Broken Bay First Encounters

Jacob Nagle’s Account


“Jacob Nagle his book A.D. 19 May 1829, Canton. Stark County Ohio” 
1775-1802, compiled 1829, by Jacob Nagle,

Source:  Jacob Nagle Journal (Safe 1/156) Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW


Jacob Nagle was a common seaman visited by uncommon experience. If it wasn't for the journal he wrote late in life we would know nothing about him or his place in the founding of the colony of New South Wales in 1788.  In contrast to the case for Phillip, Hunter and Bradley, officers and gentlemen, there was no official reason that required Nagle to put down in words his experiences of a life at sea. So, his was, after all, an exceptional life - and a fascinating story.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1761, Jacob Nagle fought under Washington in the American War of Independence; was captured at sea; was imprisoned in the West Indies, first by the British then by the French; joined up with the Royal Navy; sailed as Able Seaman with the First Fleet to Botany Bay on board the HMS Sirius; spent time as sailor in the East Indies and India; married in England; served with Admiral Nelson in the Napoleonic wars;  lived for  ten years in Brazil; and returned to his birth place America, where he died in Ohio, in 1841.

Nagle’s journal was written four decades after his sailing with the First Fleet to Australia’s east coast and so presents only a brief account of those events. In the early days of the colony, Nagle appears to have been a member of Governor Phillip’s small-boat crew and was on duty at many of the key events including the exploration of Broken Bay and its tributaries. In its outlook (that of an ordinary sailor) and its eye for quirky detail, Nagle’s journal adds to official accounts of the period.  Here for example is a snippet of what he had to say about the first explorations of Port Jackson and the finding of the Tank Stream which led Phillip to change the site for settlement from Botany Bay to Sydney Cove:

at length we got as far as where the town is now Call'd Sidney Cove & landed at the West Side of the Cove along Shore was all Bushes but a Small distance at the head of the Cove was level & large trees & no Underwood worth mentioning & a Run of fresh Water Runing down into the Center of the Cove the Govener & Officers & Seamen Went up to a aleet[?] it. I Remained in the Boat being boatkeeper I hove my line over being 4 or 5 fathom Water Along Side of the Rocks & I ketched a large Black Brim & hove it into the Stern Sheets of the Boat the govener Came down determined to Settle here & Observed the fish I had hall'd in & asked Who had Caught that fish I informed him that I had Recellect he said that you are the first white man that ever caught a fish in Sidney Cove

Nagle's hand-written journal was acquired by the State Library of New South Wales in 1995. The following images of the pages that deal with the exploration of Broken Bay are accompanied by typed transcripts prepared for clarity of interpretation. Other than that, and this introduction, the journal extracts are presented alone without additional interpretative lenses.

Now, in the 21st century, the geographical and historical interpretation of such journal accounts requires that we engage in careful detective work based on a reading of all relevant documents from the period and on the study of the evidence from the current natural and human landscape. A good starting point for students and teachers planning a history excursion to the area is the modern day interpretation offered by Alan  Nash (1990) in Phillip's Exploration of the Hawkesbury River in Chapter 2, (pages 11-30) of  "Hawkesbury River History: Governor Phillip Exploration and Early Settlement" edited by Jocelyn Powell and Loraine Banks, Southward Press, Marrickville, NSW.


We thank the State Library of NSW for permission given to include on this website the following extracts - images and transcripts - from the Nagle Journal. In March 2010, the Mitchell Library - part of the State Library - celebrates 100 years of service to people and  nation.

Extracts from Jacob Nagle's Journal

Source: “Jacob Nagle his book A.D. 19 May 1829, Canton. Stark County Ohio” 1775-1802, compiled 1829, by Jacob Nagle

 Jacob Nagle Journal (Safe 1/156) Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW



Front Page [a366247]


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Jacob Nagle his Book
A.D. One Thousand Eight
Hundred and Twenty Nine. 19. Canton. Mark County

I was Born in the Town of Reading Berks County Pennsylvania State N. America in the Year of Our Lord One thousand Seven Hundred & Sixty one. At Four in the morning on the 15th of September & the Lord has preserved me to this Day Friday May 29th - 1829.

Page 88 [a366088]


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or what ever might be wanting for building when we Ware not Otherwise employed with the Govener we had to tow the lighter up & down the harbour & load her with timber the govener had an Other Boat built pulled 16 Oars With Shoulder of Mutton Sails to go a Survaying we Went in hur to Survay Broken bay which Was Call'd About 16 Miles by water in this Boat we Carried 16 Men & Coxson & Room for 8 or 10 Sitters we had two 6 Oard Cutters with us we Survay'd the beaches took the distinces and the Soundings in both Branches & purticularly where the bar lies Across from the Island to the Main in the SW branch we landed on a Small Island with lofty trees & no UnderWood but like a grass plat & it was so Numerous with Small birds we Call Parrekeets that we Could Scarcely hear One or the Other talk & we Saw very large Fox bats in this branch a Conviderable Way up from the heads on the SE Side we found Shelves of rocks Over Each Other in a Small Cove of a Conviderable hight they ware three of them Each about 12 feet in hight from each Other beside the Rock on the Surface of the ground on tip & a Strong Run of Water decending from One Shelf to the Other & so on till it Came down to the Salt Water and on Every Shelf it was entierly flat & by the Constant Run of the Water the Rocks was Wore
Page 89 [a366089]


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Away in the form of a Bason & as that Remain'd full it Run off to the Other I Suppose it to be About 60 feet from the Water up to the top where it is a level ground & at the Bottom is an Iron Mineral In the NW Branch we landed on the West Side of the harbour where the River Call'd Hoksburry River enters into the bay here We dined & first Shot the Sein & ketched the largess Mullet I ever Saw at this place the govener pass'd his jokes with Dr White Making Youse of those Mullet the Dr Said he was Amasing fond of them the Govener Allow'd he was as he said he had eat Six of them & he Allow'd that the least of them Weighed Three Pounds & by that the Whole Must Weigh Eighteen Pounds Which Accasioned a great deal of Sport Amongst the Rest of the Officers & likewise the Men it was Observed in the flods that Came down this River that their was large timber laying in the Crutcher & forks of the large Trees about 36 feet from the Surface of the ground which Would be Dangerous to settle on the low grounds Upon the Account of these flods we Ware about 10 days Survaying this harbour & then Returned to Port Jackson we likewise Survayed Botnay Bay until we Could go to higher with the boats in the Small River which was about a Mile from the head of the Bay we Saw a great Number of diferent