.
With Captain McMeckan in charge of the ship, they set for sail from Stranraer, Scotland, in November 1923. Travelling a long route via Dublin and across the Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro, they arrived in comfort with their sons, daughter, and other precious cargo.
Ralston, satisfied with his decision, sold on the shop to the Government of New South Wales in Sydney. The ship then entered in what is known as its ‘second life’, serving in a different range of roles for its new ownership.
Under government control
After being bought by the government down Sydney way, the ship was used for a variety of purposes. Indeed, one of the first jobs that it carried out was the bringing of European settlers – the first to arrive – to Queensland. This was decided after Redcliffe has been marked out as a viable location for a penal colony. Under the command of Lt. Henry Miller, a group of some 70 people were brought to the area in September 1824.
This was to be the beginning of a whole new world, and the Amity had played a crucial role in helping to make this a potential reality. What came over the weeks and months to follow, though, would be mass development that needed more people to arrive. The Amity continued to develop, to the point where the township of Amity and the locality of Amity Point was set on North Stradbroke Island, near Brisbane, and named after the ship itself.
Indeed, go and visit there today and you will see a Brig Street – another pointer to the crucial role that the ship played in making this location what it is today. The ship was continually used for these kinds of purposes, but it came under new instruction when Governor Darling set the brig for sail to Western Australia in 1826.
Under new command
With Major Edmund Lockyer in control of the ship, the Amity was sent out with the intention of setting up some colonies across the western parts of Australia. Indeed, they did do just that, building a military garrison in what is now modern day Albany. This helped to set up the settlement around it, known as Frederick Town, and it soon grew to become quite a settlement.
They stayed for a period of around six months, eventually leaving on Boxing Day, 1826, to continue their journeys across the western part of the country. They also helped out with shipping colonists and people to the various towns and areas being set up; for example, the Amity returned in 1829 with a series of people from Singapore, bringing them to the Fremantle setup that was being bult.
However, things were not going to last forever – even for a ship as well regarded in the era as the Amity. Indeed, the ship began to run into some troubles and in 1844 it was actually wrecked. The job that it was wrecked upon was the transportation of some cattle from Port Albert to Hobert. Hitting an uncharted sandbar (now known to be the Vansittart Shoals), the ship was wrecked near Vansittart Island and was left in need of major repairs in June 1845.
The ship was severely damaged under the command of Captain William Marr. A crew of nine were included on the ship, and it encountered resistance from a gale as it reached the Bass Strait, causing the ship to hit a massive sand bank and leave it breaking up.
Severely damaged, the ship was eventually abandoned and moved on – while everyone made it to the island safely, any form of transport was damaged. Eventually, all were picked up by various boats and were brought back to relative safety across Australia.
Destroyed and eventually restored as a replica over a century later by Albany experts in 1972, the Amity now becomes a part of both local and national legend – without that boats exploits, who knows how long expansion across Australia might have taken?
Seacraft Gallery – December 2020