The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson Part 1


The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson

The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson Part 1

The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson.

by Ida Lee.


The objects for which the Lady Nelson's voyages were undertaken render her logbooks of more than ordinary interest. She was essentially an Australian discovery ship and during her successive commissions she was employed exclusively in Australian waters. The number of voyages that she made will perhaps never be accurately known, but her logbooks in existence testify to the important missions that she accomplished. The most notable are those which record early discoveries in Victoria: the exploration of the Queensland coast: the surveys of King Island and the Kent Group: the visits to New Zealand and the founding of settlements at Hobart, Port Dalrymple, and Melville Island. Seldom can the logbooks of a single ship show such a record. Their publication seemed very necessary, for the handwriting on the pages of some of them is so faded that it is already difficult to decipher, and apparently only the story of Grant's voyages and the extracts from Murray's log published by Labilliere in the Early History of Victoria have ever before been published. In transcription I have somewhat modernized the spelling where old or incorrect forms tended to obscure the sense, and omitted repet.i.tions, as it would have been impossible to include within the limits of one volume the whole of the contents of the logbooks. The story of the Lady Nelson as told by Grant has in places been paraphrased, for he sometimes writes it in diary form under date headings and at others he inserts the date in the narrative. The entries from the logbooks of Murray, Curtoys and Symons, in the Public Record Office, with such omissions as I have specified, are printed verbatim.

Murray's charts now published are distinctly valuable, as in the fourth volume of the Historical Records of New South Wales, where they should be found, it is stated that they are "unfortunately missing."

On my inquiring at the Admiralty, Mr. Perrin, the Librarian, to whom my cordial thanks are due, made a special search and was fortunate enough to discover them. Thus, after a long separation, Murray's charts and his journal are united again in this volume. Perhaps the most important chart, and the one which should appeal especially to the people of Victoria, is that of Port Phillip showing the track of the Lady Nelson's boat when the brig entered the bay for the first time. Murray's log telling of this discovery ends on March 24th, 1802. In writing later to the Duke of Portland, Governor King says: "The Lady Nelson's return just before I closed my letters enabled me to transmit Acting-Lieutenant Murray's log copies of the discoveries of King Island and Port Phillip.

These important discoveries, being combined with the chart of former surveys, I hope will convince your Grace that that highly useful vessel the Lady Nelson has not been idle under my direction." The charts were sent home in charge of Lieutenant Mackellar, who sailed in the ship Caroline on March 30th, 1802, six days after the Lady Nelson's return.

Duplicates were forwarded by the Speedy, which left Sydney in June, but a comparison of those at the Admiralty shows that King added nothing further to this second series.

My thanks are also due to Lieutenant Bell, R.N., whose researches have enabled me to publish the charts of the Queensland coast. These old charts cannot fail to interest students of Australian history. It is possible that they do not include all that were sent home at first, nor are the Lady Nelson's logbooks complete; those however of Grant and Murray, Curtoys and Symons, give us the story of the work carried out by those energetic seamen. They are writings worthy of being more widely known, for they are records left by men who sailed uncharted seas along unknown coasts in days which will not come again--men who have helped to give to later generations a s.p.a.cious continent with a limitless horizon.





The logbooks of the Lady Nelson bear witness to the leading part played by one small British ship in the discovery of a great continent. They show how closely, from the date of her first coming to Sydney in 1800 until her capture by pirates off the island of Baba in 1825, this little brig was identified with the colonisation and development of Australia.

In entering upon her eventful colonial career, "the Lady Nelson did that which alone ought to immortalize her name--she was the first ship that ever sailed parallel to the entire southern coast line of Australia."* (*

Early History of Victoria by F.P. Labilliere.) She was also the first vessel to sail through Ba.s.s Strait. But discovery cannot claim her solely for itself. While she was stationed at Sydney there was scarcely a dependency of the mother colony that was not more or less indebted to her, either for proclaiming it a British possession, or for bringing it settlers and food, or for providing it with means of defence against the attacks of natives.

In the early history of Victoria the Lady Nelson occupies a niche somewhat similar to that which the Endeavour fills in the annals of New South Wales, but while Cook and the Endeavour discovered the east coast and then left it, the Lady Nelson, after charting the bare coast-line of Victoria, returned again and again to explore its inlets and to penetrate its rivers, her boats discovering the s.p.a.cious harbour at the head of which Melbourne now stands.

The Lady Nelson also went northward as well as southward, and though many of her logbooks are missing, some survive, and one describes how, in company with the Investigator under Captain Flinders, she examined the Queensland sh.o.r.e as far as the c.u.mberland Islands. Later she accompanied the Mermaid, under Captain King, to Port Macquarie when he followed Flinders' track through Torres Strait, and during her long period of service she visited different parts of the coast, including Moreton Bay, Port Essington, and Melville Island. Precisely how many voyages she made as a pioneer will probably never be known. The ship, at least, played many parts: now acting as King's messenger and carrying despatches from the Governor to Norfolk Island; now fetching grain grown at the Hawkesbury, or coals from Newcastle for the use of the increasing population at Sydney; and at another time carrying troops and settlers to the far distant north. She made other memorable voyages; for example, when she conveyed bricks burnt in Sydney brick kilns to Tasmania and to New Zealand, in order to build homes for the first white settlers in those lands. She helped also to establish Lieutenant Bowen's colony at Risdon. On that occasion we read that the little ship lent the colony a bell and half a barrel of gunpowder. The logbooks do not record to what use the bell was put, but whether it served as a timekeeper or to call the people to worship, it was doubtless highly valued by the early Tasmanian colonists.

At the time of her sailing to Australia the Lady Nelson was a new ship of 60 tons. She was built at Deptford in 1799, and differed from other exploring vessels in having a centre-board keel. This was the invention of Captain John Schanck, R.N., who believed that ships so constructed "would sail faster, steer easier, tack and wear quicker and in less room." He had submitted his design to the Admiralty in 1783, and so well was it thought of that two similar boats had been built for the Navy, one with a centre-board and one without, in order that a trial might be made.

The result was so successful that, besides the Cynthia sloop and Trial revenue cutter, other vessels were constructed on the new plan, among them the Lady Nelson. She was chosen for exploration because her three sliding centre-boards enabled her draught to be lessened in shallow waters, for when her sliding keels were up she drew no more than six feet.

In 1799 the news reached London that the French were fitting out an expedition to survey unknown portions of Australia; the Admiralty were quickly stirred to renewed activity, and decided to send the Lady Nelson to Sydney. At first it was believed that Captain Flinders would be placed in charge of her, but he was eventually given a more important command, and Lieutenant James Grant was appointed to the Lady Nelson. She was hauled out of Deadman's Dock into the river on January 13th, 1800, with her full complement of men and stores on board. She carried provisions for 15 men for a period of nine months, and enough water for three months. Her armament consisted of only two bra.s.s carriage-guns.

On January 16th she sailed to Gravesend. So small did she look as she made her way down the Thames that the sailors on board the ships in the river ridiculed her appearance and ironically christened her "His Majesty's Tinderbox." Grant says that many expressed a doubt that she would ever make her port of destination.

A heavy gale was blowing when she reached the Downs, but from the first she proved herself a good sea-boat, and it was found that lowering the keels greatly steadied her. Grant now had a good opportunity for testing her capabilities. A large convoy ready to sail for the West Indies lay at anchor here, and on the evening of the 23rd, as the fury of the wind increased, many signals of distress were seen flying in the offing.

Finding the Lady Nelson drag very much, her commander let go another anchor, with the result that she rode out through the gale with ease, although next morning six vessels were ash.o.r.e dismasted, while two others had lost both their masts and bowsprits. He then decided to take shelter in Ramsgate, where he remained until the 7th, when he sailed to Spithead and thence to Portsmouth. Here four more guns were placed on board and some oak planking, which caused the brig to lie deeper in the water, so that Grant writes "there were then only 2 feet 9 inches clear abreast the gangway." He believed, however, that the consumption of coal and provisions would soon bring her to a proper degree of buoyancy.

During her stay at Portsmouth the Lady Nelson lost two men, one through illness, the other by desertion. On March 15th, when she was quite ready for sea, Captain Schanck and Mr. Bayley* (* W. Bayley, formerly astronomer on board the Adventure.) paid her a visit. Orders had been given for her to leave port in company with H.M.S. Anson, Captain Durham, who (as the Powers were at war) was to convoy a fleet of East Indiamen, then on point of sailing, and with whom was H.M.S. Porpoise, bound to New South Wales. The wind being fair, on the night of March 16th, 1800, the signal for sailing was given by the Commodore. While all hands were busily engaged getting up the kedge, the carpenter made his escape in the darkness. Anxious to avoid further delay, and somewhat consoled by the thought that the vessel was new and that he had already tested and found out her good qualities, Lieutenant Grant decided to put up with the loss of the man's services.

At 6 P.M. on the 18th the ship finally bade adieu to England. At first she was scarcely able to keep pace with the big ships which bore her company, and very soon the Commodore despatched an officer to her commander to suggest that he should go into Falmouth and await there the departure of the West India Fleet. But, as the final decision was left with Lieutenant Grant, he preferred to go on, believing that he could keep pace with the convoy. During the afternoon of the 19th a namesake of his, Captain James Grant of the Brunswick, East Indiaman, hailed him and informed him that he had orders to take the Lady Nelson in tow. The commander of the brig did not at all relish this news, but dreading further detention as he was in the track of the enemy, he took the proffered hawser on board. The brig towed well as long as the sea was smooth, and at first no discomfort was felt. Then a continued spell of bad weather ensued, and a driving rain, which found its way under the covering boards and along the gunwale of the ship, caused great unpleasantness. Worse was to follow, for it began to blow very hard, and the Brunswick set off at high speed, dragging the little brig mercilessly through the heavy seas which almost enveloped her. The sight evoked much amus.e.m.e.nt among the pa.s.sengers on board the big Indiaman, who frequently visited the stern galley to watch the waves wash completely over the Lady Nelson.

On the 23rd of March an unusually heavy sea strained the brig to such a degree that Grant ordered the hawser to be let go, and bade the Brunswick farewell. It was imagined by those on board the larger vessel that the Lady Nelson, deeming it impossible to proceed, had turned back to Portsmouth. Grant, however, had determined to continue his voyage alone.

He lost sight of the fleet during the night, and next day, in lat.i.tude 43 degrees 55 minutes north and longitude 14 degrees 17 minutes west, the weather being fine and clear, he ordered the saturated bedding to be brought up from below and placed on deck to dry. This practice was continued throughout the voyage, and to it, and to the care taken to prevent the men sleeping in wet clothes, Grant attributed the healthy state of the crew on reaching Sydney. When the sea moderated it was also possible to stop the leaks on deck.

On the 25th a strange sail was sighted, and from the masthead a large fleet was soon afterwards made out bearing north-north-east. One ship detached itself from the rest and gave chase to the Lady Nelson, gaining fast upon her. She was perceived to be an English frigate. At 6 P.M. she fired a shot which compelled Lieutenant Grant to shorten sail and to show his colours. As a second shot was fired it was clear that the frigate still mistook him for one of the enemy, so he wore and stood towards her, when she proved to be H.M.S. Hussar, acting as convoy to the West India Fleet. Her commander informed Grant that he had mistaken the Lady Nelson for a Spaniard, and expressed his regret for having given so much trouble, and after the usual compliments they parted. Grant adds that he did not learn the name of the courteous commander,* (* It was Viscount Garlies.) but again at daylight the Lady Nelson came on part of his convoy, which, not knowing who she was, crowded sail to get out of her way, "with," says Grant, "one exception, this being the ----, which, much to his credit, hove to and fired a shot almost plump on board of us.

Another vessel, the Hope of Liverpool, I could hardly keep clear of, for the more I attempted to avoid him the more he attempted to get near me, so much so that we were near running on board each other." The Hope's captain asked Grant very peremptorily who he was and where he came from, to which Grant replied by hoisting his colours and pendant; but even this did not satisfy the irate merchant skipper, who appeared to have had very decided intentions of running down the Lady Nelson. Eventually, however, he rejoined the convoy, which stood to the westward under close-reefed top-sails.

On the 1st of April the Lady Nelson fell in with another heavy gale which raged till the 3rd, and finding that his ship was drifting south of Madeira, Grant shaped a course for Las Palmas.

On the 8th he crossed the Tropic of Cancer.

On Sunday the 13th he came to an anchor in Port Praya, St. Iago, where the Governor received him with much politeness and gave him permission to replenish his ship. While in this port Grant discovered that the second mate had sown seeds of discontent among his crew, so he promptly handed him over to the Governor to be sent back to England. Two boys, however, deserted and ran off with a boat. Several parties were sent out in search of them by the Governor, and the two deserters were eventually caught and brought home by the natives--both riding on one a.s.s. The sight of the bluejackets in such a predicament vastly amused the Portuguese seamen in port, who ridiculed them to such an extent that Grant did not think it necessary to punish them further. Grant describes the natives of Port Praya as resembling negroes, and remarks that the females seemed to spend their time in spinning cotton from a distaff with a spindle. The ship's keels were examined here and one found to be broken, but the repairs, owing to the a.s.sistance given by the Governor, were finished in two days.

Having taken in a sufficient supply of water, the Lady Nelson left St.

Iago on April 27th. The Governor, who seems to have been most polite and obliging to everybody, permitted two Portuguese sailors to be entered on her muster-roll, which brought her crew up to twelve. Soon after leaving port, one of the seamen became ill, and as his temperature rose very high the commander gave orders for him to be immediately isolated, though he was fortunately cured in four days. The food served to the men then underwent some alteration. It was thought that oatmeal was too heating in the humid weather of the tropics, and tea was subst.i.tuted for it at breakfast, wine supplemented with spruce beer being issued instead of spirits. Not one man fell sick afterwards.

As the ship neared the Equator various cross-currents were frequently met with, and "heavy squalls with rain" and a very disagreeable sea arose, the result of a sudden change of wind from north-north-east to south-west and south-south-west. The Lady Nelson pitched and rolled considerably, and nearly every one on board was sea-sick. On the 6th it fell calm again.

At 6 A.M. on the 9th a schooner was sighted, and shortly afterward a brig, which stood towards the ship. Believing that the latter was an enemy, Grant was glad when a storm hid her from view. On the 10th, however, a glimpse of the brig was again caught, and on the 13th two more sail were descried standing to the westward, but they finally disappeared. The Lady Nelson was now surrounded by flying-fish and tropical birds in great numbers, the latter being of the species mentioned by Captain Cook as seen by him when he traversed this route.

On May 16th a long, heavy swell was experienced with light airs, and the sea took a luminous appearance. A spell of bad weather followed, ending on the 23rd, when, the day being fine, the boats were lowered and the keels overhauled and repaired, and it was then found that a new piece of wood which had been put on the after keel at Port Praya was missing. Not having sufficient timber on board to repair it as before, the keel was let farther down in the well and a breadth of planking was joined to it with iron hooping and nails, with the result that it extended three feet below the vessel.

On the 28th, when nearing Rio de Janeiro, an inspection was made of the bread and water, and as the latter was found to be in good condition Grant decided not to enter the port. Some of the bread was a little damaged by leakage into the bread room, but a more water-tight place for storing it was soon found. About the same date birds were again observed, particularly the hoglet: the men caught many of these and made caps of their skins. Mother Cary's chickens* (* Procellaria pelagica Linn.) were also met with in great numbers. Gales and calms now alternated until June 11th, when there were frequent squalls, the wind finally blowing with such violence that at 3 P.M. it was thought advisable to heave to. Later the storm abated, and the vessel was able to make good progress until the 18th. A curious sea followed the ship on this day, the waves rising perpendicularly, so that the commander conjectured that there was ground at no great depth. He put the deep-sea lead over, but no soundings could be obtained.

On the 23rd at 3 P.M. a vessel was seen bearing down before the wind towards the Lady Nelson. The stranger proved to be a Spanish brig carrying prize colours. She had been captured in the River Plate by a privateer which had been fitted out by a merchant at the Cape of Good Hope, and was commanded by Mr. John Black. She was then on her way to the Cape of Good Hope. On coming within hail her master informed the Lady Nelson's commander that he had neither book nor chart on board, and wished to know where he was; he also begged some twine and canvas to repair his sails. The prize was of about 70 tons burthen and was loaded with beeswax, hides, tallow, and tobacco. She was without a boat, as it had been washed overboard, so Lieutenant Grant shortened sail and desired her captain to keep near him and gave him the lat.i.tude and longitude. On the following day the Lady Nelson lowered a boat and brought the prize master on board, to whom Lieutenant Grant gave a chart of the Cape and several other necessaries. He asked Mr. Black why he had so boldly approached the Lady Nelson, since his ship was painted like a Spaniard, and so might well have been taken for one. Black's answer was that he knew from her canvas that the Lady Nelson was not an enemy. When he was shown over her he expressed his astonishment at her centre-boards, and her construction was therefore explained to him. But evidently he was not favourably impressed, for when he was being escorted back to his ship he asked one of her sailors if his commander was not mad, for he could not believe that such a small ship as the Lady Nelson could ever accomplish a voyage of discovery.

The vessels continued to sail in company towards the Cape of Good Hope.

At 5 A.M. on the 7th land was seen from the Lady Nelson, the information being signalled to her companion. Soon after daylight the Lion's Rump was perceived south-east by east 1/2 east, distant five leagues. A little later the ships parted company. Lieutenant Grant had intended to anchor in Simon's Bay, but having discovered that the Lady Nelson had lost both her main and after keels during the voyage, he sailed to Table Bay. On his arrival there Admiral Sir Roger Curtis, who was in command of the station, gave orders for two new keels to be built immediately, and it is recorded that so well did Mr. Boswell, the builder's a.s.sistant (the builder himself being absent) perform his task that the new keels reflected the greatest credit on him.

On the 16th, her repairs being completed, the Lady Nelson sailed for Simon's Bay and anch.o.r.ed there at 9 A.M. on the following day. Here was found H.M.S. Porpoise, also bound to New South Wales, which left the bay for Sydney in advance of the Lady Nelson. During his stay Lieutenant Grant met a relative, Dr. J. R. Grant, with whom he made several excursions into the interior of the colony.

While the Lady Nelson was at the Cape of Good Hope a ship named the Wellesley arrived from England with despatches from the Admiralty. She had narrowly escaped capture by a French man-of-war which gave chase to her after she had parted from her convoy, but fortunately she had been able to beat off the enemy and to effect her escape. The instructions brought to Grant from the Duke of Portland directed him to sail to Sydney through Ba.s.s Strait instead of sailing round the South Cape of Van Diemen's Land (as Tasmania was then called).*

(* The following extract is from the letter from the Duke of Portland to Grant:--

"WHITEHALL, 8th April, 1800.

"SIR, Having received information from Port Jackson in New South Wales that a navigable strait has been discovered between that country and Van Diemen's Land in lat.i.tude 38 degrees, it is His Majesty's pleasure that you should sail through the said strait on your way to Port Jackson. I am, etc., PORTLAND.")

No ship had yet sailed through this strait, which had been discovered only a little more than a year before by Dr. George Ba.s.s. Grant was also instructed to take particular notice of the Australian coast, and especially of the headlands visible on either side of the strait. During his stay at the Cape numerous volunteers offered to accompany him to Sydney, many from on board the ships in the bay. He says that he declined them all except a carpenter and an eccentric person named Dr. Brandt, who might, he thought, be useful as a scientist, and who came on board accompanied by his baboon and his dog. To oblige Sir Roger Curtis, he also consented to take a Dane sentenced to transportation.

On the 7th of October the Lady Nelson left the Cape and proceeded on her voyage to New South Wales. Soon after leaving port bad weather set in and continued until the 12th, but, on the 14th at noon, when the ship was in 38 degrees 1 minute lat.i.tude, the sea moderated and the bedding was again brought up on deck while the cabins and berths were washed with vinegar.

On the 24th the weather turned extremely cold with snow at times. A heavy cross sea was running, which gave the little brig another opportunity of displaying her good qualities. On the 28th at noon she was in 38 degrees 54 minutes south, and towards evening on the following day she encountered a heavy gale which obliged her commander to heave her to.

Violent gusts with showers of sleet blew continually, and the seas were so heavy that often in striking the bow they threw the ship so far over as "to expose her beam." A drag-sail was then used in order to steady her, and it answered remarkably well. The fore-top-sail yard was also got on deck and eased the ship wonderfully; fortunately little water was shipped, as, owing to her small draught and flat bottom, she rose like a piece of cork on the top of every wave.

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