- Book reviewer
- Biographies and personal histories, Book reviews, History - pre-Federation, Royal Navy, Biographies
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title: King of the Australian Coast. Author: Marsden Horden Publisher: Melbourne University Press at the Miegunyah Press
In 1813 James Byrne crossed the Blue Mountains.
Byrne did, but we only know about his three famous companions. We Australians are yet to write our true history. Phillip Parker King is also among the undeservedly overlooked contributors to the making of the nation. In his salute to Phillip Parker King, Marsden Hordern makes a formidable contribution to our nation’s written history and promotes King to his well earned historical place.
An Australian, born on Norfolk Island in 1791, Phillip Parker King was the son of a New South Wales Governor, Philip Gidley King. He entered the Royal Navy in his youth and showed early signs for a promising future.
In 1817 King was sent to Australia with orders to validate the works of earlier maritime navigators and to complete mapping for the fledgling Royal Naval Surveying Service born out of the RN’s tragic losses which totalled 194 ships and 7,614 men between 1800 and 1820. The work of Hydrographers from 1817 onwards managed to substantially cut Navy losses. In comparison, between 1820 and 1889 only 109 ships and 5,147 men were lost.
Phillip Parker King’s mission was a daunting task which took him five years to complete. He pioneered the important work of the Naval Hydrographer in Australian waters with his cutter “Mermaid” and, later, the brig HMS “Bathurst”.
The expeditions faced the terrors of the sea at their worst and yet the crews met the most challenging demands of seamanship in what transpired to be a most fruitful exercise. It contributed much to the world’s knowledge about Australian and neighbouring waters. The benefits stimulated commercial opportunities, rapid transport and safer passenger voyages.
Phillip Parker King was the first Australian to achieve Flag Rank and Marsden Hordern well justifies King’s reward. As a book, it is a masterpiece of storytelling with King being portrayed as a son, husband, father, sailor and Captain. Day to day living in the early colonial times is realised as the story depicts King interacting with familiar characters such as John Macarthur and Lachlan Macquarie. The storms engender in the reader fears for the safety of ship and crew. Botanist Alan Cunningham accompanied King and so Cunningham’s research is extensively detailed. The interaction with Aborigines, often hostile, adds much tingling to the tales. Most importantly though, Marsden Hordern’s own great seamanship skills elevate the reader’s appreciation of the challenges of the times.
This easy to read book is a literary treasure. “King of the Australian Coast” would be a much welcomed buy for any armchair adventurer and, most particularly, for an old salt.
J. H. DONOHOE