Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Rose Hill Packet

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Rose Hill Packet

Few ships in Sydney's history have had such a bad press as the Rose Hill Packet.

Late in 1789, naval officer William Bradley, first lieutenant in HMS Sirius of the First Fleet, noted in his diary:

Monday 5th of October, a vessel of 12 tons was launched which was the first built in this colony; her construction was that of the lighter and of an easy draught for the purpose of carrying stores and provisions to Rose Hill.

Even though the Packet was fitted out as a sailing ship, it was often referred to as the Lump, due to its barge-like shape. It was Judge Advocate David Collins who cast the first slur:

From the quantity of wood used in her construction she appeared to be a mere bed of timber and when launched, was named by the convict the 'Rose Hill Packet' and was generally known as 'the Lump'.

Indeed, thereafter, the ship was commonly referred to as the Lump.

The Packet was actually a hoy – a boat used in England in estuaries and coastal waters for carrying both cargo and passengers – and it was launched in response to the colony's need for more water transport along the Parramatta River. It was built by Robinson Reid, the ship's carpenter from HMS Supply, at the King's Slipway on Sydney Cove, at a time when the colony was relying on various ships' boats from First Fleet vessels. So the Packet provided a vital service.

The Packet, of 12 tonnes gross weight, was propelled by sail and oars or poles, and started its service to Parramatta for both freight and occasional passengers. While its main function was to move freight, it could, arguably, also be called Australia's first ferry, despite it often taking one week to make the return trip between Sydney Cove and Rose Hill.

It is also significant that the Packet was constructed at a time when, under the East India Company's monopoly, no vessel capable of trading with Asia or the South Seas could be built in the colony. Early governors were also anxious to prevent the possibility of convicts escaping, so in 1791 a regulation was introduced prohibiting the building of vessels more than 14 feet (4.3 metres) in length, although this regulation was later relaxed.

The unlovely Lump was soon joined by other, more agile, government vessels which, as the colony started to acquire a normal economic life, began operating a regular service, charging fares for passengers and freight like any other shipping line. By 1800, the Lump was no more.


Ferries of Sydney website, 'Rose Hill Packet', http://www.ferriesofsydney.com/rosehillpacket.html, viewed 19 February 2009

Australian Heritage Council website, Robert Lee, 'Linking a Nation: Australia's Transport and Communications 1788–1970', 2003, http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahc/publications/commission/books/linking-a-nation/chapter-2.html, viewed 19 February 2009