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Historical Facts - Mornington Peninsula
Collins Settlement - The Ships and the journey from Portsmouth

Map showing indicating the routes taken by the ships H.M.S. Calcutta and Ocean in 1803
Map indicating the routes taken by the H.M.S. Calcutta and the supply ship Ocean on their voyage from Portsmouth England to Port Phillip Bay in 1803. The yellow line indicates the route taken by H.M.S. Calcutta. The purple line indicates the route taken by the supply ship Ocean.

The Ocean was a copper-bottomed brig (a sailing ship with two squared rigged masts) weighting about 480 tonnes. There is not a lot of history known about the Ocean, but she was possibly built in Newcastle England in the late 1700's.

The British Government chartered the Ocean from Messrs Hurry & Co as a supply ship for the journey from Portsmouth to Port Philip Bay. On the voyage to Port Philip Bay, the Ocean carried 100 people along with supplies needed for the settlement at Port Philip Bay. These included, the Captain, John Mertho, 9 officers, 26 seamen, 8 civil officers including George Harris a surveyor and Adolarius Humphrey a mineralogist and a group of free settlers. Many of the free settlers had skills that would be of value to the new settlement - 5 were carpenters, 2 seamen, 2 millers, a whitesmith (works with white or light coloured metals such as tin or pewter), a stonemason, gardener, painter, schoolteacher, pocketbook maker (maker of wallets and covered notebooks) and 2 servants.

The other ship, H.M.S. Calcutta was a 1200 tonne, 52-gun warship. She was modified for this journey. The length of her main deck was 60 meters, her breadth was 10 meters, and her height was 61 meters to the top of her mast. She was built of teak in 1788 for the East Indian Company and originally named the 'Warley'. She carried 52 guns and was capable of 12 knots. On the voyage to Port Philip the Calcutta carried approximately 640 people. These included convicts, some with wives and families, 23 officers, a crew of 150 seamen, 59 marines attached to the H.M.S. Calcutta and another 50 marines, which were to be the colony's garrison. Before the voyage from Portsmouth began the Calcutta was struck by a violent storm while sailing to Portsmouth as part of a sea test. The few convicts who were already onboard feared for their lives. During this sea test, Thomas Penn, a midshipman fell from the rigging while furling sails and fractured his skull and died.

H.M.S.Calcutta and the supply ship Ocean
The H.M.S. Calcutta and in the background the supply ship Ocean

As part of the refit to carry the convicts, 2 prison rooms were built on the H.M.S. Calcutta. Most of the convicts were housed in these rooms although 16 prisoners were employment as servants for the civil and military officers, nineteen worked as sailors and 20 were employed on deck, mostly as cooks.

Those convicts who were married were allowed to have their wives accompany them on the H.M.S. Calcutta as servants. This was done as an added incentive towards promoting good behaviour. In total, 17 wives including 2 unmarried women accompanied their convict husbands bring with them 6 sons and 5 daughters.

Before leaving Portsmouth there was some trouble with the sailors on H.M.S. Calcutta. John Jones was given a dozen lashes for theft. Two months later he attempted to desert the ship at Rio de Janeiro and was given another dozen lashes.

Most of the convict families had small rooms made by dividing up a larger space with partitions. John Fawkner, one of the first convicts to board the Calcutta at Portsmouth found alternative and more comfortable accommodation. Fawkner had been a metal refiner but was sentenced to transportation for 14 years for receiving stolen goods. Fawkner it seems a man who thought on a grand scale. To prove this point he paid the boatswain 20 guineas to rent his cabin, which he then occupied with his wife Hannah, son John Pascoe Fawkner (later known as the founder of Melbourne) and daughter Elizabeth.

James Grove, who along with his wife and son, joined the Calcutta on the 10th April also paid for more comfortable accommodation. He rented the carpenters cabin for 20 pound.

The Ocean and Calcutta left Portsmouth on 27 April 1803 and reached Santa Cruz on the Island of Tenerife, part of the Canary Islands on 17th May 1803. Both ships sailed from Tenerife on the 21st May and arrived at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on 29th June.

On the 11th May before reaching Tenerife, Captain Woodriff of the H.M.S. Calcutta saw a strange sail on the horizon. It belonged to the vessel, Rio Nova, which was carrying over 300 slaves from West Africa for Demerara, Guyana in South America. There had been a mutiny on board and Captain Woodriff ordered a party of 5 marines to detain 3 of the ringleaders and confine them below deck in irons.

While in Rio, Captain Woodriff of the H.M.S. Calcutta sent 5 marines under Lieutenant Sladden leadership to help maintain order on the Ocean for the rest of the voyage. According to Reverend Robert Knopwoods journals, ‘Mr. Hartley, a settler had behaved badly’ – and it seemed there was little love lost between some of the free settlers and Captain Mertho. They apparently regarded him as a ‘tyrant’ while he thought they were intractable.

Desertion from the Royal Navy became such a problem that it was customary not to allow sailors shore leave except when on duty with an officer and to pay them at the conclusion of a tour of duty. While the ships were at Rio de Janeiro, seven sailors deserted the H.M.S. Calcutta. Three of the sailors were captured by Portuguese soldiers and returned to H.M.S. Calcutta. As a reward, the Portuguese soldiers were paid 6 pound per sailor. At Cape Town 2 more sailors deserted the H.M.S. Calcutta. One was captured and returned.

While the ships were at berth in Rio de Janeiro, maintenance work was carried out on both ships and fresh provisions were taken on board for the next leg of the journey. Cloths were washed; repairs and adjustments made to the rigging of both ships and supplies of water were replenished. The fresh provisions included 36 turkeys, 13 dozen capons (roosters) and fowls, 68 very large ducks 4 geese, 13 pigs and a large quantity of fruit and vegetables. Both the Ocean and H.M.S. Calcutta left Rio de Janeiro on the 19th July 1803

The Ocean, the slower of the 2 ships was directed to sail direct to Port Philip Bay if she lost contact with the Calcutta. The ships did lose contact so the Ocean did not put in at Cape Town, arriving at Port Philip Bay on 7th October.

After leaving Rio de Janeiro the Ocean sailed through the Southern Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean. She experienced frightening weather conditions for 77days before sighting land on course and off Port Philip on 5th October. Twenty days out of Rio, George Harris recorded that ‘for many days we could not sit at table but were obliges to hold fast by boxes and on the floor and all our crockery were almost broken to pieces, besides many seas into the cabin and living in the state of darkness from the cabin windows being stopped up by the deadlights … I was never so melancholy in my life before’

In such conditions work on deck was extremely dangerous. On 9th August John Bowers fell overboard and was lost.

When Captain Mertho eventually sited land on the 5th October, he could not see the opening leading into Port Philip Bay due to a gale that was blowing, resulting in poor visibility. According to Adolarius Humphrey ‘the captain began to be uneasy. He feared if this were not Port Philip Bay he would not be able to beat off the coast. We could see the appearance of breakers with surf running over them, completely across the opening. We were all greatly alarmed, the captain not excepted … though he said little’ The gale eased and soon they were 12 miles off shore and Captain Mertho observed that we must have a strong tide which hurried us off or we should not have got so far in such a short time. The following day Mertho’s assumption that the tide was related to the location of the entrance proved to be correct and with the assistance of soundings made from an open boat the Ocean cautiously slipped into Port Philip Bay.

William Crook who along with William Caw was one of 2 missionaries on the Ocean described a skirmish that occurred when the first party of men from the Ocean landed on shore. ‘When we first came into harbour Captain Mertho went with a few people into a lagoon that is in the north west part of the harbour (on the Bellarine peninsula) to examine it. Here as they approached the shore they perceived a native on the beach with a shield and spear, brandishing the weapon as if to prevent their landing. A musket was fired over his head, when he ran and was joined by others out of the bushes. They went off with amazing rapidity kicking up dust so it appeared as if they were running through water. The party landed, went into a hut where they found fire. They brought away a bark basket with them and threw about the fire in such a manner that it communicated to the hut and burnt it. Crook then asked his reader ‘What impression this first visit made on the savages I leave you … to judge?’

The H.M.S. Calcutta arrived at Cape Town on 13th August. She took on more supplies including 5000 pounds of fresh beef and mutton, 300 pounds of soft bread as well as 3 cows, 2 bulls and 12 sheep. The H.M.S. Calcutta departed Cape Town 25 August, dashed along the ‘roaring forties’ and arrived at Port Philip 2 days after the Ocean.

The Roaring Forties is the name given to the boisterous and prevailing westerly winds which are caused by the ice mass of the Antarctic and are especially strong in the Southern Ocean and South Indian Ocean.

On the 6th October the H.M.S. Calcutta sighted King Island in Bass Strait. She was almost blown onto the island and wrecked by a ‘hurricane of wind which blew away every sail from the yards.’ In this situation wrote Pateshall ‘did we remain during a long and awful night in an unexplored sea’. In the morning the H.M.S. Calcutta approached the entrance to Port Philip but ‘we observed the sea to break all the way across - our situation’ continued Pateshall ‘now became most serious with the wind and sea dead on land, our anchors now seemed our only dependence’. Soon however, a small opening was observed and the H.M.S. Calcutta entered Port Philip Bay to find the Ocean already at anchor.

The majority of the passengers must have suffered great discomfort physically and emotionally during the voyage. Exercise was only possible during fair weather so that for long periods of time, the convicts and free settlers were confined below. On occasions of bitterly cold, at time stiflingly hot. Fear of the sea and of drowning was constant traveling companions.

Despite these hardships, the passengers on both the H.M.S Calcutta and Ocean generally enjoyed good health. Eight convicts died during the voyage to Port Philip, mostly from scurvy, even though fresh fruit and vegetables were purchased from Tenerife and Rio de Janeiro.

Lieutenant Tuckey wrote that monotony had been the main characteristic of the voyage. He said ‘the effect which the sight of the smallest spot of land or even a bare uninhabited rock has in breaking the tedious monotony of a long sea voyage is easier felt than described.’

The Ocean was released from service with His Majesty’s government following its assistance in moving Collins settlers to Hobart. She sailed to Sydney, taking fresh provisions on board and then headed to China, on behalf of the owners to pick up cargo presumably before returning to England. On her journey to China, the Ocean sailed to the phosphate rich Micronesian island of Banada, then on to the Marshall Islands in November 1804. Unfortunately further details of Captain John Mertho or the fate of the Ocean is not known.

The Calcutta returned to Portsmouth from Sydney on 24 July 1804. After refitting she was assigned to convoy duty against the French off St Helens in the Atlantic Ocean. The Calcutta sailed on 3rd August 1804 in a convoy which included the ‘Indus” from Madras, the ‘African and the Fox which were both whalers, the Grand Sachem from Peru, the Carolina, a Swedish vessel and the Wilhelmina from Prussia. On 25th August several ships were sighted following the convoy. The following day Captain Woodriff advised his convoy to escape as he closed on the Armede. He drove her off and drew the enemy away from his dispersing convoy. He then engaged the much superior Magnanime for almost an hour before surrendering to avoid further casualties. Captain Woodriff wrote that enemy gunfire completely unrigged his ship. ‘Finding the ship totally unmanageable and our escape rendered impossible I saw that it would only be sacrificing the lives of my people to contend any longer and I was therefore under the painful necessity of ordering His Majesty’s colours to be hauled down. After her capture, H.M.S. Calcutta saw service with the French Navy later being destroyed while in action against the Royal Navy in April 1809.

Sources of information include 'No Place for a Colony' by Richard Cotter, 'Mornington iin the wake of Flinders' by Leslie Moorhead, The logs of the Lady Nelson, 'A Voyage to Establish a Colony at Port Philip in Bass's Strait On the South Coast of New South Wales, in His Majesty's Ship Calcutta, in the Years 1802-3-4' by James Hingston Tuckey, ADB and other sources

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