Category Archives: Maritime History

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

 

 

 

Well, that’s a pickle!

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories

Sometimes when working with the collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, you see an object that just makes you stop in your tracks. The object featured today is one that really made me stop and think. So what is it?

A bottle of pickled onions. Exciting, I know!

This bottle was manufactured by Nuttall & Co in Lancashire, England between 1873 and 1887. It was then transferred onto the Scottish Prince, where it would become part of the cargo travelling with passengers on the vessel from the United Kingdom to Australia in the late 19th century.

MA3148 pickled onions A

On the 2nd of February, 1887, the Scottish Prince was making the final stage of its journey under the command of William Little, sailing into Moreton Bay, Queensland. William Little left the ship that night, with a less-experienced Second Mate in charge of the vessel. Just before midnight, the Scottish Prince ran aground at the southern end of Stradbroke Island.

More than 60 years later in 1955, the ‘Under Water Research Group of Queensland’ discovered the wreck. The site was explored and, in many cases, pillaged by divers collecting souvenirs and scrap metal.

This bottle of pickled onions was uncovered from the Scottish Prince wreck in 1974, by Mr Elliott. He collected it before the implementation of the Historic Shipwreck Act in 1976, which enacted new regulations that protect historic shipwrecks in Commonwealth waters, and maintain their use for educational, recreational and scientific purposes. In 1993, an historic shipwreck amnesty was established which encouraged divers and other private collectors to declare their artefacts from shipwrecks older than 75 years, without charges being laid, in order for the Commonwealth to document and create a more complete understanding of the existing artefacts and heritage of Australian Maritime history.

Pickled onions 3

Elliott declared this object at the time of the amnesty, and in 2017, donated the bottle of pickled onions to Museum of Tropical Queensland, where it became a valued addition to the Museum’s Maritime collection.

The bottle – with the lid still intact, and the onions inside still preserved – has lasted throughout its tumultuous history with almost no damage! Another interesting element is that the lid was made with a lead seal, which would have heavily contaminated the contents of the bottle had they ever been consumed. So no, even if we wanted to crack the bottle open, we couldn’t eat these pickled onions anymore! Created in the late 19th century in the United Kingdom, and then remaining – untouched and undamaged – underwater for almost 70 years in Australian waters, this object has lived a very interesting life, and seen things we can only imagine.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

A compass gimbal from Mermaid

Written by Carl Tanner, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

The final part of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches.

The shipwreck

HMCS Mermaid was built at the Howrah Dry Docks on the Hooghly River in Calcutta, India, in 1816, by the shipwrights Thompson (Phipps 1840:108, 123). Built out of Indian teak, it was iron-fastened and clad in copper sheathing along the keel (Hosty 2009:17). Designed as a cutter, it was originally rigged as a one-masted ship, but was refitted later into an armed, two-masted schooner (Hosty 2009:17; ANSD 2017). The ship displaced 83-85 gross registered tons, was 17m in length, 5.48-5.6m in beam and had a draught of 2.7m (Hosty 2009:17; Phipps 1840:123; ANSD 2017).

Continue reading A compass gimbal from Mermaid

A porthole from Gothenburg

Written by Tia Eagleson, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

Part of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches.

 The shipwreck

The site of the Gothenburg wreck is in Flinders Passage, North QLD (Latitude: -19.37 Longitude: 148.06). Gothenburg was built in the UK in 1854 by Mr. John Scott Russel. The vessel, a twin-screw steamer, has numerous features in view at the site of the wreck which are indicative of the build of the ship. These consist of two compound single screw engines each with 60 individual horsepower, two decks and three masts and a female figurehead with an elliptical shaped stern. The dimensions of the ship were 59.92m in length, 8.6m in width and 3.23m in depth. Overall, the vessel weighed approximately 737 tonnes. This shipwreck is identified as number 2563 (Australian National Shipwreck Database; Central Queensland Herald 1931:13).

Continue reading A porthole from Gothenburg

Copper-alloy sheathing from Coolangatta

Written by Caroline Mercer, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

Part 3 of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches.

The shipwreck

Coolangatta was built by John Brinksell in 1843 in Shoalhaven, New South Wales (NSW) (Davidson 2014). It was commissioned and owned by Alexander Berry, who named the brigantine sailing vessel after his property in the area (Potts 2010). The boat’s life was largely spent transporting goods up and down the eastern coast of Australia, bringing materials such as coal to the north and most often returning to Sydney with a cargo of timber (Potts 2010). At the time of the wrecking of Coolangatta, it had recently delivered coal to Brisbane and was starting its return trip back to Sydney when it was wrecked. On 19 August 1846, Coolangatta was driven ashore during a gale as it attempted to enter the Tweed River (Davidson 2014). The ship was abandoned by the crew and Captain Steele, after it was stripped of any removable gear and rigging (Davidson 2014). A couple of months later there was an attempt to repair the vessel, with Brinksell being brought up from NSW to repair the damage on the port side (Davidson 2014). However, shortly after the wreck was lifted onto rollers, another gale forced it into a worse position and the keel broke, ending any hopes of repairing the ship (Potts 2010).

Continue reading Copper-alloy sheathing from Coolangatta

A sperm sewing machine oil bottle from Aarhus

Written by Tate Devantier-Thomas, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

This is part of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches. Continue reading A sperm sewing machine oil bottle from Aarhus

An earthenware bottle from Yongala

Written by Robyn Blucher, compiled by Dr Madeline Fowler

This is Part 1 of a blog series written by undergraduate students at James Cook University, who undertook research on objects in the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s maritime archaeology collection as part of the 2017 topic AR3008 Boats and Beaches. Continue reading An earthenware bottle from Yongala