It should, I think, … be remember that the times referred to the charts of the North-West coast of this colony were not at all so correct or complete as at present they are, thanks to the labours of Captains Vereker, Dawson, Moore, and last but not least, Combe, and I knew quite enough of the difficulties connected with the work done by Her Majesty’s ships Myrmidon, Rambler, and Penguin, to attach a proper value to the charts resulting therefrom.’ (C.R. Russell, in a letter published in The Inquirer and Commercial News, Perth, WA, 20 July 1900)
After entering the Royal Navy in 1868 and joining its surveying branch, Foley Vereker – son of the 4th Viscount Gort – was promoted up the ranks, finally reaching Captain after several mentions in dispatches, one in the course of fighting pirates in the Sulu Archipelago. His broad experience and expertise is reflected in his appointment as Naval Advisor to the Board of Trade and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. He was on HMS Magpie at Sandakang, when the Indonesian island of Krakatoa exploded on 27 August 1873, recording in his log how he and his crew heard the sound ('resembling distant heavy cannonading'), and he took his ship to the Sunda Strait in October 'for the purpose of examining the changes that had taken place' following the eruption. His paper recording the 'remarkable changes in the physical configuration of the district' was read at the Royal Society on 10 January 1884. The present volume describes Vereker's final overseas command, and one which saw the tropics take its toll, his widow Ellen noting he suffered from 'constant fever from which he never quite recovered his former health.' The balance of Captain Vereker’s journal and logs relating to his service in RN Survey ships is held by the Royal Geographical Society (‘The Vereker Collection’, ar GB402 FCV), the seven journal and logs spanning his career, from Vol. 1 (as midshipman on HMSS Victory, 1865-7) to Vol. 7 (as lieutenant commanding HMS Rambler, 1884-6), the seven volumes the gift of Vereker’s son Standish to the RGS in 1944 (as recorded in the letters tipped in to the present volume).
Vereker was commander of the relief crew of the surveying ship HMS Myrmidon, shipped out in November 1887 on HMS Thalia from Plymouth and arriving in Sydney in April 1888 and transferring to the ship in Farm Cove. HMS Myrmidon had most recently been surveying the Great Barrier Reef ‘for the purpose of “putting in the outline of the reef all the way round,” and also to try and find a pass through the reef … A pass was eventually discovered in he vicinity of Cape Grafton between Flora Pass and Trinity Opening ...' (Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Nov. 1887). Under Vereker’s command HMS Myrmidon surveyed the north west coast of Australia in 1888-89 to Cambridge Gulf, charting the coast (Vereker contributing to Australia N.W. coast: sailing directions and Australia S.W. coast: sailing directions, both published by the Hydrographic Department, 1891), and reporting variously on sites of recent wrecks, diagnosing cable breaks and sighting the Port Darwin lighthouses. The Report by Captain the Honorable Foley C.P. Vereker of the work carried out by H.M. Surveying vessel “Myrmidon” at Cambridge Gulf during the season of 1888 was published in Perth as Parliamentary paper no 5 in 1889, and laid on the table at the Legislative Council on 10 April 1889. Vereker's surveys of the N.W. coast of Australia followed in the wake of Flinders and King, of John Lort Stokes's surveys on the Beagle for the Hydrographic Office in 1837-43, and Gregory's North Australian Expedition of 1855-6. Vereker was more immediately preceded by Staff-Commander J.G. Coghlan, RN's survey on the Meda (for which see the Report upon the work carried out by the joint Admiralty and Colonial Marine Survey Department during the year 1884 comprising also, a Report upon The Capabilities of Cambridge Gulf as a port, Perth, 1885, Vereker's copy loosely inserted here) and his work was continued by commander Dawson on HMS Rambler in 1889.
The numerous illustrations by Vereker, which include a remarkable collection of early views of settlements on the north west coast of Australia, comprise:
HMS Thalia; “Thalia” leaving Plymouth; Cape Town. (on leaf of silver fir); Albany. West Australia. (from the northwood); extraordinary squall 4.30PM. ..20th March; Approaching Cooktown. Rocky Is. Anchor Point Mt Cook 1476ft. 8AM; Booby island Torres Strait; the Gorge, Wyndham; South Cape of St Vincent I. Cape De Verd group; general view of Ascension I; Ascension (from anchorage); West coast of St Helena; Bald Head. King George’s Sound; Sydney (“The Heads” from inside the Harbour); Entrance to Sydney Harbour; South Head. Sydney; Views round Sydney. N.S.W.; Kangaroo Point. Brisbane R. Queensland; [a coastal landscape]; the Residency. Thursday I. Torres Strait; Scawfell (1305ft.) Cumberland Is. (Queensland); Cooktown. Queensland. General View; The Bastions Cambridge Gulf; Wyndham. Cambridge Gulf. North Australia.; View Hill. C. Gulf and Nellie Bay.; The Gorge. Cambridge Gulf. (from summit of Russell I.); Fairfax I. C. Gulf (from steep Head Bay. Adolphus I.); Cambridge Gulf. (looking north from Wyndham.) The air is full of smoke from bush and grass fires lit by the Blacks; [A coastal landscape, Cambridge Gulf]; The Gut. (South end of Cambridge Gulf.) (Looking SWd).; Cambridge Gulf. (north of Fairfax I.); Entrance to the Gut. C. Gulf; Parry Creek. Low water. Mangroves and Cockatoos; Wyndham (from the Southd); Still Bay and View Hill. (Cambridge Gulf); Bush fire. Augt 13th 88.; Cambridge Gulf from View Hill; Ree’s Bank (Low water) Cambridge Gulf. N.W. Australia; Wyndham and the Bastions (from the Gut. early morn August 18th 1888); Port Darwin. 1888 (the terminus north of The Trans Continental Railway) [panorama on two joined sheets]; Cambridge Gulf Nellie Bay. View Hill.; Wyndham (from our Observatory).; Sunset. July 29th 88. Wyndham. W.A.; Port Darwin [panorama on two joined sheets]; Baobab trees at Vancouver Pt.; View Hill from Russell I.; West coast of Adolphus I. C. G.; Landslip point from the NE d.; Parry Creek (Low water). View Hill; Pitt Is. Mai Id. Albany Is. Albany Rk. NW. 2½m 19 June 88. V. 15P.M; The Molucca Group. (Eastern Archipelago). from the North Eastwd [panorama on two joined sheets]; Banda Volcano and Island. (the home of the nutmeg); Siao volcano. NbE 11m 5924 feet Dec. 14. 88.; Makyan Volcano. 1166ft. Near Ternate. Easter Archipelago. (from N.Wd); Fort Victoria. Amboina (Early morning); Ternate. (5000ft.) from the south channel; Ternate from the anchorage [folding panorama]; Bathurst Bay 5.P.M – June 16th 1888 Flinders group - Castle Hill - from Northd. [Stanley Island]; June 8th. 1888 Frankland Ids. From the dist S.Wd.; June 8th 1888. Low Id. 2 miles. West -; Lizard I. 4 miles EbS Summit. 1167ft June 15th 6.30AM. 1888; Brown Pk. 538 Sb.E 5 miles - .oble Id. 338ft high; Near Allang Point Amboina “Rambler”; Point Limbones. (SE. 3 to 4 m). Manila Bay Dec 23. 88; Sikou Goaritji Group. Eastern Archipelago Dec. 10. 88 [panorama on two joined sheets]; Pt. de Marigondon (Manila).; Sierra de Mariveles (4746ft.) Manila B. 22. Dec 88. [folding panorama]; “Myrmidon” crossing the China Sea. (Jany. 1889.); Amboina; General view of Amboina Bay. (From the coal wharfs); “Myrmidon” making Hongkong from Manila. Jany. 1889 HMS “Himalaya”; [A gully with a figure seated on a rock, probably at Illawarra]; [A settler’s hut in the bush].
The written pages of Captain Foley Vereker’s journal recount the details of his surveying voyages around the coast of Australia and its towns and in the South China Sea. Having set off from Plymouth at the end of 1887, noting ‘cabin comfortable but rather small’, Vereker reports the particulars in the manner of one well accustomed to life at sea, including alongside his notes tables tracking his latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. Yet even the diaries of an experienced sailor recall the flying fish, sharks and comets seen along the way, as well as the smaller joys of travel, such as the presence of a partner for chess. His descriptions of the landscape at each location complement his elegant watercolours – conjuring images of soaring cliffs and rugged rocks, thick forests and wild flowers, as well as every type of weather imaginable. Reports of the behaviour of those encountered along the way also colour his descriptions; after a provisioning stop at Praia, where Vereker disapprovingly notes ‘French frigate’s crew have bought all the turkeys in the place’, they sail to St Helena where ‘the streets are crowded with women of all shades of colour but apparently all equally lax in conduct’ and the behaviour of the bluejackets has little more to recommend it to the naval officer. After reaching Albany, sailing into Princess Royal Harbour, in March 1888 – ‘quiet and small, rather pretty’, with bungalows reminiscent of western cities of the States – and then Melbourne – where Vereker notes ‘how marvellously it has sprung up’ after its founding in 1836, with ‘omnibuses and cars equalling London’ – they weigh anchor in Sydney harbour in early April before transferring to HMS Myrmidon (‘my fellows are awfully disgusted with the look of their future home’); upon arriving, Vereker is whisked into Sydney’s vibrant expatriate society. Occasionally waxing lyrical, as on a spring day in Sydney watching the 'clear water, smooth and as blue as the azure sky, with shadows of ships trembling on the shining surface’, Vereker imparts the flavour of each settlement visited, commenting on local dress and ‘the favourite tipple’. Surveying expeditions are recounted; on one trip out from Sydney to Illawarra, he is joined by a platypus as he sketches. Mid-way through the account the hand changes to that of Vereker’s wife Ellen, or ‘Nelly’, apparently following his death in 1900; Nelly then takes charge of marshalling her husband’s journal, using the details from his rough diaries and pasting in his watercolours. The journey continues through the summer of 1888 to Brisbane (where the scenery of Bulimba stands out for Vereker as being particularly pretty), Cooktown, and through the Cambridge Gulf to Port Darwin; during the muggy July days at the latter, Vereker faces challenging territory, one day sketching a mangrove with shifting sandbanks. Descriptions of the scenery and his surveying activities – for which the ship docks regularly along the coast – predominate after Sydney, though tea parties and graceful villas and gardens are still remarked upon. At Cape Hotham he recalls Fitzmaurice's dangerous encounter with the aboriginals at Escape Cliff ('in sight from our anchorage') on the Beagle's voyage. He dreams of his wife, beginning to tire of life aboard and concludes, as she copies, ‘this life not worth all the separation’. Details of the routine onboard continues to be faithfully copied by Nelly – interspersed with lighter reliefs such as shopping for jewellery – as Vereker travels to Hong Kong (via Amboyna, Ternate and Manila, December 1888; Hong Kong, January-March 1889) and then towards home (via Sandakan, April 1889) and his ‘poor little wife’.