By Anne Gibson
Tuesday 14 February 1792
… The signal was made for a sail, and shortly after the ‘Pitt’ Captain Edward Manning, anchored in the cove from England …, She had on board Francis Grose Esq the Lieutenant-Governor of the settlements, and Major-Commandant of the New South Wales corps, one company of which, together with the adjutant and surgeon’s mate, came out with him. She bought out three hundred and nineteen male and forty-nine female convicts, five children, and seven free women.
On the ship was a vessel of forty tons, in frame. Palmer wrote that because of the space needed for this .. she has left behind all the Clothing, Stores and some Provisions, which were intended to be sent in her, except for a few Shoes and some Leather.
A person who came out to this country in the capacity of a carpenters mate on board the ‘Sirius’ and who had been discharged from that ship’s books into the ‘Supply’ having being left behind when that vessel sailed for England, offered his services to put together the vessel that arrived in frame in the ‘Pitt’, and being deemed sufficiently qualified as a shipwright, he was engaged at two shillings per diem and his provisions to set her up.
Her keel was accordingly laid down on blocks placed for the purpose near the landing-place on the east side. As this person was the only shipwright in the colony, the vessel would much sooner have rendered the services which were required of her, had she been put together, coppered and set out manned and officered from England; by these means too the colony would have received many articles which were of necessity shut out of the ‘Pitt’ to make room for her stowage.
According to Mollie Gillen in The Founders of Australia, the First Fleet carpenter’s mate from Supply mentioned by Collins was almost certainly James Heatherly/Hatherleigh, who joined Sirius as carpenter’s crew on 8 March 1787, aged 21 years. Heatherly was paid as an artificer in the colony from 27 January 1788 to 15 March 1791. He was discharged from Supply at Port Jackson with a certificate in consequence of an application to stay as a settler. The baptism of three children on James Heatherly and Elizabeth Bason are recorded. James on 24 May 1789, Henry on 28 November 1790 (died 18 Mary 1792) and Elizabeth born 2 November 1792.
The vessel, completed by Heatherly, was launched at Port Jackson, as the Schooner The Francis, on 24 July 1793. She was named The Francis after Francis, the son of Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose, and was the first seagoing vessel built in N.S.W.
Lieutenant-Governor Grose wrote to Right Hon. Henry Dundas …. The vessel sent in frame by the ‘Pitt’ has a length been put into the water. I have placed in her as the master the late boatswain of the ‘Discovery’. He had been sent here by Captain Vancouver, for the purpose of returning to England as an invalid, but having recovered from the complaint, and being willing to take command of the sloop for forty pounds a year. I thought it expedient to employ him, having manned the vessel with some seamen left here by other ships… She will sail for Dusky Bay in New Zealand immediately, in order to ascertain how far that place, which, I understand, posses all the advantages of Norfolk Island, with the addition of a safe harbour and seal fishery, may tend to the benefit of his Majesty’s service, as connected with these settlements.
Over the next few years The Francis made many voyages up and down the coast and to New Zealand and Norfolk Island. In February 1795 Charles Grimes sailed on her when he charted the coastline of Port Stephens. In June 1801 The Francis accompanied the expedition to the Coal River (Hunter River) and returned to Sydney with a cargo of coal which was exchanged for nails and iron and shipped out on the Earl Cornwallis. This is believed to be the first shipment of coal exported from Newcastle.
The Francis was wrecked on 21 March 1805, north of the Hunter River, Newcastle on the Oyster Bank. Her master at the time was Captain Edwards and there were no casualties. She had been the first ship built in Port Jackson. David Collins in his writings wrote The Francis was intended as a Sloop but was rigged as a Schooner.
Cobley, John Sydney Cove, 1791-1792
Collins, David An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales Vol.1
Ellery, Michael the Mariner’s Mirror, Volume 99, Issue 2, 2013
First Fleet Folio Issue 183, April 2016
Gillen, Mollie The Founders of Australia