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PORTHOLE on display at JBMM

AR Settree

The Settree family of ship and boat builders

The Settree family share five generations as shipwrights in NSW. Beginning in the early 1800s until the present, they have worked in various locations on the NSW cast and New Zealand. They are particularly well-known on the South Coast where they were based on Jervis Bay from 1930 onwards

Alfred William Morrow Settree I was born in 1820. He became a master shipbuilder and ran a successful shipbuilding business at Brisbane Water and other locations on the NSW North Coast. His son Alfred William Robert Settree worked under his father and became a shipbuilder. He moved to Kincumber NSW where in 1877 he had a son named Alfred William Morrow (Pop) Settree II. The three generations then moved together to Balmain, Sydney in 1886 and continued shipbuilding.

‘Pop’ Settree left home at the age of 15, and sailed around the world working as a cabin boy. After a year he found himself an apprenticeship in New Zealand, working for Lane and Brown Ltd., a shipbuilding and sawmilling company. He remained there for seven years before returning to Australia in c.1900. He then started his own shipbuilding company in Tomakin on the NSW South Coast but later moved to Murwillumbah in North Eastern NSW where he built and launched two wooden steam ships, the MIBBEN in 1903 and the BOOYONG in 1904 for service on the Tweed River. In 1904 he married moved back to New Zealand where he built ships with his old employer Ray Brown. Within a couple of years he moved back to Australia and set up another business in Laurieton NSW where he built two steamships, OUR ELSIE named after his daughter and the WILLIRIE in 1908.

In 1909 “Pop” Settree moved to Wollongong and built the steam tugboat DUMARESQ. Soon after they moved to Bawley Point on the NSW South Coast. In 1914 Alfred Raymond (Alf) Settree was born in Nowra, followed by another son Keith in 1919 in Wollongong. In 1917 the Settree family moved to Sussex Inlet where ‘Pop’ built a six bedroom home, which later became the Take-A-Rest Guest House. The family moved back to Wollongong in 1922.

In 1928 the Settrees met the Puglisi family, who would eventually become instrumental in the running of the fishing industry in Ulladulla and a regular customer of the Settrees for fishing boats.

In 1930 the Settrees settled in Huskisson, Jervis Bay and acquired the land on Field Street that had previously been used by the Dents to build their larger vessels. It was located on the shore of Currambene Creek as it entered the bay. The eldest son Alfred Raymond (Alf) then joined his father as an apprentice shipbuilder. The Settree’s arrival in Huskisson marked a new revitalisation of the shipbuilding industry in the region, which had been hit hard by the economic depression.

Soon after arriving in Huskisson the Settrees were commissioned to build the JOHN BOLTON for W.R. Carpenter, who ran a shipping company, shipping copra around the Pacific Islands. Carpenter was impressed by the workmanship and subsequently ordered the building of the DESIKOKO in 1934 the DURANBAH in 1936 than after World War II the KOMAWAI and MADANG in 1947. The Carpenter deal attracted other ship orders which cemented the Settrees reputation as master shipbuilders and provided employment for many in Huskisson.

During World War II, it became compulsory for many fishing vessels to be given to the military to help in the war efforts, but fishing vessels alone were not enough, so the Settrees received orders from the US Army to build for them a series of small vessels to assist them in their New Guinea campaigns. The boat building shelter at Huskisson got expanded to accommodate the building of larger vessels and the Settree’s invested in setting up a saw mill on Field Street.

In 1948 ‘Pop’ Settree handed the shipbuilding business to Alf, and he continued to run the business until 1977. ‘Pop’ Settree assisted Alf for a number of years and assisted his son in the construction of the snapper boat ANTOINETTE in 1952 for fisherman Rocco Musumeci. Over his career Alf Settree built over 30 fishing vessels, and although during his apprenticeship he was taught traditional techniques, Alf often used a combination of wartime techniques and his own unique style. Alf’s use of the ‘elliptical stern’ characteristic would become recognisable on the South Coast as a ‘Settree boat,’ and ANTOINETTE was built in this style.

Alf Settree’s son, John, continued the shipwright tradition, but since the demand for wooden boats diminished, due to cheaper and faster boat building methods such as fibreglass, John is mostly involved in boat repair.

Prepared from research and information by Jervis Bay Maritime Museum.