Abel Seaman George Raper took his paint box with him, containing a larger set of paints than that of his captain John Hunter, who was also an artist, when he transferred on 22 December 1786 to HMS Sirius. His paintings of ports such as Teneriffe and Rio de Janeiro, were part of his evidence of competence for his later promotion to midshipman on 13 September 1787.
When in boarded HMS Sirius, George Raper was seventeen years old, having been born on 19 September 1769, to Henry and Catherine Raper. His baptism took place a month later at St Swithen’s London. His ancestors were wealthy businessmen who were Directors of the Bank of England with his father listed, at the time of George’s birth, as Director of London Assurance at Cornhill.
George Raper was thirteen years old when he joined the Navy as servant to the Captain of HMS Rose. During the following four years before boarding HMS Sirius he would have become fully competent in the Navy way life.
On Sunday 13 May 1787, the ships of the First Fleet weighed anchor and sailed from Portsmouth. The first drawing George made at the start of the voyage was the white cliffs of Needle Point. He did a further number of watercolour paintings and drawings of landscapes, flora and fauna he observed on the First Fleet expedition.
George remained as crew of HMS Sirius and was aboard the ship when it sailed from Port Jackson in October 1788 to fetch much needed supplies for the settlement. Food supplies had been running dangerously low for some time, the failure of the wheat crop planted in the poor soil near Sydney Cove was the immediate trigger for HMS Sirius’s journey. This journey also provided opportunity for George to complete further paintings of varying landscapes and natural history.
Governor Phillip made the decision in February 1790 to send convicts and marines to Norfolk Island, as once again, supplies of food were dangerously low. Sirius and Supply departed Sydney Cove on 3 March, reaching Norfolk on 13 March 1790. Owing to no natural harbour and unfavourable windy weather conditions, convicts and marines were landed in Cascade Bay. The wind changed four days later enabling the two ships to anchor in Sydney Bay; however it was disaster for HMS Sirius as the vessel came to grief on the reef with the changing ebb tide. George referred to the shipwreck as our sad and melancholy Catastrophe. He remained on the Island until February 1791, when the Supply had returned to collect the remaining officers and crew. The Dutch vessel, Waaksamheyd departed Sydney Cove on 27 March 1791 for England with George Raper and the Sirius’s company.
Remaining in the Navy, George served honourably on HMS Victory, the Speedy cutter, and the Cumberland. His last commission was as Lieutenant and commander of the Expedition cutter on 20 July 1796. George Raper died in 1797 of unknown causes on board the Expedition, leaving instructions for all his papers to be put in my Painting Case and delivered to my dearest and beloved mother.
The George Raper collection of maps, charts and drawings were held with is family for over 200 years, until acquired by the Australian Government. The collection complements other works by First Fleet artist held by the National Library of Australia.
The Waratah is the Floral Emblem of New South Wales