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Boydtown, NSW

Historic whaling station in the Ben Boyd National Park.

Boydtown was one of those grand nineteenth century entrepreneurial dreams that never came to fruition. A dream by Benjamin Boyd to create a thriving port, to build an elegant hotel, to construct a huge tower for spotting whales. And it all came to nothing. Today the remnants are fascinating. An elegant, and recently modernised, historic hotel. A tower which was never completed and is now a folly of dramatic proportions and an historic relic of an old whaling station all set on the edges of the beautiful Ben Boyd National Park with its quiet beaches, rugged shoreline and lonely Green Cape lighthouse. It is a memorable experience and a reminder of how some grand dreams never become a reality.

Location

Now nothing more than a hotel and a few outbuildings, Boydtown is located 486 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway and 556 km via Canberra. Although longer, the route from Sydney via Canberra is actually quicker and certainly it is an easier drive.

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Origin of Name

The town takes its name from the remarkable Benjamin Boyd, a London stockbroker who, in the 1840s, attempted to make Boydtown the centre of his whaling and shipping businesses.

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Things to See and Do

Seahorse Inn
When I first went to the Seahorse Inn in the 1990s it was rundown and chaotic. It had a certain Enid Blyton "pirates and shipwrecks" sense of adventure. Five Go To The Seahorse Inn. The hallways were narrow, there were endless small, twisting and turning staircases. Corridors disappeared up two or three steps and opened into strange bedrooms. It had an air of decay and wonder – an ideal setting for The Secret of Seahorse Inn. You felt there were secret passages, hidden rooms and strange adventures to be had. At the time it had such a strange history.

It was originally built for the great entrepreneur, Ben Boyd, in 1843 using convict labour. Boyd had arrived in Sydney in 1842, set up a bank, bought a paddle-steamer named Seahorse, acquired nearly 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) in the Riverina and Monaro, and decided that Twofold Bay would be ideal as the harbour for his operations. Shore whaling and oil extraction had been established on the bay for fifteen years and Boyd added them to his other enterprises. However the cost of establishing Boydtown began to affect him financially and in 1849 the liquidators were called in.

The Seahorse Inn was abandoned that year and the incomplete hotel lay vacant for nearly a century. Inevitably it suffered the ravages of decay and vandalism. It wasn’t until 1936 that the Whiter family renovated the ruin, added an extra storey and created the essence of the modern building.

The Inn was always special. It was surrounded by attractive gardens and the front lawn swept down to the shores of Twofold Bay. Architecturally it was a bizarre combination of Elizabethan, Tudor and Georgian elements with hand-carved doors, stained-glass windows, winding staircases, large open grates, gothic arches and attic bedrooms. Many of these elements have been retained.

The hotel's foundation was made of sandstone from Pyrmont in Sydney. It was shipped to Twofold Bay and carried from the shore to the site on bullock wagon. The rest of the original hotel was constructed of local stone, red bricks made from clay quarried nearby and pit-sawn hardwood. The cedar and oak fittings were imported from England. Obviously it should never have been allowed to decay.

In 2002 it was closed and subsequently upgraded at a cost of around $4 million. Today it is a charming, luxury boutique hotel with a restaurant, a cocktail lounge and a brasserie.

A small additional bonus for history lovers is the ruins of the Boydtown church which is perched on a ridge to the left as you drive towards the Seahorse Inn. It was to be part of the town (at one point there were 200 people living at Boydtown) but was never completed and stood empty until it lost its roof in a bushfire in 1926.

To get to the Seahorse Inn follow the Princes Highway south of Eden for 8 km and turn left.

 

Davidson Whaling Station Historic Site
If you have stopped and seen the skeleton of Old Tom at the Killer Whale Museum in Eden then you have to drive 18 km south (via the Princes Highway and Edrom Road) to the ruins and remnants of the Davidson Whaling Station Historic Site because it was here that Old Tom and his gang of killer whales developed a special relationship with humans.  Alexander Walker Davidson was a carpenter who had worked for Benjamin Boyd. In 1857 he built a whaling station at Kiah Inlet and with equipment he purchased from Boyd he established a whaling business which lasted until 1929. It was always a family business. The excellent Eden Community Site records: "Alexander's son, John, ... began using Boyd's Tower as their whale spotting lookout. The lookouts would either ride a horse from the lookout to the whaling station (about 3km) or sometimes use signal fires to alert the whalers but as often as not the Killer Whales, which kept their own lookout from Leatherjacket Bay, would have already reached the whaling station and alerted the whalers by thrashing their tails on the surface of the water to attract their attention (or as the whalers called it flop-tailing).

"Although up to 30 whaling boats were launched from the area in its hey-day, the Davidson's were the only ones alerted by the Killer Whales. This may have been because a large proportion of the Davidson's crews were Aboriginal and the local Thawa tribe had a long established co-operative relationship with the Orcas, whom they called 'Beowas' and revered as reincarnated warriors reborn to the sea from the Dreamtime."

Little of Davidson's large operation remains today but the station, which was proclaimed an historic site in 1986 and is now run by National Parks and Wildlife, has excellent interpretative and explanatory placards with illustrations and photographs to help the visitor imagine what the area must have been like when the station was operational. Check out eden.nsw.au/index.php/historic-eden41/historic-sites61/davidson-whaling-station58 for more details.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Boyd's Tower
Signposted from Edrom Road as 'Ben Boyd National Park - Tower', the strange structure known as Ben Boyd's Tower (it has BOYD in huge letters on the side) was built in 1847. It stands 23 metres high and was constructed from Pyrmont sandstone brought by steamer from Sydney. It was originally built as a lighthouse but the government considered it unsuitable and consequently it was never used although it did serve as a whale-spotting site. Over the years it has been damaged. It was struck by lightning in the 1860s and the internal staircase has been destroyed.

The tower was designed by Oswald Brierly, an English artist and student of naval architecture, who accompanied Boyd to Australia. Brierly lived at Twofold Bay for five years acting as a sort of manager of the whaling site at East Boyd. Years later he was appointed official Marine Painter to Queen Victoria and was subsequently knighted.

Look for the tribute on the north window which reads "In memory of Peter Lia who was killed by a whale, September 28, 1881. Aged 22 years." It is a tribute to a weird event. A whale had been harpooned but it headed out to sea dragging two boats more than 15 km. Eventually George Davidson, from Davidson's Whaling Station, called for the ropes to be cut and when they were severed the whale turned on one of the boats, broke it in two and smashed it with its tail. Unfortunately Peter Lai was sitting where the tail smashed the vessel. He was thrown overboard and never seen again. Boyd's Tower was added to Ben Boyd National Park in 1976.

The Light to Light Walk from Boyd's Tower to Green Cape
There is a long walk - 29.2 km - from Boyd's Tower to Green Cape Lighthouse which is a sublime way to experience this beautiful and lonely stretch of the New South Wales coastline. There is an excellent map with descriptions and details at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/parks/audioTours/Light2LightWalk.pdf. It breaks the walk into three sections:

Boyd's Tower to Salwater Creek - 13.2 km, 4.5 hours past the dramatic red siltstone cliffs, through coastal forests, melaleuca thickets and woollybutt forests.
Saltwater Creek to Bittangabee Bay - 9 km, 3 hours - through wildflowers in spring, scrubby heathland, past mustard and purple rocky headlands to the ruins of the Green Cape storehouse and landing wharf
Bittangabee Bay to Green Cape - 7 km, 2.5 hours, along a section of the old rail track which was used to carry stores and materials to Green Cape lighthouse.

Edrom Lodge
Edrom Lodge, located near the woodchip mill and just beyond the turnoff to Boyd's Tower, is one of those gracious seaside homes that sends chills of envy into anyone who ever wanting to live by the sea. It was designed by owner John Logan and took three years (1910-1913) to build. It is a classic Federation-style building and the Logan family continued to live in it until 1937. In 1942 it was sold and became a guesthouse. It is available for conferences and, most interestingly, the Edrom Lodge website (see http://www.edromlodge.com.au) has a useful "Bushwalking around Edrom" brochure which ranges from short geologically, biologically and botanically interesting walking tracks in the area to the long trek to Green Cape lighthouse. For more information check out the website or tel: (02) 6496 1510.

Ben Boyd National Park - Saltwater Bay
Saltwater Bay is typical of the attractions in Ben Boyd National Park. For most of the year it is sparsely population and ideal for safe swimming and productive fishing. There is a 9 km walking track (part of the Light to Light 29 km track - check out the excellent map at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/parks/audioTours/Light2LightWalk.pdf) which heads south through high heaths, beside rugged cliffs, and down onto rock platforms and lonely beaches before reaching Bittangabee Bay which is just as isolated. On the way you are likely to see Eastern Grey kangaroos and if you go in spring the countryside is awash with native wildflowers. Beyond Hegarty's Bay there is a remarkable purple and mustard coloured rocky headland.

Ben Boyd National Park - Disaster Bay Lookout and Bittangabee Bay
If you decide to drive to Green Cape Lighthouse you should pause at Disaster Bay Lookout which provides excellent views to the south over Disaster Bay, Wonboyn Lake and Nadgee Nature Reserve. To the left is a turnoff to Bittangabee Bay where in the 1840s the Imlay Brothers established a base for their whaling operations which were eventually taken over by Benjamin Boyd in 1848. The stone ruins of an old house surrounded by a garden, probably started by the Imlays but never completed, can be found near the Bittangabee camping area. There are interpretative placards. The beaches surrounding Bittangabee are ideal for swimming, fishing and picnicking and the Light to Light track heads south for 7 km (2.5 hours one way) to Green Cape. On the way you will travel along a track which was built for a horse drawn tram which carried the materials from Bittangabee Bay to build the Green Cape lighthouse.

Ben Boyd National Park - Green Cape Lighthouse
Green Cape Lighthouse lies at the south-eastern tip of Ben Boyd National Park. The first lighthouse on the point was completed in 1883. It was oil-fired and could be seen 19 nautical miles (35 km) out to sea. At the time it was the second-largest lighthouse in New South Wales standing 29 metres above its base.  The view from Green Cape is impressive. The Tasman Sea breaks on the rocks below and there is a real sense of loneliness and isolation.

In the early days the process of keeping the light burning was complex and rather primitive. There were three lighthouse keepers who worked five hour shifts. The light, which flashed every minute, was driven by a weighted pulley system which meant the weights had to be cranked up every 45 minutes. The light was finally electrified in 1962 and automated in 1983.

Nearby is the tragic, historic cemetery which contains the graves of 24 of the 71 people who lost their lives in the wreck of the Ly-ee-Moon. It was taking passengers from Melbourne to Sydney when, on 29 May, 1886, it drifted onto the rocks below Green Cape around 9.00pm. Five of the 45 passengers and ten of the 41 crew survived.

Today Green Cape is popular with scuba divers. Pulpit Rocks is considered one of the best locations for land-based fishing. There is a more detailed history of the lighthouse at http://eden.nsw.au/index.php/historic-eden41/historic-sites61/green-cape-lighthouse54

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History

* Prior to European settlement the local Aborigines, the Thawa people who were part of the Yuin language group, had lived in the area for thousands of years.

* The first European to sight Twofold Bay was Captain James Cook in April 1770.

* The first Europeans to pass through the area were the survivors from the wreck of the Sydney Cove.  Nine of them died on the journey up the coast and only three reached Sydney alive.

* Hearing the reports of the survivors, George Bass, travelled down the coast in December 1797. On his return in early 1798 he entered Twofold Bay and named Snug Cove, where Eden wharf now stands, because he believed it was suitable as a resting place for passing vessels.

* Later in 1798 Bass and Matthew Flinders entered Twofold Bay and made contact with the Yuin people. Flinders recounted how he offered them some biscuits and received some fat (probably whale fat) in return. After tasting it Flinders recorded that while "watching an opportunity to spit it out when he should not be looking, I perceived him doing precisely the same thing with our biscuit".

* Whaling was the reason the area was settled. As early as 1791 whalers were in the area. The migration, mostly of right whales, to and from the Antarctic resulted in large numbers passing Twofold Bay between May and November.

* Benjamin Boyd, a wealthy London stockbroker, arrived in Sydney Town in 1842 and established a coastal steamship service. He put the Seahorse paddle-steamer into operation covering the southern route from Sydney to Twofold Bay and Hobart.

* By 1844 Boyd had acquired huge land holdings in the Riverina and Monaro regions. Boyd decided that Twofold Bay would serve as the port for his enterprises in the Monaro hinterland and that year he started building Boydtown.

* By 1849 Boyd's luck had run out. The Seahorse had been irreparably damaged after striking a rock. Liquidators were called in. All construction work at Boydtown ceased - most of it was incomplete. Boyd left for the California goldfields later that year. Boydtown was abandoned.

* In 1926 the Boydtown church lost its roof in a bushfire.

* In 1936 the Seahorse Inn was purchased by a builder from Lakes Entrance, R. B. Whiter. He eventually finished the repairs in 1957 and he sold it that year.

* In 2004 the Lyon Group started to invest $4 million in upgrading the Seahorse Inn. The work was completed in 2006.

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Visitor Information

The closest visitor centre is the Eden Visitor Information Centre located on the corner of Mitchell Street and the Princes Highway, tel: (02) 6496 1953, 1800 150 457.

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Accommodation

Seahorse Inn, 61 Boydtown Park Road, Boydtown, tel: (02) 6496 1361, see http://www.seahorseinn.com.au.

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Eating

Bettina's Restaurant and The Brasserie, Seahorse Inn, 61 Boydtown Park Road, Boydtown, tel: (02) 6496 1361, see http://www.seahorseinn.com.au.

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Useful Websites

For information about Seahorse Inn check out http://seahorseinn.com.au; for Ben Boyd National Park check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/Ben-Boyd-National-Park

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2 suggestions
  • Would like to see photos of the hotel in 1970 if there is any. My late husband and myself stayed there. I only stayed one night, but my husband stayed on for work 6th May 1970 .

    Lynnie Crawford