Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Seal Sightings

Sealers were the first non-Aboriginal residents around Victoria's south coast, arriving before Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the continent and long before Edward Henty and John Batman made their celebrated landfalls.

These hard men strung together a life on the offshore islands, beaches and rocky outcrops of an isolated and windswept land, trusting their salt-hardened toughness and the knowledge of Palewa women they had kidnapped from Tasmania's east coast.

Existence for these ex-pirates and castaways was made possible by the abundance of seals at breeding colonies along the coast and offshore islands. Perversely comforted by the ease with which the animals could be captured, sealers' camps persisted for as long as the seals lasted. When dwindling numbers of animals could not meet the appetite of the sealer's cast iron try pots, they moved to the next frontier populated with breeding mammals.

The colony of Victoria was created in the wake of the sealers' onslaught. Frederick McCoy reported the industry's effect on local seal populations:

'Colonel Champ also informs me that five-and-twenty years ago he used to see several of the islands between the Tasmanian and Victoria shores covered with numbers of the Fur-Seals, of which it is rare circumstances to see a single individual now in the localities where they were so common formerly.'

Australian Fur Seal, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, by Ludwig Becker.
'Seal Shooting in Bass's Straits', 4 May 1881.
Australian Fur Seal, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, by Ludwig Becker.