Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Robert Lorn Pattison

Steam Boat Captain

Robert Lorn Pattison - Steam boat Skipper

Robert Lorn Pattison was born at Preston Pans on 27th March 1807. He died in 1877 two years after being hit by a coal train in Blane street Newcastle. He was highly regarded for his bravery throughout the years.

His obituary published in the Australian Town and Country Journal, provides a detailed account of his life -

His father was an attorney of considerable reputation. Robert, who was from the first, of a strong constitution and high spirit, early shewed a liking for the sea, and entered the merchant service of his country.

In the year 1837 he came to Sydney as boatswain of the ship Strathalyn, with Captain Griffin. He then traded in these waters; and found his way into the trade, which was but then commencing; between this port and Newcastle About the year 1840 a company was formed for the purpose of carrying on steam communication between the Hunter River and Sydney. This company was called the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company.

Their first steamer, the Rose, was placed in charge of Mr. Pattison, who had in the meantime steadily advanced in his profession. The Rose was followed by two other steamers of the same company, the Thistle, and the Shamrock.

On October 15, 1844, Captain Pattison, the commander of the Rose, was caught in a terrific gale from the S.S.W., which veered round to the S.E. For nearly two days he was buffeting the storm at sea, and was given up for lost. Being unprovided for any such detention at sea, he had to burn all the available wood-work of the ship for firewood. At last to the wonder and joy of his friends here turned in safety to Newcastle.

He continued in this trade till 1849, when he married his first wife, Miss Jane Hill, at Sydney, and shortly afterwards sailed for San Francisco. Jane Pattison died aged 30 in San Francisco. Robert remained in business as an innkeeper for nine months, but having been bereaved of his wife, he sold out, took the command of a small topsail schooner called the Tom Tough, and returned to Sydney making the wonderful passage of twenty-nine and a half days. The gold discovery was at that time attracting thousands from all other pursuits to mining; and Captain Pattison was one of the many who 'struck oil' on the famed Bendigo.

Robert Lorn Pattison wearing a Cabbage Tree Hat is entitled 'The Steam Skipper' - National Library of Australia.

Robert Lorn Pattison - Steam boat SkipperIn 1853 he married his second wife, Miss Jane Bailey, the daughter of Maitland publican Samuel Bailey, afterwards returning to Newcastle where he held a publican's license for the Caledonia Hotel. But his yearning for the sea prevented his settling on the dull tame shore ; and in nine months he sold out, and took command of Mr. Edye Manning's steamer the Iron Prince, engaged in the Newcastle coal trade. From the Iron Prince he soon changed to the lately arrived steamer Ben Bolt, placed in the Hunter River trade in opposition to the existing company; but this venture was a failure. The Ben Bolt was seized for debt, and Captain Pattison was a heavy loser.

He lived in Sydney for a little while, and subsequently removed to Morpeth where he resided in a four-roomed cottage near the steamer wharf. And whilst he was at this place the Hunter River New Steam Navigation Company came into existence, and Captain Pattison was selected by the directors to take the charge of their pioneer steamer, the Paterson. He continued in charge of that vessel between Sydney and the Hunter River for three years, and then went into the steamer Dooribang, which - had just been brought out by Mr. Portus, and was employed in attending on the Government dredge at the port of Newcastle, This was Captain Pattison s last command. He left the Dooribang, after three months service.

He then lived for some time in Sydney ; then in Maitland; and thence he removed to Newcastle, where he resided for the remainder of his life. He was for seven years custodian of the Newcastle Court-house, and after that clerk of the Newcastle markets. Whilst in the last-named capacity he, on the 16th June, 1875, met with a serious accident, in consequence of being knocked down by the engine of the A. A. Company, at the Darby-street crossing. He remained infirm in consequence of that accident to the day of his death. He died at the age of 70 years, on 10th of October 1877. He left a widow and two grown-up sons. [1]

His courage in saving lives over many years was reported in newspapers throughout the colony. .........

Paddle Steamer Rose - John Oxley Library Queensland
Rose Paddle Steamer - State Library of Queensland

In the year 1826 he saved a lad from drowning, who fell into Leith Harbour.

He jumped over board and saved a lady in Leith, who fell from the gangway in leaving the steamboat.

He saved the life of Mr Samuel Bailey, of East Maitland, who was knocked overboard from the steamer Victoria by a heavy sea off Nobby's, and was guided to him by the seagulls hovering over him as he was floating in the water.

In 1842 he saved a man named Warter, who jumped over board from the Rose, steamboat, twenty two miles from Sydney.

In 1843, with others, saved ten hands from a schooner at sea. She was run over in a dense fog by the steamer Rose.

In 1842, he saved the life of Mr Pitt, of East Maitland, who fell from the gangway of the Rose, when leaving the wharf.

In 1843, saved the Rev. Mr Bolton from drowning, who also fell from the gangway.

In 1846, with others, saved the crew of the Paterson Packet, which capsized in a heavy thunderstorm off Broken Bay.

In 1853, the brig Dover went on shore on the Oyster Bank at Newcastle. The lifeboat went to her assistance, but got swamped. Pattison then swam through the surf with a line, and succeeded in getting all hands, including the lifeboat crew, on shore, with the exception of one man named Long Dick, who was drowned.

In 1854, saved the life of a man named Lanagan, who fell into the river from the Ben Bolt.

In 1858 saved the life of Mr O'Brien, who fell from the gangway of the Paterson steamboat

In 1837, a man named McDonald fell into the hold of the ship Strathilsa, then under fumigation for the destruction of rats. Pattison, no one else being willing to incur the risk, went into the hold with the intention of rescuing McDonald, and very nearly lost his own life, was insensible on getting out; McDonald was afterwards taken out dead.

In 1859 saved Mrs Sutcliffe, who fell from the Sophia Jane, at Morpeth She was five minutes in the water before being rescued [2]

Newcastle Harbour

- William Eckford
- Alexander Livingstone
- Charles Hughes
- Arnold Fisk
- George Jackson
- William Cromarty
- Beacher, Richard
- Harbour Lights
- Newcastle Life Boats
- Sea Grave Yard
- Stockton History and Links
- Port of Newcastle 1856

Notes and Links

1). Sarah Morris - from mother to convict to publican - By descendant Janelle Collins at Janelle's family tree addiction

2). In 1870 the Newcastle Chronicle reported a near fatal occurrence near Newcastle beach:

Narrow Escape from Drowning. - On Friday afternoon last, a boy named Hill, son of Mrs. Hill, of the Ballarat Boarding-house, Newcomen-street, narrowly escaped being drowned at the back of the Old Gaol. The boy, with two other juveniles, named respectively, Armond and Pattison, were bathing on the beach behind the Old Gaol, when suddenly a wave carried Hill out into deep water, and the boy not being able to swim, little Pattison, whose age is only ten years, but who is an excellent swimmer, courageously swam out to where Hill was and rescued him. Pattison is a son of Captain Pattison, the Court-house keeper. [3]


[1] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1919) Sat 20 Oct 1877 Page 17

[2] Brisbane Courier 18 October 1877

[3] Newcastle Chronicle 12 April 1870