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.

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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.

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(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



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