Thomas Raine’s Whaling Station

Thomas Raine (1793-1860), mariner and merchant, was born on 21 June 1793. He was educated at Westminster School and joined the merchant marine; when he sailed for Australia in 1814 as a junior officer in the convict transport Surry, an epidemic of typhus left him the only surviving officer. As acting master he sailed the ship to China for a homeward cargo and on the way examined part of the Great Barrier Reef, Raine Passage and Raine Island being named after him.

Confirmed as captain, Raine made five more voyages to Australia in the Surry between 1816 and 1823, four with convicts; his humane treatment of them earned him the commendation of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Between voyages he engaged in a variety of mercantile enterprises, establishing the first shore whaling station on the Australian mainland at Twofold Bay in 1818 and speculating in shipping elephant-seal oil from Macquarie Island to London. On a return voyage from Chile in 1821 he took onboard three survivors of the Essex, which had been sunk by a whale in mid-ocean.

In 1822 Raine founded, in partnership with a ship’s surgeon, David Ramsay, the Sydney firm of Raine & Ramsay, general merchants, shipowners and agents. He continued to act as captain of the Surry until 1827 and Raine became increasingly involved in the colony’s affairs. He was a director of the Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land Packet Co., and a prominent supporter of Sydney’s benevolent and sporting institutions. He extended his business interests to include the timber trade, pork and coconut oil from Otaheite, sugar, spices and rum from Mauritius and the East, and flax and ships’ spars from the establishment he formed at Hokianga, in the north-west of New Zealand, in 1828, the year after he had sent a trial shipment of Australian cedar to England. To finance these and other enterprises Raine & Ramsay were largely dependent on bills drawn on the Bank of New South Wales, on inadequate security according to a board of inquiry in May 1826, when they were the bank’s largest debtors. This criticism was followed by Raine’s resignation from the board of directors, to which he had been elected in December 1824. During the next eighteen months the intensifying general depression and the bank’s restriction of credit increased the firm’s difficulties, and in October 1828 the partnership with Ramsay was dissolved. In December Raine, who had been elected a director of the bank again in January, was one of those chosen by lot to retire and he did not seek re-election; early in the New Year he was bankrupt. However, in March an arrangement with his creditors was soon followed by his resumption of business at the New Zealand establishment, where in due course he built three trading vessels which helped to restore his fortunes.

While the combination of ship’s captain and merchant adventurer was not uncommon in early Sydney, Raine stood out among his colleagues for his imagination in visualizing the commercial possibilities of new localities, products and trade routes and his technical ability to exploit them.

In 1883 his grandson Thomas co-founded the company ‘Raine and Horne’.

Courtesy: Australian Dictionary of Biography