The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson Part 3


The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson

The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson Part 3



During the month of May the Lady Nelson became more closely a.s.sociated with the town of Sydney, with whose fortunes her own were ever afterwards identified.* (* The Lady Nelson was borne as a contingent expense of the colony from the time of her arrival at Sydney until the 16th October, 1802, then as tender to H.M.S. Buffalo by order of the Admiralty. See Historical Records of New South Wales volume 4 page 901.) From Sydney she set forth on her many voyages of exploration, and to Sydney she returned.

In many an old print she is depicted lying at anchor there almost alone--a small ship in a great harbour--with the Union Jack flying at her stern, and in the small Sydney newspapers of those early times her comings and goings are recorded, and her discoveries related with the keenest interest.

By the Governor's command May 28th, 1801, being the King's birthday, was observed as a holiday. It was a memorable occasion, for on that day the Royal Proclamation announcing the Union between Great Britain and Ireland was read in public by the Provost Marshal. At sunrise the old Union Jack was hoisted as usual, but at a quarter to nine it was hauled down and the new Union run up at Dawes Battery and on board the Lady Nelson to the accompaniment of salutes from the battery and from the brig.

Shortly afterwards Grant received orders to take Colonel Paterson, the Lieutenant-Governor, to Hunter River, then better known as Coal River.*

(* From the abundance of coal found on its banks. Flinders says its native name was Yohaaba. The Hunter River was discovered and named by Mr.

Shortland in 1797.) The object of the voyage was to make a survey of the river and to gain some knowledge of its natural productions, for at this time much of the coast, both to the north and to the south, was chiefly known from Cook's chart, and the geography of the more distant parts, marked but not explored by him, was still as he had left it. Governor King was also anxious that the Lady Nelson should discover a pa.s.sage at Port Stephens (called by the natives Yacaaba), and wrote to Paterson requesting him to complete the exploration of this port before September, "for," he said, "it will then be necessary to despatch Her Ladyship (i.e.

the Lady Nelson) to the southward."*) * This particular voyage to Port Stephens does not appear to have been carried out, for in August the brig was "refitting." (See Historical Records of New South Wales.) The Francis, schooner, was equipped to accompany the Lady Nelson, and orders were given that the schooner should be loaded with coals immediately on her arrival at the Hunter River and sent back to Sydney without delay.

Dr. Harris and Ensign Barrallier of the New South Wales Corps (who were appointed to execute the survey) accompanied Colonel Paterson. A number of workmen and labourers were also received on board together with a native of Rose Bay named Bungaree.

The Lady Nelson left the harbour on June 10th, and as she pa.s.sed out between the Heads, met the ship Cornwallis inward bound from England. On June 11th she made North Head of Broken Bay distant 10 or 12 miles.

On the next day the weather was variable, but as there was a Sydney pilot on board Grant thought that the ship would be safe in his hands. The man, however, mistook his course at a place called Reid's Mistake, which lies to the northward of Broken Bay. He imagined that he had arrived at Hunter River, and was not convinced of his error till the vessel was within half a mile of an island at the entrance.* (* Reid's Mistake was so called because a seaman of that name had previously made a similar error, and lost his ship there. The island lies at the entrance of Lake Macquarie (and still bears the name). The wrecked vessel was the Martha, 30 tons, and doubtless was the ship which first saw King Island in 1799.)

Here, as the Lady Nelson was in 17 fathoms water, and the weather was fair, a boat was lowered and Dr. Harris was sent to explore the place. On his return the doctor reported that there was not the least sign of a river here, but that the sea broke heavily over an inlet behind the island. He brought with him a native, who on first seeing the boat had run towards it crying out alternately "Whale boat" and "Budgeree (i.e.

good) d.i.c.k." It was supposed that this native had been given this name by some of the people sent in search of the convicts who had run away with the Norfolk. Be this as it may, Budgeree d.i.c.k had some fish with him, which he threw into the bottom of the boat, and then without the least hesitation jumped in himself. As soon as he had got on board the brig he continued to cry incessantly, "Whale boat, Whale boat." In order to find out his meaning he was introduced to the Sydney native Bungaree, who was directed to question the visitor. Bungaree, by signs, invited him to sit down, an invitation, observes Grant, which, according to native ideas, "implied that a stranger was received with friendship." But it was useless to ask Bungaree to proceed with his inquiries, for another item of etiquette demanded that a profound silence should follow, which lasted for twenty minutes. By degrees the two black men entered into conversation, drawing nearer to one another as they began to talk. The information sought was not obtained, and it was inferred that they did not well understand each other's language.

The ship got under way about 3 P.M., and two hours later another high perpendicular island bearing north 8 or 9 miles came into view. It was thought to be the real entrance of Hunter's River. At half-past ten, in company with Dr. Harris, the Commander went in a boat to discover if it was their port of destination. The entrance was narrow with a heavy sea running through it. It had a reef on one side, over which broke a very heavy surf, and on the other side were some sand-breakers. At one time Grant put the boat's head round to the swell and "pulled out," but the risk of bringing in the two ships without knowing the size of the channel made him determine to ascertain it, and accordingly he pulled through and found from 5 to 4 and 3 1/2 fathoms close to the island. It was high water when he landed with a party on the island and climbed to the top of its steep side. The side near the entrance was covered with gra.s.s, although everywhere else the island was perpendicular and crumbled away by degrees into the sea. From the highest point a beautiful view of Hunter's River, and of the surrounding islands was obtained. Here Lieutenant Grant hoisted the Union Jack as a signal to the vessels that this was the right entrance to the river. He thought, as have most people since, that this island had been separated from the mainland "by some violent convulsion of nature." It was named Coal Island by Colonel Paterson, but is now known as the n.o.bbys. The commander's journal tells how plentiful wood and coal were on the mainland, and thus describes his coming:--

"We returned on board and set about towing and sweeping her in with all possible dispatch. At noon the lat.i.tude was by observation 32 degrees 57 minutes 34 seconds south, the island which we named Coal Island bearing west-north-west distant 3 or 4 miles. By the time we approached the entrance the ebb had set strong out and ran with much force; however, by dint of warping we brought up under the island for the night within pistol shot of the sh.o.r.e. At daylight we proceeded up to a saw pit (made for the purpose of cutting cedar of a large size and excellent quality, which is growing in abundance on the banks of the river) and came to abreast of it in 3 fathoms water, steadying the vessel by a hawser made fast to a tree on the sh.o.r.e. The harbour is of several miles extent and capable of containing many sail of shipping, and well sheltered from every wind that blows.

"We immediately set about making the different arrangements for completing the objects of our voyage. The Colonel and I went on sh.o.r.e to examine the different strata of coals, taking with us a miner who pointed them out to us very distinctly. We found them running from side to side of the mountain of various qualities and degrees of thickness. At low water coals proper for fuel were to be gathered up from the reef before-mentioned, and when the tide was up we could work a pier.

Accordingly, having orders to load the schooner...with coals and wood, I had the satisfaction to see her sail with a cargo of both on June 26th, eleven days after her arrival.

"It may be imagined that coals were found in great plenty when I mention that the schooner sailed with forty tons, and that we had only one man employed to dig the mine. The spot where these coals are found is clear of trees or bush for the s.p.a.ce of many acres, which are covered with a short tender gra.s.s very proper for grazing sheep, the ground rising with a gradual ascent intersected with valleys on which wood grows in plenty, sheltered from the winds, forming the most delightful prospect. This place might serve as a station for the woodcutters and colliers.* (* The point of land where the colliers were put to work was named Collier's Point by Colonel Paterson. Newcastle now stands on this site.) It affords pasture for sheep, its soil in general being good...Dr. Harris and Mr.

Barrallier penetrated to some distance inland and met a native who followed them for some time and left them. Our native d.i.c.k also thought proper to leave us in an excursion we made with him into the country.

Colonel Paterson discovered some copper and iron ores, the latter strongly impregnated and rich in metal. The seine was hauled and plenty of excellent fish caught, particularly mullet, with a fish much resembling the herring which I am inclined to think go in shoals. On an island in the harbour a tree is found, the quality of whose timber much resembles that of the ash, and from the great numbers growing there has given this name to the island.

"Of this timber I had orders to send a quant.i.ty to Sydney, and had brought out sawyers for that purpose, but as every object could not be at once accomplished they were employed in the meantime in cutting down and sawing into planks a tree, the bark of which is much like cork. The light, close, and durable, and promises to stand against the effects of worms on the bottoms of vessels. I had a boat built of this wood which proved it to be good...this wood has much the resemblance of wainscot with us.

"Mr. Barrallier's survey was all this time going on. Nearly abreast of the vessel was a creek which Colonel Paterson and I penetrated for a considerable way. On its banks we found part of a net made of strong gra.s.s, apparently the work of a European. We likewise found marks of fires having been lighted there, and in the stream the remains of a weir, the work of the native inhabitants...We concluded the net had belonged to the unfortunate men who ran away with the Norfolk...On examining Ash Island we found many large timber trees intermixed with ash, one of which I took on has much the likeness of hickory. I found several other woods, some of them light and pretty, and in particular a tree, the leaves of which sting like nettles. This acquired from us the name of Nettle Tree."

The native, Budgeree d.i.c.k, now reappeared after 48 hours' absence, with two companions. One had been at Sydney and was known to Colonel Paterson, with whom he was able to converse. Fires and occasionally the natives themselves were observed opposite to Ash Island. A party from the ship went up an arm of the river in order to try and meet with them, but were disappointed, as at the entrance there was barely water for the boat. The opposite (or north) sh.o.r.e to which they now proceeded was found to be full of flats and shoals over many of which the boat had to be dragged.

Between these flats were gullies of deep water, but there was no regular channel. Here the trees were encrusted with oysters, and the sh.o.r.e covered to a great depth with oyster The work was vigorously pushed forward. Some woodmen were placed on Ash Island to fell and saw timber. They took a week's provisions, arms, and ammunition, and were warned to guard against an attack by the crew of the Norfolk or by the natives. Meanwhile the commander and Paterson visited the coal mine and found veins of coal of excellent quality, and among the rocks what is known as "liver of iron." They also saw strange birds, as well as the wild or native cat, which has been such a pest ever since in most parts of Australia.

On June 22nd Colonel Paterson took some men, one of whom was a miner, to look for coal on the island, while Grant and Barrallier with Dr. Harris sounded the entrance of the harbour. The coal found on the island proved to be of an inferior kind. On his way back to the ship, Lieutenant Grant met a stranger named John Loft, who had been wrecked out of a boat belonging to Mr. Underwood of Sydney. She was cast on sh.o.r.e to the northward of Port Stephens, and he had been thirty-two days in travelling to this place from there. He had had two companions, one of whom, he said, was killed by the natives, the other had eaten a toad fish and died. The emotions that he felt on meeting his countrymen can be better imagined than described. "The laugh and the tear had their repeated place in turns, and his first utterance was, 'I am starving with hunger.'"

On the 23rd Mr. Barrallier and the second mate met a native in the woods whom they brought on board. "He was a little elderly man, strait made, and spoke not one syllable that was intelligible." His legs and arms bore no proportion in length to the rest of his body, and his manner of ascending the ship's ladder was remarkable and proved that he was much accustomed to climbing. His method was "to stretch out his arms as far as he could reach and then bring his feet to the same place with a jerk."

Grant says: "He spoke a jargon of simple sounds as I particularly observed only a few words that came from him were composed of more than one syllable. He could eat nothing; but upon two crows, which some of the people had shot, being given him, he stuffed them in the fire feathers and all which after burning off and heating them a little he ate...The Colonel gave him a tomahawk which he seemed pleased with and showed that he understood the use of it. He was put on sh.o.r.e near the place where they met him...He was quite naked and had no ornament through the cartilage of his nose. Colonel Paterson declared that he had never met a native who differed so widely from the rest of the New Hollanders."

Before he disappeared he gave the boat's crew an exhibition of his climbing powers, for they pointed to a tree, making signs that they wished to see him climb it. This he quickly did, first cutting a notch with the axe and continuing thus to make footholds until he nimbly reached the top--the tree being without branches to a height of 40 feet.

About this time there appeared a small party of woodmen who had been sent to cut cedar for Mr. Palmer. These men had intended returning to Sydney, having run short of provisions, but seeing the Lady Nelson they joined her.

On June 28 the Lady Nelson advanced up the river and moored in one of its branches about 6 miles from the entrance, Mr. Barrallier surveying while Colonel Paterson with Dr. Harris and Mr. Lewin (the artist who had joined the Lady Nelson after the sailing of the Francis) went in the launch to examine the river and inspect the country.

On the 7th the Commander himself in company with Mr. Barrallier set off to join Paterson. They found the country level and swampy near the river, but with delightful views in the distance. "The river took a serpentine course, and for many miles appeared to be as broad as the Thames at Kingston. From the marks on the trees it would seem that it is subject to be greatly overflowed at times. The cedar (or rather the mahogany of New Holland) appeared to have been immersed in water to the height of 50 or 60 feet. On our way up we landed at a small creek which we traced for a considerable distance coming to a gradual ascent covered with the most luxuriant gra.s.s. There was an extensive view from this height of a fine champain country. I named the eminence Mount Egerton after a seat belonging to the Duke of Bridgewater. In the evening we found by the sound of the bugle that we had reached the Colonel's headquarters. We answered the welcome signal and before it was quite dark we joined them.

"The Colonel had erected a comfortable hut. The cedar grew here in great plenty, and Mr. Palmer's party sawed many fine planks from these trees.

Colonel Paterson, Dr. Harris, Mr. Barrallier and myself penetrated 30 miles farther up the river in the course of which we met with many rapids which obliged us to get out and drag the boats up. We had hitherto seen none of the natives, but discovered places where they had been by the marks of their fires. We now descried some of them at a distance, who fled on our approach. We came to a spot which they had just quitted and observed the marks of children's feet. The ground was covered with freshwater of the sort found in the rivers of England and Scotland and called the horse mussel, having sometimes small pearls in them.

"We ascended two heights which commanded views of the country for several miles on every side. To one, Colonel Paterson gave the name of Ann's Mountain after Mrs. King, the other he called Elizabeth's Mountain, that being the Christian name of Mrs. Paterson. We now found that we had got behind the range of mountains extending along the coast to the south and west. We likewise saw the coast of Port Stephens and the chain of hills inland stretching in a direction towards the north-east. Between us and the hills was a s.p.a.ce perfectly level for many miles, and to appearance swampy. The land on the south side of the river was interspersed with lagoons on which we killed some ducks but found them very shy. The country seemed not to be dest.i.tute of inhabitants, some of whom we descried at a distance. The river here meandered so greatly that to have pursued its course the boats must have been pulled a whole day to have gained a direct distance of four or five miles from our present station.

"The time limited for our departure for Sydney approaching very fast and the survey still to be made not being less than 70 miles up the river, it was judged prudent not to proceed any further. Pa.s.sing the night upon the banks of the river we descended it the next day to our former rendezvous, Schanck Forest, Pasture Plains, where preparations were made for a general embarkation.

"The next morning I left Colonel Paterson in company of Mr. Barrallier, who then proceeded on the survey of the river. On our pa.s.sage down it, we saw several natives with their canoes...In many of them we saw fires, and in some of them observed that kind of eatable to which they give the name of cabra.* (* Teredo.) It appears to be abominably filthy; however, when dressed, it is not disagreeable to the taste. The cabra is a species of worm which breeds in the wood that happens to be immersed in water, and are found in such parts of the river wherein trees have fallen. They grow to a great size and soon reduce timber to the appearance of a honeycomb.

They are of a glutinous substance, and after being put on the fire harden to the consistence of the spinal marrow of animals. When fire is not at hand, the natives eat them raw; some of them being found at a fire near one of the canoes, I tasted them on the recommendation of one of my men and found them not unpalatable...

"We saw several natives at a small distance; one of them looked earnestly at us and seemed to be waiting our approach. One of my men called to him in his own language to stop, but at length he got behind a tree whence he presented only his head and shoulders, brandishing a fish-gig in his hand. He waited our landing, and seeing we were unarmed threw down his muton (so they named the fish-gig) and came readily to us. For what reason I know not (for we appeared without any marks of distinction) he addressed himself first to me, and taking from his forehead a small net which their women weave from the fur of the opossum he bound it round mine. In my turn I took out my pocket handkerchief and bound it round his head which pleased him very much, and we became from the moment the best of friends. I invited him on board the boat, and he readily accepted my invitation. When on board he was called to from the woods on the opposite sh.o.r.e by a number of voices which surprised us a little as we did not expect they were in such numbers. My new acquaintance called out in his turn to those on sh.o.r.e, and their cries immediately ceased. I have reason to think...that he a.s.sured them he had nothing to fear, which quieted their alarm.

"Proceeding further we saw a flock of ducks and I ordered one of the people to fire which he did and was lucky enough to kill two. Never did I witness stronger marks of surprise than were depicted on the stranger's countenance when he heard the report of the gun and saw the two ducks fall into the water. His astonishment was increased when he got on board the vessel; everything...seemed to fill him with wonder and amazement.

During the time he stayed on board he never quitted my side, and at the hour of rest he laid himself down near my bed place. I presented him with a small tomahawk which pleased him very much and he p.r.o.nounced with much earnestness the word...'Mogo.' He readily ate of whatever was set before him; spirits he would not touch, but sugar he took freely. He endeavoured to repeat our words after us; and was infinitely more tractable than the native last described. He was an elderly man, short in stature but well made; his arms and legs were long in proportion to his body which was slender and straight. Having occasion to despatch my first mate in a boat to Colonel Paterson I took that opportunity of sending off my New Hollander with directions that he should be landed on the precise spot from whence he was taken...When the first mate was returning he was surprised to find his pa.s.senger of the day before on the banks, who begged to be permitted to return to the vessel with him; he had a young lad with him whom he desired might accompany him and they were both brought on board. This lad made me understand that he wished to have a mogo and I soon found that I could not make a more acceptable present to a native...

"On the 19th we were rejoined by Colonel Paterson with the whole of his party. The Colonel had explored a branch of the river on the banks of which he found a species of flax growing which he thought was valuable.

He had collected specimens of many rare and uncommon plants particularly some varieties of fern, but unfortunately was deprived of the fruits of his industry. His servant had made use of the bundle of plants as a pillow and having placed it too near the fire it was soon in a blaze, and he was awaked only in time to save his face from being scorched...

"We were now growing short of provisions and no vessel arriving from Sydney we set about making preparations for our return thither. There was now a small establishment made for the colliers.* (* At Collier's Point.) I had built them a convenient hut to shelter them. I left them a boat and seine with what provisions I was able to spare. We took our departure for Sydney on the 22nd of July 1801, and arrived there on the 25th."

Six weeks after his return to port, Grant sent in his resignation on the ground that he had so "little knowledge of nautical surveying." The resignation was accepted by King, who wrote in reply: "I should have been glad if your ability as a surveyor or being able to determine the longitude of the different places you might visit was in anyway equal to your ability as an officer or a seaman."

A very slight perusal of Grant's narrative of his voyage enables us to grasp the state of his feelings when he sent in his resignation. It is evident that he thought he had not been treated fairly, and was glad to quit New South Wales. He writes of his departure: "The mortifications and disappointments I met with...induced me to seize the first opportunity of leaving the country." And it seems possible that when he told King that he had no knowledge of "nautical surveying," he said so because he knew King thought he had not, and it looks as if the admission was made as a pretext to obtain his pa.s.sage to England, rather than for the purpose of belittling his own capabilities. That Grant was a fine seaman goes without saying. That he was personally courageous, his subsequent naval services proved. He seems to have handled his ship at all times with extraordinary care, and it may have been that he had studied marine surveying with less a.s.siduity than seamanship, for the chart that he made must be admitted to be very imperfect.

Murray, his successor in the command of the brig, is best remembered as the discoverer of Victoria, and "yet," writes Rusden, "he (Murray) merely obeyed a distinct order in going thither to trace the coast between Point Schanck and Cape Albany Otway noticing the soundings and everything remarkable." Rusden might have added, that Murray probably received some benefit from Grant's experiences, for at that time he was equally incompetent as a marine surveyor. It is Flinders who has credited Grant with the discovery of the coast of Victoria "as far as Cape Schanck," and Flinders was most competent to judge as to whom the honour should belong.

On the great seaman's chart published in 1814 (Terra Australis, by M.

Flinders, South Coast, Sheet 5) is inscribed, "Coast as far as Cape Schanck discovered by Captain James Grant, 1800," in which track, of course, is included the entrance to Port Phillip, although Flinders knew that Grant had not penetrated to the bay itself.

Grant sailed from Sydney in the Anna Josepha, Captain Maclean, an old Spanish brig, belonging to Mr. Simeon Lord. She had been taken off the coast of Peru by the Betsy whaler, and on her arrival at Sydney was renamed Anna Josepha in honour of the Governor's wife. Loaded with coals and spars, the ship left Port Jackson for the Cape of Good Hope on November 9th, 1801. She steered southward of New Zealand, made Cape Horn, and then sailed to the Falklands. Grant quitted her when she reached Tristan D'Acunha and obtained a pa.s.sage in the Ocean as far as Table Bay.

There he shipped on April 12th, 1802, in H.M.S. Imperieuse for England, where he arrived safely, and, in due course, reported himself to the Admiralty.

Three years later he obtained his rank of Commander on January 12th, 1805, with a pension for gallantry in a spirited action off Holland, when in command of the Hawke cutter he was badly wounded. He subsequently commanded the Raven and Thracian and died at St. Servan in 1833, aged 61.



On Grant's resigning the command of the Lady Nelson, Governor King appointed John Murray to succeed him. As has been told Murray had formerly been Master's mate of the Porpoise and had accompanied Grant when he went for the second time to try and explore Governor King's Bay, and the Governor apparently thought him a capable officer. His appointment is dated September 3rd, 1801, so that he seems to have taken over the new post about two months before his predecessor finally left Sydney.

When, however, the Lady Nelson sailed to the Hawkesbury in September to load the settlers' grain and to bring it to Sydney, Grant appears to have been still on board her, as he was enjoined to ensure her safety at that place by Governor King. "You are not to leave the vessel yourself or suffer any other person to leave her while in the river nor let any strangers or visitors go on board...Your board netting is to be kept up while in the river." King evidently was determined to guard against the capture of the brig by runaway convicts, a fate which had overtaken the Norfolk. Murray succeeded to the command of the brig on her return from this Hawkesbury trip. His first voyage was to Norfolk Island, when he carried orders and instructions from the Governor of New South Wales to Major Foveaux, the Lieutenant-Governor. Before leaving Sydney, Captain Abbott, Ensign Piper and Mr. John Roberts (surgeon's mate) were embarked as pa.s.sengers on board the Lady Nelson, and in the afternoon of October 1st she set sail for her destination. The following account of her voyage is extracted from the log:--


From Port Jackson to Norfolk Island.

"October 2nd, 1801. At 3 P.M. got under weigh and stood out of ye Heads.

Observed ye Porpoise to be in the offing. At 5 P.M. pa.s.sed under the stern of the Porpoise and Mr. Murray went on board and waited on ye Commander of that vessel. At 6 Lieutenant Murray returned on board, hoisted in our gig and gave the Porpoise three cheers, which was returned--made sail at half-past 6 P.M.--ye North Head of Port Jackson bore to west by north distant 6 miles, the South Head of Broken Bay bore north by west distance 6 leagues.

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