COLONIAL

Billy Blue
Australia Crest

Born in 1741? in the West Indies? or possibly he was a North American Indian, William Blue was sentenced to seven years Transportation to Botany Bay at a court in Kent in October, 1796. He was what we now call a wharfie and was found guilty of stealing 20 pounds weight of raw sugar worth about eight shillings from the Lady Jane Halliday, a ship belonging to Sir Richard Neve.

Described as being a magnificent specimen of manhood Billy Blue reached Sydney on 14th December, 1801 aboard the convict ship Minorca.

On board was another man who was to make his mark in Australia’s early settlement history - William Redfern, an assistant naval surgeon being transported for life for his part of a mutiny on the Nore. Luckily for Redfern the Governor of NSW put Redfern’s medical skills to good use and he was granted an absolute pardon in 1803.

Billy Blue became a boatman, ferrying passengers from the north side of the harbour to the south as in those days of course there was no Sydney Harbour Bridge as yet. He was also made a water bailiff, watching boat traffic on Port Jackson from a special tower where he also lived.

In 1817 Governor Lachlan Macquarie made a grant of land to Blue and this area is now known as Blues Point, and his rowboat service operated from there to Dawes Point on the south side of the harbour.

In 1818 he was suspected of smuggling and subsequently lost his position as water bailiff but he and his wife Elizabeth, they were married in 1805, and their family continued with the ferry service which by now was a small fleet of boats.

His efforts never ceased to amaze governor Macquarie who is said to have remarked jokingly: "I shall have to make you the "Commodore" and "the Commodore" he was known as for the rest of his long life. If you are in the area today have a quiet drink or meal at The Commodore Hotel.

Blue was often at odds with other substantial landowners on the North Shore who were endeavouring to deprive him of his ferry rights or even his farm. He saw Edward Wollstonecraft (in partnership with Alexander Berry) together with William Gore as being aligned against him and after losing his ferry rights appealed to the then Governor Brisbane.

Brisbane listened to all sides in the dispute and finally handed down his verdict in February, 1825:

"William Blue is authorised by His Excellency, the Governor, to have the Use and Occupation of his FERRY, which he formerly occupied between his farm in Northampton and Sydney."

Billy Blue was one of our early battlers and Aussie characters despite being considered court jester to Governor Macquarie and will live on through his name which was placed on a plaque on a rock on Blue’s Point by the North Shore Historical Society in 1974 and by several references to him throughout the streets of the North Sydney area.

A very readable booklet called Billy Blue, The Old Commodore by Meg Swords is available from the North Shore Historical Society.

There is a Billy Blue Graphic Arts College in North Sydney -
tel. 9955 1122.


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