Lady Nelson

Lady Nelson

The "Lady Nelson" was a vessel used in the exploration of the coast of Australia in the early years of the 19th century. It was the first vessel to sail eastward through Bass Strait, the first to sail along the entire eastern coastline of Australia, as well as the first to enter Port Phillip Bay. The "Lady Nelson" was also involved in the founding of Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne and Brisbane.


The Lady Nelson was named in honour of the wife of Horatio Nelson, England's naval hero. She was built in Deptford, England in 1799 and purchased by the Royal Navy in 1800. She was a Brig designed especially for inshore exploration, with a draught of only 6', and three sliding keels. This unusual feature was originally conceived by naval architect Captain John Schank. Her length was 52'6", her tonnage 60 tonnes, and she was originally armed with 2 brass carriage guns. Her crew consisted of fifteen men: the commander, two mates, and twelve seamen. She was fitted out with a further four guns and provisions for 9 months and sent to Australia under the command of Lieutenant James Grant.

Exploration of the Victorian coast

The Lady Nelson reached the western coast of Victoria, Australia in December 1800, and was subsequently the first vessel to pass through Bass Strait on her way to Sydney. Grant named Cape Schanck, Mount Gambier, Cape Northumberland, Cape Banks, Cape Bridgewater, Mount Schank, Lady Julia Percy Island, Portland Bay, Point Danger and Cape Otway along the southern coast. After arriving in Sydney on 16 December 1800, Grant was ordered by Governor King to take a cartographer to chart the southern coastline to protect it against claims by the French. Grant sailed on 8 March 1801, with John Murray aboard as first mate, and en route explored Jervis Bay, where he was able to befriend some aborigines. But when he discovered that they practised cannibalism, he set sail again. Grant surveyed as far as Westernport Bay. However, her most famous southern voyage was in early 1802 when John Murray, having been given command of the Lady Nelson, discovered the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. On the same voyage he also surveyed King Island (which he later named after the Governor of New South Wales) and the Kent Group.

The coastal Hunter River area

"Lady Nelson"'s next assignment was to make an extensive survey of the Hunter River area. The ship sailed with Colonel William Paterson in charge. So much coal was found - 75 tonnes, mined in what is now the centre of Newcastle - that King sent the brig back in company with a schooner. King traded the coal with the captain of the "Earl Cornwallis" for iron of the same value, possibly Australia's first mineral transaction.

Association with Matthew Flinders

The Lady Nelson is also associated with Matthew Flinders. In 1803 the "Lady Nelson" was intended to accompany Flinders' other survey ship, the Investigator, in surveying the coast north of Sydney, into what is now Queensland. However, she accompanied the Investigator only as far as Cumberland Island when Flinders decided she was unseaworthy and sent her back.


In June 1803, the "Lady Nelson" took the first settlers, ten convicts and three soldiers, to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). It landed on 7 September 1803 at Risdon. Colonel David Collins soon found the site unsatisfactory and moved the settlement to the present site of Hobart. In October 1804, the ship was again dispatched to Van Diemen's Land, this time with troops and settlers for Port Dalrymple (now Launceston).

After much storm damage and a complete refit in Sydney, it was sent again to Jervis Bay to investigate a report that a Spanish armed schooner was anchored there. The vessel, the "Estramina", was crewed by Americans who had taken it as a prize in the American war against Spain. It tried to make a run for it, but after firing a shot across its bows, the "Lady Nelson" escorted it back to Sydney.

Near loss

On 2 May 1815 on departing Port Macquarie the "Lady Nelson" ran ashore on the South side of the harbour. The crew abandoned ship as the brig's rudder and sternpost were swept away and the bottom planks started to leak. Shortly after the tide completely filled the ship. The "Lady Nelson" was considered lost by the commandant of the settlement but eventually the ship was refloated and repaired. [ "Australian Shipwrecks - vol 1 1622-1850", Charles Bateson, AH and AW Reed, Sydney, 1972, ISBN 0 589 07112 2 p50 ]

The Loss of the Lady Nelson to Privateers

The ship was sent on many more expeditions, including to Norfolk Island and New Zealand. It sailed in Australian waters during the governorships of King, Bligh, Macquarie and Brisbane. Under Brisbane, it was sent north with two other vessels to carry settlers to a new trading post on Melville Island, and it served that settlement for some time. Its final voyage started in February 1825, when it was sent to Koepang to bring back buffaloes for food. Several months passed before it was learned it had been captured by Malay pirates off Baba Island, north-east of Timor. On September 22 1825, The Sydney Gazette reported: 'The Lady Nelson, brig, has been most unfortunately cut off at Timor by Malay privateers and all the crew sacrificed, except the Captain. The little 60-ton ship contributed more to the exploration and settlement than any other. She served in the colony for a quarter of a century'.

Modern replica

A modern replica of the Lady Nelson was built in c. 1987 and took part in the Tall Ships Festival at Pyrmont Bay in Sydney. It took part in the Tall Ships race from Sydney to Hobart. It is based in Tasmania and operates as a sail training vessel after a recent 4-month refurbishment. Fact|date=February 2008

ee also

*Ship replica (including a list of ship replicas)
*Tall ship


* " [ The discovery of the relics of H.M. Colonial Brig Lady Nelson and the schooner Stedcombe] " / Peter Spillett (1982, ISBN 0-9599702-1-5)
* " [ First lady: the story of HMS Lady Nelson] " / Lorraine Paul (1982, ISBN 0-909131-91-0)
* " [ H.M. Survey vessel Lady Nelson and the discovery of Port Phillip] " / John Murray, edited and introduced by John Currey (2002, ISBN 0-949586-11-0)
* " [ Rebirth of a Lady: The Lady Nelson project, from conception to rebirth, book 1, 1980 to launch, reflections and recollections] " / John R. Sargent (1998, ISBN 0-9585284-3-8)
* [ Papers of Geoffrey Chapman Ingleton] - maritime historian and marine artist, includes "Lady Nelson" material
* [ Chart of the N and W. parts of Bass's Straits discovered and sailed through in a passage from England to Port Jackson in December 1800 in H.M. armed surveying vessel Lady Nelson commanded by Jas. Grant ... ]
* [ Chart of King's Island, in Bass's strait [sign denoting anchorage] in Elephant Bay Lat. 39p0s51'17"S. Long. 143p0s57'45"E / by acting Lieut. John Murray, in the Lady Nelson 1802. Plan of Port Phillip in Bass's Strait / discovered & partly surveyed by Acting Lieut. John Murray, in the Lady Nelson January 1801]
* [ Chart of the sound and coves between the East and West Islands of Kent's Group in Bass's Strait: discovered and sailed thro by Lieut: Flinders in 1798 ; examined in the Lady Nelson by Acting Lieut. John Murray, 1801]
* [ Chart of Western Port and coast to Wilson's Promontory forming part of the North side of Bass's Strait / surveyed by order of Governor King by Ensign Barrallier in HM armed surveying vessel Lady Nelson ; Lieut. James Grant, Commander, in March, April and May, 1801]
* "Pluck be a Lady", Telegraph, c. 22 January 1998


External links

* [ The Logbook of the Lady Nelson] at Project Gutenberg
* [ Lady Nelson Tasmanian Sail Training Association]

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