Thomas George Shortland, the younger son of Lt John Shortland (Senior) had entered the Royal Navy in 1785 aged 14 as a midshipman on the Irresistible and in March 1787 he was moved to the Alexander, transport for the First Fleet, to serve as second mate for the voyage. He turned 16 just three days before the fleet sailed from England.

He then left Port Jackson with his father aboard Alexander on 14 July and the path followed by the vessel from Port Jackson to Indonesia was charted by him. He also drew the chart on New Georgia, now the Solomon Islands, discovered by his father.

After he returned to England he had an impressive career in the Royal Navy, serving on many ships and in many areas. On the night of 3 August 1798 he commanded the boats of the frig-ate Melpomene in cutting out the armed French brig Aventurier from under the batteries in the Bay of Correjou, on the north coast of Brittany. It was a gallant exploit for which he was promoted to the rank of commander on 20 April 1799 and appointed to serve on the Newfoundland station.

Later that year, on 16 December, Shortland married Elizabeth Tonkin of Plymouth. Elizabeth, born 16 August 1771, was the daughter of Elizabeth Savery whose family had links to royalty back to the Plantagenet King Edward I (Longshanks). Their first child, George Tonkin Shortland, was born in 1800.

During the next 15 years his appointments saw him in active service in the East Indies, the Mediterranean, the Dardanelles and the West Indies. Thomas and Elizabeth added to their family in that period: Elizabeth 1802, Willoughby 1804, Margaret Amelia 1806, Catherine Inman 1809, Edward 1812, John Rutherford 1814 and Peter Frederick 1815.

From April 1816 to April 1819 he was captain-superintendent to the ships of the ordinary at Hamdaze, Plymouth and during this period he obtained the Admiralty’s approval for his meritorious conduct and for his zeal and ingenuity in forming a system to make telegraphic communication by shapes in lieu of bunting flags or semaphore.

The last two of the ten children, Cordelia Augustine 1818 and Charles 1819 were both born during this Plymouth appointment. For the next three years he was comptroller-general of the preventive boat service.

On 14 July 1825 Shortland was appointed Resident Commissioner at Port Royal, Jamaica, where he served until his death on 23 November 1827. He died of yellow fever, aged 56, and is buried in a tomb under a slab of white marble located beneath the floor of St Andrew Parish Church, Halfway Tree Road, Kingston, Jamaica. Elizabeth Shortland died on 16 June 1858 at Plymouth, aged 86.

Three of Thomas and Elizabeth Shortland’s sons made major contributions to life in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

Willoughby Shortland, the second son, joined the Royal Navy at 14 in 1818 and after 21 years’ service he accompanied Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson to New Zealand as colonial secretary. In 1842 he became acting Governor of New Zealand until 1843. He then took up the position of President of the Island of Nevis in the Leeward Islands and after that the Governor of nearby Tobago from 1854 to 1856.

The third son, Edward Shortland, studied medicine in London and at his brother Willoughby’s request went to New Zealand as Private Secretary to Governor Hobson in 1841. In August the following year, as Dr Shortland, he was appointed as Protector of Natives. He studied the native languages and became a profound Maori scholar. He settled finally in Auckland where he practised medicine.

He returned to England in 1889 and lived at Plymouth where he died in 1893, aged 81. His third son Thomas Willoughby Shortland had ventured to Sydney in 1880, marrying at Newtown in 1887 and lived and raised his children in Sydney until he died in 1927. Thomas was the grandfather of #6292 John Willoughby Shortland, the author of The Shortland Family from which some material for this article has come.

Thomas George Shortland’s fourth son, Peter Frederick Shortland also chose a naval career. He joined the Royal navy in 1827 aged 12, and from 1836 to 1837 he was serving in Australian waters on HMS Rattlesnake. The first settlement of Melbourne was taking place at this time and Peter Shortland and Thomas Symonds charted Port Phillip Bay. Symonds named the entrance to the bay Shortland Bluff, but this was changed to Queenscliff in 1853 in honour of Queen Victoria.

Peter Shortland took leave of absence on his return to England in 1838 and took a Mathematics degree at Cambridge. This assisted in his many years as a Royal Navy marine surveyor charting Canadian waters. Later he was involved in surveys of the Indian Ocean coastlines. On his retirement from active service in 1870 he returned to Cambridge and took out a law degree, later being called to the bar. For the last seven years of his life he had reached the rank of vice-admiral.

Editor’s Note: This article was prepared some time ago as a chapter talk. Readers are invited to send to Hunter Valley Chapter Archives any necessary amendments.



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters