Started by Michael Leo Melvill on Saturday, July 3, 2010


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7/3/2010 at 11:49 PM

Britannia (whaler)
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The Britannia was a large full rigged whaler built in 1783 in Bridport, England. Owned by the whaling firm Samuel Enderby & Sons, it was wrecked off the New South Wales Coast in 1806.
[edit] Role as part of the Third Fleet of convict ships

Under the command of Thomas Melvill, Britannia was one of 11 ships that departed from the United Kingdom in early 1791 as part of the Third Fleet, bound for the Sydney penal settlement. Britannia departed Plymouth, England on 27 March 1791, carrying 150 prisoners, and arrived in Sydney Cove on 14 October 1791 carrying 129. 21 prisoners died during the course of the voyage.
[edit] 1806 Shipwreck

Under the command of Nathaniel Goodspeed the ship was wrecked at 0200 on the morning of 25 August 1806. It was wrecked on either Middleton Reef or Elizabeth Reef some 297 miles East of the Clarence River Heads in New South Wales. The ship struck the reef several times before being lifted onto the reef where its back was broken. The lifeboats were lowered. One was immediately smashed but two others with nineteen men aboard got away. Five men stayed aboard. Two were rescued the next day while the other three found another boat and launched it with water and biscuits in it. The three boats with 24 men aboard headed for Newcastle. On the 29th of August one of the boats carrying eight men was separated from the other two by a gale. It was never seen again. The survivors reached Newcastle on 8 September and Port Jackson on 13 September 1806.[1]
[edit] References

1. ^ Australian Shipwrecks - vol1 1622-1850, Charles Bateson, AH and AW Reed, Sydney, 1972, ISBN 0 589 07112 2 p43

Private User
7/4/2010 at 11:48 PM

Thanks Michael.

I have searched for the shipwreck of the Britannia and got an email from the historical society at Lord Howe Island (I think) confirming where it is located. I can send you the email if it is of interest.

Also, I have an image of the ship. I have located it on Thomas Melvill's profile. I also have a great print of the 'Scarborough' - another ship he captained.

I have also tracked down a property in Sydney once owned by him, and two streets named after him, one in Paramatta and one in Hobart. I have photos of these :)

Warm regards, Andrea Doney

7/5/2010 at 3:24 PM

Hi Andrea,
Have a look at this draft that I am sending to the leading researcher on Herman Melville (prof Hershel Parker)

Dear Hershel,

Many thanks for your response to my enquiry.

I fully appreciate the necessity of your initial (cautious) reply and was delighted my surname gave me (some) credibility.

I have stumbled upon something which is either an extraordinary coincidence or is highly relevant to the Melvill(e) saga.

I carefully (re)searched the Melville aficionados spread across the net in the hope you might adjudicate my findings.

Here we go.

My forth great grandfather was Thomas Melvill (1757-1814).

A. ‘Our’ Thomas Melvill was:

• A master mariner (whaler) for Samuel Enderby
List of ships commanded by Thomas Melvill
Appointed master 31 December 1790 and in command until 16th October 1793
Owners Samuel and Charles Enderby of Paul's Wharf, Thames Street, London
Vessel Lost in 1806 in New Zealand.
SPEEDY OF LONDON No 220 in 1793
Appointed Master at London 12th November 1793, in command until April 1797
Vessel reported to have been captured by a French Privateer registry closed Jan 1807
TABAGO OF LONDON No 138 in 1797
Appointed Master London 3rd June 1797 and in command until some time in 1799
Owners James &Thomas Mather and John Anderson, Merchants of Mark Lane, London
Appointed master 18th December 1799 and in command until 2nd December 1800
• Referred to as: ‘Captain Melvill[e], who was in 1791 sent out with the Third [Australian Convict] Fleet [as captain] in Britannia.’
• killer of 1st Australian sperm whale.
• The commemorative cup remains in family
• See letter below from Thomas Melvill to Samuel Enderby & Sons (Note 1)
• Referred to as ‘Melville by 1791 had become a valuable man, the one whaling captain knowing most of the new whaling opportunities in the Pacific, both by Peru and near Sydney. ‘
• Referred to as ‘He was an experienced commander - one account describes him as experienced in that he had rounded Cape Horn a number of times’

Further he:
• Visited Cape Town in 1790 (3rd fleet stop over)
• Settled in Cape Town 1800 (with wife and son and daughter)
• His son (John) had 13 children (ensuring my existence)
• was a loyalist:
• interned

Missing information:
• Place of birth
o Seems England or Scotland likely
o Some effort has been made to find the documentation without success.
o Samuel Endersby may have this information in their archives
• The identity of his parents

Obtainable information

B. ‘Your’ Thomas Melvill (1751-1832)

• was the grandfather of Herman Melville (1819-1891)
• was a participant in the Boston tea-party.
 In 1773 Samuel Enderby's ships were chartered for the tea cargoes that were dumped into Boston Harbour
• was a merchant, naval officer, and U.S. Collector for the Port of Boston.

C. Speculation

Did ‘our’ Thomas personally encounter Reynold’s ‘Mocha Dick’ ?

- Against::
o Reynold’s says encounters started c1810 – too late for Melvill
- For:
o Whales live a long time (1790 -1800 might therefore work)
o described as ‘captain most knowing … in the Pacific’
o rounded Cape Horn a number of times’
o Reynold’s assertion ‘cape horn’

Were the two Thomas Melvill’s related ?
- Against::
o No proof
- For:
o Spelling of Melvill is unusual
o Why the reference to Samuel Endersby in Moby Dick?

Was our Thomas the source of Herman’s inspiration?
- Against::
o No proof
- For:
o Why did Pequod meet the Samuel Endersby?
o Was ‘Mocha Dick’ changed to ‘Moby Dick’ in the telling of a family story?
 Maybe Reynold’s was not the source
• Did he invent it on a whim and like the way it sounded?
• Or is it some strange piece of hermetic Melvillean arcana?
• The answer will probably never be known, but a number of scholars have amused themselves by taking shots at it.

D. Wild speculation

Were the two Thomas Melvill’s Boston tea-party 1. Conspirators 2. Conspirators through common family links?
- Against::
o No proof
o Our Melvill only 16 at time
- For:
o Endersby ships were chartered.
o Our Melvill was a valuable Endersby player
 A common relation of the Thomas Melvill’s might have also been a valuable Endersby player
o Enderbury’s played politics
 personal friend of Governor Philip Gidley King,
 Caused the New Zealand annexation

Therefore - Was your Thomas Melvill a double agent?
• Our Thomas was a loyalist
• Leaves

Private User
7/5/2010 at 4:59 PM

Thanks, this is very interesting!

I have Thomas Melvill's father as one John Melvill, of Scotland. He was buried at St Martin's Place in London in 1775. He has also had a brother, also called John. My souce is the Melvill Family Register by Janet Melville.

I have long wondered about the link to Herman Melville. Intuition tells me there is one, I just cant prove it yet!

Please keep me posted as things unfold, I greatly appreciate it.


7/5/2010 at 5:41 PM

Thanks Andrea,

Google Hershel Parker...He's THE leading Melville man....let's see what he thinks.

His initial reponse was curt THEN he saw my surname........

Herman Melville
Between Hershel Parker and You
Michael Melvill July 4 at 7:57pm
Apologies if I have this wrong. Are you the 'Herman Melville' Parker? If so I would like to share a letter I have written by my gggg gfather Thomas Melvill.

Kind regards Hershel Parker July 4 at 9:16pm Report
Ah, I saw only the first line of your message. Yes, I am still working on Melville and would love to see the letter by your GGGG Grandfather Melvill.

Private User
7/5/2010 at 7:52 PM

I will certainly google him, thanks!

Which letter are you referring to? The report he wrote to Enderby after his journey on the Brittannia? I have that too, in the original handwriting! :)

I am planning a trip to the Sydney library soon to obtain the whaling records from his other trips. I will share them when I have obtained them.

Keep me informed, and many thanks!


7/6/2010 at 2:10 AM

yes...that's the one.
would love a copy.

At sydney library look out for Mocha Dick.

What I REALLY would like to see is Thomas Melvill's book:

Record Title : Whaling voyages round the world in the Britannia and Speedy transports (Captain Thomas Melvill) 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, 1796, in which is introduced a few remarks on the Spanish South America and an essay on the whale fisherys
Display Dates : 1791-1796
Reference Number : Micro-MS-0419
Issue Restriction : Unrestricted
Use/Reproduction : Not to be reproduced without the permission of the Trustees of the Public Library of NSW
Collection Status : COLLECTION
Issue Status : Issuable ITEM
Quantity : 1 microfilm reel(s) (ca 350 pages)
Physical Description : Positive microfilm

Any cross references between this and Moby Dick would be a clincher.

Any ideas.

Private User
7/6/2010 at 4:03 AM

Thats the book I'm going in to view. Its on microfiche but not under copywright so I intend to print the whole thing if I can. I'll be in touch once I have it.

Okay will search for Mocha Dick, do you have any other information pertaining to this?

Send me your email address.


7/6/2010 at 5:01 AM

It is assumed that Herman was inspired by an article about Mocha Dick (see link below)
But my argument is that Herman was inspired by the telling of a family story.

Was ‘Mocha Dick’ changed to ‘Moby Dick’ in the telling of a family story?

Maybe Reynold’s was not the source

Here is the prevailing theory:

'Did he invent it on a whim and like the way it sounded?
Or is it some strange piece of hermetic Melvillean arcana?
The answer will probably never be known, but a number of scholars have amused themselves by taking shots at it.'

If this book makes mention of a mocha dick/moby dick then Reynolds c1810 guess is WRONG.

The Samuel Enderby link is astonishing.
If we were to find others then we've clinched it.

Please see if you can get a digital copy made from the film.

This facilitates search and sharing.

VERY VERY excited as I'm convinced this is where we'll ssolve the matter.

7/6/2010 at 5:02 AM

happy to chip in on costs!!

Private User
7/6/2010 at 4:57 PM

Okay no problem.

On a related matter, do you know how now has the trophy? It was apparently held by a Mrs EHV Melvill. I would love to obtain a photo of it is at all possible.


7/8/2010 at 4:17 AM

Afraid I know as little as you do about the trophy.


Hershel Parker has replied as follows:

Michael, here is the best word from the finest authority in the world (not me):

There were several, if not many, 18th c Thos. Melvills.

There was a successful merchant in Newport RI (who has muddied my waters on more than one occasion). There was the Scottish scientist (optics and the like). And I did bump into this sea-faring TM in my online pursuits. Tracked him for an hour or so and found a few of the details mentioned by your correspondent. Scots family names in the 18th c. ran in narrow tracks. The John Melvills and Allan Melvills and Robert Melvills of the time also are plentiful. I can imagine what the Old Major thought when his first grandchild was named Francoise and his third Napoleon.

Yes, to the Tea Party/Enderby link. But they are everywhere. Virtually every English-speaking sailor of the time was likely to have worked for or with the Enderby firm.

Alexander M, down in St. Vincent, named one of his sons after Boston Thos. Melvill. And then he named one of his sons Thomas and on and on. The Caribbean Melvills are an interesting lot.

BTW, in the 18th c. “Melvill” is not uncommon by any measure.


This makes your book search all the more important.

We need to establish proof.....

Our Thomas was:
in the right place ,
albeit 10 years earlier than Reynolds article suggests
Was acknowledged as the leading expert.

Did he encounter a white whale?
Are there any other Moby Dick / Thomas Melvill cross references?

Samuel Enderby is insufficient.


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