Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rock Davis Shipbuilder of Blackwall

Rock Davis shipyard Blackwall
While not the first ship builder at Blackwall, Rock Davis was certainly the most famous and colourful of the shipwrights that plied there trades around the edges of the Broadwater back in the 1800’s
Rock was born on a ship en route to Australia on the 2nd of June, 1833, he was one of 11 children.
His father, William Davis was the first school teacher in the area and taught at the small school at Kincumber, the school was made from pit sawn timber and had a shingle roof.Rock and his brothers were apprenticed to shipwright Jonathan Piper who had a shipyard at Cockle Creek.
After they had finished their trade, Rock and his brother Tom left Davistown to prospect for gold in the Ovens Valley, they were quite successful as they had arrived early when gold could be found 5 feet below the ground or lying on the surface.
They returned to the coast as the gold on their claims became scarce and the goldfields descended into lawlessness, over 3,000 miners had died in the first 15 months of digging in the valley they later learnt.
Rock had always wanted to build a shipyard at Blackwall and set about acquiring the land for this purpose, a parcel of 13 acres at Blackwall Point was granted to him in 1852, later he also purchased another land parcel from C.W Cox and commenced operations there in 1862.
Timber for the first ships were sourced locally on the Peninsula , which had a variety of suitable trees like blackbutt, ironbark, cedar, beech, white mahogany and honeysuckle.The logs were dragged by bullock team to the sawmill at the shipyard, some logs were floated out of the back blocks via a small creek that is now a drain next to the Peninsula Leisure Centre.
Work in the shipyard began at daylight and continued until dark, after dinner the men would sit in the meal shed and play cards while the young apprentices were put to spinning oakum ( caulking for use in shipbuilding )
At nine o ‘clock the cook would throw a large pot of water on the fireplace, the ensuing steam cloud would scatter all.
During wet weather work ceased in the yard and the men went hunting wild cattle on the Peninsula , cattle descended from the original herd owned by James Webb had roamed the flats for years slowly growing in population and made great sport and even better eating.
Rock later built a large roof over the slipway so the men could work in all weather ,the shed at 145 feet long was the largest building in the area at the time.It was built like a native hut from New Guinea , two giant poles were tied at the top and spread apart at the base , they were then hoisted upright by a block and tackle setup pulled by a bullock team.
A visiting well known Naval architect remarked that he had never seen anything like it in the world , locals called it “ The Big Shed “



The Big Shed
Over 180 vessels were laid down at the yard ranging from small ketches to steam powered passenger ferries for use on Sydney Harbour , before the construction of each boat , Rock would lay down full size plans on the ground and work out his timber cutting list .
The launching of the completed vessels at Blackwall drew much fanfare on each occasion, usually a feast followed by dancing and drinking til all hours , local children were given sweets.
The Blackwall area was a hive of activity with 2 shipyards, a sawmill, several houses and a store built, in 1875 a post office was petitioned for and built on the hill behind the shipyard.
The first postmistress was Eva Davis, Rock’s daughter, she held this position until 1881.
In 1893 a post office was built at Woy Woy to serve the growing township and the Blackwall post office was made an unofficial office, the location of this office moved a few times but it remained until late the 1970’s ( last location Trafalgar Avenue )
Not only did Rock Davis build ships but he also put in place many wharves, bridges and roads to serve his business, he arranged for the transport and delivery of over 19 million bricks for the construction of Woy Woy Tunnel.
On many occasions when disaster struck , a call was put out to the men at the Rock Davis shipyard and a boat was quickly dispatched to help those in need.
Rock Davis died in 1904 and was buried at the old church at Kincumber, a specially made raft was made to carry his coffin and was towed by a steam boat from the Blackwall shipyard across the Broadwater with hundreds of mourners in all sorts of water craft following in an unbroken line.
A fitting end for a man who had lived and breathed ships for all of his life.


Article by Steve Spillard COPYRIGHT 2015

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