Free Settler or Felon?

Hunter River Discovered


Lieutenant Shortland  


After Pirates Seize the Cumberland



Extract from "An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales" describing Lieutenant Shortland's pursuit of escaping convicts in 1797......

1797 September -
This month began with a very vexatious circumstance. A boat named the Cumberland*, the largest and best in the colony belonging to the government, was, on her passage to the Hawkesbury, whither she was carrying a few stores, taken possession of by a part of the boat's crew; being at the same time boarded by a small boat from the shore, the people in which seized her and put off to sea, first landing the coxswain and three others, who were unwilling to accompany them, in Pitt Water in Broken Bay. Those men proceeded overland to Port Jackson, where they gave the first information of this daring and piratical transaction. Two boats, well manned and armed, were immediately dispatched after them, under the command of Lieutenant Shortland of the Reliance.

One of these boats returned in a few days, without having seen any thing of them; but Lieutenant Shortland proceeded with the other, a whale boat, as far as Port Stephens, where he thought it probable they might have taken shelter; but on the 19th, having been absent thirteen days, he returned without discovering the smallest trace of them or the boat. His pursuit, however, had not been without its advantage; for on his return he entered a river which he named Hunter River, about ten leagues to the southward of Port Stephens, into which he carried three fathoms water, in the shoalest part of its entrance. finding deep water and good anchorage within. The entrance of this river was but narrow, and covered by a high rocky Island, lying right off it, so as to leave a good passage round the north end of the island, between that and the shore. A reef connects the south part of the island with the south shore of the entrance of the river.

In this harbour was found a very considerable quantity of coal of a very good sort, and lying so near the water side as to be conveniently shipped; which gave it, in this particular, a manifest advantage over that discovered to the southward. Some specimens of this coal were brought up in the boat
. -  D. Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, from its First Settlement, in January 1788, to August 1801: with Remarks on the Dispositions, Customs, Manners, Etc of the Native Inhabitants of that Country, London, 1802, vol. II, pp. 47 - 8.  

Matthew Flinders in A Voyage to Terra Australis published in 1814 also reported Lieutenant Shortland entering the river on the return from Port Stephens....

In September a small colonial vessel having been carried off by convicts, Lieutenant John Shortland, first of the Reliance, went after them to the northward, in an armed boat. The expedition was fruitless, as to the proposed object; but in returning along the shore from Port Stephens, Mr. Shortland discovered a port in latitude 33 capable of receiving small ships; and what materially added to the importance of the discovery was a stratum of coal found to run through the south head of the port.    

In Lieutenant Shortland's Eye Sketch of Hunter's River........ He names several features - Point Bass (for George Bass); Point Flinders (Matthew Flinders); Point Kent (Lieutenant William Kent); Point Thwaites; Hacking Island; (Henry Hacking); Point Waterhouse (Captain Henry Waterhouse); On the map Lieutenant Shortland noted where they had slept which was not far from a native tribe.  He states the date he discovered the river as 10th September 1797.......

I judge this river lays N.N.W true 63 or 65 miles from Port Jackson. Discovered this River September 10, 1797, in our way to Port Stevens.


Extract from The Historical Records of Australia .........

Governor Hunter to The Duke of Portland, 10th January 1798. I have now to inform your Grace that on the fifth day of September last, as our largest and best boat belonging to Government, was on her way to the Hawkesbury River, carrying thither a few stores, and to bring from thence some articles wanted here, a service on which she was constantly employed, she was taken possession of by a part of the crew, assisted by a few men in another boat, who threatened the life of the coxswain and all who dared to oppose them. They put him and three others on shore at Broken Bay, and went off with the boat we know not whither. And as another party of those villains went off some time after in another boat, and the very men who were landed from the first, as unwilling to go, were a part of the second gang, I am of opinion it had been a long concerted plan. Not having any fit vessel to pursue upon such occasion, I dispatched two row boats, well armed; the one went about sixty miles northward along the coast and the other forty miles southwards, but without success, a gale blowing soon after the escape of the second boat, which obliged the officer in pursuit to land upon the coasts. There is is every reason to believe that the last party have perished, as the vessel was very feeble. Most of those people were of the last Irish convicts.(2)

Notes & Links:

*A schooner of 28 tons also named the Cumberland was built in Port Jackson during the years 1800 - 1801 under the supervision of Thomas Moore. When he was in command of this vessel, Matthew Flinders was arrested and imprisoned at the Isle of France (Mauritius) HRA., Series 1, vol. II, Note 47, p.712  

Newcastle Through the Years
1791   1797   1801   1802   1804   1805   1807   1808   1809   1810   1811   1812   1813  1814   1815   1816   1818   1820   1821   1822   1823   1824   1825   1826   1827   1828   1829   1831   1833   1836   1837   1838   1841   1844   1855   1857

Return to Newcastle History Links

More Pirates Escapes:

Escape from Rosehill 1790  

Escape of Mary Bryant 1791  

Seizure of the Norfolk 1801  

Field Broadbent & Johnston 1804  

Pirates at Newcastle 1806  

Seizure of the Harrington 1808  

Pirates of the Speedwell 1814  

Patrick Riley -  Nautilus 1816  

Convict Pirates in 1818

Seizure of the Eclipse 1825

Attempt to Seize the Gurnett 1826  

Seizure of the Wellington 1827  

Escape from Nobbys in 1842  

Seizure of the Brothers 1844  


(1) Gould, W.J., Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, Volume 1 1947

(2) HRA, Series 1, Vol. 2, p.115


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