IMAGINE the back-breaking labour pulling rowboat oars all day to carry paying passengers across Newcastle Harbour in all sorts of weather.
But almost 140 years ago, this was the harsh reality of daily foreshore life for a hardy few, once tagged watermen, who plied their now forgotten trade to earn a crust.
Long before steam ferries, these tough, resourceful rowers alone propelled their sleek wooden "water taxis" to meet a public transport need in the dying days of tall sail ships.
By muscle power alone, these men worked rain, hail or shine hauling paying customers across often choppy waters, fighting outgoing tides, mostly under a brutal sun to the monotonous creaking of rowlocks mixed with the pungent smells of a port city wafting about - like salt, coal tar, woodsmoke and the aroma of a horse-drawn vehicle era.
By muscle power alone, these men worked rain, hail or shine hauling paying customers across often choppy water.
One such waterman was H. John Limeburner. Little wonder he worked hard for possibly 12 years before scraping together enough funds to run a small steam launch instead.
History tells us a Henry Limeburner once started a water service, a penny (one cent) ferry from Newcastle waterfront to the Dyke End (near the entrance to the present Basin) with his rowboat.
This was presumed to be in 1894, but the publication Knaggs Almanac first recorded it in existence in 1882. And it wasn't Henry, the original family patriarch, who was responsible as he died in 1880. It was actually one of his sons who founded the historic rowboat service.
Son Henry John Limeburner began his initial ferry service from a wharf near Wolfe Street to the Dyke End using 22ft skiffs. This service later extended from the Dyke End to North Stockton.
John Limeburner had swiftly seized a business opportunity, a gap in the market, for cheap and convenient public transport. In 1885, 15 small mooring dolphins were being built at the upper end of The Dyke, a long, low tidal island that was gradually reclaimed for coal loading wharves in the second half of the 19th century.
Even back then, the work was fuelled by a growing coal demand as the steam age gathered pace. About 21 years earlier, in 1864, it was not uncommon to have more than 40 square-rigged vessels in port as well as coasters and emerging steamships, all awaiting coal cargoes.
Then on one day in January 1879, 17 ships were suddenly berthed at The Dyke, on the Hunter River side of Onebygamba/Bullock Island - later Carrington. (The now defunct State Dockyard operated at the Newcastle end of The Dyke from 1942-1987.)
In July 1897, John Limeburner then bought the launch "Trilby" for his Dyke End service. His first driver was Tom Walters, who later began Stockton Ferries Pty Ltd.
Of course, John Limeburner wasn't the first to pioneer a harbour ferry service. Credit for that goes to Captain Hugh Boyce who started a rowboat business between Stockton and Newcastle in 1853. The first three licences were issued to ferrymen in 1855.
Boyce then began operating a steam ferry to Stockton from 1869, charging six pence one-way, followed by a Captain Dalton, who steamed to the Dyke End instead, from 1872.
But the Limeburner family may be unique in harbour circles, maintaining a strong maritime port link for about a century.
One prominent descendant was Captain Don Limeburner, who until his retirement about 1980, knew the way between Stockton and Newcastle really well.
That's because the jovial Don, then 65 years, was skipper of the Stockton wooden motor passenger ferry for just over 37 years, having made the return trip to Newcastle's seaside suburb at least 250,000 times.
It was a peaceful career, a swell job.
It was a tradition that began with his grandfather operating Dyke Ferry services, he once told The Herald.
A friend of his even estimated his brief daily voyages meant he'd travelled a distance equal to going to England and back a couple of times.
Captain Limeburner said that crossing the harbour 60 times a day could get a bit boring "but you adapt to it".
He said that over the years he'd met a lot of nice people and in that time had only lost one passenger - a very old and ill lady who jumped off the back of the ferry one night.
One person who extensively researched the Limeburner family was Maree Schache, of Stockton. Being Don Limeburner's daughter, she realised the need to record and preserve her family's unusual port connection.
Speaking to Newcastle Sun reporter Laurie Barber in 1976, she revealed the historic Limeburner One Penny Ferry Service wouldn't have come into existence had former bricklayer Henry James Limeburner not been sentenced to death in England in 1825.
His sentence for stealing was then reduced to being transported to faraway Australia for life in 1826. He next worked as a convict miner on the John Laurio Platt estate in Newcastle.
He married fellow convict Mary Carberry (or Carbery) in 1837. It was then later one of their four children, Henry John Limeburner, who founded the rowboat ferry service along with two of his sons, Jack and James.
All worked long and tiring hours.
The Limeburner clan regularly began work at 5.30am, ending at 1am the next day. They would take turns sleeping in their tiny cabin at the wharf.
The fares were one penny from 6am to 6pm and threepence from 6pm until midnight.
Mrs Schache also uncovered medals awarded to James for his heroic rescue of a boy aged seven from the harbour. That was in 1909.
The boy was Melvie Spurr, the son of waterfront identities Mr and Mrs Harley Spurr.
His small boat overturned and James dived in fully clothed to rescue the drowning youngster.
The Limeburners continued with their launches until 1918 when dad died and they sold the business. James went to BHP, later working as a coal trimmer.
He died in 1943.
John continued working as a launch driver, later becoming a nightwatchman. He died in 1996, aged 96 years.
But in a newspaper interview in 1951, John gave an insight into problems the two brothers faced in the early family ferry business, probably around 1900.
"After midnight, we got what we could," John Limeburner said.
"We also ran sailors to ships in the harbour. Often there were more than 100 ships in port."
He also seemed to view some of his customers as a bigger hazard than the nearby sea itself.
"Often we took our lives in our hands when we asked for fares and we had to get the police to help us," he said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: