Thornleigh at sea

Thornleigh has an interesting maritime history.

During the war, Thornleigh played its part in exporting fish to the mainland to feed the troops. There wasn’t a fishing hole on the reef that Phil Dignam didn’t know. Deep sea fishing was in Carl Dignam’s blood. He was an extraordinary boatman – he literally became part of the boat and even in the heaviest seas remained at ease and piloted the B Centauriso that she was always settled, never putting a foot wrong.

Thornleigh sported an array of big boats, little boats, rowing boats and sailing boats. Phil Dignam’s motor launch Tremoloplied the lagoon and brought flying boat passengers to shore. She is resting safely under cover on the farm.

Four of the old dinghies are still in the boatshed awaiting restoration. Two are sister ships and lovely rowing boats – the blue trimmed Petronellawas Philippa Dignam’s, the green trimmed Paw Paw was Patricia’s. Carl’s little one-man dinghy is there, and there is a beautiful clinker hull sailing boat build by Jim Fitzgerald.

Jim Whistler’s Wideawakewith Carl Dignam’s B Centauri behind her

Thornleigh’s boatshed and slipway was a busy place. The Island’s big boats were on and off the slips for their regular health checks. Phil Dignam’s Noddywith her little Stuart diesel engine lived in front of the boatshed and pottered along at six knots fishing all around the lagoon and the Island. In calm weather she would go all the way to the Pyramid, although that took a while. Carl Dignam’s B Centaurigot there faster, roaring along at 20 knots at full clip with a massive GM diesel under the bonnet. She was a magnificent sea boat, able to handle the worst conditions with ease.

Phil Dignam working on the Noddy, with B Centauri lying in front. Phil’s dachshund Mullygrubber maintains watch in the foreground.

These days the boatshed and slipway area are quieter places. Their historic value is recognised in the Island’s heritage list. The boatshed has been restored, the big cradle has been moved back into place onto the slipway area and the slipway winch has a new housing to protect it from the elements.

The restored cradle (foreground) and protected winch (background)

Our Avocados

Thornleigh’s avocado trees are very old. Our avocados are not a variety that you will see in supermarkets today.

Avocado Thornleigh Farm Lord Howe Island
Yummy! Notice the thin skin

We think that our avocados are the unique Brogden cultivar going back to the 1930s. They are named after the grower Tom W Brogden of Winter Haven, Florida. The variety may be a cross between Mexican and West Indian cultivars.

Avocado Thornleigh Farm Lord Howe Island
Snagging avocados off the tree

The cultivar’s name was published by the Florida State Horticultural Society in 1951, and is recognised for its dark-purple skin colour when ripe and juicy yellow flesh. Brogdens were not suitable for commercial production because of their thin skin, which some say can be eaten with the flesh.

For those who like to try something a little different!

Avocado Cow Thornleigh Farm Lord Howe Island
Luna standing guard, protecting the Avocado stock

Let’s Kill All the Rats

Question: What is the most prolific and successful creature on this beautiful Island? Answer: The black rat – rattus rattus. And no, they are not meant to be here. They are an introduced species and they are not welcome.


Rats are baby making machines – a single female can mate up to 500 times in six hours and produce up to 2000 offspring per year.

They are omnivores – they eat everything. And their front teeth are always growing – up to 14cm per year – so hungry or not they have to chew and gnaw constantly to keep their teeth under control.

Rats are bad news for the Island’s flora and fauna, bad news for tourism, and bad news for our reputation as a World Heritage Area.

Now for the good news. The Lord Howe Island Board, with generous financial support from the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments, is planning to systematically exterminate all the rats on the Island. The mice population will be welcome collateral damage.

The Island was once a predator free zone – until the arrival of humans was inevitably followed by rats and mice in about 1930. It is time to bring the destruction caused by rats and mice to an end.

Robert’s grandmother, Minnie Dignam, used to say that people had no idea how many birds there were before the rats – ‘The sky was thick with them’ she would say. Well here is proof in the form of photographs taken in about 1912 by photographer Roy Bell.

Prolific bird life on Lord Howe Island in 1912

Quite apart from the damage they are causing to the environment, no human being wants to live in the company of rats.


Don’t take our word for it. The Island of Hawaii suffers rats on a grander scale, and here is what the US Fish & Wildlife Service has to say about them.

Vast numbers of birds flocking in 1912