A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 15 – Explorers

The Royal Navy – Exploring the World

Since its founding in 1485, the Royal Navy’s major role has been that of a maritime fighting force; fighting wars, waging battles, protecting the Empire and British interests around the world. However, the navy was also tasked with carrying out explorations and surveys around the world. On many occasions, the tasks of exploration and belligerence overlapped. An early example is seen in the exploits of Francis Drake, who circumnavigated the world as an explorer and also attacked Spanish ships and seized their possessions.


Sir Francis Drake – 1540-1596

Sir Francis Drake

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver and Politician. He was both an explorer and a belligerent. He carried out the second circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, from 1577-1580, and was the first to complete the voyage as captain while leading the expedition throughout the entire circumnavigation. With his incursion into the Pacific he inaugurated an era of privateering and piracy on the western coast of the Americas – an area that had previously been free of piracy.

He was second in command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and his exploits made him a hero to the English but a pirate to the Spaniards to whom he was known as El Draque (The dragon).

The Golden Hind

At age 23 he made his first voyage to the Americas, sailing with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins. Drake was again with Hawkin’s fleet when it was trapped by the Spaniards in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulùa (see The Action at Juan de Ulloa – 1568, in A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 1 – 1485-1692).

Following the defeat, Drake vowed revenge and made two voyages to the West Indies, of which little is known.

His first independent enterprise was in 1572 when he planned an attack on of the Isthmus of Panama, known to the English as the Spanish Main. It was here that gold and silver from Peru had to be landed and transported across the Isthmus to the Caribbean Sea where it would be loaded onto Spanish galleons for the voyage to Spain. Large quantities of gold and silver were captured from the Spanish and brought home to England.

Drake’s route around South Africa
The Golden Hind, flying a Tudor naval ensign.

With the success of the Panama raid, Elizabeth I sent Drake to start an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. He sailed aboard the Pelican (which was later renamed The Golden Hind) with four other ships. He entered the Pacific in 1578 where he sailed north along the Pacific Coast of South America raiding and pillaging ports and towns. He then sailed further north landing on the coast of California. Drake then crossed the Pacific, rounded Africa and returned to Plymouth in 1580 along with a rich cargo of spices and captured Spanish treasures.

Sir Francis Drake & The Golden Hind

By 1580, war had been declared By Phillip of Spain so Elizabeth ordered Drake to lead another expedition to attack the Spanish colonies. He attacked Vigo in Spain, Plundered Santiago in the Cape Verde islands, then sailed across the Atlantic and sacked the port of Santo Domingo and captured Cartagena and on his return voyage raided the Spanish fort of San Augustin in Spanish Florida. 

Encouraged by these acts, Phillip ordered a planned invasion of England.

In another pre-emptive strike, Drake “singed the beard of the King of Spain” by sailing the fleet into Cadiz and Corunna and occupying the harbours. There, he destroyed 37 naval vessels and following this spent a month raiding ports up and down the Spanish coast. (See – Attack on Cadiz, in A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 1 – 1485-1692).

In 1588, the Spanish Armada sailed to invade England. Drake was in command of the English fleet when it attacked the armada and chased it up the English Channel.

Following this he spent several years attacking the Spanish in the Americas without much success as he suffered a number of defeats and unsuccessful attacks. He died of dysentery in 1596 off the coast of Panama.

Sir Walter Raleigh – 1544-1618

Sir Walter Raleigh was instrumental in the English colonization of North America. He was granted a royal charter to “explore, colonize and rule any heathen lands not possessed of any Christian Prince in return for one-fifth of the gold and silver that might be there.”

He made two expeditions to the Americas:
The first expedition to find gold in South America – 1594
A Second expedition in search of El Dorado – 1616.

Sir Walter Raleigh

He was born possibly in 1554 to a wealthy Devonshire family. He attended Oriel College, Oxford and the Middle Temple law college.

In 1580 he commissioned the building of a ship originally named Ark Raleigh. It was purchased by the crown, Elizabeth I, and was renamed Ark Royal. It became the flagship of Lord High Admiral Howard and fought in the Spanish Armada’s defeat.

Sir Walter Raleigh & The Ark Royal

In 1578, Raleigh and his half-brother set out to find the Northwest Passage. He never reached this destination and the mission degenerated into a privateering foray against Spanish shipping. This action was not received well by Elizabeth I and he was briefly imprisoned.

Sir Walter Raleigh & an Elizabethan Galleon

In 1580 he fought against Irish rebels in Munster which again bought him to the attention of Elizabeth I. By 1582 he had become the monarch’s favourite and he began to acquire influential positions, property and lucrative monopolies. Included was the right to colonize North and South America, which was granted in 1584 in a royal charter to colonize the new world in the name of England.

Sir Walter Raleigh & Map showing Roanoke, Virginia

Between 1585 and 1588 he invested in a number of expeditions to establish a colony near Roanoke, in what is now North Carolina and was instrumental in the English colonization of North America. Although he never in fact visited North America, in 1594, he undertook voyages to Guyana and eastern Venezuela. Some of the colonists eventually returned to England bringing with them tobacco and potatoes, unheard of in Europe at that time. A second voyage was sent in 1590, only to find no trace of the colony, now remembered as the “lost colony of Roanoke Island.”

Raleigh made two expeditions to South America in search of gold, the famed “El Dorado.”

His first expedition to find gold was in 1594. During this voyage he landed on what is today Trinidad & Tobago where he discovered an asphalt lake.

Raleigh discovers the Trinidad Asphalt Lake

In 1616, he mounted a second expedition in search of El Dorado. Neither of these expeditions were successful.

From 1600 to 1603 he was the governor of the island of Jersey and did much to modernize the islands defences. These six stamps reflect various phases of Raleigh’s career and the positive impacts that his governorship had on Jersey. Each stamp illustrates a theme together with his quotes.

Raleigh eventually fell out of grace with Elizabeth I and later with King James I. He was arrested in 1618 and executed in the tower of London.

Thomas Cavendish and Desire – 1586-1592

Thomas Cavendish, 1560-1592, was an English explorer and privateer, known as “The Navigator.” He deliberately tried to emulate Sir Francis Drake and raid Spanish towns and ships in the Pacific and circumnavigate the globe.

The First Circumnavigation

HMS Desire

HMS Desire, launched in 1586, wrecked in 1593 off Ascension Island.

In 1586, Spain and England were at war which culminated in the Spanish Armada in 1588. Determined to follow Sir Francis Drake’s example of raiding Spanish ports and ships in the Pacific, Thomas Cavendish built a 120 ton sailing ship in 1586, the Desire, and joined by the ships Content and Hugh Gallant, sailed for the Pacific. Once in the Pacific he sank or captured 9 Spanish ships and looted several towns for fresh food, treasure and supplies. In 1587 he sighted the Manilla Galleon Santa Ana, a much larger vessel which had no cannon in order to carry more treasure. They captured the ship and loaded as much his smaller ships could carry; all of the gold and a selection of other treasures. They then set fire to the Santa Ana, which drifted ashore to where the Spanish sailors had been offloaded, who extinguished the flames, refloated the ship and limped into Acapulco.

Cavendish then set sail across the Pacific to return home; Content was never heard from again. Desire arrived in England in 1588.

Second Voyage and Death

Cavendish set sail in Desire in 1591, accompanied by the navigator John Davis and accompanied by Roebuck. After looting Santos and Sao Vicente in Brazil, he lost most of his crew in a battle with the Portuguese at the village of Vitoria. Cavendish then set sail towards St. Helena. He died in 1592 at age 31 on this return voyage, possibly off the coast of Ascension. John Davis continued on with Cavendish’s crew and discovered the Falkland Islands; he then abandoned the mission and returned to England.

Thomas Warner – 1623

Sir Thomas Marner landing on St.Christopher.

Sir Thomas Marner established the English colony on the Caribbean island of St. Christopher in 1623.
Marner was a captain in the guards who became an explorer in the Caribbean. In 1620 he briefly served in the short-lived English settlement in present-day Guyana. He then went on the explore the islands in the Lesser Antilles where he decided to settle an English colony on the island of St. Christopher, commonly called St. Kitts, in 1623.

He left his family there while he returned to England to gather more people to establish the colony. In 1624 he returned in the ship The Hopewell and officially established the colony of St. Christopher, the first English colony in the Caribbean.

The Hopewell off St. Christopher

In 1625 the French arrived after their fleet had been destroyed by a run-in with a Spanish Armada. Warner allowed the French to settle on the island and so St. Christopher became the site of the first French colony in the Caribbean.

His time on the island is notable for the genocide of the Kalinago people. As more Europeans began to settle on the island, the local Kalinago people were becoming less enthusiastic about these new arrivals and a plot was hatched to attack the European settlements. The plot was leaked to the English and French by an Igneri woman. The settlers joined forces and attacked the natives at night slaughtering some 120, sparing only the most beautiful women to serve as slaves.

Expecting an invasion of Carib people from nearby islands, the English and French began to fortify the island. In the ensuing battle, some three to four thousand Caribs took up arms against the Europeans. It is not known how many were killed.

After the Kalinago Slaughter, the island was partitioned with the French gaining the north and south ends, Basseterre and Capisterre, with the English in the middle.

William Dampier – 1651-1715

William Dampier

William Dampier was born in 1651 in Somerset, England, he died in London in 1715. Dampier was an English explorer, ex-pirate, and navigator who became the first Englishman to explore parts of what is today Australia and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. He has been described as Australia’s first natural historian.

In his early career, he sailed on two merchant voyages to Newfoundland and Java before joining the Royal Navy in 1673. His service was cut short by illness and he returned to England.

The First Circumnavigation

1679 – He joined the crew of the buccaneer Captain Bartholomew Sharp on the Spanish Main which led to his first circumnavigation, during which he took part in the capture of Spanish ships on the Pacific coast of Panama.

Cygnet stopped at Christmas Island in 1688.

1683 – He was engaged by the privateer John Cooke who entered the Pacific via Cape Horn and spent a year raiding Spanish possessions in Peru, The Galapagos islands and Mexico.

1686 – He transferred to the privateer Charles Swan’s ship, Cygnet, and set out across the Pacific to raid the East Indies.

1688 – January 05 – Cygnet anchored off the northwest coast of Australia, near King Sound. Dampier remained there until March whilst the ship was being careened making notes on the fauna and flora and indigenous peoples he found there. He then sails out into the Indian Ocean stopping at Christmas island and Sumatra.

Jacobean ensign
The Defence flying the Jacobean ensign

1691 – Cavendish leaves Sumatra for England aboard the Defence calling at Cape Town.

1697 – Dampier is given command of the Roebuck with a mission to explore the east coast of New Holland, the name the Dutch had given to the continent that is now Australia. Following the Dutch route to the Indies, Dampier passed between Dirk Hartog Island and the Western Australian mainland into what he called Shark Bay, landing on 6 Aug. 1699. He lands and begins producing the first known detailed record of Australian flora and fauna. He then followed the coast to the north east reaching the Dampier Archipelago and Lagrange Bay and on to Timor.

The Roebuck in 1700. As no plans exist for Roebuck, images as notional only.
Roebuck is flying an early 17th century Red Ensign.

1699 – Dampier sailed around New Guinea.

1701 – By this time the Roebuck was in bad shape being eaten by shipworms and in danger of sinking. Dampier attempted to make the return voyage to England but the ship foundered at Ascension Island where the crew remain for two months until they were picked up by an East India ship and brought back to England.

HMS Roebuck sinking
William Dampier
HMS Roebuck
Divers retrieving the ship’s bell

On his return from the Roebuck expedition, Dampier was court martialed for cruelty, and found guilty on one of three charges.

In 2001 the wreck of Roebuck was located in Clarence Bay, Ascension, by a team from the Western Australia Maritime Museum.

Second Circumnavigation

In 1701, the War of the Spanish Main broke out and English privateers were being readied to act against French and Spanish interests. Dampier was appointed commander of the St. George with a crew of 120 men. He set sail for Cape Horn and arrived off the coast of Chile in 1704. They failed to capture their main prize, the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senor del Rosario, and this resulted in the breakup of the expedition. Dampier then made his way back to England.

Third circumnavigation

In 1708 Dampier was engaged to serve on the privateer Duke as the sailing master. The ship beat its way around Cape Horn and into the South Pacific and this expedition was more successful and amassed a large quantity of plundered goods. The ship returned to England and dropped anchor at the Thames in 1711.

He made two more voyages as a privateer and eventually published a book in 1697, A New Voyage Round the World. He died in England in 1715.

Captain John Byron – 1723-1786

John Byron was born in 1723, the son of Baron William Byron. He became known as ‘Foulweather Jack’ because of his frequent encounters with bad weather at sea.
In 1740, he accompanied George Anson in his voyage around the world as a midshipman. During this voyage, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Chile and it took him until 1744 before he landed back in England.

In 1760 he commanded a squadron during the Seven Year’s war sent to destroy the fortifications at Louisbourg, Quebec, where he defeated a French flotilla at the Battle of Restigouche.

Byron and HMS Tamar and HMS Dolphin

In 1764, Byron was chosen by the Admiralty to explore the South Atlantic for a suitable island for a British naval settlement to resupply vessels sailing to the Pacific around Cape Horn. At this time Spain was hostile to any local expansion of British interests so the mission was disguised as a voyage to the East Indies where Byron was to be the new Navy Commander-in-chief. He was granted command of HMS Dolphin and the sloop HMS Tamar.        


Dolphin was a 24-gun sixth-rate frigate launched in 1751, broken up in 1777.
Tamar was a 16-gun Favourite-class sloop, launched in 1758, captured by the French in 1780.

In 1765, on the voyage out, Byron landed at Port Egmont on West Falkland and took possession for the British Crown. It was not until the following year that Captain John MacBride established a permanent settlement on an East Falkland island.

Byron continued on and circumnavigated the world in HMS Dolphin returning home in 1766; the first such circumnavigation that was accomplished in less than 2 years.

Byron and HMS Dolphin
Byron and HMS Dolphin careened.
The shore of one of the Gilbert islands

He encountered islands and residents of the Tokelau Islands and the Southern Gilbert Islands, but after landing in French Polynesia, Byron avoided contact with any other landmasses which greatly displeased the Admiralty on his return.

Philip Carteret – 1733-1796

Philip Carteret was a famous Jersey explorer, born on the island of Jersey on 22 Jan 1733, he died in Southampton 21 July 1796. He undertook two circumnavigations in these ships:
HMS Swallow – A 14-gun Merlin-class sloop, launched in launched in 1745, sold in 1769.
HMS Tamar – A 14-gun Favourite-class sloop, launched in 1758, captured in 1780.
HMS Dolphin – A 24-gun 6th-rate frigate, launched in 1751 and broken up in 1777.

First Royal Naval circumnavigation expedition – 1764-1766

HMS Tamar was accompanied by HMS Dolphin in this first voyage of exploration circumnavigating the world. Philip Carteret was a Lieutenant in Dolphin under Captain John Byron. Dolphin was based in Newfoundland and returned there after the voyage to participate in the American War of Independence.

HMS Tamar & HMS Dolphin in Port Egmont, Falkland Islands

Second Royal Naval circumnavigation expedition – 1766-1769

1766 – Phillip Carteret was made a commander and given command of HMS Swallow to circumnavigate the world, as consort to HMS Dolphin under the command of Samuel Wallis.

1766: Philip Carteret (Swallow) and Samuel Wallis (Dolphin) set off to explore the South Pacific and search for the elusive Terra Incognito Australis.

Philip Carteret with HMS Swallow careened

Dolphin was a well provisioned and sturdy ship whilst Swallow was hastily provisioned and had only a thin sheathe of copper on her hull.

Both ships stopped at St. Helena on the outbound journey.

HMS Swallow & HMS Dolphin off St. Helena
HMS Swallow & HMS Dolphin traversing the Magellan Straits

By the time the ships reached Patagonia, it became obvious that Swallow should return home to England.

Just before entering the Pacific, strong winds separated the two ships and they never found each other again, they both continued on as solo expeditions into the Pacific.

Dolphin, under Wallis, discovered Tahiti, sailing into Matavai Bay. She returned to England in 1769.
Swallow, under Carteret, discovered Pitcairn Island and rediscovered the Solomon Islands. She returned to England in 1768.

Carteret surveyed much of New Guinea and New Britain. Swallow can be seen in the background careened for repairs on a beach.

Taking possession of English Cove with HMS Swallow in the background careened.
HMS Swallow



Carteret discovered Pitcairn Island and named it after the young seaman who first sighted the island. Before the invention of marine chronometers, the calculation of latitude was a very indeterminate process and the actual location of Pitcairn was some 200 miles from he had marked it on his chart. It was not until many years later that an American whaler came across the islands where he also discovered the last of the Bounty mutineers.

HMS Swallow at Pitcairn Island
Discovery Pitcairn Island


HMS Swallow off Pitcairn
The location of the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific


HMS Swallow sinks a pirate ship off the Macassar Strait

Note: Dolphin was previously commanded by John Byron and in 1766 he gave command to Wallis.

HMS Erebus & HMS Terror Antarctic Exploration – 1839-1843

HMS Erebus & HMS Terror approaching Ascension Island.

HMS Erebus was launched in 1826, abandoned in the Arctic in 1848.
HMS Terror was launched in 1813, abandoned in the Arctic in 1848.

After two years of service in the Mediterranean, Erebus was outfitted for Antarctic service and captained by James Ross. She left Tasmania for Antarctica in the company of Terror, captained by Francis Crozier. The two ships visited Ascension Island on the outbound journey to Tasmania.

HMS Erebus with Mt. Erebus in the background.

The expedition left in 1839, returning in 1843, and charted much of the continent’s coastline. Mount Erebus and Mount Terror were named after the two ships and the Ross Ice Shelf and the Ross Sea were named after James Ross. Also, the Erebus Gulf and the Terror Gulf were named and are located at the tip of the Graham Land Peninsula.

HMS Terror at the Arched Rock, Kerguelen Islands
HMS Erebus in the Antarctic
HMS Erebus & HMS Terror in the Antarctic

Captain Francis Crozier later went on the command Terror in the doomed Franklin Expedition and he disappeared with his ship when the expedition foundered in the Canadian Arctic.

Sir James Clark Ross and Erebus & Terror
James Ross & HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

Sir John Franklin – 1786-1847

HMS Erebus (James Ross was not on this expedition)

Sir John Franklin is best known for his lost Expedition to the Canadian Arctic in 1845.
The objective of the Franklin Expedition was the find a route across the Canadian Arctic, the North West Passage. Two ships were chosen for the expedition, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, both of which had seen service in the Antarctic. They were updated with steam engines and iron strengthened hulls to better manage Arctic ice conditions. Erebus was captained by Sir John Franklin, and Terror by Francis Crozier. The expedition was a failure with both ships last seen entering Baffin Bay in August of 1845; they were never seen again. Later expeditions determined that the two ships became icebound and were eventually abandoned by their crews who in April 1848 attempted to travel overland to the south. No one survived the attempt and the last crew members perished some 100 miles from the nearest outpost of Western civilization.

HMS Erebus stuck in Arctic ice
Map of the Arctic islands were the ships were lost with notes written in Inuktitut.
Photo of the wreck of Erebus, with a copy of the ship’s plan

Since their disappearance much has been discovered about the fate of the ships and the men from remains found at various locations and from oral history from Inuit elders. Some of the bones of the men showed signs of cannibalism. In desperation from hunger, some bones had been split open to access bone marrow.

The wrecks of both ships were recently discovered by Parks Canada assisted by divers from the Royal Canadian Navy; the Erebus in 2014 and Terror in 2016. The wrecks were some 100 miles from where they were thought to have foundered.

HMS Herald

In 1848, HMS Herald took part in the search for the lost Franklin expedition.

HMS Blossom & the Pacific Expedition – 1825-1828

HMS Blossom is best known for the 1825-1828 expedition under Captain Beachey to the Pacific Ocean, where she explored as far north as Point Barrow, Alaska. This was the furthest point north any non-Inuit had ventured at that time. A copper plate was discovered in 1917 on the Bonin Islands off the southern tip of Japan claiming the islands as a British possession.

HMS Blossom

Owen Stanley – 1849

Owen Stanley was a Royal Naval officer and surveyor. He was born 13 June 1811 in Cheshire and died 13 March 1851.

HMS Rattlesnake
HMS Rattlesnake

In December 1846, Stanley took command of HMS Rattlesnake and sailed to Australia with two naturalists on board. He arrived in Australia in November of 1847 and continued north up the east coast to survey New Guinea and the Louisiade archipelago, a string of volcanic islands off the east coast of New Guinea. A two-volume account of the voyage of the Rattlesnake was published in 1852.

Stanley fell ill in 1849 and died after to returning to Sydney in 1851.

Challenger Expedition – 1872-1876

George Nares & HMS Challenger

The Challenger Expedition was a grand tour of the world by HMS Challenger covering 68,000 nautical miles organized by the Royal Society in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh. Challenger was commanded by Captain George Nares with the British naturalist Sir John Murray leading the expedition. This was the first global marine research expedition and resulted in a report cataloging some 4,000 previously unknown species. The United States Space Shuttle Challenger was named after the ship.

Challenger was a steam-assisted Pearl-class corvette launched in February 1858, broken up in 1921.

After Challenger’s Grand Tour there was a plan to converted her to a training ship for boys of the Royal Navy, however this was not proceeded with and she was put in reserve until she was sold for scrap. Nothing remains of the ship today apart from her figurehead which is on display at the national Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

This was the world’s first large-scale oceanographic expedition which brought to light thousands of new species and revealed the oceans to be a place of startling depths and untold wonders. The Challengers findings are still relied on today to study everything from seashells to climate change.

The route of Challenger’s world expedition
HMS Challenger
Sir John Murray

Sir John Murray, who lead the expedition, was born in Coburg, Canada. He was a pioneering oceanographer, marine biologist and limnologist and he is considered the father of modern oceanography. He joined the Challenger expedition in 1872.

These are some of the places that Challenger visited during the expedition:

HMS Challenger off Bermuda.

1873 – Challenger made two visits to Bermuda, in April and in June. She mapped out a shoal off the south-west coast of the island and named it the Challenger Bank.

October 1873 – Challenger docked at Tristan da Cunha to conduct geographic and zoological surveys on Inaccessible and Nightingale Islands.

HMS Challenger’s laboratory.
HMS Challenger off Tristan da Cunha
Challenger’s pinnacle off Nightingale Island

On the route to the Antarctic, Challenger visited the French islands, Ile Crozet and Ile Kerguelen

HMS Challenger landing a party on Ile Kerguelen.

Challenger reached the Antarctic during 1873.

HMS Challenger in the Antarctic
Map of Challenger’s voyage around the southern Oceans and the Atlantic

Challenger was in the Pacific during the years 1874-1875

HMS Challenger off Christmas island
Christmas Island map showing location of Murray Hill, the highest point.
Some of Murray’s oceanographic equipment

The map shows Murray Hill, the highest point on Christmas Island; presumed to be named after John Murray.

British oceanographer C Wyville Thomson was the chief scientist on the Challenger Expedition. He caught fish from 2 ½ miles deep, using deep-sea depth dredges. In 1880, he started working on publishing 50 volumes of detailed scientific illustrations. He was a highly-strung individual and he found dealing with publishers very stressful. In 1881 he took to his bed and died a broken man in 1882.

New Guinea – 1872

HMS Basilisk was a first-class six-gun paddle sloop, launched in 1848, scrapped in 1882.
She took part in trials with her sister ship HMS Niger, which was propelled by a screw. The result of the trials confirmed an earlier comparison between HMS Rattler and HMS Alecto that screw propulsion was superior.

Basilisk visited the Ellice Islands in 1872 and undertook hydrographic surveys around New Guinea under Captain Moresby, during which a number of important discoveries were made. Captain Moresby named Port Moresby, New Guinea, after his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.

HMS Basilisk
HMS Basilisk

Captain Simpson – 1872

In 1872, HMS Blanche surveyed Rabaul’s harbour in New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Blanche Bay is named after the ship.  Blanche had the distinction of running aground off New Hanover Island, which is located off the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea.

During 1875, she finished service on the Australia Station and whilst sailing to England was nearly lost rounding Cape Horn in bad weather.

HMS Blanche
HMS Blanche

After a refit Blanche spent the rest of her years on the North America and West Indies station.

Sir Hugh Scott – 1908

Sir Hugh Scott was a field entomologist who went to the Seychelles as a member of the Percy Slade Trust Expedition in HMS Sealark. In 1909 he became the Curator in Zoology at Cambridge University. His life-long effort was in the field of biogeography and over a period of twenty years he classified and studied some 50,000 insects collected from the Seychelles and adjacent islands.

Sealark was launched in 1878, then purchased by the Royal Navy in 1903. She was paid off in 1814 and was eventually seized for a debt in Australia in 1924.

Sir Hugh Scott & HMS Sealark

Sealark was originally built as a luxury private yacht. She was purchased in 1903 by the Royal Navy and outfitted in 1904 for hydrographic survey work. She then sailed to the Australia Station in 1909 for hydrographic survey work in the Torres Strait and Solomon Islands.


St. Helena

Map of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

St. Helena is an island in the Mid-Atlantic island chain which includes Ascension, St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha. Its most famous visitor was Napoleon Bonaparte who was exiled on the island in 1815 until his death in 1840.

By all accounts, St. Helena was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. The Dutch also visited the island but no permanent settlement was established by either. A chapel was built and some houses to accommodate sick Portuguese sailors, but these were not permanent settlements. Strong circumstantial evidence shows that Francis Drake located the island on the return from his circumnavigation of the world in 1578 to 1580 and so it became known to English adventurers before Thomas Cavendish arrived in 1588 in HMS Desire during his circumnavigation of the world.  Once the location of St. Helena was more widely known, English ships of war began to lay in wait to attack Spanish treasure ships. This dissuaded Spanish and Portuguese ships from sailing anywhere close to the island. The island was claimed by the Dutch in 1633 but there is no evidence that they settled there. The English colonized the island in 1657 and homeward bound East India ships called in at the island to wait for one another to be escorted back home by a man-o-war. 

The London, flying an East India Co. ensign

The East India Company ship The London brought colonists to island in 1659 where they settled until the Dutch East India Company briefly occupied the island. It was quickly retaken by the British and later became an important naval base used to suppress the slave trade on the west coast of Africa

In 1814, HMS Northumberland transported Napoleon Bonaparte to St. Helena where he spent the rest of his life in exile.

When he arrived in St Helena he spent the first night in Mr. Porteous’s house, the head gardener for the East India Company. He was then put up in the Briars for a few months until he was permanently moved to the Longwood house, that was said to be particularly cold and infested with rats. He died on 5th May 1848 and was buried on the island until nineteen years later, the French were given permission to repatriate his body back to France.

Mr. Porteous’s House
The Longwood House
The Briars
Napoleons Tomb

The cause of Napoleon’s death was initially a mystery and some put forward the idea that he died of boredom, others that he was poisoned. The image on the stamp below certainly shows a man who is not at all happy with life. More recently it has been found by researchers that he died of an advanced case of gastric cancer.

Napoleon at St. Helena

The French ship La Belle Poule transported his body back to France. La Belle Poule was a a sixty-gun first rank frigate of the French navy and was painted black for this task. HMS Northumberland was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line launched in 1798, broken up in 1850.

HMS Northumberland
La Belle Poule


Penrhyn Island

Coming ashore on Penrhyn, Cook islands

Penrhyn is an atoll in the northernmost island group of the Cook Islands. It was officially annexed for Great Britain by Captain Sir William Wiseman of HMS Carline on 22 March 1888. The Cook Islands were a British Protectorate from 1888 to 1900 when they were annexed to New Zealand. The Cook Islands became independent in 1965.

Ascension Island

First landing on Ascension, Oct. 1815

Ascension was first sighted in 1501 by the Portuguese navigator Joao da Nova. It was a barren island with little appeal for passing ships until the British garrisoned it in 1815 as a deterrent to any French attempt to free Napoleon who was in exile on St. Helena.  

HMS Zenobia & HMS Peruvian off Ascension

Ascension Island lies in the Mid-Atlantic ridge, north of St. Helena. When Napoleon was banished to St. Helena, Ascension Island was uninhabited. As the British government feared that the island could become a possible base for a group to effect Napoleon’s escape, they sent two sloops, HMS Zenobia and HMS Peruvian, to settle the uninhabited Ascension island in 1815. The island was then designated as the “Stone Frigate, HMS Ascension, a sloop of war of the smaller class.”

The protected Green Turtle

During Darwin’s visit to the island in 1836, he advised planting trees and shrubs on the arid treeless island which completely changed the island’s plant and tree coverage; Ascension over the years became a ‘lush growth’ island. The Green Turtle was harvested until 1930 when that practice was banned. Its population has now rebounded.

The rare Parsley Fern

The Ascension Island Parsley Fern was thought to have become extinct due to habitat loss until four plants were discovered in 2010. Many specimens have now been successfully cultivated and seeds have been grown at Kew Gardens in England.

Dampier’s Drip
When William Dampier’s Roebuck sank off Ascension, Dampier and the crew were stranded for five-weeks on this then barren, volcanic island. Dampier set off in search of water and found a

Dampier’s Drip

source under a small cliff which became known as Dampier’s Drip. Water was eventually collected in tanks, and then a pipe was laid to bring a water supply to the town below.

The Garden on Green Mountain

The Garden on Green Mountain

When British marines were landed on the Island in 1815, they established a garden at an elevation of 2,000 feet. The thin soil supported only a handful of different fruits and vegetables. In 1836 Darwin visited the island and the marine’s garden, noting that there were very few tree to be seen. At this time the Navy was convinced that to make the island habitable, planting trees and new vegetation would capture rain and improve the soil. With the support of Kew Gardens this is exactly what happened.

Pitcairn Islands

Location in the Pacific of the Pitcairn Island group.

Pitcairn Islands are a remote group of islands claimed by Phillip Carteret for Britain in 1767. It is best known for being the refuge of the Bounty Mutineers who hid there undetected from 1790 until 1808 when an American whaler stumbled upon the island, which had been incorrectly located on a chart drawn by Carteret, due to the ‘longitude problem’.

Only the main island of Pitcairn is inhabited. and it became the second country in the world after Corsica to give women the vote in 1838.

HMS Seringapatam

1830 – HMS Seringapatam arrived in Pitcairn where the crew visited the graves of Christian and Adams and met with islanders whom they dined and spent some time with. Seringapatam visited a number of islands in the South Pacific on her time based in the South American station. She was a Seringapatam-class frigate, launched in 1819, disposed of in 1873.

1850 – Various sketches were made of the island and its features during the 1850s.

Lookout Ridge
A view of Pitcairn sketched from HMS Amphitrite
Bounty Bay and the village of Pitcairn
HMS Portland standing off Bounty Bay

1852 – HMS Portland, commanded by Henry Chads, was the flagship of Rear Admiral Fairfax Moresby. Portland visited Pitcairn in May of that year. In 1850, Moresby was promoted to rear admiral and became the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Station. He took an interest in the Pitcairn Islands and planned the emigration of islanders to Norfolk Island in 1856 when Pitcairn became too overcrowded.

He proposed the establishment of the Esquimalt Naval Base in Victoria, British Columbia. Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea was named after his death as was Moresby Island in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia.

HMS Champion visited Pitcairn in 1893 when Captain Rookes prepared a criminal code and reorganized the government of the colony. Champion was a colony-class steel corvette, launched in 1880, broken up in 1919.

HMS Champion

Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Tristao da Cunha in 1506 whilst he was on a mission to conquer Socotra Island off the coast of Aden. Rough seas prevented him from landing but he named the island after himself, a name that was later anglicized to Tristan da Cunha. There were a number of charts of the South Atlantic at this time and a later chart by the Portuguese cartographer Gaspar Viegas in 1534 is seen below.

An early map of the S. Atlantic by Gaspar Viegas
Flagship of Tristao d’Acunha
Flagship of Tristao d’Acunha
Notice left by the Dutch after their first visit in 1643.

In 1643 the first landing on the island was made by the crew of the Dutch East India Company ship Heemstede. The Dutch stopped at the island four more times during the next 5 years and in 1656 created the first rough charts of the archipelago.

The Heemstede
The American whaler, John and Elizabeth

1810 – Several visits were made by American whalers during the early history of the island, the John and Elizabeth being one of them. These ships visited Tristan da Cunha for fresh water and provisions whilst on their way south to whaling and sealing stations.

The first settler on the island was Jonathan Lambert from Massachusetts who arrive on the island in 1810; he publicly declared the island his property.

The landing party, 1815

In 1816, HMS Falmouth landed a garrison on Tristan da Cunha to secure the island on behalf of the King and in 1816 Britain annexed the islands ruling them from the Cape Colony. There was concern that the French might use the island to free Napoleon who was in exile on St. Helena.

In 1817 the garrison was withdrawn aboard HMS Euridice as the strategic importance of the island was dismissed by the Admiralty after the wreck of HMS Julia, which went ashore during a storm near Pigbite.

The wreck of HMS Julia
HMS Julia

Although the garrison was withdrawn in 1817, there were some soldiers who elected to remain on the island and became members of the original group of settlers whose ancestors are current island residents. Peter Green is one of the nine original families. The current inhabitants are thought to have descended from eight males and seven females who arrived on the island between 1817 and 1908. The men were European and the women mixed race.

Two original settlers, Peter Green and Rev. Taylor

In 1816, when HMS Falmouth landed a garrison on the island, it included corporal William Glass who was to become one of the original settlers on the island. He went to the island in 1816 and when troops were withdrawn in 1817, he asked to remain on the island. He then returned with his wife and children and later he became the Governor.

HMS Falmouth taking possession of the island
HMS Falmouth and Corporal William Glass who became a governor of the island

Governor Glass’s house and a view of the settlement.

Governor Glass’s house
An early view of the settlement

1938 – A Letters Patent was issued declaring Tristan da Cunha to be a dependency of St. Helena.

The Letters Patent
A view of the island and the Union Flag.

Falkland Islands

The first sighting of the Falkland Islands ‘may’ have been made by the English navigator John Davis in HMS Desire in 1592. However, there are various Spanish and Portuguese seamen who claimed to have first seen the islands, but without any verifiable claims and documentation these should not be taken as evidence of a first sighting.

First sighting, The Desire
Thomas Cavendish and Desire

Desire was commanded by Thomas Cavendish, accompanied by John Davis, and was on a circumnavigation of the world from 1583-1589. Cavendish died of unknown causes possibly off Ascension Islands on the return journey to England. Davis continued on to discover the Falkland Islands where he took shelter after being battered by a severe storm. However, because of ‘Longitudinal problems’ his position could not be verified.

HMS Dolphin & HMS Tamar – Commodore Byron
HMS Tamar & HMS Dolphin in Port Egmont

HMS Tamar accompanied HMS Dolphin in a round-the-world circumnavigation from 1764-1766. During this voyage, Dolphin’s commander, Commodore Byron, took possession of the Falkland Islands for Britain. Byron explored around the west islands of the Falklands and established Port Egmont in a natural harbour on Saunders island. Byron claimed the islands for Britain on the grounds of Prior Discovery, unaware that the French had established a settlement on East Falklands.

HMS Jason and captain John McBride

In 1766 Captain John MacBride, on HMS Jason, arrived in the Falkland Islands with orders to secure a settlement and inform any inhabitants that the islands were a British possession. He established a permanent settlement at Port Egmont. During his cruises around the islands, he came across the French settlement. He informed the French governor of the British claim which was politely rejected. Unbeknownst to either party, France had agreed to sell the colony to Spain and the resulting tensions between the Spanish and British claims nearly led to war.                                                                 

Christmas Island

Christmas Island lies about 375 kms south west of Jakarta, Indonesia, and about 700 kms east of the Cocos islands.

Christmas Island was first sighted in 1615 by Richard Rowe, master of the Thomas. It was named Christmas island on Christmas Day 1643 by Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company.

The Cygnet – 1688

The earliest recorded visit to Christmas Island was by William Dampier in HMS Cygnet in 1688. He had been blown off course trying to reach the Cocos Islands and arrived on Christmas Island to find it uninhabited. He landed with two men on the west coast and became the first Europeans to set foot on the island.

Some other British naval vessels that visited Christmas Island over the years:

In 1857, HMS Amethyst visited Christmas Island and made the first attempt to explore the island. A party from the ship endeavoured to climb the highest peak, Murray Hill at 357 metres, but were unsuccessful.

HMS Amethyst

In 1864, it is reputed that Captain Garner attempted to land men on Christmas Island from HMS Gordon. Some sources have confirmed that the ship in this stamp is not Gordon, which was a three-master, but the British brig Guyon which was on its way to Singapore from Australia when it stopped at the island in 1864.

HMS Gordon

HMS Egaria visited the island in 1887. She was engaged in survey work around Australia. John Murray from Egaria discovered that the island contained large deposits of phosphates, which led to the annexation of the island by Britain. Murray Hill is the highest point on the island at 357 metres.

HMS Egaria
HMS Egaria

The stamp on the right is labeled as an image of HMS Egeria. However, this is not correct as can be verified by comparing the ship to the stamp to the left. On the right the ship is the monitor HMS Hecate launched in 1870 and scrapped in 1903. It is not uncommon for ships in stamp images to be mislabelled.

Egeria, a Fantome-class, 4-gun sloop, was relocated to carry out surveys of coastal areas of British Columbia in 1898. She was hulked in 1914 and set on fire for break-up in the Burrard Inlet; this resulted in a huge explosion killing three men.

HMS Challenger visited Christmas Island during her grand tour of the world in 1874.

HMS Challenger

In 1887, HMS Flying Fish visited the island; this stamp celebrates the centenary of that visit. She was engaged in survey duties in and around East Asia. Flying Fish was a Fantome-class sloop.

HMS Flying Fish
HMS Flying Fish

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands were discovered in 1609 by William Keeling, but no settlement occurred until the early 19th century when John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish merchant, settled there with his family, running the islands as a personal fiefdom for 150 years. In 1857, HMS Juno carried out the historic role of annexing the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to the British Empire. Juno disappeared in 1880 with her entire crew of mostly young sailors in a storm while sailing from Bermuda to Falmouth. No wreckage or survivors were ever found.

The Atoll
HMS Juno

Gilbert Islands

HMS Royalist

The Gilbert Islands were first sighted by a Portuguese navigator in 1606. The Gilbert Islands were named in 1820 by a Russian Admiral after the British Captain Thomas Gilbert.

During John Byron’s Circumnavigation of the world in 1764, in HMS Dolphin, he encountered the islands and residents of the Tokelau Islands and the Southern Gilbert Islands.

This stamp celebrates the 75th anniversary of the raising of the British flag in 1891 by HMS Royalist. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands were a British protectorate from 1892, and a colony from 1916. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands became autonomous in 1971. From 1976 to 1978, the Ellice Islands were separated, and the Gilberts became the Gilbert Islands colony, which issued stamps under that name, mostly celebrating Captain Cook’s voyages. In 1979, the Gilberts opted for independence, becoming the independent nation of Kiribati. The Ellice Islands became the independent nation of Tuvalu.


Abel Tasman

The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was one of the first Europeans to explore the north-west coast of the land initially known as New Holland, later to become Australia, during his second voyage in 1644. During his first voyage in 1642, he reached and sighted Tasmania. He could not land due to very rough weather but his carpenter swam ashore and planted the Dutch flag – Tasman formally claimed the land for Holland. He then sailed east to New Zealand and sailed up the west coast of the North Island where he met with waring Māoris who killed four of his men. The next important discoverer of these southern lands would be Captain Cook during his three world voyages 150 years later.

A number of Royal Naval ships and explorers undertook survey work around the Australian coast after the colony was established in 1788 by the First Fleet.

Michael Flinders – 1774-1814

Flinders was an English navigator and cartographer who led the second circumnavigation of New Holland which he would subsequently name Australia and identify it as a continent. He made three voyages to the Southern Ocean. In the second voyage he confirmed that Tasmania was an island. In the third voyage he circumnavigated the mainland of Australia.

His first voyage was in 1791 when he was given command of HMS Norfolk to investigate if there was a passage between the mainland and Tasmania.

His second voyage was in 1799, also in Norfolk, when he explored as far north as Fraser Island.

In 1801 he embarked on his third voyage in HMS Investigator in an expedition to chart the coastline of New Holland, as Australia was called at this time. It was during this voyage that Flinders coined the name Australia for the continent. During this voyage, he circumnavigated Australia, transiting the Torres Strait where he had previously sailed under Captain Bligh.

Mathew Flinders and HMS Investigator

Investigator was launched in 1795 as a mercantile ship then purchased by the navy and converted to a survey ship and under the command of Mathew Flinders was the first ship to circumnavigate the continent.

HMS Mermaid – 1817

HM Survey Cutter Mermaid

HMS Mermaid was acquired by the Royal Navy in 1817. Between 1817 and 1820, Mermaid circumnavigated the Australian mainland and conducted a survey of the inner route of the Barrier reef.

In 1826 she travelled to Timor to obtain seeds.
In 1829, during a trip on the inner passage to Torres Island, she struck an uncharted reef and sank with no loss of life.

HMS Fly (212) HMS Fly – 1838


HMS Fly was an 18-gun sloop, launched in 1829, broken up in 1903. Fly was responsible for charting and exploring much of Australia’s north-east coast and nearby islands. The Fly River in New Guinea is named after the ship and is the second longest river in New Guinea and largest river in Oceania.

In 1841 Fly was commissioned to explore the Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait under Captain Blackwood. A Beacon was erected by Blackwood on Raines Island near the best channel through the reef.

HMS Rattlesnake – 1846

Between 1846 and 1850, Rattlesnake made a historic voyage of discovery to the Cape York and Torres Straits area of north Queensland. She was captained by Owen Stanley and carried a marine naturalist, a botanist and an artist.

HMS Rattlesnake

In 1849 Rattlesnake rescued Barbara Thompson who, as a teenager, had survived being shipwrecked in the Torres Strait and spent five years living with the Tuareg people on one of the Torres Islands.

HMS Rattlesnake was a 28-gun sixth-rate corvette, launched in 1822, broken up in 1860.

HMS Herald & HMS Torch – 1852

HMS Herald was launched by the East India company in 1822 then commissioned by the Royal Navy in 1824. In 1845 she was converted to a survey ship and in 1848 was assigned to search for the lost Franklin expedition in the Canadian Arctic.

HMS Torch was a steam propelled tender launched in 1845, disposed of in 1856.

Both ships were on the Australia Station in a five-year survey of the southern seas which included surveys of the coast of Australia and Fiji. They both returned to England via the Cape of Good Hope and Tristan da Cunha.

HMS Herald
HMS Herald
HMS Fly & HMS Torch

HMS Virago – 1855

HMS Virago was a first-class paddle sloop, launched in 1842, broken up in 1876. In 1855, Virago undertook survey work on the Canadian Pacific coast after which she returned to England and was then sent to the Australia Station where she undertook survey work of the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland coast and the coast of New Zealand. 

HMS Virago

HMS Sappho – 1874

HMS Sappho commenced service on the Australia Station in 1874. She also did service on the Pacific Station and visited Pitcairn Island. In 1877 she participated in the search for the missing crew and passengers of the Queen Bee that had run aground on Farewell Spit in New Zealand.

Sappho was in Tonga when a devastating tsunami from the 1877 Iquique earthquake struck the island. Natives blamed the ship for bringing the Tsunami.

HMS Sappho

HMS Sappho was a Fantome-class composite screw sloop, launched in 1873, broken up in 1886.

New Zealand

Abel Tasman was the first European to visit New Zealand in 1642. Captain James Cook was the next European to explore the two Islands 150 years later, which he visited and surveyed during his three world voyages. He also claimed the land for the British Crown.

Polynesian voyaging canoe

The first peoples to arrive on New Zealand were Polynesians who travelled across the Pacific in voyaging canoes. They started migrating from Asia in 2500BC, and island hopped across the Pacific settling on most of the Pacific islands and arriving, many generations later, on an unpopulated New Zealand in 1200AD. During several centuries of isolation, these Polynesian settlers formed a distinct culture that became known as the Māori.

Papua (New Guinea)

HMS Blanche

Papua New Guinea was first discovered by a Portuguese explorer in 1526 who named it Papua after a Malay word for the frizzled quality of Melanesian people’s hair.

HMS Blanche, under the command of Captain Simpson, undertook a survey of Raboul’s harbour in 1872. Blanche Bay is named after the ship. Blanche had the unfortunate experience of running aground off Hanover Island in Papua New Guinea. She was nearly lost rounding Cape Horn on a return journey to England. 

Raising the Union flag at Port Moresby

The Union Flag was hoisted at Port Moresby in 1884 when part of the island became a protectorate of the British Empire. Also present was HMS Nelson, a Nelson-class armored cruiser launched in 1876, scrapped in 1910. A part of the ceremony was held on board Nelson which had sailed to Port Moresby for this very purpose.

HMS Nelson in Port Moresby
On board HMS Nelson

In 1884, following the wishes of Chancellor Bismark, the German flag was ceremoniously hoisted on Matupi in the German sector by SMS Elizabeth on the same date in 1884.

SMS Elizabeth

The northern sector of Papua New Guinea was ruled by Germany for some decades beginning in 1884. The German sector was seized by Australian troops during the First World War and Australia was authorized to administer the country after the war ended. The western part of the island is a part of Indonesia.

Tuvalu (Funafuti) 1896 and 1897

Hurricane Beach

Darwin’s hypothesis of the formation of atolls stimulated a period of intense investigation and the Royal Society Expedition of 1896/97 arrived at the Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu, in HMS Porpoise to carry out borings and dredging to confirm or deny Darwin’s theory. The deep bore holes were to look for shallow water organisms at depth in the coral, proving that the coral reefs were growing up as the reef subsided.

Darwin and HMS Beagle
Map of the Atoll showing the line of dredging
HMS Porpoise and boring equipment

Arctic Explorers

Baron Phipps & Phillipe D’Auvergne

HMS Racehorse and HMS Carcass participated in an expedition in 1773 led by Baron Phipps into the Arctic to find the north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Both ships reached within 10 degrees of the North Pole before being turned back by pack ice. Phipps was the first European to describe a Polar Bear.

HMS Racehorse & HMS Carcass stuck in Arctic ice

Philippe d’Auvergne was a midshipman on board Racehorse. On board Carcass was a 15-year-old midshipman, named Horatio Nelson.

James Weddell

James Weddell & Jane

James Weddell was a sailor, sealer and navigator who 1823 sailed to a latitude of 740 15’ S, a record 532 miles south of the Antarctic Circle. This area later became known as the Weddell Sea. He did join the Royal Navy as a midshipman and rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming a captain. He was paid off in 1819.

He sailed to the Antarctic in the Jane, an American vessel captured during the war of 1812, which was refitted for sealing.


During the age of sail, it was not uncommon for sailing vessels to be wrecked on reefs, onshore coasts and in severe weather. Many wrecks have been described in the previous sections Pts 1 to 15.

HMS Rattlesnake

HMS Rattlesnake stranded on Trinidad Island

HMS Rattlesnake, commanded by Philippe d’Auvergne, and HMS Jupiter were sent to survey Trinidade and martim Vaz, to establish the islands’ suitability for a base for outward-bound Indiamen. Anchored off-shore of the islands, a heavy storm brewed up and Rattlesnake dragged her anchor, struck a rock and was run ashore to save the ship. Some sailors were rescued by Jupiter, but most of the sailors had to remain on the island for three months before being rescued by HMS Bristol.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory was launched in 1737, wrecked in 1744. She was a 96-gun second-rate ship of the line.

The wreck of HMS Victory

Expansive features in her design compromised her stability and due to jealousy of the shipwright to orders to build the vessel “low and snug” a particularly large and roomy vessel was built which proved to be an incompetent sailor requiring several refits before passing sea trials.

She was wrecked with the loss of her entire crew of 1,150 during a storm in the English Channel. For many years she was believed to have foundered on the Black Rock off the Casquets. The wreck was eventually found 80 kms from where it was thought to have gone down.

Navigation Equipment

Marine Chronometer

John Harrison, from Thomas King’s 1767 portrait

John Harrison was a self-educated carpenter and clockmaker who invented the first practical marine chronometer. He presented his first design in 1730 and worked for many years afterwards to improve his designs. Until this time, navigation was often a hit-or-miss process as longitude could not be accurately calculated.  The challenges presented to any inventor of a marine chronometer were: making a clock that was not affected by variations in temperature, pressure or humidity, remained accurate over long periods of time, resisted corrosion in salt air and could function on board a constantly moving ship. Even such notables as Sir Isaac Newton doubted that such a clock could ever be built.  Harrison’s first “sea watch” was known as the H4. The clock’s movement is highly complex for that period and his first watch took six years to construct. Its first trial was on board HMS Deptford which set sail from Portsmouth to Kingston, Jamaica. The test was a success with the accuracy of navigation to within one nautical mile over that distance from England to Jamaica. Cook’s accuracy of navigation during his world circumferences was attributed to accurate marine chronometers.

Details of Harrison’s Marine Chronometer #4

Captain Cook carried a marine chronometer on his second and third voyages of discovery


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