THOMAS GEORGE SHORTLAND
Thomas George Shortland,
the younger son of Lt John Shortland (Senior) had
entered the Royal Navy in 1785 aged 14 as a midshipman
on the Irresistible and in March 1787 he was
moved to the Alexander, transport for the First
Fleet, to serve as second mate for the voyage. He turned
16 just three days before the fleet sailed from England.
He then left Port Jackson with his father aboard
Alexander on 14 July and the path followed by the
vessel from Port Jackson to Indonesia was charted by
him. He also drew the chart on New Georgia, now the
Solomon Islands, discovered by his father.
After he returned to England he had an impressive career
in the Royal Navy, serving on many ships and in many
areas. On the night of 3 August 1798 he commanded the
boats of the frig-ate Melpomene in cutting out
the armed French brig Aventurier from under the
batteries in the Bay of Correjou, 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 serve on the Newfoundland station.
Later that year, on 16 December, 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). Their
first child, George Tonkin Shortland, was born in
During the next 15 years his appointments saw him in
active service in the East Indies, the Mediterranean,
the Dardanelles and the West Indies. Thomas and
Elizabeth added to their family in that period:
Elizabeth 1802, Willoughby 1804, Margaret
Amelia 1806, Catherine Inman 1809, Edward
1812, John Rutherford 1814 and Peter
From April 1816 to April 1819 he was
captain-superintendent to the ships of the ordinary at
Hamdaze, Plymouth and during this period he obtained the
Admiralty’s approval for his meritorious conduct and for
his zeal and ingenuity in forming a system to make
telegraphic communication by shapes in lieu of bunting
flags or semaphore.
The last two of the ten children, Cordelia Augustine
1818 and Charles 1819 were both born during
this Plymouth appointment. For the next three years he
was comptroller-general of the preventive boat service.
On 14 July 1825 Shortland was appointed Resident
Commissioner at Port Royal, Jamaica, where he served
until his death on 23 November 1827. He died of yellow
fever, aged 56, and is buried in a tomb under a slab of
white marble located beneath the floor of St Andrew
Parish Church, Halfway Tree Road, Kingston, Jamaica.
Elizabeth Shortland died on 16 June 1858 at Plymouth,
Three of Thomas and Elizabeth Shortland’s sons made
major contributions to life in Australia, New Zealand
the 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 the Governor of nearby Tobago from 1854
The third son, Edward Shortland, studied 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. His third son Thomas
Willoughby Shortland had ventured to Sydney in 1880,
marrying at Newtown in 1887 and lived and raised his
children in Sydney until he died in 1927. Thomas was the
grandfather of #6292 John Willoughby Shortland,
the author of The Shortland Family from which
some material for this article has come.
Thomas George Shortland’s fourth 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 Shortland took leave of absence on his return to
England in 1838 and took a Mathematics degree at
Cambridge. This assisted 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. For the last seven years of his
life he had reached the rank of vice-admiral.
This article was prepared some time ago as a chapter
talk. Readers are invited to send to Hunter Valley
Chapter Archives any necessary amendments.