Historic Camden Haven Pilot Station (now known as the Camden Head Pilot Station)
Indigenous Australians have been in this area for thousands of years. See Traditional Custodians page. The Birpai people are acknowledged as the traditional owners of the lands and waterways of the Port Macquarie - Hastings region. European settlement of the Camden Haven occurred from the first half of the 1800s, following Oxley’s journey through the region in 1818 and in association with the establishment of a penal settlement at Port Macquarie.
The need for a Pilot Station to assist ships to navigate the treacherous bar at the Camden Haven River inlet was identified during the 1860s / 1870s. During the 1870s there was a marked increase in industry in the area, particularly in relation to timber along the river. In 1875, the township of Laurieton (previously known as Peach Orchard) is listed as requiring a postal service, another indication of the growing importance of the area (Conveyance of Mail Tenders. Sydney Morning Herald August 14, 1875, page 2. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/13358982.3 )
1878 The first gazetted pilot was assigned to the Camden Haven to support the growing need for improved shipping access to the river.
In February, 1878, money was allocated for the role of pilot and 2 boatmen at Camden Haven, in the Marine Board of NSW proposed budget. (Legislative Assembly. Sydney Morning Herald, February 28, 1878, page 3. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/13408699 ).
In mid 1878, an advertisement was placed in the papers seeking a suitable applicant for the role of Pilot for Camden Haven. (Office of the Marine Board of New South Wales. Sydney Morning Herald, June 26, 1878, page 3. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/13418306 ).
John Leonard was appointed pilot, beginning work in August or September, 1878.
From September 1, 1878, pilotage fees began being charged on the Camden Haven River.
The announcement indicated it was as a result of the establishment of a pilot station at Camden Haven.
The Treasury, New South Wales, 22nd August, 1878.
PILOT STATION, CAMDEN HAVEN.
A PILOT Station having been established at Camden Haven, notice is hereby given that on and after the 1st of September next, vessels trading to this place will be liable to the same Pilotage as that levied at other outports in the Colony. H. E. COHEN.
(NSW Government Gazette Friday 30 August 1878. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/223111654.3)
Over the next few years there are a few references in newspapers and government gazettes to the pilots at Camden Haven. In an article published in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, October 20, 1885 (page 8) the writer talks about visiting Mr John Leonard at the Pilot Station. He describes the station as follows -
It took another 20 years until the pilot was finally provided with a new house, built at government expense.
1889 Work began on the training walls to improve river navigation.
1890 This land was reserved for the Pilot Station and residence. This was announced in the New South Wales Government Gazette (Sat 18 Oct 1890 [Issue No.595 (SUPPLEMENT)] page 8095. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/221643882.3). A signal shed is believed to have been the first building on the sit
1906 The original federation style residence was built but unfortunately burnt down in 1946. It took until 1954 for a replacement residence to be completed. Files available at the NSW State Archives provide a wealth of information pertaining to the rebuilding of the residence.
The pilot was responsible for indicating the safety, or otherwise, of crossing the bar. Flags were raised to send messages to the ships seeking entrance. There is an article on the Our Rivers Our History website that talks about the flags used to signal ships by the Camden Head pilots (and mentions the role of the pilot prior to radio options) (http://www.oroh.com.au/our-history/dangerous-waters).
The pilot, or one of his boatmen, would, on occasion, go out in one of the pilot boats to assist in safely guiding vessels. The pilot needed to check the water depths daily for these tasks. Water depths were recorded in the Pilot’s log book.
Though a very remote location until later years, the Pilot Station often lead the way in instituting the latest technological innovations. It was amongst the first to move from kerosene lights to electric for channel signals and was the first to have a telephone in the area. The telephone was linked to the Laurieton Post Office.
The Pilot Station was vital to the wellbeing of the Camden Haven during the coastal shipping era. With the advent of rail transport in 1915 and improved road services, coastal shipping and the need for piloting services declined. However, a range of important Maritime Services Board functions continued at the Station until its closure in 1970s.
1970s The Pilot Station was closed in the mid-1970s, due to changing technology and the reduced need for the role of a pilot.1980s-1990s The cottage was casually occupied with low official maintenance. 1999 Camden Haven Community College was assigned Trust Manager and began to develop a new vision for the property.
The Pilot Station is heritage listed as ‘a rare surviving intact group of buildings which provides physical evidence of the living and working conditions of the pilot and boatmen’. It was refurbished in 2001-2002 with assistance from State and Local Government.
Today the Pilot Station has a new role, to preserve and enhance cultural and natural heritage and to contribute to community wellbeing.
Due to the extensive Maritime History of the Camden Haven Area, research has been undertaken on some of the local shipwrecks in the vicinity of the Pilot Station.
A brief paper on details of several of the ships that were wrecked along the local coast and their approximate locations, can be found on a link here.
In 2021 author Dr Jonathan Drane published 'The First Pilot: An Historical Novel'.
In Jonathan's first historical novel based on detailed research, called 'The First Pilot' and prompted by observations and events while holidaying at the station with his own children, he weaves a haunting picture of the station, the first pilots, the timber and lime burner industries that invaded the valley and the first people; the indigenous inhabitants of the headland and the presence they still hold for those who visit. You may purchase the book hereThe First Pilot