JOSEPH BANK’S GARDEN & HMS GUARDIAN

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 at Sydney; ‘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 did the British Government make a move to resupply the ‘First Fleet’.

In June 1789 Home Secretary Lord Sydney authorised Lieutenant Edward Riou RN prepare his ship HMS Guardian to take relief supplies to the Robinson Cruscos of the ‘First Fleet’ marooned 13,000 miles (21,000 km) from England 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.

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

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.

HMS Guardian’s quarter-deck was soon 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.

And 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 to the success of the voyage for 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 Guardian sailed unescorted from the Royal Naval base of Spithead in mid September 1789. Despite the heroic efforts of her captain, sixty-two (62) crew who did not abandon ship and twenty-one (21) of twenty-five (25) convicts who stayed with HMS Guardian she never made it to Sydney. See: Titanic – Australia’s Titanic – HMS Guardian

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