JOHN SHORTLAND (Junior) (1769 - 1810) - From Second Mate to Commander


John Shortland, Junior, the elder son of Lt John Shortland RN, according to the Naval Chronicle, was born on the 5 September 17691, however this is at variance with the parish baptism records of St. Mary, Portsea, Hampshire. His career in the Royal Navy began in 1781 when, at the age of 12 he took his first voyage to Quebec with his father who was employed as Agent for Transports providing services between England and North America.

After serving in the West Indies under various commands in early 1787, he returned to England during the time the First Fleet was being fitted out for its expedition to New South Wales. At his father’s solicitation as Agent for Transports to the First Fleet, John was appointed as 2nd Mate on the Friendship during May 1787 then to the HMS Sirius as an able seaman on the 1 September 1787under the watchful eye of Captain John Hunter.

Following the First Fleet settlement at Port Jackson in 1788, the Sirius sailed east in October 1788, bound for Cape Town to procure much needed food and necessary provisions, and returned on 8 May 1789 having completely circumnavigated the globe. However, by the end of 1789, provisions in the colony were still seriously low due to a failure of expected shipping arrivals, and Governor Phillip deemed it necessary to send convicts to Norfolk Island, which to date was thought to have sufficient resources to sustain them. The Sirius took a company of marines and 180 convicts, while the Supply took another company of marines and 20 convicts, all under the command of Captain Hunter aboard the Sirius.

During his journey to Norfolk Island, Shortland was appointed as Master’s Mate aboard the Sirius when it was unfortunately wrecked in Slaughter Bay, Norfolk Island, on 9 March of 1790. He was stranded on the Island with the remainder of the crew and other non-commissioned officers as retained by Captain Hunter. Final relief came on 11 February 1791 with the arrival of the Supply providing all with a return to Sydney after which arrangements were able to be made by Captain Hunter for their return to Portsmouth in the Dutch snow Waaksamheyd on 27 March 1791.

Shortland obtained his first commission as Lieutenant on 15 October 1793 while serving aboard the HMS Arrogant, where he remained for the next two years.

In 1795 Captain Hunter now appointed as the Second Governor of New South Wales selected his crew for the HMS Reliance for their voyage to Sydney. The men chosen included Captain Henry Waterhouse as Second Captain, John Shortland jnr. as First Lieutenant, Surgeon George Bass, Masters Mate Matthew Flinders, Daniel Payne the first boat builder in the colony and the return of Bennelong the Aboriginal chief who had accompanied Governor Arthur Phillip to England. 

It is interesting to note that Henry Waterhouse and Lt John Shortland jnr. brought the first merino sheep to NSW from the Cape of Good Hope some of which were sold to John Macarthur, founder of the Australian Wool Industry. An account of Shortland’s experiences on his journey to and after arrival in New South Wales is contained in a letter he wrote to Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, dated 26 October 1797 4. Also of note are the explorations and activities in the colony of George Bass and Matthew Flinders.

On 5 September 1797 the colonial-built vessel Cumberland, engaged in the transport of supplies between the Hawkesbury and Sydney, was seized by a party of convicts. The loss of the ‘largest and best boat’ in the colony precipitated the despatch by Governor Hunter of two-armed whale boats in pursuit. One went south and returned in three days and the other went north to Port Stephens with Shortland.

In his journey north Shortland had no luck sighting the escapees but, on the 9 or 10 September 1797 he discovered, explored and named the Hunter River after Governor Hunter. He also made the first chart of the Newcastle-Hunter River estuary, its surrounds and collected samples of coal. A detailed account of Shortland’s voyage of discovery and its importance is included under ‘The Shortland Family of the Royal Navy and Australasia with Particular Reference to the First Fleet’2 and Founders 3

Shortland continued with his duties in New South Wales aboard the Reliance which would have allowed him further exploration duties in the colony. But at Hunter’s request he was called to officiate in the Sydney Criminal Court of Tribunals. Over the next five years he sat on a total of thirteen hearings up until his departure from Sydney in June 1800.  On his return to England, he was promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, and served aboard the HMS Pandour.

For his efforts and extra duties undertaken for the colony, Shortland received a government grant of 380 acres at Bankstown. The Shortland land lay unused for the next 80 years after John’s early death, the descendants being unaware of the grant and its value2. About 1887 ownership of the land passed on to Dr Edward Shortland, a nephew, who negotiated the sale of portions of the land over time. Along one edge was built Liverpool Road; Prospect Creek had been spanned by the Landsdown bridge and the right of way through the property become Henry Lawson Drive.

For his next assignment as Agent of the Troops, Shortland went to Egypt aboard the Pandour and while off Alexandria displayed an adventurous character by flying a kite over Pompey’s Pillar, hauling a rope over it and climbing 49 metres to the top to drink to the king’s health. A few days later he repeated the feat, fixed a weathervane to the top of the obelisk and proceeded to eat a beefsteak there.

After numerous assignments and now at the age of 41, with Britain and France at war John was given command of the French frigate Junon, which he outfitted at his own expense. On a cruise to the West Indies with half his crew, intelligence was received from an American schooner that a French ship of 20 guns was bound for Guadeloupe, the information of which tempted him to capture it. However, when off the coast of Martinique Junon encountered four French frigates under the disguise of a Spanish squadron. The story of his December 1809 battle at Guadeloupe against overwhelming odds took first rank in British naval history and was vividly recorded in the Naval Chronicle of the day1.

He was mortally wounded, died of his injuries six weeks later, on 31 January 1810, and was buried at Guadeloupe cemetery, receiving a parole d’honneur in which his body was interred with full military honours.

John’s favourite dog Pandour was aboard the Junon and by his master’s side during the engagement. When John was wounded Pandour licked his master’s wounds to comfort him, and after his death the dog was taken back to England by John’s servant. It was stolen in a London pub, but later recognised in Nova Scotia by a crew member of the Junon, and returned to John’s mother Margaret Shortland at her College Street home in Westminster.

John’s character, as described in the Naval Chronicle1, was summed up as ‘having undaunted courage, ardent zeal and steady perseverance. He was a dutiful son, an affectionate brother, a good master and a friend to mankind’.

There have been several commemorations to Lieutenant John Shortland jnr. since his discovery of Newcastle. In 1897 during the centenary of Newcastle, a Shortland Memorial Fountain was placed in his honour on the ocean front of Newcastle Beach and in 1926 a memorial stone was placed on the Longworth Building in Scott Street Newcastle in honour of John’s landing.                              

The fountain however, being subjected to the ravages of an unforgiving sea spray was then moved to a small park in Reids Lane and later to Christie Place Newcastle adjacent to City Hall. On 2 November 1997 during the Newcastle Bicentenary a memorial service was organised by the Fellowship of First Fleeters who organised the placement of a plaque on the fountain.

Today the name of Shortland also appears in many places in Newcastle as Shortland Wetlands, Shortland Esplanade by the beach, the federal electorate of Shortland, as a suburb of Newcastle and in Sydney as Shortland Brush in the Landsdown Estate of Bankstown.

On the question of progeny, it was found under the Muster Records of the Reliance after her arrival at Port Jackson during 1795, a John Thomas Shortland born in the colony being received aboard at an early age and enlisted as volunteer crew. John Thomas Shortland went on to become a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy aboard the HMS Tigris and while serving in the West Indies he contracted yellow fever and died on 15 October 1816 at Antigua. From probate records he proved to be the son of John Shortland jnr.

While in the colony, John Shortland was assigned a housekeeper, Catherine Farrell. His naval colleague William Kent was also assigned a housekeeper, Catherine or Elizabeth Powell, with whom it is thought John fathered a daughter Margaret Shortland in 1799. Margaret subsequently married James Boyce, a convicted felon, while in Hobart during 1818, from which union stemmed a long line of Boyce family members.  

#6292 John W Shortland


1. Naval Chronicle 1810, Vol. 24, p1-21.

2. J.W. Shortland, ‘The Shortland Family of the Royal Navy and Australasia with Particular Reference to the First Fleet’. Copies in three libraries: State Library of New South Wales, Australian National Library, First Fleet House Library.

3. Founders 42.6 Fellowship of First Fleeters, pp6-8

4. Mitchell Library, ML  Nov 1784 –September 1799. DI. MS                   Q522 Items, CY Reel 3693.




Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters