Lizard Ashore

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Tue 5 Jul 2016 22:37
Lizard Island Ashore




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After settling at anchor and a stout breakfast, Bear launched Baby Beez for her first trip ashore since the skipper fitted her new wheels. Well, no sooner than I jumped out than the man had clipped the wheels down into amphibious mode and he near ran her up the beach. Very impressive sight.



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Trinkets under a tree and the National Park sign.


In 1939, Lizard Island and all of the islands in the group were declared a national park, administered by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. The island is also part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, administered jointly by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency. Permits are required for all manipulative research in the Lizard Island Group and the waters surrounding it. Technically we are on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, 1624 kilometres northwest of Brisbane and part of the Lizard Island Group that also includes Palfrey Island, all within Cook Shire.





Geology: Lizard Island is a granite island about 10 square kilometres in size, with three smaller islands nearby (Palfrey, South and Bird). Together these islands form the Lizard Island Group and their well-developed fringing reef encircles the ten metre deep Blue Lagoon.

Aboriginal: Lizard Island was known as Dyiigurra to the Dingiil Aboriginal people call the island Jiigurru.





European: The name Lizard Island was given to it by Captain Cook when he passed it on the 12th of August 1770. He commented, "The only land Animals we saw here were Lizards, and these seem'd to be pretty Plenty, which occasioned my naming the island Lizard Island." 

Cook climbed the peak on Lizard Island to chart a course out to sea through the maze of reefs which confronted him and the island's summit (394 metres) has since been called ‘Cook's Lookout’, our quest for tomorrow morning before we leave in the afternoon.

By the 1860’s the island was being used by sea cucumber fishermen who found that the waters contained substantial quantities of the creature which was a popular delicacy in Asia.





A sandy track leads to the ruin known as Watson’s Cottage. Bear watches a plane flying away.



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Robert Watson and George Fuller established a beche-de-mer fishing operation here in 1879, using South Sea Islander labourers and Chinese servants. Soon afterwards, Robert married Mary and brought her to the island to live in a modified cottage, abandoned by the crew of the Julia Percy. Her new home was surrounded by smokehouses, storehouses, a farm and a garden. They did not know that the island was sacred to the Dingaal Aboriginal people.

In October 1881, Captain Watson and his partner George Fuller sailed north to fish the sea cucumbers at Night Island, leaving Mary alone with the two Chinese servants and her baby son, Ferrier. After an uneventful month one of the servants went to the farm and was never seen again, although his pigtail (it is assumed) was found on the mainland months later, which suggests his ultimate fate. Mary recorded in her diary “Ah Leong killed by the blacks over at the farm. Ah Sam found his hat which is the only proof.”





Aborigines kept Mrs Watson and her remaining servant under surveillance and eventually ambushed the servant, spearing him twice before he escaped back into the house while Mrs Watson fired several shots at them. Badly wounded, the faithful servant helped Mary launch a beche-de-mer boiling tub in which, together with the baby and a few basics, they cast off to become a plaything of the trade winds. After grounding on a reef and later leaving an island because of the presence of blacks, they eventually lodged on Watson Island (named later in her honour), “Ah Sam and self very parched. Ferrier showing symptoms. No rain....... nearly dead with thirst.” They perished nine days after leaving Lizard Island.





Sketch by a sailor from HMS Conflict during the search for Mary Watson.


Their bodies were found three months later on an island in the Howick Group, along with Mrs Watson's diaries. One is about her last nine months on Lizard Island and the other is notes documenting her last days. Her diaries, the iron tub and paddles are preserved in the Brisbane Museum, they are a stirring memento to a brave and remarkably placid woman.

In retaliation to the attack, a punitive expedition was mounted, but the Aborigines they encountered were almost certainly the wrong group. Watson and Fuller abandoned their enterprise and Watsons Bay was never again permanently occupied. 



Mary Beatrice Watson 


Portrait of Mary Beatrice Watson.


Mary’s Legend: Immediately after Mary’s death, her legend as tragic heroine – “a beacon of light to guide the steps” of other pioneering women – began. The legend became linked with this ruin, overshadowing its earlier history.

In 1860, nineteen years before the Watsons arrived, the crew of the Julia Percy – eighty men, women and children, including many Chinese and South Sea Islanders – set up base in this bay for processing sandalwood, turtle shell and beche-de-mer. The bay “assumed the aspect of a small village from the number of grass houses that had been run up”. (MacGillivray, Julia Percy’s naturalist). After fifteen months of deaths, hardships and poor returns the crew abandoned the base. “A stone building, intended as a storehouse and manager’s residence, was left unfinished.”




Beez Neez and Hybresail sit quietly at anchor behind the stone ruin which is popularly believed to be Mary’s cottage but archaeological research has recently cast doubt over its origins. Its large size and stone construction appear to conflict with Mary’s description of her cottage – “thatch walls” and “three rooms” – in her diary entries.

If not her home, it is likely that the building was part of the Watson’s fishing operation. For now, Watsons Bay retains its secret and the ruins have been dealt severe blows with the passing of many a storm and the odd cyclone.

Mrs. Watson was only twenty one when she arrived at Lizard Island and is famed for her courage and endurance.


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We walked past the ruins and onto a boardwalk that crossed a mangrove patch. Looking left and right.



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Granite boulders somehow stand, some at impossible angles.



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An impressive creature mound on the beach, but not half as impressive as the racing snake that nary ran down the beach with Baby Beez. New wheels captain, I here you ask..... Very effective with the light, electric motor. The real test will be when we put the heavy Yamaha on. Ever the cautious one, well, I’m thrilled with them, even I can pull – but not up too steep an incline please...........and it’s a lot of fun going downhill.





                     WELL LAID OUT AND GREAT FUN