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Wreck of ROYAL CHARLOTTE

The Royal Charlotte was a large, armed, two-decked, three-masted, wooden hulled, copper sheathed and copper and iron fastened sailing ship of 475 13/94 th tons, according to its 1824 register (579c, 1824, Port of London). It was built in Kochi (formerly Cochin on the west coast of India) in 1819 and had a length overall of 113 feet, a breadth of 31 feet 7 inches and a height between decks of 5 feet 6 inches. The Lloyds Register of Shipping for 1826 also indicates the vessel had been resurveyed and repaired prior to its voyage out to Australia and equipped with two proved iron chain cables for its anchors. (Lloyds, 1826)

The vessel was originally registered at Bombay and was owned by William Abercrombie (16/64 th); Joseph James Corbyn (16/64th) and Robert Graham
(32/64th ). On 16 October 1824 Abercrombie and Corbyn mortgaged their shares in the vessel to Sir Charles Forbes (1773-1849), a senior partner in the firm of Forbes and Company of Bombay, director in the Honourable East India Company, investor in the Australian Agricultural Company and Member of Parliament. Sir
Charles was also a close personal friend of fellow Scot Major-General Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824) Governor of New South Wales from 1810-1821.
(http://www.lib.mq.edu.au/digital/lema/inscriptions/tombinscription1.html; accessed 3 March 2011) In early 1824 the Royal Charlotte under the command of Captain Graham (possibly the co-owner Robert Graham) sailed to England from India and the vessel was reregistered in London (579c, 1824, Port of London), and subsequently taken up by the Navy Board (later the Comptroller of Victualling and Transport Services) to convey convicts from England to the penal colony of New South Wales.

Prior to it being taken up by the Board the Royal Charlotte was resurveyed in order to ensure that it met the exacting standards of the Board who stipulated that a convict transport must be tight, strong and substantial, above and below water, manned by qualified seamen on the scale of seven men and one boy to every one hundred registered tons, have at least three proper boats, two windsails for ventilation purposes and an Osbridge machine for purifying water (Bateson, 1974)

Although an online search of The National Archives (England) did not locate the Navy Board survey for the Royal Charlotte according to Bateson (1974) and
Brooke and Brandon (2005), the vessel would have undergone some additional conversion prior to sailing to Australia as a convict transport with the fitting of
strong timber bulkheads below decks for the securing of the convicts, timber sleeping platforms, mess tables and benches, iron grates and grills on the hatch
and companionways and possibly a high bulkhead across the waist of the ship to separate the poop and soldiers’ accommodation from the rest of the ship.

It is highly likely that the deck bulkheads and additional security grills and grates were removed after the ship’s arrival in Sydney in April 1825 but the presence of additional mess facilities and sleeping platforms would have made the Royal Charlotte ideal for the transportation of troops from Sydney to India.
The vessel sailed from Portsmouth on 5 January 1825 and arrived in Sydney on 29 April 1825 under the command of Captain Joseph James Corbyn RN with 135 male convicts and their guard (34 soldiers from the 57th Regiment) under the command of Major Lockyer. The Royal Charlotte, unlike most other convict
transports, also carried paying passengers including Mr and Mrs Bates and their immediate family.

It had not been a happy voyage with an attempted convict mutiny on 8 March 1825 resulting in 28 convicts being placed in double-irons until the ship’s arrival
in Sydney. (ADM 101/65/4 & Bateson, 220-221, 1965). The Bates family were also unimpressed with the voyage and subsequently took Captain Corbyn to court in New South Wales over a disagreement involving their accommodation on board ship and their provisioning for the voyage.

After some months in port, during which time several members of the Royal Charlotte’s crew including its joiner Thomas Coutts and the carpenter’s mate John Coutts jumped ship, (Sydney Gazette, 2 June 1825) in early June 1825 the ship took on board 75 rank and file from the 20th, 46th, and 49th Regiments for transport to India via Batavia. Also taken on board were the soldiers’ families (five women and 14 children), their commanding officer Lieutenant Clinton, Mrs
Clinton and child and their surgeon Dr Nesbitt RN Also sailing as passengers on board the Royal Charlotte were Captain Alexander Dick (1789-1875) of the Honourable East India Company’s 62nd Regiment Bengal Infantry, his wife Louise (nee Lord, second daughter of the Sydney merchant and ship owner Simeon Lord) and their infant son John. (Sydney Gazette, 16 June 1825) Corbyn must have breathed a sigh of relief when he secured a contract to take the soldiers and their families from Sydney to India but his run of bad luck continued. When he attempted to leave Sydney on Sunday 12 June 1825, the crew refused to work the ship and it was left to the soldiers and officers to raise the anchor, hoist the sails and prepare the ship for sea.

After departing Sydney the ship took the Outer Route sailing to the east of the Great Barrier Route encountering a series of severe southerly gales which
persisted until the evening of 20 June 1825 when the ship ran aground on the inaccurately charted Frederick Reefs, a large fish hook shaped reef system, lying
450 kilometres north-east of Gladstone, Queensland. Maritime Archaeological Investigation of Frederick, Saumarez and Wreck Reefs (THE CORAL SEA PROJECT 2012) 26 Piling up onto the south-east edge of the reef the Royal Charlotte fell onto its beam ends and was constantly raked by the huge seas as the soldiers and sailors worked together in a desperate attempt to save the vessel. The ship’s masts were cut away to steady the ship and its guns and deck cargo, including two emus, were cast over the side in an attempt to lighten the ship. The morning light revealed a small sand cay to the north of the ship, and two very wet and bedraggled emus, making their way towards it.

Over the next couple of days the ship was slowly abandoned as most of the crew, the soldiers and their families moved to a small sand cay (now called Observation Cay) which was partially submerged at high tide. The survivors built up the sand cay using timber and cargo from the wreck and erected a small hut or elevated tent which they called a ‘Hurricane House’. They established a forge and sawpit, erected a flagpole and repaired their boat, dispatching it under the command of First Officer Lieutenant Parks RN for Moreton Bay. They also started construction of a second vessel in case the first did not survive the voyage to the mainland. With water and provisions salvaged from the vessel the survivors huddled on the sand cay on Frederick Reef and the wreck of Royal Charlotte, which was high and almost dry on the reef ¾ mile south west of the Cay, for six weeks, until they were rescued by the government brig Amity – which also rescued the crew of the HMCS Mermaid four years later. After returning to Sydney from Moreton Bay the survivors of the Royal Charlotte recommenced their journey to India on board the Norfolk departing Sydney in early October 1825.

Following the loss of the ship and rescue of the crew the Royal Charlotte was purchased by Captain Forbes of Sydney in partnership with the ship chandlers
Raine and Ramsey. (The Australian, 27 October, 1825) who subsequently salvaged material from the Royal Charlotte (as well as from another Indian-built
ship the Valetta lost off the Cumberland Islands in July 1825). Salvaged material included sheet copper, nails, cooking apparatus (stove), two iron cables, running and standing rigging, cedar planks, and iron knees. (The Australian, 24 November, 1825).