Is this Captain Raven’s Britannia?

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    M.G. Ellery

      The Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London, holds a monochrome drawing depicting two ships and a boat under construction on the stocks, in Sydney Harbour. The Museum has dated it at between 1790 and 1795. Its title is ‘A partial view of Sydney Cove taken from the Sea side before the Surgeon Generals House’.
      It can be viewed on-line (accessed 14 Oct. 2010) at: by following the tabs:
      >Nature online >Online exhibitions >The First Fleet Artwork Collection >History :
      and selecting ‘list’ which will reveal the image titles. [The image is the fourth in the list]
      The drawing has been published in The Art of the First Fleet and other early Australian Drawings, Bernard Smith and Alwyne Wheeler (eds), New Haven and London 1988, Plate 134, p129; and Tim McCormick, First Views of Australia: a history of early Sydney, Chippendale 1987, Plate 22, p56 [restricted publication, copies in British Library and Nat. History Museum].
      There are two copies of the drawing in the Mitchell Library in Sydney: a print, Call Number V1/1709; and item 21 on a 35mm microfilm, Call Number MAV/FM4/3151.
      In none of the above cases are the vessels identified. I would welcome the views of other members on my hypothesis that the boat on the stocks is the Francis; the ship at anchor the Britannia; and the departing ship the Daedalus. This is based on the following chronological evidence (all arrival and departure dates in this post are taken from J.S. Cumpston, Shipping Arrivals and Departures, Sydney, vol. 1 1788 to 1825, 2nd edition, Canberra 1977):
      The Pitt arrived on 14 February 1792 carrying, ‘in frame’, the timber with which to build a 41 ton sloop. The Daedalus arrived on 20 April 1793. On board was William House. The Britannia, a ship of 296 tons, under the command of Captain William Raven, arrived on 20 June 1793.
      On 24 July 1793 Captain Raven assisted in putting the new vessel in the water. The vessel was named Francis. It was decided to rig the vessel as a schooner instead of a sloop and Captain Raven supplied a spar with which to make a foremast. See David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales…, London 1798, vol. 1, Ch. XXII, viewable online (accessed 14 Oct. 2010) at Project Gutenberg: [select Advanced Search and enter e-text 12565].
      See also Thomas Dunbabin’s Note ‘William Raven, R.N. and his Britannia, 1792-95’, Mariner’s Mirror, 46, (1960), 297-303.
      William House was appointed Master of the Francis. The Britannia and the Francis left Sydney in company for New Zealand on 8 September 1793.
      During the period in question only three vessels, all ship-rigged, visited Sydney: the Daedalus which departed on 1 Jul 1793, and the Britannia, both noted above; and the Boddingtons which arrived on 7 August but did not leave until 13 October. This suggests that the departing ship is the Whitby-built Daedalus of 310 tons and dates the depicted scene at 1 Jul 1793.

      Malcolm Lewis

        I am unable to answer the query but as often with questions of this nature one is led to websites one has not discovered before. As someone who visits Sydney often it is fascinating to see these early prints of the new colony. Possibly they are the first ever painted of the new settlement.
        Print Number 11 is puzzling. Titled ‘Chief settlement on Norfolk Island April 1790’, it shows what looks like a Swedish flag in the foreground whilst the Union Flag can be seen behind. 1790 was at the time of the establishment the penal colony on Norfolk Island. Is there an explanation for flying this particular flag, which may of course have some Royal Naval meaning?

        M.G. Ellery

          The flag flying at Norfolk Island is a signal that it is safe for boats to land without danger from the surf. In the image notes it is stated: ‘NB The Blue Flag with a Yellow Cross is the Signal hoisted when the Landing is very good’. If the notes are not visible on the web page click on the ‘show detailed image description’ and ‘show notes’ hyperlinks.
          The signal is referred to in John Hunter, An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, including the journals of governors Phillip and King…, (London 1793); an electronic version of the book is viewable free online at Project Gutenberg: [accessed 8 November 2010] from which the following is an extract from chapter VII:
          ‘On the 19th, a slant wind from the south-east brought me again in with the island: the Supply had the preceding night parted company, but as they were better acquainted here than we were, I judged they had stood for the land in the night before I did. As we stood in, finding we could fetch the windward part of the island, I steered in for Sydney-bay; and as we drew near, I observed the Supply lying to in the bay, and the signal upon the shore was flying, that long-boats, or any other boats might land, without any danger from the surf. Anxious to avail myself of this favourable signal, I steered in as far as I judged safe, and brought to with the ship’s head off shore, in the south-east or windward part of the bay, hoisted out the boats, loaded them with provisions, and sent them in; but observing that the ship settled fast to leeward, we made sail, and immediately hauled on board the fore and main tacks, the Supply had also made sail, and was to leeward of the Sirius.’

          I do not believe the flag to be that of Sweden as the yellow cross is in the center of the flag. The cross in the Swedish flag is to the left of centre. However, I am unable to advise on the origin of this signal.

          Edward S

            I happened to stumble upon your query about the Britannia when I researched William Raven and the Britannia. My father gave me a letter, written by my great grandfather, and a piece of wood that originates from one of the masts from the Britannia. A metallic mount on the piece of wood is inscribed with the words “From Feb 1792 to June 1797, Three times around the world. Ship Britannia, W Raven, Commander”.

            In his letter, my great grandfather, described that his mother’s father, David de Villiers (a wine merchant from Cape Town) was a great friend of William Raven, who gave the piece of wood to him as a gift.

            I am trying to find a drawing of the Britannia. Could you possibly assist and point me in the right direction please?

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