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- June 2019 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A Hazardous Life, by R. K. Forsyth and I. K. Forsyth, charts the stormy life and times of Western Australia’s first Harbour Master. Paperback, 270 pages with many illustrations including original artwork. Published by Maritime Heritage Association Inc., Fremantle, WA. Available from the publisher at $29.00 plus postage.
A new biography of George Forsyth, appointed in 1879 as the inaugural head of the Colony of Western Australia’s Department of Harbour and Light, reveals a man who tirelessly fought the colony’s ruling elite for safer harbours and better conditions for mariners.
Written by his great grandsons Ron and Ian Forsyth, A Hazardous Life is the culmination of years of research by the brothers. The book is published in partnership with the Maritime Heritage Association (MHA), an organisation dedicated to preserving and promoting the maritime heritage of Western Australia.
George Forsyth arrived in Western Australia from the United Kingdom in the early 1860s to find the port of Fremantle – a critical maritime hub for the colony – woefully unfit to meet the demands of growing maritime activity.
In his position at the Department of Harbour and Light (a predecessor of the Fremantle Port Authority) he was responsible for all ports in the colony.
Forsyth was eventually dismissed under a cloud of controversy, but not before he had risked his life on many occasions and suffered injury and assault. Ultimately, he was instrumental in saving the lives of many people caught up in shipwrecks and other dangerous incidents at sea.
Resilient and defiant, he went on to become a sea captain, plying the treacherous waters along Western Australia’s coast.
Forsyth’s working life unfolded against a backdrop of dramatic change in Western Australia: the opening up of the colony, the end of the convict era, the quest for responsible government and the start of the Gold Rush.
This book provides many fresh insights into the colony’s colourful maritime heritage and its evolving political and social dynamics. It also contains 16 of Forsyth’s artworks, many of which have not been seen before in public.
The authors said that what began as a family history project has grown into something much greater, given the intersections of George Forsyth’s life and his often contentious relationship with early rulers and members of the so-called ‘six hungry families’ who were influential in political, judicial and commercial spheres of the colony.
‘It transpired from our research of original documents that George led a dramatic life in unique and interesting times,’ says Ian Forsyth.
‘We also discovered that little has been written of much of that history, particularly of the Harbour Master’s service, which was so critical in the development of the colony.
‘We are delighted that the MHA has supported us in publishing that story for posterity.’
To purchase or enquire about the book go to www. martimeheritage.org.au or https: //a-hazardous-life.com/.