Thomas George Shortlandthe younger son of Lt John Shortland Senior was born at, Portsea, Hampshire on the 10 May 17711, however this is at variance with the parish records of St. Mary, Portsea, Hampshire. He entered the navy as a midshipman on the HMS Irresistible in January 1785 then as an able seaman aboard the HMS Good Intent at Ramsgate. During March 1787 at his father’s solicitation Thomas moved to the Alexander, transport as 2nd Mate for the First Fleet to Botany Bay. After arrival Thomas remained at Port Jackson until 14 July 1788 when he sailed back to England in the Alexander 2.

On 19 November 1790 Thomas received promotion to Lieutenant on the Speedy sloop after being employed in duties as a midshipman and master’s mate in the Channel and North Sea. In January 1793 he was appointed to the Nemesis frigate which accompanied the fleet under Lord Hood to the Mediterranean. In September 1794 he was moved to the Romney, with Sir Charles Hamilton, and   followed him to the Melpomene frigate in April 1795. On the night of the 3 August 1798, he commanded the boats of the frigate in cutting out the armed brig Adventurier from under the batteries in the bay of Corréjou 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 the Voltigeur sloop on the Newfoundland station.

On 16 December 1799 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). A son, George Tonkin Shortland, was born in 1800.

In 1801 Shortland was temporarily appointed to outfit the 80-gun ship Donegal then in dock at Plymouth. For his extraordinary effort in fitting her for sea he was made Captain of the Dédaigneuse frigate, a command which was confirmed on 1 March 1802. He took this ship out to the East Indies but due to ill health was compelled to return to England in the spring of 1803. A daughter Elizabeth was born in 1802.

For a short time as captain of Britannia and of Caesar bearing the flag of Sir Richard John Strachan a son Willoughby was born in1804 and a daughter Margaret Amelia in 1806 after which he joined the Canopus as flag- captain to Sir Thomas Lewis and commanded that ship to lead the squadron of Sir Thomas Duckworth through the Dardanelles in February 1807.

After the death of Sir Thomas Louis, Shortland continued to command the Canopis and in September 1807 moved to the Queen stationed in  the Mediterranean until the end of 1808.

In 1809 he commanded the Valiant in the expedition to the Scheldt and in 1810-11 the Iris frigate off Cadiz and in the West Indies. In 1812-1813 he served aboard the Royal Oak as flag-captain to Lord Amelius Beauclerk. 

Thomas and Elizabeth had six more children; Catherine Inman in 1809, Edward in 1812, John Rutherford in 1814, Peter Frederick in 1815, Cordelia Augustine in 1818 and Caroline in 1819.

In November 1813 Shortland was appointed as agent for prisoners - of - war at Dartmoor, then from April 1816 to April 1819 he was captain superintendent of the ordinary at Plymouth, and for the next three years was comptroller-general of the preventive boat service.

On 14 July 1825 Shortland was appointed resident commissioner at Jamaica, where he served until his death on 23 November 1827. He died of yellow fever aged 56 and is buried in a tomb located beneath the floor of St Andrew Parish Church, Halfway Tree Road, Kingston, Jamaica. The tomb is positioned partially under pews and is covered by an 8ft by 4ft slab of marble. Also buried with Thomas is his daughter Elizabeth who died on the 25 November of the same year.

It is of note that four of Thomas and Elizabeth Shortland’s sons made major contributions to life in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

Willoughby Shortlandthe 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 as Governor of nearby Tobago from 1854 to 1856.

The third son, Edward Shortlandstudied 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. The third son of Edward, Thomas Willoughby Shortland ventured to Sydney in 1880, marrying at Newtown in 1887 and lived and raised his children in Sydney.

John Rutherford Shortland the fourth son was born and educated in Princetown Devonshire during his father’s employment as agent- for- prisoners of war at Dartmoor. His education led to him being ordained in the Church of England and serving as a curate at St. Mary’s Church in Penzance. After his conversion at the Oratory in Birmingham, he went on to become a Catholic priest and was ordained in1855 and appointed to St Marys Cathedral in Plymouth to give help to the missions of the diocese. After the establishment of the Cathedral Chapter, Father Shortland was made a Canon in 1856 and was entrusted during 1858 to the recovery of the mission in Penzance. Being a man of some means Canon Shortland guided the mission back to good health to the point that Penzance was one of only four missions in the diocese to be given the title of Missionary Rectory and the Canon as Missionary Rector. His funeral was a memorable occasion in Penzance, attended by numerous priests of the diocese and leaders of the town churches. Crowds of town folk lined the streets on the way to the cemetery and over his grave a large crucifix was erected as his memorial. He was the author of several books including “The Corean Martyrs” (1869), “The Persecutions of Annum” (1875) and “The Granted Wish”.

Thomas George Shortland’s fifth 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 took leave of absence on his return to England in 1838 to study for a Mathematics degree at Cambridge. This assisted him 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. In the last seven years of his life, he had reached the rank of vice-admiral.


1. Dictionary of National Biography 1855-1900 V52.                                                                                         

2. J.W. Shortland, “The Shortland Family of the Royal Navy and Australasia with Particular Reference to the First Fleet”, State Library of New South Wales, Australian National Library, FFF First Fleet House Library 16.6Bs (2001)

#6292 John W Shortland




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