HMS GUARDIAN & JOSEPH BANK’S GARDEN

1790 – 1 January, Sydney Cove: ‘On the shores of this vast ocean…on the summit of the hill [South Head], every morning from day-light until the sun sunk, did we sweep the horizon, in hope of seeing a sail. At every fleeting speck which arose from the bosom of the sea, the heart bounded, and the telescope was lifted to the eye. If a ship appeared here, we knew she must be bound for us’. Marine Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, F.L Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Since January 1788 the Englishmen of ‘First Fleet’ had been marooned; ‘entirely cut off no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth… the misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted, even by those who have suffered under it’. Tench. op. cit.

1789 – June, London: Not until the middle of 1789 was a move made to resupply the ‘First Fleet’. In June 1789 Home Secretary Lord Sydney authorised Lieutenant Edward Riou RN make haste and prepare his ship HMS Guardian to take relief supplies to the Robinson Cruscos of the ‘First Fleet’ marooned at Sydney since January 1788.

HMS Guardian’s maiden voyage could best be described as a ‘mercy dash’. Its purpose, deliver urgently needed medicines, tons of salted meats and flour, together with clothing, books and personal items belonging to marines of the Sydney garrison.

But that ‘mercy dash’ was hijacked by Joseph Banks, the wealthy botanist whose money spoke loudly and, whose interest lay in plants and not starving Englishmen.

Guardian became, in part at least, another Bank’s experiment. Like Bank’s championing of breadfruit as the cheapest possible food to keep alive Negro slaves labouring in Britain’s very profitable West Indies sugar plantations. Under his influence Lieutenant Riou’s primary mission was sabotaged.

Joseph Banks himself chalked out dimensions of a large garden and oversaw construction of a ‘special plant cabin’ to protect fragile plants from wind and spray. Soon HMS Guardian’s quarter-deck was crowded with over a hundred (100) boxes of bulbs, seedlings, plants and tubs of trees all selected from London’s Royal Botanical Gardens. Banks employed two (2) gardeners from Kew to tend the collection during the voyage.

Even though pirates roamed the southern oceans Lieutenant Riou, in an effort to claw back some deck space lost to Bank’s garden, stowed his guns.

But it was the delay of four (4) months in Guardian’s departure that proved critical. It meant Riou and his ship would sail into freezing southern oceans at the worst possible time of the year.

1789 – 14 September, England: A forty-four (44) gun frigate HMS Guardian sailed unescorted from the Royal Naval base of Spithead in mid September 1789. Despite heroic efforts of her captain, crew and convicts HMS Guardian never made it to Sydney.

See: Titanic – Australia’s Titanic – HMS Guardian

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