Ship model, HMS 'Lady Nelson', wood / copper / flax / canvas, made by Roland Michel Laroche, Australia, 1980
This ship model of the 'Lady Nelson' acts as an important record of Australia's early maritime history. This is the only known example of a small-scale model of this famous ship, the 'Lady Nelson'. The ship was the first ship to sail through Bass Strait from west to east on its maiden voyage from England to Australia in 1800; she successfully chartered much of the Victorian coastline; was heavily involved with the exploration of the Queensland coast with Matthew Flinders; investigated the Hunter River; made numerous visits to New Zealand and Norfolk Island and was involved in the founding of numerous settlements.
In comparison to most colonial vessels, the 'Lady Nelson' is technically unique. It was fitted with sliding keels, or centre boards, and water-tight trunks reaching to the deck. These sliding keels were invented by Captain Schank and when raised, reduced her draught to less than six feet. This innovation was considered by some as rather dangerous and the 'Lady Nelson' was therefore nicknamed 'His Majesty's Tinderbox' when launched on January 13, 1800.
The 'Lady Nelson' represents the development of early Australian settlements. She transported troops and convicts and carried grain, coal, cedar and seal skins between settlement sites . The ship was involved in the founding of Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston and Newcastle. Descriptions of the 'Lady Nelson' appear prominently in Lachlan Macquarie's journal during his tour of inspection to Van Diemen's Land in 1811 where he even describes her as "the best and safest sea-boat I ever sailed in".
This particular model acts as an important legacy of the full-scale version which no longer survives. While accompanying HMS 'Tamar' to Melville Island in 1825, the 'Lady Nelson' was captured and later abandoned by pirates off the island of Babar. This brought to a close 25 years of coastal exploration and navigation.
Colwell, M., "Ships and Seafarers in Australian Waters" (Melbourne, 1973)
Grant, J., "The Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery Performed in His Majesty's Vessel The Lady Nelson, of Sixty Tons Burthen, With Sliding Keels in the Years 1800, 1801 and 1802 to New South Wales" (London, 1803)
King, D., "The Lady Nelson Project" in Australian Boating (January, 1986) pp.102-103
Macquarie University (1998-2007), "Journeys in Time - List of Ships", http://www.lib.mq.edu.au/all/journeys/ships/list.html (Downloaded 9/5/2007)
Spillett, P., "From the Other Side: Indonesian Evidence on the Loss of the 'Lady Nelson' and 'Stedcombe' (1825)", The Great Circle, vol. 5, no. 1 (April 1983)
This ship model of the 'Lady Nelson' was made by Monsieur Roland Michel Laroche in Australia in 1980. The full-scale version of the 'Lady Nelson' was built at Deptford, London in 1799.
Monsieur Roland Michel Laroche was a ship model maker who learnt his trade in France. After serving in the French navy he came to Australia and established a small business in the Rocks called 'Marine Artefacts'. Monsieur Laroche spent 3000 hours working on this particular model.
This particular ship model was constructed by Monsieur Laroche with a grant from the Crafts Board of the Australia Council in 1979 and was purchased by the Museum from the builder in 1981. The full-scale version of the 'Lady Nelson', however, was built for the Transport Board in the United Kingdom in 1799.
The 'Lady Nelson' was the first ship to sail through Bass Strait from West to East on its maiden voyage from England to New South Wales, Australia beginning in January, 1800. During this voyage, the 'Lady Nelson' was being commanded by Lieutenant James Grant with a crew of 15. The voyage was completed in ten months and following this she sailed from Port Jackson for the Hunter River on June 10, 1801, accompanied by the schooner 'Francis'. Here, the 'Lady Nelson' surveyed the Hunter estuary and a flag was raised on the island (now Nobby's Head) to indicate the entrance to the river.
In 1802, the 'Lady Nelson' was used for survey work with HMS 'Investigator', under the command of Matthew Flinders during costal explorations along the east coast of Australia. She played a prominent role in the relocation of the Norfolk Islanders to Hobart Town in 1807 and 1808 and to Port Dalrymple in 1813. She was also used for transporting grain from the Hawkesbury and coal from Newcastle to Sydney.
In 1819 the 'Lady Nelson' was involved in more survey work along the New South Wales coast and in April 1820, during the establishment of the new settlement at Port Macquarie, she ran aground on the bar near the harbour entrance. By 1824, however, she was in commission again and was being used to supply livestock to the new settlement being established on Melville Island in northern Australia.
The 'Lady Nelson' was seized by pirates off Timor early in 1825 while attempting to obtain supplies for the recently established settlement on Melville Island. All crew on board were killed and the vessel was scuttled off Babar Island, north-east of Timor.