Lucy Atkinson’s uncle Joseph and his adventures in the South Seas

Today I am publishing a wonderful essay by Marianne Simpson about her ancestor Joseph Sherrard. Marianne is a direct descendant of Lucy Atkinson’s brother and has written previously for Siberian Steppes about the early history of Lucy and her family. Joseph Sherrard, in whose memory Lucy received her middle name, was her great uncle and played an important role in the early history of Australia. Below you will find a short summary of Marianne’s article which connects directly to the full essay.

Marianne Simpson writes:
“Joseph Sherrard first came to my notice as I was exploring the remarkable life of his great niece, Lucy Sherrard Finley (Mrs. Atkinson). I discovered that not only was Lucy an intrepid traveller and explorer but that her great uncle had also travelled far beyond English shores, indeed into the Pacific Ocean. In Joseph’s case, his adventures were undertaken as a member of His Majesty’s Navy but what makes his story so compelling for us today is that his voyages were undertaken when the Pacific was just opening up to European exploration and the settlement of New South Wales had only just begun. He sailed and rubbed shoulders with men whose names are both legends in the history of exploration and, also, famous in the history of colonial Australia. It is for this reason that, while not known to history himself, it has been possible to reconstruct so much of his fascinating story.
Joseph Sherrard began his seafaring career as Captain’s Clerk in 1791 on H.M.S. Assistant which accompanied H.M.S. Providence under the captaincy of William Bligh on Bligh’s second breadfruit expedition to Tahiti. En route to Tahiti, the two ships anchored at Adventure Bay, Tasmania in 1792 for the purpose of procuring wood and water as well as exploring the adjacent area.

Sydney Cove-2
The Providence and Assistant at anchor in Adventure Bay, 1792 (George Tobin)
(Mitchell Library, Sydney)

On arriving in Tahiti where they stayed three months, the two ships’ companies witnessed what was virtually a final look at the Tahitian world before it was changed forever by almost immediate subsequent contact with whalers and missionaries. On the return journey, they successfully navigated the treacherous waters of the Torres Strait, a feat for which Bligh is still acclaimed today.

Sydney Cove-3

Sydney Cove-4
(above) Point Venus, Island of Tahiti 1792
(below) The two ships open fire on native vessels in the Torres Strait
(George Tobin, Mitchell Library, Sydney)

After returning to England, Joseph joined H.M.S. Reliance, again as Captain’s Clerk. The Reliance left Plymouth in February 1795, bearing several names famous in Australia’s history: Lieutenant Matthew Flinders, Surgeon George Bass, incoming Governor John Hunter and the Aboriginal Bennelong. Matthew Flinders subsequently achieved lasting fame by leading the first circumnavigation of Australia, identifying it as a continent and giving Australia its name. The Reliance was only 27 metres long and, during a journey lasting seven months, these men, including Joseph Sherrard stationed on the quarterdeck just forward of the Captain’s cabin, would have got to know each other very well.
In 1797 Joseph was part of the ship’s complement when, battling tumultuous seas and leaking badly, the Reliance brought back from Cape Town the first merino sheep to be imported into Australia. Joseph Sherrard and Matthew Flinders remained part of the ship’s complement until the arrival of the Reliance back in Plymouth in 1800.
In 1802 Joseph Sherrard was appointed Purser of H.M.S. Buffalo. In 1803 the Buffalo under Commander William Kent explored New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and parts of Indonesia with a view to establishing whether they could provide a source of cattle. Not only was Joseph part of this expedition but he was also accompanied by his new wife, Lucy, after whom Lucy Sherrard Finley was subsequently to derive her name. In 1804 the Buffalo was the principal of four ships which, under Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson, took possession of the northern territory of Van Diemen’s Land in the name of King George III. In a letter held by the Mitchell Library, Sydney, Joseph describes the new settlement.

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View of Sydney 1804 (Edward Dayles, Mitchell Library, Sydney)
There is evidence to suggest that Joseph Sherrard made his home in one of the two cottages to the left of the tower (right).

In 1807, shortly before the Buffalo left for England, William Bligh, now Governor of New South Wales, granted Joseph 100 acres in the coveted Cowpastures district. Although there is no evidence that Joseph returned to Australia after 1807, he was to retain this land – where the Australian agricultural and pastoral industries began – until 1832. After returning to England, Joseph was subsequently Purser on H.M.S. Creole which spent five years in Latin American waters as the countries of that continent started to open up to British trade. Joseph Sherrard died in Walmer, Kent, England in 1835.
Joseph Sherrard was a forerunner for his great niece Lucy and great great nephew Alatau. Each accepted life as they found it and, within those constraints, each chose their own path and pursued it with purpose, intelligence and vigour. They were not daunted by the unknown but, rather, intrigued by it so that foreign travel and far flung lands were embraced as opportunities, even when they involved danger and separation from loved ones. In the case of Lucy, her life was further impacted by the substantial legacy left to her by her great uncle which gave her a measure of independence and the backing to undertake the journey to Russia which changed her life forever.”

Marianne Simpson’s full essay on Joseph Sherrard – well worth reading – can be found here: Joseph Sherrard-3



The Atkinsons and the remarkable Monsieur Alibert and his graphite mine

On their journey to the Jombolok Volcano Field in the Eastern Sayan Mountains of Buryatia in the summer of 1851 the Atkinsons decided to visit a remarkable mine run by a remarkable Frenchman – Jean Pierre Alibert. Lucy describes the visit to the Batagol Mine, the ruins of which still lie in the mountains to the east of the town of Orlik, thus:

From this place we visited a lead mine belonging to a Frenchman. On the road to it we passed many Bouriat winter dwellings, sheltered in a pretty well-wooded valley, with a broad and rapid stream running through it. These people differ from the Kirghis in having fixed abodes. They are exceedingly aristocratic, possessing both summer and winter dwellings. Farther on we found them in their summer habitations, surrounded by numbers of horses and cattle, but few sheep. The men are more industrious than the Kirghis, though not so gentlemanly-looking; whereas the women, some of them, were really pretty, which is probably owing to their not being so hard worked.

Jean-Pierre Alibert

To reach Mr. Alibere’s mine we had a mountain to ascend from the valley of the Oka, which led us into a region of lakes, near which the road was very bad, caused by the deep morass, where we were floundering about in mud and water at every step we took. Unpleasant though it was, we had crossed worse places; and we rather astonished our host when we told him so. Once arrived, we found everything we could desire except cleanliness, and this it was impossible to have, the black lead penetrating everything. Our host had wisely built a bath, a very necessary precaution. He has a farm some ten versts distant, so that his table was supplied with butter, cream, and vegetables, fresh daily; this was more than we expected to find, I never thought to have even a potato.

Batagol Mine
The site of the mine today (photo Bernard Grua)

“From this mountain, which is dome-shaped, I saw what to me was a wonderful sight, and the effect of which was beautiful, viz. a rainbow beneath, not above us; I never saw such a thing before, nor have I seen it since.

“We had some difficulty with Alatau over the morass, so resolved to invest a little money in the purchase of a pair of reindeer from a Samoiyede family, the only one said to be existing in these regions. They live in tents like the Tartars, conical and covered with skin; their dress also consists of skins. However, we found it a useless investment. The saddle was continually getting twisted, and I learned from our men that it required great tact for even a grown person to sit comfortably. So after the first day’s riding, we were obliged to abandon the use of them, and seat the boy on a horse, where he rode very comfortably. The delays in arranging his saddle on the reindeer impeded our progress greatly. He was obliged to be strapped on his horse; and it was rather fatiguing for him to be seated so many hours as he sometimes was. When sleep overtook him, we were obliged to carry him, which we did in turns.

Alibert had arrived in the Sayan Mountains in 1847. He had been prospecting for gold in a river near Irkutsk when he came across lumps of graphite in his pan and decided to follow the stream to find the source, which turned out to be more than 300kms away in the Sayan Mountains. At that time, high quality graphite for use in lead pencils was in short supply, the important mine in Borrowdale, Cumbria, having closed down. Despite the remoteness of this location, Albert realised he could turn a profit by mining the mineral and therefore set about building workings on top of a hill at a place called Batagol.

Alibert’s graphite was used in Faber’s pencils

When the Atkinson’s visited it was still being developed, but by the mid-1850s production was beginning in earnest. Alibert struck an exclusive deal with the German pencil maker Faber and managed to export his graphite on the backs of reindeers – still found in the area – and then down the rivers to the Pacific coast, where it was loaded onto ships bound for Europe. The mine became the main source of graphite for the world and Alibert was later awarded numerous medals and honours across Europe. Pencils made from Alibert’s graphite by Faber became the standard.

In the extract above Lucy mentions a reindeer they tried to use to carry Alatau, but found it too difficult. Today these deer are still herded by the local Soyot people – Lucy called them Samoyeds – a distinct ethnic minority, about 3500 of whom live in the region. They are very similar in culture to the neighbouring Tuvans and until recently still lived part of the year in birch-bark ‘chums’ – conical structures similar to native North American wig-wams. They also spoke a Turkic language similar to the Tuvans, but this has largely disappeared, although some attempts are being made to revive it. I now realise that our local guides to Jombolok were Soyots, almost all of whom are believers in shamanism.

Soyot chum in the Sayan Mountains

The Batagol Mine continued to produce very high-quality graphite until it closed in the 1950s, although it is still remembered locally, as is Monsieur Alibert, who had a reputation for treating his workers very well. During our trip we passed within a few miles of the mine, but it was not until I returned to England that I was able to find out more about it. You can watch a slide-show here about a trip to visit the site of the mine made almost a decade ago:

Request to name peak after the Atkinsons submitted to Russian Geographical Society

I have now submitted a letter to the Expeditionary Center of the Russian Geographical Society in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, formally requesting them to consider naming a mountain in the Jombolok River Valley in Western Buryatia after Thomas and Lucy Atkinson. As you will recall (see below), Vladimir Chernikov, the Russian cyclist and geographer I met in a bog in Buryatia, suggested that a request should be submitted. He was able to locate an unnamed mountain peak, close to the entrance of the Jombolok Volcano Field that would be a perfect candidate to be named after the couple.

Peak Atkinson
Proposed Peak Atkinson is marked in red

The letter, which you can find here – RussianGS-letter2 – is signed by 33 direct descendants of Thomas and Lucy Atkinson, from all around the world. We all very much hope that the request will be considered favourably. I will update you as soon as I know more.