Captain Henry Lawler was my great great grandfather on my paternal side. I began a tentative search for his history many years ago, when I joined the Port Phillip Pioneers Group, hence my low membership number, but the project was shelved until fairly recently.

Henry Lawler was born in 1798 at Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom, into a Naval family. In 1819-1820 he was on the ship "Dromedary" then in Naval use, to bring convicts to Australia. It had 369 male convicts who were mainly taken to Rasmania. The vessel then sailed to New Zealand where they collected the Reverend Samuel Marsden and several Maori Chiefs plus a load of timber and sailed to Sydney, New South Wales. Henry had had his first sight of the Colony. The "Dromedary" had previously been to Sydney Cove in 1809, not as a government ship, bringing Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie and returning with William Bligh. That voyage was celebrated in Sydney in 2009.

Unfortunately, as is often the way, I know so little about his wife, Elizabeth ( nee Green ). They were married at Stokes Bay, Hampshire, England in 1826 and had a son, Henry Augustus Lawler in 1828. Next they are living in Hackney, London, England and young Henry and his baby sister Maria are being baptised. This is the first and last appearance of little Maria - another mystery to unravel.

Captain Henry and Elizabeth Lawler, accompanied by young Henry Augustus migrated to Sydney on the "Upton Castle" as passengers, arriving in January 1838. Another passenger on this vessel was Sir George Gipps. Captain Henry worked on the waters around Sydney for a while, including a short stint as a Pilot and participated in a "pulling race" of two boats around Dawes Point and back. Apparently they rowed very hard and Henry just won, earning 10 pounds. This would have been welcome as they had just had another child, Richard Hindfox Lawler. He was born at Chowder Bay on 22 June 1839.

Henry captained many boats around the coast and particularly to Tasmania from Sydney. He would have been very familiar with the waters and coast. The "Bright Planet" was a ship on which he made many trips to Port Phillip and Tasmania. The first to Port Phillip was 12 December 1839. William Kerr, the first Town Clerk of Melbourne arrived on the "Bright Planet." Henry took on the contract for the steamer "Aphrasia" and supervised her building at Deptford shipyards, Clarence Town, New South Wales, a long way up the Williams River. She was apparently luxuriously outfitted. Mrs. Elizabeth Lawler named her at the launching ceremony.

When he brought the vessel to Sydney it was arranged for a race with the local steam ferry, "Kangaroo." This was a race around the harbour. It was a well attended event and the shores of Sydney Harbour were lined with people. Henry got up a good head of steam and beat the "Kangaroo." A repeat race was requested for several days later and he also won this, but only marginally.

On this proud note they departed Sydney on the "Aphrasia," for Port Phillip Bay. She became the first steam boat into the bay and went into service as a ferry between Geelong and Melbourne. Captain Henry was the pioneer of Steam Navigation in Port Phillip. The family arrived on 29 June 1841.

The "Aphrasia" made three trips a week. The list of passengers included William Buckley, Georgiana McCrae and friends and Superintendent Charles La Trobe on many occasions, going to his Point Lonsdale shack. Henry even arrested a wanted criminal on board, dressed as a veiled female. He had seen "her" ankles on boarding the boat and felt it wasn't a woman. He was right and an arrest was made.

The family lived in Newton, Geelong, off Aphrasia Street. They were very early settlers there, amongst the vineyards.

For a time he was an early Pilot at the Heads, stationed at Shortland Bluff. This was a dangerous and difficult job and he resigned after the loss of the "Isabella Watson," on his watch, which caused loss of life. There was a court case about this episode. The pilots rowed out to sea in whaleboats, to assist boats in all weathers.

In 1846 he was running the "Golden Fleece" Hotel at Meredith. Lawler Street is named for him. Eventually they moved to Williamstown, their longest period of residence. Amongst other jobs he had a contract for explosives to be kept on an old Hulk in Hobson's Bay at Williamstown. Henry and Elizabeth made at least one trip back to the United Kingdom when he captained the vessel.

He died at Williamston aged 65 years on 11 February 1863, after living a life of high adventure on the seas.

Elizabeth eventually moved to kew to live with her grandson, and died there aged 91 years on 19 November 1891. She is buried at Williamstown with Captain Henry and their son Richard. They were apparently a devoted couple.

( Contributed by Carol Stals ( nee Lawler ) - PPPG Member No. 41 )

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