DEATH OF CAPTAIN CREER
A VETERAN SOUTH HEAD PILOT
A LINK WITH THE PAST
Captain Joseph Creer, one of Sydneys oldest pilots, died at his residence, Clifton, Watsons Bay, this morning. He had reached the ripe age of 85 years.
With the passing of the old shipmaster goes a link with the past pilot service of the Sydney Heads. He was born in the Isle of Man, and served his time in a little Manx brig, and became master of his first vessel when he was about 21 years of age. He came out to the colonies and joined the Adelaide pilots, and remained in the service for some years. A disagreement arose, however, and the captain severed his connection with the Adelaide pilots and went to sea again, subsequently joining the old Clarence and Richmond River Steamship Company, which has since been absorbed by the North Coast Company. For many years he commanded the steamer Clarence, and singularly enough, the three brothers Creer all met in the companys service. Harry Creer becoming superintendent of the company and Edward Creer became an engineer there at the same time.
The late Captain Joseph Creer left the Clarence and Richmond River Co. to join the Sydney pilots. That was in the seventies when competition between he pilots was very keen, and before the advent of the Government pilot service. They had then to go out to sea in whalers which carried trained and permanent crews of four, and some exciting races for ships were often witnessed. Perhaps half a dozen butcher boats would accompany three or four pilot boats and the sight of the crews racing seaward was watched with interest, but by very few, as the populace of Watsons Bay was then a very small one. There were then five pilots licensed by the old Marine Board, and these included Captains Cork, Coutts, Christison and Creer. Captain Charles Smith was the first master of pilots and he was succeeded by the late Captain Creer, and he held the position until his retirement some few years ago.
The memorable loss of the ship Centurion on North Head is recalled by the veteran pilots death. During a terrible south east gale, the pilot boat had to go out to the assistance of the Maneghan. Meanwhile the Centurion got into difficulties, and it was feared ship and crew would be lost on the headland. Captain Creer, in the old pilot steamer Captain Cook, put out, however, and in the thick of the storm the pilot steamers boats were lowered, and succeeded I taking off the whole of the Centurions crew as she was dashed to pieces and disappeared at North Head. The captain was presented with a gold watch and chain for his gallantry on that occasion.
It is said that although the pilots of Captain Creers early days were in competition and charged 8d per ton in and out, of which they retained 6d and gave the Government 2d, their earnings never exceeded 1000 pounds per year, and of this the whalers crews had to be paid and good oarsmen cost money then. One pilot had to remain at the signal station all night too, and another on the lightship. There was but broken communication between Watsons Bay and town then, and pilot boats often carried passengers backwards and forwards, as did the butchers boats too.
Mrs Creer predeceased the captain by some six months. The captain had been ailing for a long time, but had been in very low health during the past two years.
The Late Captain Creer
Many of the world's bravest men and women often perform heroic deeds that pass public recognition, owing to the obscurity and humble character of their services to humanity. It is after all only a little well deserved praise that is missing; not in a sense of hero-worship, however, bit in a sense of giving honour to whom honour is due.
The late Captain Joseph Creer, of the pilot steamer, stationed at Sydney Heads, was one of these, and I would like to lift the veil of obscurity, by a short reference, so that his work might be revealed, and his name justly remembered as that of one of the bravest seamen of Australia.
One had only to stand for a few hours on the bridge of the frail, old, wooden Captain Cook, on a wild night 15 miles off Sydney Heads in the thick of an easterly gale, to know what danger really meant, when the fury of the tempest was at its height, with blinding rain squalls and darkness, in the midst of all which, to launch a boat, with a pilot and two men, surrounded by overwhelming seas, and this often thrice in succession in a single night, the pilot sometimes being submerged out of sight clinging on to the last rung of the ships ladder.
The late commander, nevertheless, safely navigated his tiny, shell-like craft in the teeth of a gale that swept the coats for 40 years and more, and never lost a life.
When the strongest tug boats would not venture outside, and the Manly steamers had not crossed between the Heads for two days, the dauntless sailor was out with his vessel in the worst night of it, in response to the flash of the signal. Together with his coxswain, the late Henry de Fraser (the South Head signalman) guiding him from the land as to the whereabouts of the vessel in distress by means of leading lights, from the cliff above. He performed this heroic work far out at sea in the face of every peril; but this hazardous work was done mostly at night, the people of Sydney never had the opportunity of knowing what was taking place. In this manner the life long services of an heroic officer have passed comparatively unobserved and without fitting recognition. The rescue work, apart from the ordinary duties performed, were of an exceedingly dangerous character, and it required great skill in handling the little vessel, especially when alongside of a foundering ship, or when in close proximity to shallow reefs and hidden rocks. He has followed his faithful signalman by but a few hours, so soon indeed that one might say it was as though in response to the flash of his signal from the unseen heights beyond! An English sailor of the White Star liner Republic recently became a hero by a single action Commander Joseph Creer, of Sydney Heads, by his skilful seamanship, dashing bravery, and 40 years thrilling rescue work at sea, was a hero whose memory the port of Sydney should ever proudly cherish.