Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Guardian - 1790

Embarked: 25
Deaths 5
Departed 12 September 1789
Arrived: at the Cape 21 February 1790
Previous vessel to leave England: Lady Juliana
Next vessels to leave England: 3rd Fleet Surprise, Neptune and Scarborough
Captain: Edward Riou
Ship Surgeons Mate: William Fairclough

Edward Riou joined the navy when he was twelve years of age. He served in the French Revolutionary Wars and was midshipman under Captain Cook on his third voyage of discovery in 1776. He was just twenty seven years of age when received his appointment as commander of the Guardian in 1789.

Edward Riou - Samuel Shelley - National Maritime MuseumEdward Riou - Miniature by Samuel Shelley. National Maritime Museum

Log Book of the Guardian

Log Book of the Guardian. State Library NSW

....The Log Book of a Voyage to Port Jackson in New South Wales, performed by Lieutenant Edward Riou Commanding his Majesty's Ship Guardian by Order of the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, 21 April 1789-5 May 1790. State Library NSW


The Guardian anchored at Spithead on 7th July 1789.

Map showing location of Portsmouth and SpitheadMap showing location of Spithead. c. 1759

Convicts Embarked

The Times reported in September 1789 - Nine convicts from the Hulk at Langstone Harbour and sixteen from the hulk laying off Weevil, attended by proper armed boats were this day embarked on board his Majesty's ship Guardian bound to Port Jackson. The Guardian will sail on Thursday next, and loaded with beds, clothing and every other necessary which Commodore Philip did not take out. The twenty-five convicts now embarked are all of them artificers, butchers, house carpenters and blacksmiths. Eight Superintendent of convicts also take their passage in this ship; and, by the particular direction of Sir Joseph Banks the Guardian carries out a coach properly glazed, to bring home curious plants from the New Settlement, on her return to Europe for his Majesty's garden at Kew. A botanist also takes his passage in this ship to collect everything curious for the royal garden. [9]


The List of Superintendents of Convicts ordered on 24th August 1789 to be received on board the Guardian included: James Smith, George Austin, gardeners lately employed in the King's Botanical Garden at Kew; Philip Schaffer, formerly a lieutenant in one of the Hessian corps which serviced in America has been accustomed to farming; Thomas Clarke a farmer; Philip Divine, Andrew Hume, understand farming, have lately been employed by Mr. Duncan Campbell as superintendents of convicts at Woolwich; James Reid, formerly an American planter and has been commander of a merchant ship; John Barlow, John Thomas Dodge, have served as officers in the Army, the former a good surveyor, and has also been employed as an engineer at Jamaica. [3]

Rev. John Crowther was appointed assistant chaplain to the colony with a salary of eight shillings per diem and also took his passage in the Guardian.

Departure from England

The Guardian departed England in September 1789......

The Right Hon. W.W. Grenville to Governor Phillip,

24th August 1789.

I have acquainted you in a former letter that in consequence of your representation of the want of proper persons to instruct the convicts in the manner of tilling the land and to superintend their labour his Majesty was pleased to authorize me to nominate nine persons to be sent out for that service. These people proceed to New South Wales in the Guardian and on their arrival will put themselves under your orders; they have been engaged for the term of three years, and, in addition to the ration of provisions with which they are to be supplied out of his Majesty's stores, they will each of them be allowed a salary of 40 pounds a year which will be brought forward in the estimate to be annually laid before Parliament and to be voted in like manner as the rest of the salaries charged on the civil establishment of your Government. I enclose a list of their names and qualifications. You will understand that during the period of their engagement they are not to be allowed to settle any land on their own account. Your proposal of sending out a few artificers you will find upon the arrival of the Guardian has also been attended to by the embarkation of twenty five convicts of the description
. [2]

The colony was in desperate need of supplies and the Guardian was heavily laden with livestock, agricultural equipment and plants. Lieutenant Riou was making every endeavour to make haste with his cargo. Having taken on board more supplies at the Cape he sailed well south into the roaring forties. An island of ice was sighted on 23rd December twelve days after the Guardian left the Cape. The weather was foggy and Riou gave the order to stand towards it in order to collect ice to supply the ship with much needed water for the livestock and plants. Boats were lowered and the ice collected. However while manoeuvering away from the iceberg, the ship struck a submerged portion of the ice. Lieutenant Riou's struggle to save the ship is one of the epics of the sea but the stores for Port Jackson were delayed more than six months. [8]


Distressing situation of the Guardian sloop, Capt. Riou, after striking on a floating Island of ice - Thomas Tegg - National Maritime Museum....Distressing situation of the Guardian sloop, Capt. Riou, after striking on a floating Island of ice - Thomas Tegg - National Maritime Museum

David Collins described the disaster in An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales.......

The Lady Juliana, it has been seen, sailed in July last; and in the month of September following his Majesty's ship Guardian, of forty-four guns, commanded by Lieutenant Edward Riou, sailed from England, having on board (with what was in the Lady Juliana) two years' provisions for the settlement; a supply of clothing for the marines; together with a large quantity of sails and cordage, with sixteen chests of medicines; fifteen casks of wine; a quantity of blankets and bedding for the hospital; and a large supply of unmade clothing for the convicts; with an ample assortment of tools and implements of agriculture. At the Cape of Good Hope Lieutenant Riou took on board a quantity of stock for the settlement, and completed a garden which had been prepared under the immediate inspection of Sir Joseph Banks, and in which there were one hundred and fifty of the finest fruit trees, several of them bearing fruit. There was scarcely an officer in the colony that had not his share of private property embarked on board of this richly-freighted ship. But it was as painful then to learn, as it will ever be to recollect, that on the 23d day of December preceding, the Guardian struck against an island of ice whereby she received so much injury, that Lieutenant Riou was compelled, in order to save her from instantly sinking, to throw overboard the greatest part of her valuable cargo both on the public and private account.

The stock was killed (seven horses, sixteen cows, two bulls, a number of sheep, goats, and two deer), the garden destroyed, and the ship herself saved only by the interposition of Providence, and the admirable conduct of the commander. The Guardian was a fast-sailing ship, and would probably have reached her destined port in the latter end of January or the beginning of February. At that period the large quantity of live stock in the colony was daily increasing; the people required for labour were, comparatively with their present state, strong and healthy; the necessity for dividing the convicts, and sending the Sirius to Norfolk Island, would not have existed; the ration of provisions, instead of the diminutions which had been necessarily directed, would have been increased to the full allowance; and the tillage of the ground consequently proceeded in with that spirit which must be exerted to the utmost before the settlement could render itself independent of the mother country for subsistence. An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales etc ... By David Collins

The Hours Following the Shipwreck

Details of the hours following the disaster are recorded in Tales of Shipwrecks written in 1846.....

The Guardian struck repeatedly against the ice, and the sea being very heavy, broke away her rudder, and shivered all her works abaft . The ice was twice the height of a first-rate's mainmast, the head of which they expected every minute to break away and overwhelm them; but after very great exertion, she was got off the shoal, and the ice floated past her. All hands were immediately set to the pumps, and to find out the leaks, occasionally relieving one another, and thus they continued to labour incessantly the whole of the 24th, although not one of them had had any rest the whole of the preceding day.

Eventually the sea began to gain and it was decided to lighten the ship by throwing casks and other goods overboard which task was undertaken by the parson, purser and Lieut. Riou.

'The ship appeared to be in a sinking state and settling bodily down; the boats were, therefore, immediately hoisted out, to offer a chance of safety to as many as it could be done with propriety. They were fortunately all got into the water with very little damage; but the sea running so high, it was with great difficulty that they were kept from being stove along-side. The launch being forced to drop on the quarter, in order to make room for the two cutters, was nearly drawn under the quarter and sunk, and at last obliged to cast adrift from the ship with only seven or eight men on board, and without any provisions or water. A coil of rope was then handed over from the quarter-gallery, and passed over to Mr. Somerville, the gunner, in the jolly-boat, which hung over the stern ; but this boat on being lowered down was drawn under and sunk. As soon as the launch had again rowed nearer the ship, one of the people in her caught hold of a rope, until the cutters brought them provisions, etc, and then veered to a great distance astern.

A small quantity of biscuit, and an eighteen gallon cask of water were then let down between the main and mizen-chains, into the small cutter. The purser then got into the main-chains, and from thence leaped into her : Mr. Wadman and Mr. Tremlett likewise unfortunately got into her. The boat was, with great difficulty, rowed clear of the ship, and steered for the launch. Lieutenant Riou was at this time walking the quarter-deck, and seemed happy that the boat had got safe from alongside. The ship was drifting astern, and sinking fast in the water, so that Mr. Clements began to be afraid she would drive upon the launch, and called to the crew to cut the tow-rope, and row out of the ship's wake ; but Mr. Somerville, the gunner, who was looking over the ship's stern, hearing the order, prayed them to hold fast a moment, and he would jump overboard and swim to them, which he did, and was followed by John Spearman, a seaman, who were both taken on board, upon which they cut the rope and rowed out of the ship's track. The launch soon got alongside of the cutter, out of which they took two bags of biscuit and a cask of water.

The Rev. Mr. Crowther, Mr. Clements, Mr. Tremlett, Mr. Wadman, and the purser, with two more of the men, got into the launch, and the cutter was ordered back to the ship for further supplies and to receive as many of the people as could with safety be taken on board ; but the crew could not be prevailed on to return, but rowed off to some distance and lay by. In it were Mr. Brady, midshipman and Mr Fletcher, captain's clerk, and five seamen.

The jolly-boat had put off from the ship without either provisions, water, compass, or quadrant, and rowed towards the launch, in hopes of either getting relief, or the crew being taken on board; but she had already got fifteen people in her, which were as many as she could carry with safety; and the quantity of provisions was very inadequate to support such a number, who had above four hundred leagues to travel in a boisterous ocean, without any means of relief; but there being a spare compass and quadrant, Mr. Clements handed them into the jolly-boat.

Guardian Frigate Wrecked on an Island of Ice 23 December 1789.
At this time one of the convicts attempted to get into the launch, but was opposed by the crew, and pushed into the sea; but, in the struggle, the fellow caught hold of Mr. Clements, who was with difficulty saved from being pulled out of the boat along with him. The people in the jolly-boat picked up the man again, and then took to their oars, and rowed close up to the launch, as if determined to board her by force, when, to prevent any scuffling, it was immediately agreed to make sail, and they took their final departure from this scene of misery and distress about nine o'clock. The large cutter and jolly-boat made sail after the launch, but the latter almost instantly filled and went down. ' Tales of Shipwrecks

The convicts who are listed as embarking in England on the Guardian but not included amongst the survivors were John Stephens, John Delove, Philip Rumble, Joseph Bloxwich and Joseph Gwynn.

Some of the crew who left on the cutter were Mr. Brady, midshipman, Mr. Fletcher, Captain's Clerk and five seamen.

Journal of the Proceedings on the Guardian

A Journal from 22nd December 1789 to 26th December when Mr. Clements and fourteen of the ships company left the Guardian in latitude 44deg. fourth and long. 42 deg. 20 min. east of Greenwich, together with the subsequent proceedings of the officers and seamen after they took to the launch until the 3rd January 1790 when they were taken up by the Viscountess de Bantannie, a French merchantman, commanded by Captain Doree about 87 leagues east of Point Natal on the east coast of Africa and landed on the 19th at the Cape of Good Hope.

Journal of the proceedings on the Guardian, Commander Lieutenant Riou

Captain Edward Riou

Lieutenant Riou wrote to the Admiralty from his cabin on the day after the Guardian struck the iceberg....

25th December 1789
Lat 44S., long. 40E.,
Sir, If any part of the officers or crew of the Guardian should ever survive to get home, I have only to say their conduct after the fatal stroke against an island of ice was admirable and wonderful in everything that related to their duties, considered either as private men or on his Majesty's service
. [4]

On the eve of what he thought would be his destruction, Edward Riou, by many accounts a courageous, honourable man of good heart turned his thoughts to his widowed mother and sister.......

As there seems to be no possibility of my remaining many hours in this world, I beg leave to recommend to the consideration of the Admiralty a sister, who, if my conduct or services should be found deserving any memory, their favours might be shown to her, together with a widowed mother. I am. E. Riou. [4]

One of the free men on the Guardian, Philip Schaeffer who brought his ten year old daughter Elizabeth later told of his harrowing ordeal ......

It was very cold and my poor innocent child did not know what to do for fear of death at any moment, and you may guess how I felt to see a child in such a state. But the Almighty and Great God held his hand over us and brought us safely ashore. On 22nd February we reached the Cape of Good Hope after a voyage of nine weeks of suffering on the sea and the sadness and toil were beyond description. The ship's captain, Edward Riou behaved like a savage for the whole nine weeks he shouted and said he had nearly killed himself. He called me a fervent rascal and ill-treated me. My poor child had to stand all night in water, and had to serve the men with liquor when they rested from the pumps and do other work as well. My chest went overboard, so that my poor child and I were left with nothing but our lives, and had to go ashore at the Cape without shoes and hats, with swollen legs and sick, and without any help from Capt. Riou [1]

Table Bay

The Times printed correspondence from Lieut Riou to Mr. Stephens dated at Table Bay 15th March 1790...Be pleased to inform their Lordships that I am now preparing to get the ship into Saldanha Bay, by endeavouring as much as possible to stop the leak within board; and that I propose mooring there close to the beach at low water in a Cove, where no wind or sea can effect her. I mean then to return here myself in order to preserve as much as possible such provisions and stores as have been landed. [5]

This he was unable to do. The vessel was leaking so badly that he was forced into False Bay where she was beached and later destroyed in a gale. [10]

One of the crew was the 14 year old Thomas Pitt, only son of Lord Camelford and cousin to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Prime Minister. In years to come this dissolute young man would cause grief for many including the famous George Vancouver. On the Guardian he behaved admirably and there is no hint of the reckless years to come. In light of today's instant communications, it is interesting to note the method that Lord Camelford heard of the news that his son had survived.... Captain Riou at the Cape gave to the Captain of a Dutch packet a letter for Admiralty. The Dutch Captain hailed a fishing vessel lying off Dungenness eight weeks later and the letter was duly forwarded to the authorities. The letter was then immediately forwarded to the King who expressed uncommon satisfaction on reading it. That night Lord Chatham set off in a post chaise and four for Lord Camelford's seat in the country to give him the joyful tidings of his son's safety. [11]

Lieut. Riou later forwarded a list of those who arrived at Table Bay in the Guardian [5].

Lieut. Edward Riou
John Williams, Boatswain
J. Davenport, Purser's Steward
J. Brown 1st
Edward Dwyer
Henry Johnson
J. Burk
J. Lock
Money Sampson, carpenter
Thomas Humphries
J. Turner
Richard Chambers
J. Ross Edward
J. Quinton
William Howes
Thomas Anderson
J. Brown (2nd)
William Tibbs
John Gore, Midshipman
David Gilmore Midshipman
Richard James
J. Hobbs
Robert Breechen
William Swan
William Count
J. Reeves
Thomas Gale
William Fairclough, Surgeon's mate
Andrew Anderson, Cook
J. Broad
Thomas Pitt, midshipman

Supernumeraries: ;
George Pettat, Boatswain's servant
Philip Schafer, Superintendent of Convicts
Philip Divine, Superintendent of Convicts
Andrew Hume, Superintendent of Convicts
Thomas Clark, Superintendent of Convicts
J. Thomas Dodge, Superintendent of Convicts
Samuel Ealm, Chaplains servant
Elizabeth Schafer, Superintendent's daughter
James Drysdale, saved in the Launch.

Thomas Bonnick. Tried Bedford Assizes.
John Boulton. Tried Chester Great Sessions
William Cauless (Careless). Tried Salop Assizes
Richard Chear (Cheer) Tried Surry Assizes
Henry Cone. Tried Suffolk Assizes
John Cottis. Tried Essex Assizes
Daniel Cubitt. Tried Norfolk Assizes
Thomas Fiske.(Friske) Tried Norfolk Assizes
Robert Hughes. Tried Salop Assizes
James Latter. Tried Kent Assizes
Hugh Lowe, alias Hugh Cartwright. Tried Chester Great Sessions
John Lowe. Tried Stafford Assizes
Thomas Mayrick. Tried Worcester Assizes
John Mitchell. Tried Essex Assizes
John Morris. Tried Flint Greater Sessions
John Chapman Morris, alias J. Stephens, Tried Berkshire Assizes
Edward Page. Tried Kent Assizes
Charles Pass. Tried Stafford Assizes
William Skinner. Tried Gloucester Assizes
James Weavers. Tried Suffolk Assizes
William Wade. Tried Surry Assizes

The preservation of the Guardian was attributed chiefly to the casks in the hold pressing against the lower deck, the hatchways of which were made excessively strong, and caulked down. She was completely stove in under the counter, and also an amazing hole quite through her bows, by which the iron and shingle ballast washed out, by this means she became more buoyant; and at her arrival at the Cape, was nothing more than a floating raft [10]

A letter from Capetown, written on March 1, 1790, reveals that the Guardian arrived there.....

'eight days previously in a situation not to be credited without ocular proofs. She had, I think, nine feet of water in her when she anchored. The lower gun-deck served as a second bottom; it was stowed with a very great weight equally fore and aft. To this, and to the uncommon strength of it, Captain Riou ascribes his safety. Seeing an English ship with a signal of distress, four of us went on board, scarcely hoping but with busy fancy still pointing her out to be the Guardian, and, to our inexpressible joy, we found it was her. We stood in silent admiration of her heroic commander (whose supposed fate had drawn tears from us before), shining through the rags of the meanest sailor. The fortitude of this man is a glorious example for British officers to emulate. Since that time we have gone on board again to see him. He is affable in his manners, and of most commanding presence.... Perhaps we, under the influence of that attraction which great sufferings always produce, may, in the enthusiasm of our commendation, be too lavish in his praise; were it not for this fear I would at once pronounce him the most God-like mortal I ever viewed. They were two months from the time the accident happened until they reached this place. Every man shared alike in the labour; and not having at all attended to their persons during the whole of that dismal period they looked like men of another world long beards, dirt, and rags covered them. Mr. Riou got one of his hands crushed and one of his legs hurt, but all are getting well. - (Extract from The Gallant, Good Riou by Louis Becke.)

Lieutenant Riou met with Captain William Hill who commanded the guard on the Third Fleet vessel Surprize when that fleet arrived at False Bay in April. Captain Hill later wrote.........Here I had some conversation with the unfortunate Mr. Riou of the Guardian; the loss of his ship will be severely felt by this colony, and I much fear the Dutch are taking every advantage of his situation, charging enormous sums for warehouse room and fresh provisions for the men, so that the cargo must, ere now, be insufficient to defray the cost.

Lieut. Riou also met with Lieut. John Shapcote at False Bay. When he wrote to Secretary Stephens in May 1790 informing him of some of the details of the wreck and touched on a misunderstanding between the two......The Neptune, Surprize and Scarborough arrived in False Bay the 14th April, and in them I sent, under the care of Lt. John Shapcote, the agent, twenty convicts which were all that remained alive of the twenty five that were sent on board the Guardian at Spithead. I also put on board those ships four hundred tierces of beef and two hundred tierces of pork; and had not a misunderstanding existed between Lieutenant Shapcote and myself, it is my opinion I could have sent many articles which would not have taken up much stowage in the ships under his direction that would have been very acceptable to his Majesty's colony in new South Wales. But as that officer waited my orders for his proceedings and afterwards persisted in his own resolution of sailing from False Bay on a certain day which he determinately fixed upon, I lost no time to endeavour to acquiesce in his measures, resolving that nothing should be wanting on my part to give all possible assistance to the colony, fearing that it might severely experience the effects of the accident that has befell his Majesty's ship under my command. The Neptune, Surprize and Scarborough sailed from False Bay on the 29th April [7].

In Lieutenant Shapcote's version he immediately waited on Lieutenant Riou on arrival in Cape Town and tendered him every assistant to which he (Riou) gave no answer. He never communicated to me what stores were saved or how the accident happened to the ship further than he had run foul of an island of ice. (Lieut. Shapcote died on the passage from Cape town to Sydney)[12].


Twelve of the surviving convicts of the Guardian were embarked on the Neptune and eight on the Scarborough to continue their voyage to New South Wales.

Lieutenant Riou later gave an account of what remained of the stores of the Guardian and in part what became of some of those on board....

(Extract) Lieutenant Riou to Secretary Stephens, His Majesty's ship Guardian,
Table Bay 20 May 1790......
By the Lady Juliana transport which sailed from this bay on the 30th March, I sent seventy five barrels of flour and one pipe of Teneriffe wine consigned to Governor Philip. I had been so fortunate as to preserve the dispatches which I had received from the hands of Vice Admiral Roddam for Gov. Philip and I delivered them to the care of Lieut. Thomas Edgar, superintendent of the Lady Juliana. In that ship I also sent the five surviving superintendents of convicts which were on board the Guardian
. [6]

Lieut. Riou also wrote on the same day to Secretary Stephens petitioning for the freedom of the remaining twenty convicts of the Guardian........ Permit me now, sir, to address you on a subject which I hope their Lordships will not consider to be unworthy their notice. It is to recommend as much as is in my power to their Lordships' favour and interest the case of the twenty convicts which my duty compelled me to send to Port Jackson. But the recollection of past sufferings reminds me of that time when I found it necessary to make use of every possible method to encourage the minds of the people under my command and at such a time considering how great the difference might be between a free man struggling for life and him who perhaps might consider death as not much superior to a life of ignominy and disgrace, I publicly declared that not one of them, so far as depended on myself, should ever be convicts. And I may with undeniable truth say that had it not been for their assistance and support the Guardian would never have arrived to where she is. Their conduct prior to the melancholy accident that happened on the 23rd December last was always such as may be commended and from their first entrance into the ship at Spithead they ever assisted and did their duty in like manner as the crew. I have taken the liberty to recommend them to the notice of Governor Phillip; but I humbly hope sir, their Lordships will consider the service done by these men as meriting their Lordships' favour and protection, and I make no doubt that should I have been so fortunate as to represent their cases in proper colours that they will experience the benefit of their Lordships' interest. Since the last letter I had the honour to write to you one of the convicts died, as also Mr. William Fairclough, surgeon's mate, whose mind, I believe, was so much affected by the distress he had been a witness to that he long lingered in a state of insanity. [7]

Rev. Crowther was one of the survivors and the boat in which he escaped in with several others was picked up by a French vessel and those on board were taken to the Cape. These were the only survivors of about sixty who had left the Guardian in boats. Rev. Crowther returned to England by the first opportunity and the Rev. Samuel Marsden was afterwards appointed as second chaplain to the colony. [13]

Rev Crowther later dined with William Wilberforce........ ' Crowther dined with us, and gave us an account of the shipwreck and Riou's fortitude.' A letter of the 17th of April announced to Mr. Wilberforce the shipwreck of the vessel in which Mr. Crowther sailed. ' On the 11th of December we left the Cape. On the 21st saw two islands of ice in lat. 42. longitude 38. 30. E. distant about three leagues. About noon on the 23rd we saw another and bore down towards it, hoisted out the jolly boat and one of the cutters, and picked up some 11 floating pieces, and then bore away N. W. in order to get entirely clear of the ice. About half- past eight the same evening, the officer on the forecastle cried out,' An island of ice close a-head' (for being in the dark and a very thick mist we could see very little before us). Before the alarm was sounded through the ship, she had struck one violent blow; and directly after she struck again, and got upon the ice, sliding along into an immense cavern in its side. Every effort was made to save the ship until Friday, when it was judged necessary to quit her. The captain would not leave her, but wrote a letter to the Admiralty. Two boats besides ours were hoisted out. We were taken up by a French ship and came in it to the Cape, after being in the open boat from Dec, 25th to Jan. 3rd, exposed to cold, hunger, and thirst, having scarcely any clothes; two gills of water per day, and at the most two pounds of bread, amongst fifteen.*

Part of the Crew of His Majesty's Ship Guardian endeavouring to escape in the Boats 1789
Part of the crew of the Guardian escape 1789 - State Library NSW.

To this account he added in a conversation, which with its racy Yorkshire dialect Mr. Wilberforce delighted to preserve......
When the ship's condition was altogether hopeless Captain Riou sent for me into the cabin, and asked me, 'Crowther, how do you feel ?' * How ? Why I thank God pretty comfortable.'

' I cannot say I do. I had a pious mother, and I have not practised what she taught me; but I must do my duty. The boats will not hold one third of our crew, and if I left the vessel there would be a general rush into them, and every one would perish. I shall stay by the ship, but you shall have a place ; and be sure you go in the master's boat, for he knows what he is about, and if any boat reaches the shore it will be his.'

In the bustle of embarking I got into the wrong boat, and found out my mistake too late to alter it. The boats however neared each other to make an exchange of some of their provisions, and I heard Riou call to me, ' If you've a heart, Crowther, jump.' I made the attempt, and just reaching the boat fell backwards in the water, but was pulled in amongst them.' No other boat than the one into which he was thus taken, ever reached the shore. 'John Clarkson alone, of those who heard this conversation, says Mr. Wilberforce,' would not despair of Riou.' ' I have seen,' said Mr. Clarkson, himself a naval man, ' such wonderful escapes at sea, that so long as the captain preserves his self-possession I can never despair of any ship.' ' Thursday, 29th,' says the Diary, ' waked by a note saying that the Guardian, Riou, had arrived safely at the Cape. Poor Crowther could not believe it.' Captain Riou was preserved for a more distinguished end; his gallant death in the hour of victory at Copenhagen has linked his name with the memory of Nelson.'
From The Life of William Wilberforce by his sons.

Lieutenant Riou received orders in October 1790 to return to England with the remainder of the crew on the Sphynx, Captain George Tripp.

The Gallant, Good Riou

Lieutenant Riou was described in A Journal of the Proceedings of the Guardian...He is one of the most elegant men; tall, well made, with a face of much dignity, which indicates all the heroism he has displayed. He is irritable in his temper; but his passion, easily inflamed, as soon subsides, and leaves no pique, sulkiness or animosity behind it. He studied in the school of Captain Cooke, and it appears that he as well as Lieutenant Bligh, has caught the noble and persevering spirit of his great Master.

Captain Edward Riou after passing through the subordinate stations of a naval officer, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on October 28, 1780. On Captain Riou's return to England after the disaster of the Guardian, he was promoted to the rank of commander; and on June 4 1794 to that of post. He sailed in the Beaulieu to the West Indies, where he particularly distinguished himself in a variety of services. But in consequences of ill health he returned to England in August 1795, when he was appointed to the Princess Augusta yacht. On recovering his health he was appointed to the Amazon a new frigate of 38 guns in July 1799. In this vessel fortune afforded him no particular opportunity of adding to that celebrity his misfortunes and conduct had already procured, till the attack on Copenhagen under Lord Nelson in 1801 in which he lost his life. [14]

Following is an excerpt from Letters and Papers of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thos. Byam Martin, G.C.B....
The second lieutenant of Salisbury was (as Nelson said of him) that good man and excellent officer, Captain Edward Riou, who was killed when fighting under Nelson, as captain of the Amazon, at Copenhagen in 1801. Sir Philip Durham was third and Sir Robert Stopford fourth lieutenant. Riou was on terms of great intimacy in my family, and his interesting and delightful character has left a deep impression on my mind. A pleasing gloom hung over his manly countenance, unlike anything I ever witnessed in any other person. His eye was peculiarly striking, beaming with intelligence, while every feature seemed to indicate all the qualities that most exalt and adorn our nature. His conduct in every situation private and public afforded a beautiful illustration of all the greatness and goodness his countenance so faithfully portrayed. There was a pensiveness of look and a reserve in his manner which sometimes made strangers regard him as cold and repulsive, but this first impression was soon removed, and all who knew him loved him. Free from the arrogance and foolishness of the enthusiast, he entertained a deep sense of every Christian obligation; it was this that gave him a serenity of mind which no peril, however sudden and appalling, could disturb; it was his sheet anchor; his holdfast amidst the varied dangers of his profession, of which he had more than a common space; without it he knew that man is like a ship without ballast and without a rudder.

Truly if all seafaring men were like Riou, old Toby Edwards would not be in error in describing them as superior to the rest of mankind; yet, with all this, there was an innate modesty in the man, which made him utterly unconscious of the admiration with which he was regarded by all classes, and most of all by those who had the happiness to serve under his command, and to profit by his example. I have often heard Riou reprobate in the strongest terms the idea of a captain of a man of war forsaking his ship to save his own life, while a single man remained behind to whom he could by possibility be useful, or indeed, under any circumstances to quit a ship in distress and leave his crew to perish. It was impossible he would say, to believe that an officer in command could so far forget his duty .

Those who read the foregoing pages will scarcely be satisfied if left uninformed of Riou's further professional progress, and particularly the closing scene of his exemplary life. His glorious death was of a piece with all his former conduct. At this time Riou commanded the Amazon of 38 guns and was one of the ships detached by Sir Hyde Parker under Lord Nelson, in the attack upon the Danish line of defence at Copenhagen in 1801. It was part of Lord Nelson's judicious plan to have a small squadron of reserve consisting of three frigates; and Riou would have the command of this little squadron. Lord Nelson well knew how entirely he could rely on Rious' promptness and good judgement to take advantage of any circumstance which might present itself in the course of the battle, whereby he might succour others, or take the place of any ships that might by accident be thrown out of their station in the line. This opportunity soon occurred. As Lord Nelson stood in to take up the anchorage of his detachment, the Russell, Bellona and Agamemnon grounded on one of the sands and though the two former were in a position to do good service, they could not reach their appointed places in the line of battle. Riou, with his quick eye and willing heart, seeing this unfortunate frustration of his admiral's well conceived arrangement, instantly pushed in with his frigates and nobly occupied with his frigates the blank this accident left in the line. Lord Nelson in a private letter to the First Lord of the Admiralty says, 'If it had not been for this untoward accident of the three ships getting on shore, my plan would have been completely executed, and in that case poor dear Riou might have been saved. His bravery with the three frigates attempted what I had appointed as work for three sail of the line to assist in doing. It was soon found that ships of such small force had more to do than they could well manage in so unequal a contest and perhaps nothing save them but a most hazardous signal made by Sir Hyde Parker in the thick of the fight to discontinue the battle.....

This signal was of course addressed to Nelson, and was reported to him by his signal lieutenant but his lordship, who could be a little deaf as well as a little blind on such occasions took no notice of what was said.....'.I really cannot see any signal to leave off action'; he however ordered the signal to be answered, but forbade the officer to repeat it to his attacking ships......Admiral Thomas Graves, the next officer in seniority under lord Nelson could see the Commander in Chiefs signal but the ships along the line were so enveloped in smoke that he could not see how Nelson acted upon it; Admiral Graves therefore repeated Sir Hyde Parker's signal to discontinue the action. The frigates being near Admiral Graves felt it to be their duty to obey his signal and weighed anchor accordingly. While in the act of this difficult operation the ship swung so as to be open to a raking fire from the batteries. Riou had been previously wounded in the head, and was resting on one of the guns to support himself in consequence of great loss of blood, and the clerk was by his side giving him assistance, as Riou would not consent to leave the deck. Just at this moment a shot came into the stern which killed the clerk and some marines who were in the act of hauling in the main brace, which for an instant staggered the men, and Riou, seeing this, sprung forward to bring the men to a sense of their duty, and to urge them to exertion, calling out 'Let us, my brave fellows, all die together' The words were scarcely uttered when a shot cut him in two.

Thus says McArthur (in his life of Lord Nelson), in an instant the British service was deprived of one of the greatest ornaments and society of a character of singular worth resembling the heroes of romance Lord Nelson in another part of his letter to the First Lord says in allusion to Riou, I do not know his circumstances but I recollect when he was at death's door in 1788 he recommended a mother and sister, I need say no more. Rious' mother died after the battle (the 2nd of April), but before the arrival of the despatches announcing it. The sister is in the enjoyment of a pension of 200l a year.
- Letters and Papers of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thos. Byam Martin, G.C.B

Brave hearts! To Britain's pride,
Once so faithful and so true,
On the deck of fame that died
With the gallant, good Riou

- Thomas Campbell, The Battle of the Baltic

Notes and Links

1). Philip Schaeffer with four other superintendents later joined the Lady Juliana to continue the voyage to New South Wales. He was one of the first three free men of the colony to receive a land grant.

2). Settlers and Return of Land Cultivation 1792

3). Convict Ships departing England for New South Wales in 1789 - 1790 - Lady Juliana, Guardian, Surprize, Neptune, Scarborough.


[1] From the translation of the letter from Schaeffer to Nepean, in J. Cobley, Sydney Cove 1789-1790, Sydney, 1980, p. 244

[2] Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1, part 2., p. 260

[3] Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1, part 2., p.262

[4] Historical Records of NSW, Vol. 1, part 2., p.286

[5] From the London Gazette Aug. 10.' Times [London, England] 11 Aug. 1790: 2. The Times Digital Archive.

[6] Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1, part 2., p.338.

[7] Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1, part 2., p.336.

[8] Sydney Herald 6 April 1940

[9] The Times (London, England), Thursday, Sep 10, 1789; pg. 3; Issue 1253

[10] The Mariner's Chronicle: ... By Archibald Duncan

[11] Safe Arrival Of The Guardian Frigate At The Cape Of Good Hope.' Times [London, England] 29 Apr. 1790: 2.

[12] Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1, part 2., p. 334

[13] Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1, part 2., p. 260

[14] The Log Book or Nautical Miscellany