14 June 2019: Bicentenary of Philip Parker King and the HMS Mermaid visiting the Townsville Area

This article is the first in a series about the historical maritime mapping and interaction along the North Queensland coastline.

The Mermaid at Cape Cleveland

Phillip Parker King 1816
Lieutenant Philip Parker King RN (1816)

On Sunday 14 June 1819, HMS Mermaid rounded Cape Cleveland in north Queensland and made an unscheduled stop, anchoring off present day Red Rock Bay. In command was Lieutenant Phillip Parker King RN, the Australian-born son of the third New South Wales Governor (Philip Gidley King) who, together with his crew, was on his third voyage surveying the Australian coast.

The Mermaid, an 84-ton cutter constructed of teak, had been built in India and measured 17 metres in length with a draft of just three metres when loaded. It had a complement of about nineteen officers and crew and was an ideal vessel for hydrographic surveys requiring access to inshore areas. It was later to become unseaworthy because of construction issues, and for King’s fifth and final survey voyage, the Mermaid was replaced by the brig Bathurst, a vessel of twice the size.

King's Sectional Drawing of the Mermaid
Philip Parker King’s sectional drawing of the Mermaid

The purpose of the Mermaid’s unscheduled stop was to confirm King’s assumption that potable water and wood fuel (to replenish his vessel’s supplies) could be accessed on the lee of Cape Cleveland. King sent Frederick Bedwell, his first officer and senior master’s mate, ashore to undertake the search. Bedwell was accompanied by Allan Cunningham, a botanist and eager explorer attached to the Mermaid’s crew on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks.

After finding a perennial stream (entering the sea in today’s Bedwell Bay), Bedwell returned to King with a favourable report, and the decision was made to remain at anchor for several days and send watering and wooding parties to restock the vessel. On 17 June 1819, after three days re-stocking, the Mermaid again weighed anchor and continued its hydrographic survey north.

Mermaid Chart Cleveland Bay from King's Narrative 1825
Mermaid Chart Cleveland Bay from King’s Narrative 1825

During the Mermaid’s three-day stay at Cape Cleveland, Frederick Bedwell sounded across Cleveland Bay towards today’s Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island (named Magnetical Isle by Captain James Cook) and then towards the beach at today’s Rowe’s Bay on the mainland. Bedwell established that the depth of Cleveland Bay was suitable for shipping and anchorage.

In the meantime, King, Cunningham and John Septimus Roe, second master’s mate and assistant surveyor, explored parts of Cape Cleveland. They climbed a peak, made sketches and recorded observations in compliance with King’s instructions from the Colonial Secretary. Cunningham collected several botanical ‘novelties’ including the first specimen of the hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) on mainland Australia, and King remarked on the swarms of butterflies, quite probably the blue tiger (Tirumala limniace).

King and Cunningham observed several thatched huts of pandanus palm and the remains of cooking fires, indicating Cape Cleveland was certainly inhabited. King also noted an inconsistency in his compass bearings, remarking that it may have had similarities to James Cook’s observations when passing Magnetic Island. Later, when departing on 17 June, King recorded his first sighting of Aboriginal peoples on Magnetic Island.

An important story, largely untold, unknown and unacknowledged

The Mermaid’s stay at Cape Cleveland two centuries ago marks the first recorded landing by Europeans in the Townsville area. Today, the city of Townsville has grown in importance as Australia’s largest tropical city with a population of almost 190,000, surpassing the size of the Northern Territory capital city, Darwin.

When Frederick Bedwell RN stepped ashore at Red Rock Bay, the establishment of a permanent European settlement near the mouth of Ross Creek was still almost half a century away. It was not until 1864 that settlers arrived by land, rather than by sea, and established the port city of Townsville to serve a developing pastoral hinterland.

Regrettably, the importance of these expeditions in Australia’s maritime history, the achievements of Phillip Parker King and the Mermaid’s crew in surveying the Australian coastline over four remarkable voyages between 1817 and 1820, and a fifth major exploration by the same crew in the sloop Bathurst in 1822, remain largely unknown to the Australian public.

The Mermaid 4 December 1820
Mermaid 4 December 1820

King’s instructions from the colonial office and the third survey

Phillip King’s instructions were to finish the task that Matthew Flinders was unable to fully complete – to conduct a full examination of the ‘New Holland’ coastline. The detailed survey work undertaken between 1817 and 1821 by the Mermaid and its crew (and the following year on the Bathurst) indisputably confirmed that the Australian continent was indeed an island.

In addition, King had been tasked by Colonial Secretary, Lord Bathurst, to record and report on a formidable list of diverse matters including weather conditions, mountains, animals, vegetables, wood, minerals, metals or stones, details of local communities, their languages and way of life. They were also to record any products of use for export to Great Britain, which explains the inclusion of botanist and scientist Allan Cunningham in the Mermaid’s crew.

King’s third survey, which included the interlude at Cape Cleveland, departed Sydney on 8 May 1819. After a few days break at Port Macquarie, the Mermaid sailed further north on 21 May destined for Torres Strait, Coepang Timor and eventually back to Sydney via Bass Strait.

Map of the Mermaid's Third Voyage
Map of the Mermaid’s third voyage

The Mermaid’s crew and their legacy

In retrospect, it is difficult to underestimate the courage, skill and ingenuity displayed, as well as the hardship endured, by the Mermaid’s crew in their pioneering and unassisted survey work in remote areas. The men were young: Lieutenant King was 27 years old and both master’s mates, Bedwell and Roe, just 22 years old; botanist Cunningham was 28 years old. All went on to achieve further positions of respect in the Australian colonies.

Phillip Parker King has the distinction of being the first Australian-born Rear Admiral and, apart from his expertise as a mariner and naval hydrographer, he later achieved great respect and admiration as an administrator and pastoralist and served on the New South Wales Legislative Council.

Allan Cunningham was acknowledged in later life as a resolute explorer, botanist and writer. Many places in both Queensland and New South Wales, including a federal electoral division in New South Wales, are named in his honour.

John Septimus Roe, a skilled hydrographer and prolific writer who was King’s assistant surveyor from 1817, later achieved fame as an explorer and was, for forty years, Western Australia’s Surveyor-General as well as holding other important public positions in the service of the colony.

John Septimus Roe 1823
John Septimus Roe (1823)

My forbearer, Frederick Bedwell (1796 – 1857), joined the Royal Navy shortly before his fourteenth birthday, entering service on 8 September 1810. From 1811, he served with Sir George Cockburn in Cadiz during the Napoleonic Wars and again at Chesapeake in the north American campaign. He also served as master’s mate with Cockburn on the Northumberland, escorting Napoleon Bonaparte to exile on St. Helens, and he later trained in hydrography before his appointment as second in command of the Mermaid, a position he retained on all of the voyages of the Mermaid and the Bathurst.

In later life, following several years in England, Frederick Bedwell returned to New South Wales and captained ships for the NSW colonial administration. He married Susannah Matilda Ward in 1832 and became a pioneer landholder in the Paterson area of New South Wales’ Hunter Valley in 1837 on their property ‘Valentia’. There he is credited with introducing the willow tree to Australia.

 

Velentia
Valentia at Paterson circa 1840

The Bedwells had twelve children, and their third child, daughter Zorayda Anne Bedwell (1836 – 1924), married Charles Allan Dun (1823 – 1908), the third child and eldest son of neighbouring Paterson landholders, William Dun and Maria Dun nee´Burdett, in 1857. Frederick Bedwell had also fathered a daughter Eliza (born at the end of 1820) to Louisa Calcott of Sydney.

Charles Dun and Zorayda (Bedwell) moved north and were among the first landholders in the Lake Cootharabra area of south-east Queensland. Dun’s Beach on the lake is named after them. Their son, Percy Vivian Dun, married Elizabeth Ann Cork who, with her family, moved to the township of Ayr, south of Townsville, in the very early years of the twentieth century following the incapacitation of Percy in a mining accident. They were my great grandparents.

Today, it is likely that there are thousands of living descendants of Frederick Bedwell, and many of them are probably unaware of their forbearer’s contribution to the development of modern Australia. It follows that Australians, at large, are also unaware of the importance of the work of the Mermaid and the Bathurst and their officers and crew in the story of modern Australian. The unscheduled landing and interlude at Cape Cleveland are part of the overall substance of King’s five hydrographic surveys, although the significance of that first visit clearly needs to be shared with today’s residents of Townsville.

Map of Newly Named Bedwell Bay 2010
Map of newly named Bedwell Bay (2010)

 

Written by Ken Dun. Compiled by Dr Maddy McAllister, Senior Curator Maritime Archaeology

Sources

King, Phillip Parker 1826, Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia: Performed between the Years 1818 and 1822, Volumes One and Two. John Murray, London.
Volume 1 – http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00027.html
Volume 2 – http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00028.html

Dun, Antje, 2018, Wonders, wishes and waves, Smashwords.
https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wonders-wishes-and-waves-diary-of-an-accidental-explorer
(A children’s interpretation of Phillip Parker King’s Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia: Performed between the years 1818 and 1822 written by one of Frederick Bedwell’s descendants).

Phillip Parker King – album of drawings and engravings, 1802-1902
http://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110326801

Further reading

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-01-07/mermaid-hunters-confirm-ships-discovery/259780

https://theconversation.com/the-murujuga-mermaid-how-rock-art-in-wa-sheds-light-on-historic-encounters-of-australian-exploration-116815

https://www.nla.gov.au/blogs/behind-the-scenes/2016/09/28/swallowed-by-the-sea-the-mermaid

http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/2019051611392/regional/pilbara-ship-engraving-may-depict-british-ship-mermaid-1818

https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2011/10/06/3333836.htm

https://www.modelerscentral.com/ship-model-kits/modellers-shipyard/hm-cutter-mermaid-1817/

https://www.sea.museum/2009/12/21/a-model-tale

 

 

 

We remember the first explorers on the Moon, do you?

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon Landing, we’re flashing back to 1969. On Monday 21 July at 12.56pm, Eastern Standard Time, Queenslanders were among the estimated 600 million people watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing television broadcast across the world.

The event received extensive coverage in television, radio and print media. These editions of Brisbane’s Courier Mail, published on 21 and 22 July, feature articles about the Apollo 11 mission and crew, along with public and political views on the Moon landing.

The newspapers show the broader impact and excitement around the event, with advertisements for “prices out of this world” at David Jones, and cameras with a lunar connection such as “Minolta lands on the Moon!” The Courier Mail also highlighted a Queensland connection to the Apollo 11 mission, with titanium from the Tin Can Bay area used in the manufacture of the command ship, lunar module lander, and the Saturn V rocket. At that time, a large percentage of titanium used around the world was refined from Australian rutile.

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One small letter from Michelle Chooke, Queensland

A Letter from Neil Armstrong

The story of the landing on the Moon was not only a global event but a personal one for all who waited and watched. Michelle Cooke was a 16 year old school girl from Scarborough, Queensland, fascinated by space. When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, she sent a letter congratulating the astronauts on their massive achievement. To her delight space hero Neil Armstrong replied, thanking her for her best wishes and ensuring these would  be passed on to ‘Mike and Buzz.’ She still treasures this letter to this day, alongside her copy of the National Geographic magazine commemorating this historical event.

Next stop, the Moon

Can you imagine the excitement of a crowd chanting “Go! Go! Go!” while a rocket ship tears up the sky on its way to space? Perhaps, you were actually there amongst the crowd as a young child, or know someone who was? On July 21, according to The Montreal Star that’s exactly what was happening down on Earth as the population, and traffic stood still. Motor vehicles came to a grinding halt in a 50 mile long traffic jam around the Cape Kennedy Space Centre in Florida,  as people flocked to see history in the making.

These old newspapers were courtesy of Queensland Museum’s Event Manager, Luke Diett’s Mother. Do you still have any Moon landing mementos?

Your Moon landing memories

Do you remember the excitement of watching Neil Armstrong’s first step foot on the Moon? Share your Moon landing memories with us along with any images by using the hashtag #SpaceQM and tag @qldmuseum for a chance to be reposted on social media and featured on our blog.

Here’s some helpful prompts to jog your memory:

  1. Where did you view the Moon landing on 21 July 1969?
  2. Who were you with?
  3. How did you feel seeing the rocket ship launch into space?

The ultimate Moon landing memory, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s footprints, are probably still etched into the lunar soil thanks to the lack of atmosphere on the Moon.

Make sure to stop by NASA – A Human Adventure to explore the extraordinary collection of more than 250 artefacts from the United States and Soviet Union space programs including items that have actually been to space. Skip the queue and book online here to save time.

 

New Species of Skink

Did you know Skinks are the largest and most diverse family of lizards and range in size from as small as 22 millimetres right up to the common Blue-tongue up to around 320 millimetres?

Queensland Museum scientists have described three new species of skinks found in a small pocket of land in North Queensland. The three new species are Lerista anyara, Lerista alia and Lerista parameles.

Lerista anyara, Olkola country, Qld. S. Wilson. 8139
Lerista anyara. Photo by Steve Wilson, Queensland Museum.

Found in the remote Olkola National Park in north Queensland, the skink (Lerista) was discovered by consultants working with Traditional Owners on the Kimba Plateau, in Cape York, following Bush Blitz, a species discovery program. The Olkola people who helped find the skink, contacted Queensland Museum herpetologist Dr Andrew Amey who confirmed it was a new species.

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Lerista alia. Photo by Steve Wilson, Queensland Museum.

Dr Amey worked with senior curator reptiles, Patrick Couper and Research Fellow and Molecular Identities Lab Manager, Dr Jessica Worthington-Wilmer, to describe the new species, Lerista anyara, which is known to only inhabit the Kimba Plateau.

“It was quite surprising to find the presence of skinks on Kimba Plateau as the nearest relative is 500 kilometres south, so it’s very interesting they exist on this small pocket of land,” Dr Amey said.

Dr Amey said he enjoyed working with skinks because of their diversity. “Because of the diversity between different species, they can be difficult to define, most have smooth, shiny overlapping body scales and have four legs, with five fingers and toes, but some have small reduced limbs with few digits or even no limbs at all,” he said.

Lerista parameles, QMJ95806. Savannah Way via Almaden, Qld. S. Wilson. 8372
Lerista parameles. Photo by Steve Wilson, Queensland Museum.

Queensland Museum CEO Dr Jim Thompson said recording new species and understanding their distribution is critical to ensuring their long term conservation. “It’s a credit to our Queensland Museum scientists that they continue to describe new species and enrich our knowledge of the state’s biodiversity,” he said. “As a scientist you never stop learning and researching and taxonomy is just one of the many roles the scientists undertake here at the museum, for the benefit of all Queenslanders.”

Explore Wild State on level 4 of the Museum to view more Queensland animal species.

Queenslanders Band Together

As Queensland celebrates its 160th birthday this year, we’re shining the spotlight on a time throughout history where Queenslanders banded together, the First World War. 

Each year Queensland Day on 6 June marks the official separation from New South Wales as an independent colony. One of the most significant historical events to rock Queensland was the First World War in 1914. Today we look at items on display at the Anzac Legacy Gallery which serve as a reminder of challenging times for the state, sacrifice and comradeship.

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Queensland Army Recruiting Poster

Could you imagine seeing this Army recruitment poster in the streets and enlisting into the army at 18 years old? This was the reality for nearly 58,000 Queenslanders, and more than ten times as many civilians who supported their war efforts back home. The poster shows two maps; one of south east Europe and the other focusing on the Gallipoli area. The poster reads “Queenslanders your country calls” along the top and “We’re coming lads hold on!” in bottom right hand corner.

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World War 1 Nurse’s Cap

This nurse’s cap is homemade and belonged to Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) member, Miss Evelyn Drury. The primary role of a VAD member was that of nursing orderly in hospitals, carrying out menial but essential tasks – scrubbing floors, sweeping, dusting and cleaning bathrooms and other areas, dealing with bedpans, and washing patients. They were not employed in military hospitals, except as ward and pantry maids; rather, they worked in Red Cross convalescent and rest homes, canteens, and on troop trains.

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Yes button badge for 1916 or 1917 referendum

These referenda held at the height of the First World War established the principle that there would be no conscription for the armed forces during that conflict. They were remarkably divisive and demonstrated an Australian popular refusal to accept compulsory membership of the armed forces, which was at odds with the vast numbers who had joined up voluntarily.

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Anzac Legacy Gallery

The Anzac Legacy Gallery is a permanent exhibition on level 1 of the museum and explores the stories, objects, and journeys that trace how the First World War changed the face of Queensland and continues to shape our lives, a century later. The gallery is summarised into three major thematic areas, Queensland at War, The Story of Mephisto and Queensland Remembers and features more than 500 objects and 200 personal stories.

Read more blog posts ‘Stories in living colour’ here and ‘A man from Glamorganvale’ here.