Lake Macquarie History

Captain Ernest Snowden Deed


Measuring depths was "a summer hobby".

Captain Deed was Harbour Master at Newcastle Harbour from 1926-1934, and produced the first chart of depth soundings for Lake Macquarie.

Research by Dulcie Hartley

photo: captain ernest snowden deed

Ernest Snowden Deed, son of Cannon Dr.John George Deed of Warwichkshire England, first went to sea in 1885 at the age of sixteen as an apprentice in the clipper ship, "Parramatta". The first voyage of the young apprentice was to Sydney, arriving on Christmas Day 1885 with general cargo, and returning to London ladened with wool.

Early Career

Deed served on the "Parramatta" for four years in the Australian wool trade, and at the expiration of his indentures sat for and passed his second mate's certificate of competency. Unable to secure an officer's berth in Britain, he sailed for Australia again as an able seaman in the steamship "New Guinea". It was in this vessel he made his first voyage to Newcastle, unaware of the role this port was to play in his future. Following the "New Guinea" he sailed in a number of other vessels to many parts of the world, including India, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, China and Japan, returning usually to London.

ln 1894 he was back in Newcastle as second mate of the "New Guinea", which had by then entered the Australian coastal trade, under the ownership of McIllwraith McEacharn Ltd. By July 1896 he was master of the "New Guinea", when he married Penelope Manague, daughter of a well known Victorian horse breeder.

Over the following years he commanded a number of vessels in McIllwraith's fleet, including "Cloncurry", 'Tagliaferro", "Federal" and "Norkoowa".

Newcastle Harbour

By July 1900 there was an acute shortage of pilots in Newcastle due to retirements, promotions, and transfers. The duties of the Marine Board, which had been disbanded at the end of 1899, had been taken over by the new Department of Navigation. Three new pilots were appointed in July - Ernest S. Deed, John McCorquadale, and William Beale.

There were now 10 pilots to service the crowded harbour of Newcastle, which was full of ships anchored, moored and tied up at berths. It was not long before the new pilot found how exacting the job of a pilot was when, while still under probation, the "S.S Hensburg" ran aground at the red beacon whilst under the charge of pilot Deed. This was followed by the grounding of the S.S."Planet Venus" off the ferry wharf in 1905.

Deed was involved in a major incident at 5.10am on 12 January 1906, when the British Barque "Itata" berthed at no. 8 crane, laden with a part cargo of highly inflammable nitrate of soda and coal stiffening, caught fire. Along with pilot McCorquadale, who was aboard the ship, Deed took immediate action to remove the vessel to an anchorage safely distant from other vessels. The fire spread rapidly and the masts, succumbing to the flames, fell over the side. The tugs "Victoria" and "Bungaree" took the stricken vessel in tow to a clear anchorage in shallow water in North Harbour, under instructions from pilot Deed. The dangerous situation was exacerbated while the "Itata" was under tow when the "Rio Lodge", with gunpowder aboard, entered the port and had to be redirected. The tug's crews, under the direction of the two pilots, carried out a splendid job given the intense heat and blazing conditions which had prevailed. The barque was completely destroyed, and the hulk was later towed to Sydney, where for many years she served as an explosives hulk in Middle Harbour.

Another major incident involving Deed occurred when the Norwegian four masted barque "Freden" arrived off Newcastle on the afternoon of 28 March 1909, from Natal, South Africa. Pilot Deed boarded the barque four miles off the entrance to the harbour. As no tugs were available, Captain Deed agreed to sail the ship in, picking up the tugs as he neared the Horseshoe. Considering the congestion of the harbour at the time, this was a very risky procedure, but all was accomplished safely.

On I July 1917 Ernest Snowden Deed was promoted to Senior Pilot and Second Assistant Harbour Master. He was promoted to Harbour Master of the Port of Newcastle, and held this post from 1929-34.

Mapping the Lake

photo: the camp, carey bay

In 1902 Captain Deed, then living in Newcastle, purchased a large waterfront allotment at Carey Bay, backing onto Excelsior Street. He built a large boatshed on the waterfront as a weekender. This became known as 'The Camp, where Deed kept an ex-naval cutter from "HMS Powerful". He converted this into to a 35 ft yawl rigged yacht, which he named the "Black Angel" (later the "Seabird"). It was from this vessel that he and his sons, Neville (then nine years) and Ernest (then seven years) took soundings of Lake Macquarie during their summer holidays - the boys swinging the leadline, while their father jotted down the depth measurements on a rough linen chart. The crew was later joined by a younger son, Alan. .

Commencing in 1907, the family set about to permanently record water depths of the lake, which was then sparsely populated and mostly bordered by dense bushland. This project was completed at a leisurely pace and within seven years Captain Deed had produced the first chart of Lake Macquarie. This was the standard of hydrography for many years, a real boon to fishermen and sailing enthusiasts.

As well as recording depths, Deed also named many unnamed points around the lake, which can be seen on his maps. Snake Point near Valentine was named when young Ernest stepped ashore disturbing a coiled snake, Marjory's Bay (now Chain Valley Bay) was named after Deed's daughter. The deepest point marked on those maps of long ago was off north-east Pulbah Island - a depth of 44 feet.

A seafaring family

Four of Deeds five sons became seafarers

  • Captain Ernest James Deed followed in his father's footsteps as Harbour Master of Newcastle. A son of Ernest James, Ernest Michael was a first class pilot with the Maritime Services Board who unfortunately met an untimely end, dying at age 40 years. This means there were actually 3 Captain Ernest Deeds in the family.
  • Another son - Neville Deed - was a ship's engineer with British-India Steam Navigation Company. He died in India in 1923
  • Captain Alan Deed was a ship's master of coastal vessels
  • Ronald Deed became Chief Officer on a coastal run vessel
  • Lennard Deed became an Air Force Pilot Officer

The Black Angel

photo: the black angel

The Deeds owned the "Black Angel"/ "Seabird" until World War II when it was seconded for use at Rathmines Air Base. When it was returned to the family it was found to be in very bad condition and was never sailed again. This historic cedar yawl, which was used for the first soundings of the Lake, was cut up and used for firewood in about 1950. The mast was spared, however, and became a flagpole at one of the family properties at Bolwarra.

Captain Ernest Snowden Deed died in 1943, aged 73 years.


Hartley, Dulcie [n.d.] Captain Ernest Snowden Deed, unpublished research.

1943 'Captain E. S. Deed', Catholic Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1942 - 1954), 16 September, p. 7. , viewed 10 Sep 2018,

1943 'Death Of Captain E. S. Deed', The Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 - 1954), 31 August, p. 2. , viewed 10 Sep 2018,

1934 'VALEDICTORY TO CAPTAIN E. S. DEED', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 8 September, p. 9. , viewed 10 Sep 2018,

1934 'NEWCASTLE NEWS.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 8 September, p. 18. , viewed 10 Sep 2018,

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