Colonial Ship King George

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Painting by John Lewin possibly showing King George with her yards lowered undergoing hull maintenance in Sydney Cove c.1808
Painting by John Lewin possibly showing King George with her yards lowered undergoing hull maintenance in Sydney Cove c.1808
Name: King George
Builder: Underwood and Kable, Sydney, New South Wales
Laid down: 1804
Launched: April 1805
Completed: May 1805
Fate: Hulk in 1820s
General characteristics
Type: Whaler / cargo ship
Tons burthen: c. 200 tons bm
Length: 87 ft 6 in (26.67 m) o/a
Beam: 22 ft 7 in (6.88 m)
Depth of hold: 14 ft (4.3 m)
Sail plan: Full rigged ship

Colonial Ship King George was the first ship, by virtue of having three masts, built in the colony of Sydney, New South Wales.

King George was described variously as a square-rigged ship and a three-masted schooner, known in America during the later 19th century as a "tern". The confusion is due to her being modeled on the Baltimore-built three-masted schooners that had sail plans which resembled the square-rigged ships. These ships came into use in the later half of the 18th century,[1] and would have been known to James Underwood, the shipyard builder. Their distinctive sail plan feature was in having the extremely large fore and main courses, and only the fore and main topsails, with the mizzen mast rigged with the mainsail and main-topsail in place of the spanker, a plan based on the two-masted Boston pilot schooner that eventually evolved into the famed Baltimore clippers in the 1830s.[2] The fore and staysail booms were omitted to allow stowage of extra whaling boats and other equipment.

James Underwood undertook to build the ship with Messrs. Kable and Co. as partners and using a bond of £2,000 from Simeon Lord, a prominent colonial personality. One difficulty in securing permission to build the ship was due to the proclamation by Governor King of disallowing the building of any ship that could compete with the East India Company's trade in the Asian waters. Later Lord would try to get around the provisions by asking permission to send King George to Fiji for sandalwood, and then to China for "a cargo".[3]

Underwood and Kable were responsible for a number of smaller vessels and sloops, but the 188-tonne fully rigged King George would be their most ambitious construction. The keel was laid down in 1804, and she was completed with an overall length of 87 feet, a beam of 22 feet 7 inches and a 14 feet hold. Her tonnage was computed at upwards of 200 tons. This was probably her burthen as she is mentioned by other sources as having a tonnage of 180 or 185 tons, which would seem to be her displacement tonnage. Launched in April 1805,[4] she completed fit-out and was registered in May 1805. [5]

Drawing for the Flying Fish class, which King George would have resembled, modeled on an American vessel, sent to Bermudian builders by the British Admiralty.

It is highly probable that Governor King recognised the need for the colony to have a substantial and fast ship in case of emergencies, and to maintain better communications with the rest of the British Empire from such a far outpost, but due to the considerations of the East India Company's monopoly King George was fitted out as a whaler "expected to proceed on the sperm fishery of the coast of New Zealand"[6] This was an entirely sound commercial decision due to the rapid development of the whaling industry off the Australian Eastern coast, with three whalers arriving in the Third Fleet, soon followed by more, including from America.

Indeed, her initial cruises were mostly in conducting whaling and seal trapping as The [Sydney] Gazette on 10 August 1806 recorded the arrival of "the private colonial ship King George, from a successful cruise, in which she had the good fortune to kill fifteen black whale." [7] She spent the next several years in the southern waters, under her Master S. R. Chace, when she was spotted by Perseverance towards the end of November in 1809 at the Aucklands after she sailed from Sydney in June 1809. During this early part of her history she is known as a whaling ship King George, which regularly left Port Jackson on a whale and seal hunt. However, complying with trade restrictions these were short cruises, and for example on 2 March 1810, she "arrived with skins and [whale] oil, having been at the entrance of the Bay of Islands 18 days previous."

However, soon the colonial policy was relaxed, and she was reported returning from sailing under Captain L. Jones, "from the sperm whale fishery, having procured from 30 to 35 tons of oil; out 14 months.",[8] a cruise that would have taken her to many other ports around the Pacific Ocean.

Later in her history King George took on cargo and general trade cruises, when she "last returned from the Bay of Islands and Marquesas, laden with sandal wood and pork, the Colonial Ship, King George, Captain Beveridge."[9] This was one of her last cruises from Port Jackson, and King George finished her life in Sydney as a hulk in 1820s.


  1. ^ Chapelle, Howard I., The search for speed under sail, 1700-1855, Bonanza, New York, 1967, pp.169-170
  2. ^ Building the Baltimore Pilot Schooner Arrow, Michael Higgins
  3. ^ G. J. Abbott, Noel Bede Nairn, Economic growth of Australia 1788-1821, 1969 p.297
  4. ^ Australian economic history review: Volumes 8-9, 1968
  5. ^ J.C.H. Gill, Genesis of the Australian Whaling Industry: Its Development Up To 1850, (Read at a Meeting of the Society on 24 March 1966).p.124 Sydney Gazette, 21 Feb. 1805, p. 2 col. b.
  6. ^ The Sydney gazette and New South Wales advertiser: Volume 3 Public Library of New South Wales - 1805 Page xcviii
  7. ^ Margaret Steven, Merchant Campbell, 1769-1846: a study of colonial trade, 1965, p.145
  8. ^ The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Saturday 20 February 1813, page 2
  9. ^ William Charles Wentworth, A statistical, historical, and political description of the colony..., 1820, p.18