LIEUTENANT JOHN SHORTLAND (Senior)

  John Shortland, Senior, was born in St Mary’s Whitechapel, Plymouth in 1739. His father, also John, was the patriarch of a remarkable west country family, six of whom were associated with the colonisation of Australia and New Zealand.

  In 1755 John entered the navy as a midshipman and served off Newfoundland, off Minorca and in the West Indies. On his pro-motion to lieutenant in 1763 he was engaged in the transport service between England and America.

  On 5 July 1764 he married Margarethe Rutherford at Whitechapel Middlesex. Daughter Jane Shortland was born about 1765 and her sister Peggy Shortland followed two years later. Son John Shortland arrived in 1769 and Thomas George Shortland in 1771.

  In 1772 Shortland was in command of the transports taking reinforcements to the relief of Gibraltar and in 1786 after re-turning with troops from Halifax he was appointed naval agent to the transports of the First Fleet. This meant he supervised all the transports excluding the two naval vessels. He was responsible for the fulfilling of the contracts for supplies loaded onto the transports and he was also in command of all the masters (captains) of those vessels.

  He had control of all directions for the correct distribution of provisions to the holds of the ships and was also responsible for the accommodation of the marines on board as well as that of the convicts. It was a very responsible position and the success of the whole venture was largely in his hands.

In these preparations he worked closely with Arthur Phillip, the Governor designate of the new colony and Phillip gave high praise for his work. John Shortland sailed in Alexander and arrived at Botany Bay on that vessel, but he had also spent some of the voyage on Fishburn since the transports had all to be supervised throughout the voyage.

  Once the Fleet had arrived in Port Jackson, Shortland’s main task was successfully and officially completed once he had examined all stores as they were brought ashore to be deposited in hastily built storehouses. Then at Sydney Cove he was kept busy ordering the carpenters from Golden Grove to build the first hospital in the settlement.

  He departed Port Jackson in charge of Alexander on 14 July 1788, accompanied by his youngest son Thomas Shortland as Master’s Mate. Also under his overall command were Friendship, Prince of Wales and Borrowdale. He carried important dis-patches from Governor Phillip back to the government in Lon-don, and perhaps almost as important was the fact that he car-ried letters from Jean-Francois de Galoup, Comte de Laperouse to be handed over to the French Ambassador for the French government. These were the last accounts of the voyages of Laperouse.

  Alexander and Friendship anchored at Lord Howe Island to await the arrival of Prince of Wales and Borrowdale but it was later found out that they had taken an alternative route. So Shortland’s now two ships set sail for Batavia. 

   On 19 July Lt Shortland came across an extensive shoal which he named Middleton Shoal, and two days later he came to an island which he named Sir Charles Middleton Island.

  By 31 July 1788 the southern limits of the yet undiscovered Solomon Islands were sighted and Lt Shortland went ashore traversing the land mass and naming it New Georgia. He made detailed observational records and gave names to various peaks, capes, headlands and islands. He was totally unaware that Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the French navigator had passed the northern extremities of the island twenty years earlier, in 1768, and had named Solomon Island and the Bougainville Straits.

  Towards the end of October 1799 scurvy had reduced the crews of the two ships to such an extent that only a small number were fit for duty. Being short of provisions and with the expectation of monsoonal weather it was decided that things were so bad that they could not continue to sail both ships.

  Shortland had to make the decision to scuttle Friendship so that what was left of the two crews could continue the journey. They struggled on and reached Batavia, reporting that they were in such bad shape they were unable to sail Alexander into port and had to call on the Dutch for help.

  The sick were sent to hospital and Alexander was refitted for sea, and with a fresh crew set sail for the Isle of Wight on 7 December 1788.

At Table Bay, which they reached on 28 February 1789 they met Captain John Hunter of the Sirius who informed them that Borrowdale and Prince of Wales had taken the southern route.

  After a voyage lasting ten and a half months Alexander arrived at the Isle of Wight on 28 May 1789. Lt John Shortland (Senior) was promoted to Commander in 1790 and retired later that year to Lille in France as a captain on half-pay. He died there on 16 January 1803, aged 64. His death certificate indicates that his wife Margarethe was still with him at the time, aged 50.

  The gravesite of John Shortland in Lille has not been located but Margarethe died in Westminster, London, on Christmas Day 1815 and was buried on 6 January 1816 in the north cloister of Westminster Abbey

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