The graves register at the Cornelian Bay Cemetery office in Hobart notes that he died 2 September 1928, and gives the precise location of his plot, down with the Methodists. I walked past the anonymous sward of the pauper’s block to get to it.
Joseph Hatch was once a mayor of Invercargill, and a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives. He was also a lock stock and barrel capitalist, a ruthless entrepreneur, and, at the height of his career at least, a wealthy man. I picked my way downhill, past the quiet rank and file of Hobart’s oldest and largest cemetery. Given the significance of Hatch’s life, I expected to find him properly squared away in death—a tall headstone at least, stone angels or a plinth perhaps. The reality was more grimly poetic. A concrete single, with marble chips and the odd eucalyptus nut fallen from a nearby tree. No angels, and not even a simple headstone. Nor had there ever been one. Hatch’s grave was nameless.
For this, blame perhaps the penguins. Blame people’s love for penguins. Blame people’s lies about penguins. Joseph Hatch drew big crowds to the town halls of his day. His reputation was always on the line, and a Hatch meeting invited its crowd to clap, or boo, or cheer. Hatch himself was a gifted speaker, precocious in his own defence and witheringly scornful of his enemies. His meetings were great entertainment, but perhaps the crowds were also drawn by the hypnotic purity of his vision, and by the glimpses he gave in speech and magic lantern slides of an emblematic island that gradually became such a masterpiece of horror. For Hatch embodied the Old Testament command for turning a wild planet to human uses: “And subdue it, and have dominion… over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Over a period of 30 years, and despite implacable difficulty, Hatch would render down over 3 million penguins.
Macquarie is a bleak island 750 miles south of Bluff across a stormy southern ocean. It is 21 miles long and up to 3 miles wide, but without any harbour, swept often by high winds, and pounded by dreadful seas. The island is also a great ark of strange life. Albatrosses skim the hills or sit solemnly amid tussock on their pudding bowl nests. Sea elephants lie in wallows along the shoreline. High overhead, a skua gull may drop a stolen egg and another skua swoop to snatch it in mid-air. Out from the beaches the grey heads of leopard seals swivel above the kelp, watching for prey. And surfing in by the thousand, on waves that bowl them right up onto the shingle, are the penguins.
Joseph Hatch first saw Macquarie Island in 1862 when he was 26. He was already a qualified chemist, but he’d just shipped out of Melbourne to settle in Invercargill and he was at a crossroads. That first vision of Macquarie would stay with him all his life. He saw, as he stated in a later lecture, “multitudes of penguins and sea elephants.”
The multitudes, right then, were way out of reach. Hatch opened a pharmacy in Invercargill, helped found the town’s chamber of commerce, drilled the town’s new fire brigade, served as Riverton’s postmaster from 1865-69, then on Invercargill’s athenaeum and liquor licensing committees. He became a councillor, and a champion of town gas, clean water, and trams, then in 1877 was elected mayor. This was the civic-minded Hatch, but there was also that incongruous open sack of bone dust on display outside his chemist shop, the barrels of fat in his soap factory, the thousands of rabbit and seal skins awaiting export in his sheds. This was Hatch the skinner and grinder of animals, the entrepreneur whose jerky leg and arm and head movements some found odd, and who, in his letters, would write more production in capitals, to emphasize that production was, in his own phrase, “the order of the day.”
He married a sea-captain’s daughter, and fathered seven children. One of his boys drowned, aged 14, at the Invercargill wharf. But amidst his ceaseless industry, and perhaps his grief, Hatch never forgot Macquarie. Beside the bone mill, the engineering works, the soap factory, the rabbit poisoning and sheep dip enterprises he developed his capacity to go to sea. In the early 1870s, he was sending his 17-ton schooner Nancy on 290 mile sealing voyages to the Auckland Islands, but she was too small for the southern ocean, and in 1873 Hatch bought the 45-ton Awarua. From 1875, New Zealand began to restrict the killing season for seals, then gave its Governor the power to declare closed seasons. Hatch was always loath to be told what to do, and though no prosecutions were entered, the Awarua became known around Invercargill in subsequent years as The Poacher.
In 1878, the Dunedin firm Elder and Co pioneered the sea elephant oiling industry on Macquarie. Elder’s gangs shot the big bulls and rendered down the blubber, but soon worked out the animals within an easy radius of the trypots. Oilers then shot more distant bulls, stripped blubber from the carcasses and carried chunks back across inland bogs and coastal boulders, their boots filled with blood from the dripping backpacks. The industry was hard: not just the diminishing bulls, but Macquarie’s hail and snow, and the vagaries of re-supply for the gangs. Storms, or even unfavourable winds, could slow a sailboat voyage by weeks. Elders pulled out in 1884, and it was Hatch’s opportunity to expand, but he was not yet ready. The Awarua was marginal for Macquarie voyages—less than half the size of the Elder’s schooner. And besides, Hatch was in election mode. That same year, aged 47, he was voted into Parliament as Invercargill’s Member of the House of Representatives.
Hatch was a diligent MP for Invercargill, and he also kept his businesses ticking. He’d prepared the Awarua for a sealing voyage in 1887 but New Zealand kept its seal fisheries closed that year, and the Awarua’s stated destination became the islands around Tasmania.
The Awarua left port on July 5, and the old salts at Bluff winked and nodded about Tasmania. London was paying 21 shillings per seal skin, an attractive price. It made poaching on New Zealand’s subantarctic islands a worthwhile risk—a negligible risk even, because all the islands were uninhabited. Indeed, the rattle of the Awarua’s anchor chain close to midnight on 9 July at Auckland Island would have gone unheard—except that, three months before, a storm had wrecked the barque Derry Castle and eight survivors were now sleeping in the castaway depot at Port Ross. They raised a hullabaloo of welcome.
That hullabaloo cost Hatch his political career. 1887 was election year, and Hatch was in the fishbowl of national politics. He’d already been publicly teased with a pub rumour that the Awarua had gone south to poach seals at the Auckland Islands, and he’d denied it. Then on September 22, just 4 days before the election, the Southland Times reported the arrival of the Awarua in Melbourne, with castaways from the Auckland Islands.
On September 24, 1,200 people crowded into Sloan’s Theatre, Invercargill, to hear Hatch’s explanation. He denied any plan to poach seals. Yes, as Awarua’s owner he’d told his skipper he’d previously left a whale boat at the Auckland Islands, but only to suggest that the uplifting of that boat would be a poor excuse for any visit. And indeed, he’d committed the small sin of suggesting the skipper purchase any skins that a passing cutter might want to unload, no questions asked. But as to any instruction to go sealing in New Zealand’s closed fisheries—absolutely not. Half the crowd at Sloan’s applauded the explanations of an innocent man. The other half booed and hissed the lies of a guilty one. Two days later Invercargill returned a more final judgement. Hatch lost his seat, and his energy turned south.
Hatch landed his first oiling gang on Macquarie Island in December 1887. The gangs hunted only sea elephant bulls, and tried to solve the location problem by herding the four-ton mammals from the western side of the island to within range of the eastern trypots. They failed, and in the year to October 1889, extracted just 10 tons of oil. The industry was uneconomic, but Hatch was a smart man. That same year the Norwegians had designed a 17-cubic-metre steam-pressure digestor for their whaling industry that could extract oil not just from blubber, but from meat and bone. Such a steamer could boil down blubber from whales or sea elephant bulls. But theoretically it could boil down also those smaller animals whose slimmer coat of blubber had not previously been worth the trouble of skinning and separating. The exact eureka moment is not recorded, but Hatch’s pioneering breakthrough was to match that digestor with the pullulating throngs he’d first glimpsed in 1862. Penguin oil.
New Zealand tried to annex Macquarie. No nation apparently had jurisdiction over the island, and sealers used voyages there as cover for illegal raids just a few hundred miles north-east, to New Zealand’s Campbell and Auckland Islands. The British Secretary of State confirmed that no nation had taken formal possession, and in December 1889, the New Zealand Government’s steamer Hinemoa prepared to board the surveyor-general, sail down, shake out the British flag, read the warrant, and fire the brass cannon. The Hinemoa’s manifest included two naturalists tasked to do a census of Macquarie’s sea elephants and penguins, a first step towards control of the oiling industry, but just days before the sailing, the Tasmanian Government examined its Letters Patent of 1880, and was surprised to find Macquarie listed as a Tasmanian dependency.
It was a let-off for Hatch. The Hinemoa dumped Macquarie as a port of call, but on January 9 sailed south anyway, bound for the subantarctic Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes and Bounty Islands. The naturalists Henry Travers and Tom Kirk were aboard, and two of New Zealand’s legal luminaries—Richard and Martin Chapman.
Martin Chapman had just formed the Chapman Tripp partnership, but this voyage was a holiday. Both he and his brother were gentlemen scholars, and Martin was also an accomplished musician. The Hinemoa had an up‑right piano in the saloon, and it’s probably accurate to picture Martin playing his favourite Handel as the ship lay at anchor in Perseverance Harbour. In the hills beyond, albatrosses dozed, down on the shoreline sea elephants slumbered, and King penguins stood motionless in the moult. No King penguin rookery existed on New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, but stragglers did come in and Richard Chapman noted, in a paper he wrote later for the New Zealand Institute, that King penguins were one of the species seen.
The Kings: the second largest penguins, their solemn demeanour, their beaks raised to the zenith and their trumpeting call, their child-like curiosity, their glossy black heads imprinted with curvaceous gold, their bodies smartly clad in black and white livery. The saloon discussions in the subantarctic’s long twilights must inevitably have turned to Hatch. The Hinemoa’s skipper, John Fairchild, gamekeeper for years to Invercargill’s number one poaching suspect, had once warned him: “Hatch, if I ever catch the Awarua, and I am not strong enough to take her, my instructions are to put a fire stick into her.” To those gathered in the saloon, Hatch had horns, and a month before the Hinemoa left Bluff, Fairchild knew, the Awarua had loaded a bright new boiler and digestor. It was bound for the big King penguin rookery at Macquarie’s Lusitania Bay. By now, barring accident, industrial-level killing of the Kings was under way.
The New Zealand Government continued to seek jurisdiction over Macquarie, and that year the Tasmanians seemed agreeable. Once back in Wellington therefore, Martin Chapman petitioned Parliament to stop Hatch. The petition asked that the destruction of marine birds be made illegal within New Zealand. This was the first shot of a campaign that would later resonate around the world, the petition heard in a quiet committee room, before Sir George Grey amongst others. John Fairchild gave evidence that Hatch would work out the birds in five years.
Blood spoiled the first casks of penguin oil brought back to Invercargill, and then a Customs official dipped a finger into the oil, and deemed it a foreign product, subject to duty of 6d a gallon. Hatch refused to pay. The Southland Times came out in support saying “…he is creating wealth by turning a variety of wild creatures into commodities serviceable to humanity and the moment he secures ever so small a return for his adventures, he is pounced upon, hampered and discouraged.” Hatch chafed under any Government restriction and his putdowns of opponents such as the Minister of Marine, Thomas Fergus, “whom I class as a marine animal of the department on account of his bulk” always generated hoots of southern laughter. The animosity between Hatch and the rest usually dissipated in such public taunts, or at worst a legal suit. But in 1890, just as the penguin oil trade began, the enmity between Hatch and his skipper, the 58-year-old Dutch-born Jacob Eckhoff, grew until it became lethal.
Eckhoff had floated the first five-ton digestor and boiler ashore at Lusitania Bay, and left three men to assemble and work it. Three months later, he sailed down again to put nine oilers ashore, also a woman cook, 4 tons of coal, and food for six months. On his return to Invercargill, Eckhoff told Hatch the Awarua was too small for the trade. Hatch agreed. He sold the schooner and sought out the 100-ton Gratitude in Sydney, but the elegant ketch cost more than he expected, and to boost his finances he hired an Australian skipper to make two trans-Tasman runs with cargoes of bonedust.
Eckhoff had believed himself under contract as skipper, and sued Hatch for loss of wages. He won the case, but then went on to raise concern about the oiling gang on Macquarie. While Hatch ran his trans-Tasman cargoes, and refitted the Gratitude, the September deadline for relieving the Macquarie oiling gang had passed. In early December Eckhoff gave a sworn statement to his Dunedin lawyer, John Fraser: the food he’d floated ashore in barrels would now be gone.
Hatch dismissed his former captain’s concerns. The island was a natural larder, he said, stocked with the native Macquarie cabbage, elephant seal tongues, penguin hearts and livers, albatross eggs, weka and rabbits. But the oilers’ families worried that their men might be starving, Fraser lobbied the Minister of Marine, and then the story broke in the press—Dunedin newspapers pressing for a rescue, and Southland’s putting the case against. An exasperated Hatch argued that he was due to despatch the Gratitude within two weeks anyway, and that the matter was payback from a dismissed servant who knew if any Government ship took his men, and not the oil, he’d have no-one to load it.
To no avail. On Christmas eve 1890, the 83-ton Government-chartered coastal steamer Kakanui pulled away from the old Invercargill wharf, bound for Macquarie. Eckhoff was aboard as mate. Hatch believed Eckhoff was on a mission to ensure all the oilers left the island, and according to the legend that grew around the event, Eckhoff yelled from the departing ship: “My God Hatch, I’ll make it hot for you.” And Hatch shot back: “Eckhoff, I’ll never have the pleasure of seeing you again after you leave this wharf. You might prove to be the Jonah on board.”
The little ship reached Lusitania Bay and a government man went ashore by whaleboat. He found the men well, but bedraggled and grateful for rescue. He duly delivered a letter from Hatch that implored the gang to stay with the oil and await the Gratitude, but when the Kakanui left Lusitania Bay just one and a half hours later, it took with it all but two of the gang. The headman, Henry Mellish and his wife stayed to guard the oil. Within 15 hours of the Kakanui’s departure the wind reached such a pitch that Mellish saw stones spiralling into the air around his hut. The Kakanui foundered, probably in that same storm, and the nineteen people aboard perished.
Oil tonnages climbed in the years to 1895. Hatch had installed five more digestors, and his gangs could now roam the length of Macquarie, extending what was previously a three-month season to six months.
The big sea elephant bulls came ashore to breed from October to November and their blubber was rendered down in digestors and try‑works at the south and north ends of the island. In November and December the fattest Kings—mostly 30 lb one-year-olds that outweighed their parents—came in from the sea at Lusitania, were driven into yards, clubbed, cleaned, and packed onto the racks of two digestors. The King penguin rookery was diminishing—from an original rookery of 70,000 it would fall to 5,000 birds—and to transfer production away from the declining Kings and extend the season, Hatch had personally supervised the setup of a new steaming plant amidst Royal penguin rookeries at the Nuggets.
The Royals were only half the weight of the Kings, but the vast numbers, and the birds’ breeding pattern, took the oiling season through to March. The fat one-year-olds started coming ashore in mid-January and the oilers drove them into wire netting yards, clubbed them, and packed them into the digestors. Then for six weeks from early February, older birds came out of the sea, fat for the moult. They trekked off the beach toward the rookeries, and the oilers narrowed the path with barrels, and stood at the gates knocking down the fattest birds. Working two digestors, and two shifts, the gang at the Nuggets could render down 2,000 Royals a day.
The sea elephant oil sold for lamp fuel and soft soap, the penguin oil for twine and rope manufacture. Figures quoted by Hatch for one of his Macquarie oiling seasons show an outlay of £2,730, and a return of £3,950—a 44 per cent profit before insurance payments.
Then in October 1898 high seas drove the Gratitude from its anchorage onto a shingle beach at the Nuggets. Although the crew survived, the ketch was a write-off. For a time, the oiling seasons became dependent on Hatch’s ability to charter suitable vessels. The work became more sporadic and on 22 November 1901, when the Discovery hove to off Lusitania Bay and Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his polar explorers piled ashore, there were no oilers on the island. Dr Edward “Bill” Wilson the 29-year-old doctor and zoologist, poked about the huts at Lusitania Bay. He studied the digestors, the several casks of oil still uncollected, and the big slagheaps of remnant penguin.
On his return to London in 1904, Wilson was a celebrity. He’d sledged with Scott and Shackleton to set a “furthest south” Antarctic record, and he was in heavy demand. He spoke to the London Zoological Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and he described vividly “the hunting of King penguins into red-hot cauldrons.”
The British countryside and field-sports magazine The Field picked up Wilson’s concern and in an article of April 8, 1905, called for a stop to “the shameful trade in penguin oil.” British M.P. the Hon. Walter Rothschild also took up the cause. Rothschild was rich and eccentric. Zebras pulled his carriage around his estate at Tring, and he was Britain’s biggest collector of bird species. When the International Ornithological Congress met in London June 1905, Rothschild asked the IOC to protest the slaughter.
That same year Hatch was negotiating a 7-year oiling lease with the Tasmanian Minister of Lands. He’d just bought the 93-ton schooner Jessie Niccol, and planned to bring in more and bigger digestors. He was outlaying significant capital and needed that 7-year security. Then the IOC’s letter arrived, and the minister asked Hatch to explain. Hatch wrote an acid letter to Rothschild soon after, telling him that—as Rothschild would later tell The Times newspaper—“he had been put to an infinity of trouble and expense, and had only got his renewal by convincing the Government that scientific ornithologists were ignorant of fact. That the truth was that, unless a number of penguins were slaughtered yearly, the birds would desert the island and disappear.”
By 1909, output at Hatch’s steaming works was higher than ever. The Royal rookeries at the Nuggets were now being worked by four digestors, including the latest and largest so-called “Big Ben” and the gangs could render down 3,500 birds a day. The two boilers were never cold, and the gangs shovelled another 500 birds daily into the fireboxes, to supplement the coal. During an average six-month stay, they were now producing over 100 tons of oil.
“Vicissitudes.” It is a good Victorian word, and one that Hatch would use to describe his unnerving swings of fortune. “The Macquarie Island Oil Industry,” he wrote, “…has been fraught from time to time with such vicissitudes, that many, even the most enterprising of men, would long ago have abandoned it.”
And as 1909 closed, and 1910 began, the vicissitudes arrived, not singly but in legions. In March the Jessie Niccol was driven back to New Zealand by storms without reaching the island. The schooner was slipped for repairs, but even after she was again seaworthy, the Marine Department insisted on crewing ratios Hatch could not meet. He had finally to pay costs for the Hinemoa to steam down and rescue his gang—another quick turnaround trip that did not load the season’s oil. On the gang’s return, the Federated Seamen’s Union duly paraded for the press yet more oilers in their blankets and rags, and penniless too, since payment depended on oil returned to New Zealand.
Hatch’s 7-year oiling licence still had two years to run, but the campaign to ensure no further licence would be granted started early. New Zealand Parliamentarians made sure the Tasmanians knew about Hatch’s shipping difficulties, while the Otago Institute, the Royal Society of Tasmania, and the Australian Ornithological Union and individual English ornithologists all wrote to the Tasmanian premier, alleging cruelty and anticipating extinctions.
Hatch was now 73 years old and not about to suffer fools. He answered the allegations in a letter of 10 September 1910, shaking off with an obvious impatience the pack now clinging to his flanks. He linked his parliamentary, Marine Department, and seamen’s union opponents into a single conspiracy, and dismissed them as malcontents. He addressed concerns about the birds, writing:
“…as far as the Rockhopper and King penguins are concerned we never touch them. Royal penguins we do and I am prepared to prove that since I have worked the Macquaries they have considerably increased and there may be now something like one hundred millions of them and probably very many more.” The letter was copied by the Premier’s office and sent out to the anti-Hatch lobbyists. Walter Rothschild replied to the Premier:
“Slaughter on a huge scale such as Messrs Hatch carry on must end in extermination … Further Messrs Hatch state that there are at present at least 100 millions of Royal Penguins on the islands. This is puerile nonsense; there are not 50 millions of all the 20 species of penguin on the earth’s surface…”
The Nuggets Royal penguin rookeries were later estimated to have contained 500,000 birds, and that at Hurd Point—which Hatch did not touch—620,000 birds.
But deadly weather knocked mere human antagonisms into a cocked hat. On December 20, 1910, big seas drove the Jessie Niccol onto rocks beside the Nuggets, and while the men onshore watched, the skipper, mate and cook drowned in a maelstrom of wreckage.
Hatch missed his yearly lease payment and the Tasmanian government terminated the seven-year contract a year early, in November 1911. When Hatch got notice to quit, his new schooner, the 87-ton Clyde, had just set sail for Macquarie. On 10 November she began discharging supplies for the next oiling season, including a motor boat and 15 tons of coal, but any debate about her right to do so was over-ridden on 13 November by Macquarie weather. A gale snapped two of the schooner’s anchor chains and blew her straight onto the North End beaches. With no licence to operate, and no support ship, the Macquarie Island oiling industry seemed finally defunct. But then—a jerky Frankenstein’s corpse stirring to life under the powerful voltage of Australian nationalism Hatch rose again.
Dr Douglas Mawson led out the Australian Antarctic Expedition from Hobart in 1911, and his first stop was Macquarie Island. Over two weeks to Christmas day 1911, he set up a radio relay station there between Australia and his planned Antarctic Base.
Hatch’s oilers, together with the crew of the Clyde, helped the Australians. They adapted their flying fox to get radio parts to the top of the hill, and when Mawson departed for the Antarctic leaving behind five AAE radio and survey men, the oilers shared food with the AAE party, and lent their motor boat to assist the survey.
In 1912, Hatch shifted his headquarters to Tasmania. He bought a quarter-acre of land at Montpelier Retreat, just above the wharves at Hobart, established an oil-refinery and warehouse there, and moved into the adjacent brick cottage. He bought a still-larger vessel, the 150-ton brigantine Rachel Cohen, to run mail and supplies for the AAE’s Macquarie team, and to service his own oiling gang. He had no oiling licence, but everyone turned a blind eye as the outbreak of war in 1914 buoyed the market for fats and oils. The business was on the rise again, but Hatch had few reserves, and in May 1915, he arranged to transfer all his assets and liabilities to a new company, the Southern Isles Exploitation Co. Hatch became its majority shareholder, and one of the other shareholders was the long-time Hatch supporter from Invercargill, ex-New Zealand Prime Minister and now deputy Prime Minister in the war cabinet Sir Joseph Ward. The company set out to expand its capital and increase production further. In August 1917, a team of nine oilers arrived on Macquarie, along with a new boiler, and two horses for haulage.
Mawson had helped Hatch buy the Rachel Cohen with a personal loan, but he was appalled by Hatch’s business. Mawson was a scientist to the bone. He was aloof, aristocratic, a hero who’d sledged through Antarctic wastes that killed two companions, and who read Shakespeare. And he’d beheld the blank indifference of a dark Antarctic sky, and the creaking ice, and the rolling ocean, and the inhuman howl of wind that made all the more precious the subantarctic species that homed upon the speck of land, Macquarie. That they came so far, endured so much, only to face death by rifleshot or club at the hands of a bunch of shaggy New Zealanders, offended him.
In 1916 Mawson suggested to the Australian Governor General that Macquarie should be a scientific reserve, but the Governor General’s subsequent lofty enquiries, forwarded from federal to state level, simply put Tasmania’s back up. Mawson left for a war posting in London but continued to lobby for a reserve at viceregal, federal and state level within Australia, and by encouraging scientists from Australian universities, and the prestigious London Zoological Society, to demand a change.
By the end of the 1914-18 world war, penguins had gained a place in the world’s affection. Polar explorers were the heroes of the age, and from successive expeditions the polar explorers brought back tales of penguins’ endearing oddities: their comic demeanour, their curiosity, their bravery, their habits of pecking the hulls of ice-bound ships and gathering to stare upwards as ice-bound explorers sang to them.
Herbert Ponting, the photographer and cinematographer on Scott’s fatal 1910-1912 expedition to the south pole did not actively campaign for the Macquarie penguins, but his film 90 Degrees South, captured the endearing penguins on-screen. He’d toured England with the film since 1914, and present at every showing—perhaps the first-ever example of film merchandising—was the velvet and plush soft toy Ponting had created, Ponko the Penguin. Almost unwittingly, Ponting had brought penguins into the popular culture
Then Apsley Cherry-Garrard set out to sway public opinion. Cherry was then still writing his great chronicle of Scott’s last expedition The Worst journey in the World, but had great credibility as the assistant zoologist who’d sledged in mid-winter darkness to the Emperor penguin colony at Cape Crozier in 1911, risking his life to bring back for British science a penguin’s egg. In The Times letters column of 18 February 1918 Cherry warned that subantarctic penguins were in danger, and the killing must be brought under Government control.
Cherry talked also to H.G. Wells, and Wells embedded his friend’s concerns in The Undying Fire, a modern-day parable published worldwide in early 1919. Based on the Old Testament’s Book of Job it listed such cruelties and misfortunes that might demolish all faith, updated now to the 20th century, and in that list the reader learned:
“…the king penguin draws near the end of its history. Let me tell you how its history is closing… These birds are being murdered wholesale for their oil. Parties of men land and club them upon their nests, from which the poor, silly things refuse to stir. The dead and stunned, the living and the dead together, are dragged away and thrust into iron crates to be boiled down for their oil.”
The Times had kept an eye the Macquarie events, running news accounts in 1910 and 1913. Then on April 1 1919 it ran an anonymous op-ed piece that quoted a February talk by Mawson to the London Zoological Society. It called for urgent protection of Macquarie wildlife. Cherry weighed in with another letter on 4 April 1919, suggesting that “The penguin has won a little bit of affection from all of us because he snaps his flippers at the worst conditions in the world. If we do not help him now we can never look him straight in the eyes again. Poor penguin, but poorer we!” And he followed up with a story in The Spectator’s 26 April edition, that demanded controls—”Otherwise the penguins will call us Huns, and we shall deserve every bit of it.”
Ponko had presumably given the youth of the nation a stake in penguin welfare too, for on June 23, even the British Children’s Newspaper weighed in with a plea to stop the killing.
Hobart was a tough town whose wealth was closely linked to the port. Hatch had supporters in the Tasmanian legislature, and lobbied constantly, but the state government was now under pressure from the Australian governor general, the federal government, scientific societies, prominent individuals led by the hero Mawson, H. G. Wells’ popular novel, and press campaigns that began in England and reverberated across the western world: it was perhaps the first-ever international campaign to preserve wildlife.
The Southern Isles Exploitation Company wanted now to get out of the Macquarie trade, and Hatch believed he had investors in Tasmania and Victoria who would take it over as a going concern. In May 1919, the company therefore put itself into receivership as a still-viable business, and awaited Hatch’s arrangements for a takeover.
And then came Frank. Australia’s most celebrated photographer, Frank Hurley had gone to the Antarctic with Mawson, sledged with Shackleton on his epic dash for Elephant Island, then reached the rank of captain as an official photographer with the Australian Imperial Forces in the 1914-18 world war. Now, as the debate on Hatch’s licence climaxed, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Hurley’s allegedly eye-witness account from a Macquarie visit with Mawson’s party in 1911.
“There is a sort of oil refinery, and it is right amongst the penguins. The birds are driven along the pens or runs and right up to the top of the digestor. Near the top of this boiler a man stands with a club, and as each bird reaches the top he hits it over the head and so knocks it into the boiler. Owing to the hardiness of most of the birds this blow only stuns them, and many go into the boiler alive.”
This story had been around for years: the penguins somehow herded up a plank to the top of the digestor, the man there with the club that rose and fell, the stunned birds falling alive into a seething soup. The story adequately encompassed the depth of disgust people felt. It therefore had a certain poetic truth, and had endured, but it was wrong in all its facts.
During the war Hurley had caused an uneasy stir by his habit of merging two negatives so that fallen soldiers at Passchendaele, as one example, might be bathed in radiant light. He’d manipulated negatives of the famous Shackleton saga too, and now he manipulated Macquarie. The Sydney Morning Herald’s columns filled with outraged letters, and overnight Hatch was forever fixed into the cartoon horror of Hurley’s creation—a black and heartless villain.
The man himself, perhaps failing to grasp how thoroughly he’d been undone already by Mawson and the other campaigners, saw Hurley’s lie as the source of all his trouble. He challenged the photographer to a public debate at the Sydney Town Hall, and Hurley accepted, then found he had appointments elsewhere. All the damage that could be done was by now done. Hatch learned the Tasmanian Minister of Lands would renew the licence for one more year—but only to enable removal of the plant, or to forfeit it to the Crown. The steaming works, the winches, the trolleys, the huts, the casks, the horses, and the whole intellectual property of the Macquarie Island oil industry were not worth a penny, and Hatch was ruined.
There was one last rising of the penguin oil flame—the 83 year-old Hatch as people’s hero. A crowd of 500 turned up for his meeting at the Hobart Town Hall on 18 November 1919. The trim, jerky figure on the platform, the old man who yet crackled with energy. The man who reasoned that people do not weep for the fish netted from the sea, so why be a weeper for penguins? Who compared his own clean kill to the cruelties inflicted in the course of mutton bird gathering, or the “slow and horrible” boiling in water of crayfish. And perhaps the crowd saw him as that most appealing of mixes, the man who’d been unjustly maligned, who’d fought against the odds, who could not win but somehow deserved to win. For Hatch showed his magic lantern slides, he cajoled, and before the meeting ended, he’d persuaded an audience enraptured by Macquarie’s magic to formally support the very man who would destroy it.
The Hobart mayor duly wrote to the Tasmanian premier with the meeting’s resolutions: It rejected the claim that Hatch’s men boiled penguins alive. It saw no reason why an important industry should be closed, and asked the state government to reconsider its stand on Macquarie.
On March 25, 1920, Hatch gave a similar lecture in the Burns Hall at Dunedin, and the reporter noted that during a two-hour 20 minute address he spoke sometimes “at such a rate as to be almost incoherent.” Cruelty was now the main issue, and Hatch “did not intend to go to his grave without clearing himself.”
He’d organised a sworn statement by 12 oilers who’d worked for him on Macquarie that the birds “were all killed the day before they went into the digestor by being knocked on the head and were put in when quite cold.” This meeting too passed formal motions of support for Hatch’s efforts to oppose the lies, and to secure the reopening of the trade.
With the collapse of the Southern Isles Exploitation Co, Hatch lost a whole city block at Invercargill, and in 1926 lost his Hobart property too. In October that year the Tasmanian Supreme Court authorised the compulsory sale of all Hatch’s lands goods and chattels, to recover a debt. Hatch’s son Jack paid off the debtor, and in doing so took ownership of the Montpelier Retreat oiling headquarters. The deal allowed Hatch to live on at the cottage, with a pension of £1.50 a week.
A Mercury reporter who visited Hatch around this time recalled the stone wall along the Montpelier Retreat frontage, the wrought iron gate, the steps up, and the knock on the door that brought forth “a bespectacled white-haired man, slightly stooped, but still with the look of the sea in his eyes.” The walls behind Hatch were hung with pictures of his sailing ships. Hatch’s daughter Violet nursed him at the end, and he died on September 2, 1928, aged 91. Violet and Jack then discovered he’d willed the Montpelier Retreat property to his daughter Ivy, forbidding her ever to sell it. Hatch’s iron will was active to the end, wanting to preserve the oil sheds, the stone store, and the cottage at his old headquarters, as if his own death was just one more vicissitude, and the industry itself would march ever onward—its entrepreneurial spirit unquenched, its plant and capital always ready, its supply of penguins stretching into the unending distance.
The terms of the will were invalid—Hatch no longer owned the Montpelier property, and could not dictate terms. A brief four-line notice in the Mercury of Tuesday September 4 announced the funeral would arrive at the Cornelian Bay Cemetery at 2.30 that afternoon. Obituaries appeared in the Mercury and the Southland and Dunedin papers the same day, and in the Southern Cross on September 8.
The feelings of Violet and Jack are not known, but Violet burned all Hatch’s papers soon after his death, and on December 5 1928 Jack Hatch sold the Montpelier Retreat property. He and Violet returned to New Zealand.