This fortuitous story arises from the alignment of three generations each of clergy and of naval men. It is doubtful if the earlier generations knew one another but from the final generation a young priest and elderly admiral met on a remote property in a distant corner of colonial New South Wales.
Lake Bathurst and the small tree lined village of the same name are far removed from the sea and yet here abounds a significant degree of naval history.
Browsing through the reminiscences of the Reverend James Hassall – a virtual who’s who of early colonial families – his ancestry is retraced to the beginnings of pioneering times, most notably through his maternal grandparents, the Reverend and Mrs Samuel Marsden who arrived on our shores in 1794 (1). His paternal grandparents, the Reverend and Mrs Roland Hassall, were missionaries first sent to Tahiti in 1796. Due to a native uprising they were driven from those islands and came to New South Wales.
Of the next generation, Thomas Hassall entered the ministry and like his father-in-law, Samuel Marsden, also became a successful farmer and magistrate. His son James followed the family tradition and was one of the first ministers of religion to receive instruction and ordination in Australia. After a short period of chaplaincy in Sydney, his first living was the remote settlement of Bungonia between Goulburn and Braidwood. Before village churches were established James Hassall was in the saddle for days at a time visiting distant properties. It was a 20 mile ride for the ‘Galloping Parson’ on his monthly visit to properties at Lake Bathurst. One of which he mentions was the residence of Admiral Gore where afternoon services were held.
John Gore I, II & III
Who was Admiral Gore? In those times, after the furore of William Bligh’s Rum Rebellion, senior naval officers were hardly welcome and in short supply to colonial society. Within the naval lexicon there are several officers named Gore so care needs to be exercised in finding the right family.
The first of the line to have set foot on the shores of New South Wales was John Gore (I). He served first as a Master’s Mate and secondly as Master in HMS Dolphin and twice circumnavigated the world, first under Byron and then under Wallis. His experience came to the notice of Lieutenant Cook and he became a junior officer in HMB Endeavour and later First Lieutenant of HMS Resolution, with William Bligh as Master, on Cook’s last fateful voyage. On the death of Captain Cook the next senior officer Clerke assumed command and Gore was given command of the consort Discovery.Subsequently Clerke too died with Gore now taking full responsibility for the expedition and command of Resolution. In recognition of his achievements Gore followed Cook’s footsteps in being awarded the sinecure as Captain of Greenwich Hospital.
His son John Gore (II) should have set foot on our shores but tragically failed to do so. He entered the navy as a Midshipman joining HMS Guardian commanded by Lieutenant James Riou, who had sailed with Gore senior under Cook. Guardian was a frigate converted into a store ship taking vitally needed supplies to the struggling penal settlement at Sydney Cove. On Christmas Eve 1789 when 1,300 miles off the Cape of Good Hope, the ship struck an iceberg. In danger of sinking most of the crew took to her boats of which only one survived. Riou and a small band including Gore remained with the sinking ship and, placing her under jury rig, eventually regained the Cape where the hulk was found beyond repair and her cargo ruined. As news travelled slowly it was two years before the starving settlement in Sydney received fresh supplies. At this time the epic story of survival caused a sensation.
The final John Gore (III), late in his life, did reach New South Wales. He was born on 7 March 1774 and first went to sea at the age of eleven, in a commercial fur-trading venture commanded by his father’s friend, Nathaniel Portlock. By the time he entered the Royal Navy in 1789 he had already sailed around the world. At the time of Trafalgar he was not far distant, serving as a Lieutenant in the frigate Indefatigable ,leader of a squadron which captured Spanish ships carrying bullion from South America to Spain. In taking these four armed ships he was commended for bravery. Command of the sloop Doderel came in 1808, taking her to resupply the garrison at St Helena, then home of the exiled former Emperor Napoleon. In 1821 he was promoted Captain but with the peacetime downturn in activity was retired on half-pay. In 1834 at age 60, when most men would have been contemplating a quiet home life, John Gore with his wife Sarah, their three daughters and youngest son Edward, migrated to New South Wales aboard the ship City of Edinburgh.
Colonial land was then being offered to ex-officers on generous terms provided they settled upon the land. Captain Gore qualified for the maximum rebate of £300 (based on average earning index now about $A 450,000) with which he purchased 1,165 acres at 5 shillings (50 cents) per acre and still had 15 shillings left over, in effect he had a free grant of property near Lake Bathurst which he called ‘Gilmour’. With minimum labour the old seadog rolled up his sleeves and took to farming. A visitor in 1837 recalls ‘a pretty property with the Captain full of energy and activity and his wife although bedridden with rheumatism was always cheerful’. John Gore lived to know that he had been promoted by rote to Rear Admiral on the retired list in 1852 and the following year he died. Sadly, before his death news was received that his elder son Graham had died. He had volunteered to join the Arctic expedition to the Northwest Passage led by Sir John Franklin (2) and perished along with his 128 colleagues, in the ice, sometime between 1847 and 1848.
Another famous landowner with a number of properties including the farm ‘Gidleigh’at Bungendore (not far from Lake Bathurst) was Captain Phillip Parker King, who became the first Australian born officer to reach this rank when he too was promoted Rear Admiral on the retired list in 1855. Admiral King died the following year. While the passing of Admiral Gore was without fanfare, this is in striking contrast to his contemporary Admiral King, whose stately funeral procession with a flotilla of barges pulled by bluejackets across Sydney Harbour, with HMS Juno firing in salute, is captured in an iconic painting by Conrad Martens.
Buried beneath the Southern Cross
It is not known exactly where Rear Admiral Gore and his wife are buried as the church and cemetery at Lake Bathurst was not in existence at the time of their deaths, however, other descendants of the family are buried here. One hundred and sixty years later, in 2013, the late Rear Admiral David Holthouse, AO, RAN, who in retirement farmed near Braidwood, and knew of the Gore family association, chose to follow in the old admiral’s wake and lies buried in ‘An Admiral’s Corner’ at the cemetery of St John’s Anglican Church, Lake Bathurst.
Rear Admiral John Gore of Lake Bathurst has a largely unknown but significant place in our naval history. He appears the first of his rank to have been buried beneath the Southern Cross and to have the distinction of Calling Australia Home.
In another twist to the association between church and navy the funeral service for Admiral Holthouse was conducted by the Right Reverend Dr. Tom Fame who in semi-retirement is Rector of St John’s. Tom Fame is perhaps better known as a promising young naval officer and historian, who took Holy Orders, and later became Anglican Bishop of the Australian Defence Force.
Gilmour Station, now under the ownership of the Maas family, has grown to 9,000 acres and offers short-stay escapes to the country. Mr. Martin Maas and Captain Guy Holthouse, AM, RAN and his sister Victoria have all kindly helped with research for this article.
- Hassall The Rev. James S., In Old Australia – Records and Reminiscences from 1794, R.S. Hews & Co, Printers, Brisbane, 1902 and reprinted by the Library of Australian History, North Sydney, 1977.
- Captain Sir John Franklin, Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land 1837-1843, posthumously promoted Rear Admiral in 1852.