The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson Part 23


The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson

The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson Part 23

"Sunday, 20th July. A.M. Received orders to take the crew of H.M. brig Lady Nelson on board the Estramina, colonial schooner, to fit her out.

Sent the schooner anchor and a cable per order. At noon sent the officers and men on board to a.s.sist--they are to be considered as lent for H.M.



[Facsimile signature James Symons.]


Lieutenant Symons' logbook closes with the entry dated July 20th, 1806, and is the last log of the Lady Nelson preserved at the Public Record Office. It is quite possible that others are in existence, either in England, or in Sydney, although the present writer has not been able to discover them.

It must not be supposed that the useful work performed by the little vessel ended at this date, as for years she continued to sail into and out of Port Jackson. For a short time Lieutenant Symons and her crew were turned over to the Estramina, the Spanish prize appropriated by Governor King, and used in the colonial service until 1817, when she was lost while coming out of the Hunter River with a cargo of coal.

But in November 1806 we again find the Lady Nelson carrying stores to Newcastle, and on her return voyage she brought Lieutenant Putland, R.N.

(Governor Bligh's son-in-law), with other pa.s.sengers, back from the Settlement.* (* Sydney Gazette, December, 1806.)

Shortly afterwards Mr. Symons joined H.M.S. Porpoise as Lieutenant, being appointed Commander of that ship in 1807, and the Lady Nelson was then placed in charge of Lieutenant William George Carlile Kent, who subsequently superseded Symons as Commander of the Porpoise by the orders of Governor Bligh.

In 1807 and 1808 the little ship's Commanders appear to have often changed, and her fortunes, like those of her officers, experienced a wave of uncertainty during the stormy period which marked the rule of Governor Bligh. Eventually by his orders the Lady Nelson was dismantled. It is well-known that Governor Bligh was deposed and kept a prisoner in his own house for twelve months by the officers of the New South Wales Corps.

During this time the colony was governed by three officers, Johnston, Foveaux, and Paterson.

On the arrival of Major-General Macquarie from England to take over the reins of Government, he caused inquiries to be made concerning the use of the brig, to which Colonel Foveaux replied on January 10th, 1810, "I have the honour to inform your Excellency that the Lady Nelson brig was sent from England seven or eight years since by the Admiralty as an armed tender to the ship of war on this station. On the departure of H.M.S.

Porpoise in March last, Commodore Bligh ordered her to be dismantled and laid up in ordinary in the King's Yard. The Commodore gave her in charge of Mr. Thomas Moore, the master builder, with directions to hand her over to Colonel Paterson should he require her for the service of the colony.

Colonel Paterson applied for her immediately after the Porpoise sailed hence, manned her with hired seamen, and she has since continued in the employment of the Government for the use of these settlements."

From this time forward we hear of Governor Macquarie frequently taking excursions in the Lady Nelson, and in October 1811, he, with Mrs.

Macquarie, proceeded in her to Van Diemen's Land, where he made an extensive tour of inspection of the settlements, and every Governor in turn seems to have used the brig for work of this character.

It is not easy to trace, subsequently, the doings of the Lady Nelson, and presumably for a year or two she lay dismantled in Sydney Harbour, and during that period is described as "nothing more or less than a Coal Hulk."

By the Governor's orders, however, in 1819, when Captain Phillip King left Sydney in the Mermaid to explore Torres Strait and the north coast of Australia, the Lady Nelson was again made smart and trim and accompanied the Mermaid as far as Port Macquarie. Lieutenant Oxley, R.N., sailed in the Lady Nelson, and after making a survey of the of the port he returned in her to Port Jackson.

Until she set forth on her last voyage, the Lady Nelson continued to ply between the settlements, carrying stores to them from the capital, and bringing the settlers' grain and other produce to Sydney for sale, and as the expansion of the colony proceeded, her sphere of usefulness naturally became greatly enlarged.



In the year 1824, the British Government determined to form a settlement on the north coast of Australia in the vicinity of Melville Island, with the object of opening up intercourse between that district and the Malay coast. On account of the nearness of the place to Timor, it was believed that some of the trade of the East Indies would be attracted to its For some time previously small vessels from New South Wales had traded regularly with certain islands of the Indian Archipelago chiefly in pearls, tortoise-sh.e.l.l and beche-de-mer.

In order to carry out the intentions of the Government, Captain James Gordon Bremer left England in H.M.S. Tamar on February 27th, 1824, for Sydney, where the establishment was to be raised. The Tamar brought a number of marines who were to form part of the garrison for the proposed settlement. Meanwhile, the authorities at Sydney had chartered the ship Countess of Harcourt, Captain Bunn, in which to convey the settlers as well as a detachment of officers and men, then quartered in the colony, with their wives to Melville Island. After taking supplies on board, the following were embarked in the Countess of Harcourt, Captain Barlow, Lieutenant Everard, and twenty-four non-commissioned officers and men, all of the Buffs. Dr. Turner, Royal Artillery; Mr. George Miller, Commissariat Department; Mr. Wilson and Mr. George Tollemache, Storekeepers. In all the Countess of Harcourt carried 110 men, 40 women, and 25 children.

The colonial brig Lady Nelson, in command of Captain Johns, also received orders to accompany the expedition. She had returned from a voyage to Moreton Bay on August 12th, and, heavily laden with pa.s.sengers, soldiers, and stores, sailed with the Tamar and the Countess of Harcourt on August 24th, 1824.

The Lady Nelson then left Sydney for the last time.

In reading Captain J. Gordon Bremer's logbook, we are reminded of a similar voyage, taken by the Lady Nelson along this coast twenty-two years before, in company with H.M.S. Investigator. Captain Bremer had the same trouble with the brig as Captain Flinders then experienced, as he was continually forced to wait for the Lady Nelson. In the Captain's log often appear the entries "took the Lady Nelson in tow," and "cast off the Lady Nelson," showing that the little brig was unable to keep up with the larger vessels. The fleet sailed between the Great Barrier Reef and the mainland, at times only a narrow strip of coral separating it from the breakers, which rolled against the outer side of the reef. At other times it was impossible to see across the great breadth of the coral barrier.

On the 28th of August, Mount Warning was pa.s.sed and the ships skirted Moreton Island in remarkably fine weather, which by the 1st of September turned very hot. The vessels continued to sail near the coast, and steered between two rocks called Peak* (* Now Perforated Island.) and Flat Island and the main. During the forenoon more rocky islands were observed, with a few trees growing on the very top--their outline having the appearance of a c.o.c.k's comb. It was noticed that the water here was streaked for many miles with a brown sc.u.m supposed to be fish-sp.a.w.n. At evening one of the c.u.mberland Islands, named Pure Island, provided an anchorage for the three ships; possibly the Lady Nelson alone had been in these waters previously, and it will be remembered, that it was hereabouts she had parted with the Investigator in the expedition of 1802. On September 6th, Cape Grafton was made, and as the ships coasted the land, the smoke of the native fires were seen on sh.o.r.e. At 9 o'clock on the 7th the ships pa.s.sed Snapper Island and then Cape Tribulation, and at 6 P.M. anch.o.r.ed near Turtle Reef opposite to the mouth of Endeavour River.* (* Cooktown.) At 10 o'clock next morning Cape Flattery came into sight. Some of the ships' company landed on one of the Turtle Islands, further northwards, to examine it, and it was found to be formed of coral and This night, "a fine moonlight night," the sailors spent in fishing, and several fish, marked with beautiful colours, were caught.

n.o.ble Rock or Island was seen next day, when the vessels came to an anchorage close to an island of the Howick Group. At evening, a very large native fire, a mile in extent, was seen on the mainland. On, September 11th, Cape Melville and the cl.u.s.ter of islands known as Flinders Group was pa.s.sed. At this time sand banks surrounded the ships on all sides. They anch.o.r.ed in 14 degrees south lat.i.tude and next day ran through the islands known as Saxe Coburgs Range, and came to about 6 o'clock off Cape Direction. A fine run made by the vessels on the 13th, left Forbes and Sunday Islands behind, and they were brought to at night under one of the Bird Islands. At 4 o'clock on the 14th the Commander first saw Cape York, and at 5 o'clock anch.o.r.ed under Mount Adolphus. Some of the company went on sh.o.r.e in the evening, but met none of the natives, though traces of their visits were observed. Next day at 9 o'clock, Wednesday and Thursday Islands as well as numerous other islands lying to the north-east of the Gulf of Carpentaria were pa.s.sed.

At 2 o'clock on September 17th, the west head of the Gulf of Carpentaria was seen; on the 19th the vessels reached Croker's Island, and anch.o.r.ed on the 20th at Port Essington. The Captain's log contains this entry on that day: "Took possession of the north coast of New Holland; and Lieutenant Roe buried a bottle containing a copy of the form of taking possession--and several coins of His Majesty--on a low sandy point bearing east from the ship which was named Point Record."* (* Captain's log, H.M.S. Tamar, Public Record Office.)

The following account of the proceedings was published in the Sydney Gazette:--

"The north coast of New Holland, or Australia, contained between the meridian of 129 and 135 degrees East of Greenwich with all the bays, rivers, harbours, creeks, therein and all the islands laying off were taken possession of in the name and right of His most Excellent Majesty, George the IV, King of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty's colours hoisted at Port Essington, on 20th September, 1824, and at Melville and Bathurst Islands on 26th September, 1824, by James John Gordon Bremer, Commander of the most Honourable Military order of the Bath, Captain of H.M.S. Tamar and Commanding Officer of His Majesty's Forces employed on the said coast.

"His Majesty's colonial brig, Lady Nelson, and the British ship Countess of Harcourt in company.

"PORT c.o.c.kBURN,



"September 26th, 1824."

During the stay of the ships at Port Essington, Captain Bremer sent boats in every direction to search for fresh water, knowing that, unless it were found, it would be impossible for the people to remain there permanently. On the 21st of September at daylight four boats went to examine the eastern The soil on this side proved to be sandy and interspersed with red sandstone rock, which, it was thought, contained particles of iron. The trees were not very tall, and resembled those of New South Wales. But no water was found. Next day the boats went westward, and the search was still unsuccessful. On this side the country was superior to that to the eastward; it was more open, and the trees were of magnificent height.

To discover water now became the chief object of everybody. On Point Record, a water-hole fenced round with bamboos was at last found. In it was some thick water, which had a brackish taste, and it was thought that this water-hole was the work of Malays, and not of the Australian aborigines, of whom traces were observed in various places, though, as yet, none had been seen. Captain Bremer described Port Essington as being "one of the most n.o.ble and beautiful pieces of water that can be imagined, having a moderate depth and a capability of containing a whole navy in perfect security." The lack of fresh water was its drawback.* (*

It turned out afterwards that there was plenty of water and of good quality, but unfortunately it was not then discovered.) As the season was far advanced, the Commander decided to leave this beautiful bay and sail to Apsley Strait, which divides Melville and Bathurst Islands.

On the 23rd the ships left Port Essington, and after making Cape Van Diemen of the old charts entered the strait and on the 26th anch.o.r.ed off Luxmore Head. On this day Captain Bremer went on sh.o.r.e and took formal possession of Melville and Bathurst Islands on behalf of Great Britain.

On the 30th, Captain Bremer discovered a running stream on Melville Island in a cove to the southward of the ships. The water fortunately was fresh. The south-east point of the cove was pleasantly situated on a slight rise, and was tolerably clear of timber and suitable for a settlement. Captain Bremer therefore took the ships into it, and he gave the cove the name of King's Cove, in honour of its discoverer, Captain Phillip Parker King.

The point chosen as the settlement was called Point Barlow, after Captain Barlow; and the part of the strait between Harris Island and Luxmore Head where the ships anch.o.r.ed was named Point c.o.c.kburn, after Sir George c.o.c.kburn, one of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. The harbour was not equal to Port Essington, as the entrance was intricate, and a dangerous shoal, rendered perilous by the rapid tides, extended some miles distant from the land. It was formed by the of Bathurst Island, as well as of Melville Island. To the northernmost point of Bathurst Island Captain Bremer gave the name of Cape Brace.

On October 1st, parties were landed on Point Barlow to clear the ground and to lay the foundation of a fort, for it was believed that the Malays, who fished annually in these waters, would soon come in great numbers, and hostility was also expected from the aborigines. A fort, therefore, was constructed so as to command the whole anchorage, and when finished it was possible to fire a shot from it on to Bathurst Island. In its building, timber of great solidity was used. On it were mounted two 9-pounder guns and four 18-pounder carronades, with a 12-pounder boatgun, which could be shifted as the occasion required. These were supplied by H.M.S. Tamar.

The boat-gun was fitted so that it could be placed on board the Lady Nelson, whenever it should be necessary to detach her to the neighbouring islands. Round the fort there were soon built comfortable cottages for the settlers, and, when completed, they gave the place the air of a village. The fort was rectangular, and within the square were erected barracks for the soldiers, and houses, the frames of which had been brought from New South Wales. The climate was found to be "one of the best between the tropics," particularly at dawn, "when," says Captain Bremer, "nothing can be more delightful than this part of the twenty-four hours." In spite of many mangrove swamps that existed there, much of the soil on Melville Island was excellent, and in it the plants brought in the ships flourished luxuriantly; they included the orange, lemon, lime, and banana. Melons and pumpkins sprang up immediately, and maize was "upon ground" on the fourth day after it was sown. The native forests were almost inexhaustible, producing most, if not all, the tropical fruits and shrubs of the Eastern Islands, chief among them a sort of cotton tree, a species of "lignum vitae," and the b.a.s.t.a.r.d nutmeg.

While Captain Bremer explored the country, the work at the settlement was carried out without loss of time. On the 8th of October a pier, for the purpose of landing provisions and guns, was begun, next a Commissariat store; and by the 20th the pier, bastion, and sea face of the fort were completed. Captain Bremer writes, "I had the satisfaction of hoisting His Majesty's colours under a royal salute from the guns mounted on Fort Dundas, which I named in honour of the n.o.ble Lord and the Head of the Admiralty."



On November 10th Captain Bremer, having carried out his duties in accordance with the instructions that he had received from the Admiralty, took leave of the settlement. He handed over its charge to Captain Maurice Barlow. The Tamar then dropped into the stream, being saluted by 15 guns, which she returned. Two days afterwards she left Port c.o.c.kburn for India in company with the Countess of Harcourt, bound for Mauritius and England.

The Lady Nelson remained behind at Port c.o.c.kburn, partly to act as a guardship and partly to bring to the settlement the needed stores and supplies from the islands to the northwards. These islands, as well as Coepang, afforded fresh meat in the form of buffalo beef, and it proved an inestimable boon to many ships which traded in these waters. Fresh provisions being scarce at the settlement* (* See Major Campbell's report.) Captain Barlow sent the Lady Nelson for a cargo of buffaloes. In February 1825, the little ship set forth on her mission, from which she was doomed never to return. As she left Port c.o.c.kburn her Commander was warned to avoid an island called Baba, one of the Serwatti Islands, which was infested with pirates who were very daring and very cruel. It is supposed that the warning was unheeded, for there the little vessel met her end.

The schooner Stedcombe, Captain Burns (or Barnes), from England, arrived at Melville Island when anxiety was being felt there regarding the Lady Nelson's fate. After her stores were landed, as scurvy was increasing among the colonists, Captain Barlow chartered the vessel on behalf of the Government and despatched her to Timor for buffaloes: she was also instructed to search for the missing Lady Nelson. Her captain remained at the settlement, and the chief mate took charge of the schooner. The Stedcombe never returned, and later it was learned that she too had been captured by pirates, off Timor Laut, about sixty miles eastward of Baba, where the Lady Nelson had been taken.

The Serwatti Islands form a chain which stretches from the east end of Timor as far as Baba. When Lieutenant Kolff of the Dutch Navy visited Baba in July 1825 the inhabitants were shy and deserted the village of Tepa on his landing. He was convinced that a crime had been committed, and learned that "some months previously an English brig manned by about a dozen Europeans had anch.o.r.ed off Alata on the south-east coast and had engaged in barter with the natives who were on board in great numbers, and who taking the opportunity of 5 men being on sh.o.r.e...attacked and killed the people on the brig as well as those in the boat when they returned." Earl, who translated Kolff's journal, says that "the natives received not the slightest reproof from Lieutenant Kolff for this outrage."

Fourteen years afterwards, when Captain Gordon Bremer was acting as commandant at Port Essington,* (* Melville Island was abandoned in 1829 for Port Essington.) Captain Thomas Watson arrived there in the schooner Essington, bearing the news that Mr. Volshawn, master of a small trading vessel flying the Dutch flag, had seen an English sailor on the island of Timor Laut when he visited it in February of the previous year.* (*

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