Modelling the Martha

Commemorating William Reid and Locating Coal on Awabakal Country

With her two masts fully rigged, the Martha, a small colonial-built schooner, tacked out of Port Jackson (Sydney), her sails catching the fresh breezes which would carry her northwards. It was July 1800, and the ship’s master William Reid, formerly Quartermaster of the First Fleet ship HMS Sirius, had been instructed to collect coal at the mouth of the newly named Hunters River (now Newcastle).

As the Martha plied close to shore, she passed golden beaches and dramatic headlands well known to the Awabakal people. For Reid, however, the waters were unfamiliar and unpredictable. He was scanning for an island known to the Awabakal as whibayganba (known to the colonists as Nobby’s Head) which marked the entrance to a large safe harbour.

After spotting a small island at the mouth of an inlet, Reid was certain he had found the river entrance. But he sailed the Martha into a saltwater lake, where he was led to the coal by members of the Awabakal people. Their ancestors had known the black rock which characterised their Country, for at least 11,000 years. Then, with the Martha fully loaded, Reid contentedly headed back south.

Reid had missed his intended destination but fortuitously stumbled upon coal deposits around the shores of the lake  Awaba, which the colonists began to call Reid’s Mistake, before it was renamed Lake Macquarie in 1826.

Reid’s voyage to locate coal at Newcastle was commemorated by local model maker Col Gibson, who built this scale model of the Martha in 2005.