Prelude: Nearly two and a half centuries have passed since Captain Cook sailed up the East Coast of Australia on his journey of discovery in 1770 - and during which he named Point Hicks, Mount Dromedary, Batemans Bay and Pigeon House Mountain. He could not have seen past the mangrove choked mouth of Moruya river nor viewed the outcrops of granite protruding from its banks. This story not only tells of problems encountered in the building of a monument in his honour from that very granite – but how the life of sea fairing Scotsman Joseph Louttit, his quarry, and the history Moruya, are indelibly linked with the building of Sydney, an era of discovery in Australia – and British Royalty. Norm Moore. Mrs Shirley Jurmann (nee Louttit) has given valuable access to memoirs of her family’s history in an effort to both properly record events indelibly linked to a long forgotten era in Moruya’s early pioneering history in granite quarrying ,sailing ships, and the dangers & hardship associated with it.
The Louttit Story: John Flett Louttit and brother Joseph, were the fifth and fourth children of John Louttit and Catherine nee Flett of Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland. John, who later became a central figure in an accident, left for America with brothers, James and William.
Joseph became known as the “sea fairing Scotsman”- and sailed around the world many times, serving on more than nine ships including the clipper ship “Heather Belle,” which featured in a 1998 set of Australian stamps depicting ”The Romance of Sail.”
Above: The clipper ship Heather Belle was built in Aberdeen in 1855, and operated out of Hobart Town, sailing regularly to Sydney, Melbourne and London. He claimed to have witnessed the sinking of the “Dunbar” off Sydney Heads in 1857.
After recovery from an accident while serving on the” Joseph Rowan” Joseph headed for the Victorian goldfields. Like many, he was unsuccessful. Developing eye problems from the sand and dust he, along with fellow prospectors , Patrick Beashel and George Moore headed for Sydney. Having reached Moruya and seeing it’s beauty, he decided to stay. “ The granite outcrops reminding him of his Orkney Islands.” He wrote to his brother John praising the wonderful spot he’d found adding “Ye’ll no’ fall over here when the wind drops as ye do in Orkney.”
Joseph was joined by his brother John from America in 1858, and the pair purchased land near where Louttit’s Creek enters the Moruya River at a place now known as The Anchorage. Their lease of 25 acres allowed them to quarry stone to prevent erosion of the river banks. Horse & drays were used to deliver the rock and workers were called Draymen - each was allowed an ‘assistant.’ A small shop in Campbell St Moruya is built from Louttit granite – “delivered at ten shillings a dray load.”
Upgrading of access to the quarry from a dray track to a horse drawn tramway and wharf required finance - so Joseph built a yawl (a two-masted sailing vessel) and developed a business in selling farming produce on Sydney wharves. He would load up with rum and biscuits and on return, link up with an “old chap” and his two sons, who ran a team of fifty pack horses.
The old man and his sons would then go fishing and after a good catch, would leave late at night for Araluen. Crossing of the river up to fourteen times helped keep the fish fresh and at the last crossing water was added to rum in the casks- supposedly turning each two gallons into five.
Moruya had been gazetted as a Port in 1861, and with finance from the goldfields supply venture, and payment for granite from their quarry for harbour works and breakwaters, the Louttits were able to complete a rudimentary wharf and tramline.
Click for larger image
"William IV" and "Black Swan" were two steam driven paddle-wheelers with sails that sailed into Moruya River in 1859 and were the first steam driven vessels to do so.
Image of William the Fourth - State Library Queensland
Twice a week a train of 20 or 30 horses was dispatched from the Moruya branch of Eaton's Store carrying goods to the Araluen goldfields. Soon others were doing the same thing. Despite the poor state of the track, strings of pack-horses were regularly taking food-stuffs, including freshly caught fish, and other necessities, to sell to the miners. The Moruya District is reported as 'unrivalled for potatoes. At one time seven vessels were lying in the river awaiting cargoes of potatoes. Public meetings were held to demand a proper survey of the Araluen Road whilst a vein of gold being worked at Dwyers Creek was found to be rich in nickel. As gold was discovered at Currowan a second survey was made of the well established camp in Nelligen used by the men who built the Braidwood to Batemans Bay Road Note: During 1988 a replica of the William IV was built at Newcastle. NSW, and sailed the route of the original as closely as was possible. It is now on show at Newcastle John Young, builder of the Sydney GPO and Captain Cook’s monument upgraded the tramline and built a new wharf when he took over the quarry lease in 1868. The so called “horse drawn tramway” was designed to handle 10- 12 ton blocks of granite - but was to be sorely tested in later times.
The smaller blocks or ‘billets’, were used in foundation work for Cook’s monument, and the larger used for columns in the first stage of Sydney GPO (1868-1874) and turned on an earlier version of the 1881 Abernethy stonemason’s lathe - now located in Moruya’s historical museum, Campbell St.
Reports from several Sydney newspapers provide hard evidence and credence to stories & facts in the “ chain of events” that then followed.
A journalist from Sydney’s historic “Empire” who visited the quarry in 1871, filed this report;
Louttit is the lessee of the quarry which is on twenty-five acres of land. The approach is about 300 yards from the water's edge and has evidently been formed at great expense, to enable the tramway to run smoothly. The quarry is well worth a visit, consisting, as it does, of a solid mass of the most durable and unrivalled stone in the country, a material believed by geologists and architects to be capable of lasting for thousands of years. The side of the hill towards the approach is cut away, and the three other sides are almost perpendicular walls of granite. Lying before us is a grand block recently taken out. From memory I should say the dimensions of this huge block were about fourteen by twelve by ten feet. I am informed that the weight of the block of the Captain Cook statue was twenty-eight tons, and each of the pillars in the Post Office about eighteen tons. The block at present on the ground, is of course many times larger than any of these. I should mention that the colour of this beautiful stone is relieved by a few stripes of veins of quartz which have a very pretty effect.
It’s obvious the section of granite seen by the Journalist in 1871 would have to be split into different sizes for transportation by sailing ship to Sydney “as were the GPO billets” – 10 or 12 tons ( 8 tons finished off lathe) and the giant block later used for the pedestal of Captain Cook’s statue, to 18 or 20 tons - with finished weight unknown.
Above: The Loutitt granite columns of the Sydney GPO
Above: the slabs of Cook's Monument
However, the reports have given a more accurate time of an accident we now know involved John Louttit .
A search of Sydney based web sites give assurance that the foundation work (with pedestal in place) were completed by the end of 1869, and initial quarrying of the monument’s components had started in 1868. A story written by Mrs Shirley Jurmann describes the scene;
The rock, weighing up to 20 tons, was too heavy for the tramway carriage and had to be rolled end over end to the waiting ship – taking six days and smashing the wooden track as it went. A support pole on the shear leg gave way during the loading operation aboard sailing ship, “Settlers Friend” - and the rock fell and crushed John. A doctor was called, but he was of the opinion that John could not possibly survive, and it would be cruel to even attempt to set his many broken bones. Joseph’s wife Margaret, refused to give up - putting him to bed and applying hot poultices. When the doctor returned 3 days later, he was amazed to find John still alive and later “pull himselph around”.
He was however, beset with rheumatism and Joseph would catch a shark, place it on corrugated iron in the hot sun till it rotted and it’s oil drained out. John would smear himselph with the oil – preferring relief from pain to the stench of oil and his shunning by friends.
John Louttit never married. He died 14-9-1901 and is buried in the Presbyterian section of Moruya cemetery.”
Next – Part 3. The perilous Journey of “Settlers Friend” and granite from Louttit’s quarry meets up with“Royalty.” Previous: The Forgotten History Of Louttit’s Quarry & Construction Of Captain Cook’s Monument. Part 1