MW4 - Lady Nelson
Located around Wanda Headland on water edge. Turn off Soldiers Point Rd into Randall Drive (at roundabout near shops) and drive approximately 20 metres where on your left there is limited room for parking on grass roadside. From your parked car you will see a pathway that leads down to the waterfront. The pathway veers off to the right at waterfront where a well maintained, flat and even bush /gravel path follows the waterline around the headland. You will see the signs approx 100m to 150m apart if you continue along this pathway.
This sign is located approximately mid-way along the shoreline pathway around Wanda Wanda Headland.
Built in 1799 for the Admiralty’s Commissioner for Transport, the Lady Nelson was inspected by Philip Gidley King whilst in England at the time. Aware of the Colony’s dire need for a suitable vessel, he lobbied for it to be taken over for use by the Colony. The vessel was re-rigged as a brig versus that of a cutter and was commissioned in October 1799 “for the purpose of prosecuting the discovery of the unknown parts of the coast of New Holland, and ascertaining, as far as practicable, the hydrography of that part of the globe”.
Lady Nelson delayed its departure due to fears of French and Spanish interception, but finally left on 18 March 1800 with a complement of three officers and 10 crew. Repairs were required to a broken keel along the way but the crew was without of a second mate and a carpenter - with the vessel suffering other keel failures. Not wishing to face the “Roaring Forties” ill-prepared, the then master Lt. James Grant, waited many weeks at the Cape and recorded a number of observations.
En-route, he received advice of a navigable strait between New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) and was instructed to: “sail through the said strait on your way to Port Jackson”. Eventually, Grant arrived in Port Jackson on 16 December 1800 and was the first to sail such a ship through Bass Strait - naming several significant land features which remain today. In reality, the new Governor Philip Gidley King had not received directions on whether the vessel was to be considered on the establishment of the Royal Navy, the Transport Board or Colonial and it was many months before this was resolved.
Lt. Grant was still available and was thus retained as master of the Lady Nelson and after a survey season back in Bass Strait, sailed north to explore the Coal River (Hunter River) during June-July 1801.
In 1802, Lady Nelson was appointed as attender to HMS Investigator on a planned voyage of discovery around New Holland - following orders from Captain Matthew Flinders. It could not keep up and after several further incidents of lost anchors and other damage, it was ordered to return to Port Jackson. Upon his return, Grant relinquished his command before returning to England.
Lady Nelson continued to act as a Colonial vessel in the settlement of Van Dieman’s Land, utilised by Governor Lachlan Macquarie when he visited the area. It was also used by the Governor when he sailed for Newcastle and Port Stephens for three day's inspection in January 1812.
The vessel continued to be used as a general purpose facility until 1824 when the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies directed that a settlement be formed on the north-west of the continent. This was to cover the Coburg Peninsula and Melville and Bathurst Islands. The Lady Nelson in company with two others left on 24 August 1824, landing on 8 September - where stores were unloaded to build Fort Dundas. With all in place, the other two ships departed on 13 November and left the Army Guard and the Lady Nelson there to maintain watch.
Thirteen months later, with no fresh meat available, Captain Barlow sent the Lady Nelson to a Timor island for supplies, but on returning to the fort, most of the animals had died. More was found on another voyage to Timor, where the Lady Nelson encountered another ship from England and procured a number of small pigs - which were lean and unfit for immediate use. Scurvy broke out and in urgent need, the Lady Nelson sailed on 19 February 1825, never to be seen again. It's believed that it had been wrecked or finally lost to Malay privateers in 1825.
The above information and research has been undertaken by the Port Stephens Historical Society.