Port Stephens is the drowned estuary of the Karuah and Myall Rivers.
Port Stephens Rescue Boat
Early development:- Captain Cook sighted the entrance on 11th May 1770 and named the bay after the Secretary of the Admiralty. It was first entered in 1791 by the British ship "Salamander" from the Third Fleet, and surveyed in 1795 by Charles Grimes. In 1795 Capt. Broughton was driven into port by a storm and found four escaped convicts living with aborigines.
The brig "Lady Nelson" visited with Governor Macquarie and his wife on 1st January 1812. Early shipping of timber and wool to Sydney commenced in 1816 with Capt Corlette in his 62 ton cutter "Lambton". The Australian Agriculture Company carried produce from the hinterland to North Arm Cove from 1824, and there was a timber mill at Winda Woppa. They operated "Karua", one of the first steamers in Australia. Whalers were frequent visitors. Capt. William Cromarty and family were the first settlers in 1824, at Soldiers Point, from where he operated a small brig -- the "Fame".
The outer lighthouse on Fingal Island has operated from 1862.
The first Inner light beamed from a wooden tower in 1872, it was replaced by the cottage and octagonal light room from 1876. There were 14 resident keepers from 1869 to 1986. Red and white sector lights guided shipping into port. A solar-powered version shone across the bay from the old WW2 bunker until early 2003, when it was deemed unnecessary and removed.
Land was resumed for a naval base at Salamander in 1916, and in 1919 Admiral Jellicoe recommended it as principal naval base for eastern Australia; but when in 1931 the port was declared too shallow for a naval base, Port Stephens Shire Council agreed to subdivisions for housing estates.
In 1918, Port Stephens City and Pindimar had been planned for the north side of the bay by Burley Griffin, Henry F. Halloran and Walter Scott Griffiths. Pindimar was even nominated as a site for the new ACT! But the depression and lack of access roads and railway led to failure. A small Tomaree Estate at Shoal Bay was surveyed in 1934, this contained the headquarters of The Big Game Fishing Club.
The first naval chart of the port was published in 1877 and navigational markers laid out and maintained from 1872 by Marine Services Boards of NSW, and the Waterways from 1995. The entrance leads were set up in the 1930s to be replaced by the present laser lights in 1986. Over 100 resident dolphins along with commercial and recreational fishing have enhanced tourism in the bay.
Care and policing are carried out by Waterways and the Water-police, first established in 1966 at Tea Gardens, and from 1974 at Nelson Bay; operations continue with 5 vessels. Coast Guard was established in 1971 at Lemon Tree Passage, and the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol * (RVCP) in 1982. RVCP was based on Nelson Head, at first in a WW2 bunker below the cottage, then from 1993 in the present base which you are welcome to visit.
Care of the Inner-light cottage and grounds was given to the RVCP under Trust from the NSW Government in 1990.
During the second world war (1942-45), HMAS Assault at Fly Point operated to train Australian and British service men. Together with Americans, they trained for Pacific beach landings at Shoal Bay. The landing craft HMAS Manoora (8,450 tons) is the largest ship to have entered the port.
There have been many shipwrecks in and around Port Stephens and RVCP plays a leading role in assisting vessels in difficulty. Work is carried out under State Emergency Service authority, assisting Water-police and Waterways. More than 100 volunteers maintain a 24-hour radio watch and standby for two lifeboats. Other volunteers from the RVCP, Ladies Auxiliary and the Port Stephens Historical Society man the Cottage Museum, Gift Shop and maintain the grounds.
These aspects are displayed in the Cottage Museum. Entry is Free, but donations to support the Trust and Coastal Patrol voluntary activities are appreciated. (M.J. Rickard 2003)
Reference:-This material has been summarised from museum notes, and from the booklets:- "Guiding Light" (obtainable for $3.50 from the Gift Shop), "The Port Stephens Story" by M.A.Bartlett and "Henry F. Halloran in Port Stephens the legacy" by Y. Fraser.
* Visit the website of the Port Stephens Division of the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol