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H.M.S. Sirius

On 13 May 1787 the First Fleet sailed to Australia from the motherbank just offshore (Ryde) and was the principle navel consort for the first fleet which arrived in Sydney, Australia 26 Jan 1788.

On a voyage to obtain provisions from Cape Town, South Africa to save the fledgling colony of New South Wales from starvation HMS Sirus circumnavigated the globe, when she returned to Sydney she was in dire need of repair and so on 19 June 1789 she was taken to what is now known as Mosman Bay. Mosman to be careened, repaired and refitted, she remained in Mosman Bay until 12 November 1789.

HMS Sirus then sailed from Sydney to Norfolk Island with personnel and provisions. There she ran aground and was wrecked on 19 March 1790.

Mosman Council, New South Wales commissioned 3 identical bas-reliefs from sculptor Alex Kolozsy to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the coming of the Europeans to Mosman. The Mosman communist presented this bas-relief to the residents of the borough of Medina. The other relief’s are at Mosman Bay and Norfolk Island.

The Mayor of Mosman, Alderman P.C.Clive together with Alderman B.S.J.O’Keefe AM QC and D.C. Brockhoft and the town clerk Mr V.H.R. May travelled from Australia for the unveiling ceremony

The bas-relief can be found opposite the Appley Tower, Ryde seafront.

Picture of HMS Sirius 1790
The Melancholy Loss of H.M.S. Sirius off Norfolk Island March 19th 1790
watercolour on paper; 18 x 22.8 cm Pictorial Collection PIC 3312/1 ©

The painting is signed Taken from the Flagstaff on the Beach by G.W. Raper and is a highly narrative painting in which Raper has assembled all the elements of the story of the wreck. He has chosen to portray the most dramatic moment, just after the Sirius struck the rocks and the masts were cut away at Captain Hunter’s orders to lighten the ship. Her sails are awry, her rigging is snapping and a trailing pennant traces the downward path of her main mast. Lines of waves drawn with strong contrast churn hungrily around the ship. The height of the waves as they hover over the inshore rocks may be Raper’s allusion to the incoming king tide whose sudden arrival was the precipitating factor in the loss of the ship.

On the left, the curve of Sydney Bay sweeps round to Turtle Cove. The small island between Turtle Cove and the Sirius is Nepean Island. In the closing stages of Captain Hunter’s doomed efforts to tack out of Sydney Bay, he made an attempt to steer towards the gap between Nepean Island and the shore. The rocky shore of Nepean Island and the smallness of the gap, as shown in this painting, are reminders of how desperate such an escape route would have been.

Behind the Sirius, the stern of the Supply can be glimpsed, as she tacks out towards Phillip Island and the safety of open water.

This painting differs from the other version by Raper in the British Museum with the inclusion of the flag in the right foreground. The flag and flagpole may have been included as a compositional device, to balance the motion of the ship’s masts as they fall towards the right of the picture but their inclusion may also refer to a narrative element—it would probably have been from this flagpole that the blue and yellow signal was flown that tempted the Sirius into the bay as it signified that boats could land without any danger from the surf.

The loss of the ship was a disaster for the settlements at both Norfolk Island and Port Jackson, and a major setback for British interest in the region.

This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:47

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