Merchant and ship owner

After his career as Constable, he became merchant and ship owner.

view of the town of windsor top

Taken from the Banks of the River Hawkesbury. Drawn and Engraved by P. Slager, Sydney. Dedicated to Mrs Macquarie, ca. 1777-1855.

In as early as July 1800 shipping records show Kable and two partners, boat builder James Underwood and the other Simeon Lord, as principal ship owners in the expanding commerce of acquiring and exporting sealskins to the colony.

The firm was involved in a wide range of speculations, including whaling, sealing, sandalwood and wholesale and retail trading, but Lord withdrew in 1808, Underwood split from Kable in 1809 and the firm dissolved in a welter of law suits not finally settled until 1819.

A quote from “Australian Dictionary of Biography” is (for the whole story click here):

Henry Kable had a substantial landholding as a kind of ‘sheet anchor’. He had been granted farms at Petersham Hill in 1794 and 1795, and in the latter year bought out four near-by grantees within a week of their grants being signed. In 1807 he owned at least four farms of about 170 acres (69 ha); in 1809 in addition he held five farms at the Hawkesbury and 300 acres (121 ha) at the Cowpastures, with a variety of real estate in Sydney itself including his comfortable house and extensive stores. He also had 40 horned cattle, 9 horses and 40 pigs. His business reputation seems to have been dubious, for he was regarded with distrust by Governor King and with active hostility by Governor William Bligh who had them imprisoned for a month and fined each £100. The gaoling of Kable, Lord and Underwood by Bligh was really because Bligh considered their letter impertinent. He later accused them also of fraud but that was not why they were gaoled.

For a more detailed version why they were gaoled, see below (out “Damned Rascals” and Julia Kable’s notes).

It is certain that Kable played no part in public life comparable with Lord’s multifarious activities. His commercial career in Sydney seems to have ended soon after Lord & Co. broke up, for as early as February 1810 he announced that his son Henry had taken over the entire management of his Sydney affairs.


Why they were gaoled.

During the time of Governor Bligh, many ships sailed overloaded, with disastrous results, particularly as a result of an order against vessels going alongside each other in port, which meant the transshipment of cargo by boat.  In 1807, Lord, Kable and Underwood applied to the Governor for the waiving of this order in respect of the vessel Snow Commerce or Commerce, 225 tons, Captain James Bernie, manned by a crew of 22 men, and armed with guns.  As the ship was in a leaky condition, it was proposed to transship her cargo to another vessel, the Sydney Cove.

 However, “the Governor wanted the transshipment done in his way, the merchants their way, and let it be understood, the Lords, the Kables, and the Underwoods were powerful people in the little community by the Tank Stream”.

 After the Governor’s rejection of their application, they wrote the following letter to him.  It does not sound disrespectful to modern ears, and perhaps not to most people of the day during which it was written:

Transcript of letter above (Damned Rascals Plate E 27):

“We beg leave to represent to Your Excellency that we this morning received an intimation from the naval officer’s clerk informing us that you would not permit any vessel to go alongside another in the Cove, and that the Commerce must discharge her cargo by boats, and that some persons must be on board to see her discharged; the orphan and wharfinger fees to be paid.

 It having been this day agreed between Captain Birnie and ourselves, that the cargo of the Commerce should be removed into the Sydney Cove, in consequence of Captain Birnie’s statement of the bad condition of the former vessel, and having obtained permission from the Naval Office to ship on board the Sydney Cove for London a quantity of oils, skins, and wool from the Commerce, the quantity to be reported to make out the regular manifest, we take the liberty of submitting to your Excellency’s consideration the great loss and inconvenience we will sustain  if the two vessels are not permitted to be hauled alongside each other, and if we are obliged to unload the Commerce by boats, it will not only be a great expense to us, but will be the means of exposing the cargo to much damage, the casks being of a larger size than any boats we can conveniently carry.

 It has always been the custom on London River, when an officer from the Custom House is on board a vessel to allow the owner of her to unload her in the most convenient and least expensive method to himself, and we, therefore, trust that you will not put us to so much expense and risk in removing the cargo by boats.  With respect to the fees, they have been paid once.  If they are exacted a second time, we must pay it, and inquire into the right of demand hereafter; but as the master of the Commerce has given us to understand that the cargo is in a damaged state, and the delay in removing will be of considerable injury to it, we request your Excellency will take the trouble to signify to us your pleasure whether the Commerce shall be hauled alongside the Sydney Cove or not, and also to order that some person may attend to see the cargo delivered from one vessel to the other, under any regulation your Excellency may direct.

 We beg leave to mention to your Excellency that we want a few tons of oil for our consumption here, and will be much obliged if permission is granted for such casks to be landed as we may require on the usual entry.”

To quote from an historical article on the story – “One would have thought that this was a most reasonable request, and one that Bligh should have had no reasonable objection to complying with.

 Not so.  Bligh used the occasion to reveal some of his most objectionable tendencies.  His reply was in the form of a summons for Simeon Lord to appear before the Magistrate’s Court.  The Press report was as follows:



Transcript of the public notice (Damned Rascals Plate E 28):

On Tuesday a Bench of Magistrates was convened for the purpose of receiving under consideration a Letter on the evening before addressed to HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR by Messrs. Lord, Kable, and Underwood, which was couched in improper terms, and highly derogatory to His Excellency’s high Rank and Authority. The Bench, after a long deliberation, thought it proper to pass a censure on the same; and to order that the subscribing parties should be imprisoned one calender month, and each pay a fine of 100£ to the KING.

Richard Atkins was the Judge Advocate who represented the law on this occasion, and his order for the confinement of Messrs. Lord and company read as follows:-

             ‘To Daniel McKay.

            Receive into your custody Messrs. Lord, Kable and

            Underwood, committed by a Bench of Magistrates for one

            calendar month, for which this shall be your authority. –

            Richard Atkins, Judge Advocate, August 11, 1807.’

 It was the new gaol where Henry Kable and his compatriots spent their month.  According to “Old Chum”, “That little gaol was described at one time as a ‘Hell upon Earth’ …… When Simeon Lord, Henry Kable and J. Underwood were doing their month Daniel McKay was gaoler; he was followed by Daniel Cubitt….”

 How Lord, Kable and Underwood could have spent one month in prison (presumably from 11 August) is a mystery for, in the Sydney Gazette of 30 August, James Underwood announces that he is leaving the Colony, with the Governor’s permission, and that all claims against him should be submitted to Henry Kable who was to be his sole agent during his absence.

 Bligh’s animosity towards the emancipists and his belief that nothing could redeem them from their past is expressed in a diatribe (otherwise, dispatch) from him to the Right Hon William Windham, dated 31 October 1807, in which he said, inter alia, “By the leading People of this Class, whose names are Lord, Kable and Underwood, several Masters of Ships have been ruined, the Merchants at home defrauded to a serious amount, and the mercantile interest almost destroyed. With constant litigation and infamous prosecutions in the Courts they have been accustomed to be gratified” (HRA Series I, Vol VI, p 149). It is gratifying to know that Bligh saw Kable as one of the leading people of the vast majority of the population.

 Less than six months after the gaoling of Lord, Kable and Underwood, on 26 January 1808, Colonel Johnston marched troops on Government House and placed Governor Bligh under arrest at the requisition of the principal inhabitants of Sydney. These included such well known persons as John McArthur, John Blaxland, James Mileham, Simeon Lord, Gregory Blaxland, Darcy Wentworth and Nicholas Bayly. Bligh claimed that Henry Kable was one of those with the troops (HRA Series I, Vol VI, p 432).  Bligh subsequently reported that Lord, Kable and Underwood, by donating £500, were the leading subscribers towards the expenses of John McArthur’s voyage to England to put the case of those opposed to Bligh. Of the list of subscribers, he said “Lord, Kable and Underwood, together with the nine last named Persons …… are of low character and came out as Convicts. …… Lord, Kable and Underwood are partners in trade; but Underwood at this time was on his passage to England” (HRA Series I, Vol VI, p 531). Clearly, to Bligh, once a convict, nothing could persuade him that such a person was competent and able to make fair judgements.