Captain John Shortland (1769-1810) by Robert Field

Captain John Shortland (1769-1810)

Robert Field

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Captain John Shortland (1769-1810) by Robert Field zoom

Captain John Shortland (1769-1810)

Oval miniature in watercolour and bodycolour on ivory, in an oval gilt metal suspension frame. The glazed back contains an arranged spray of sandy straight hair, held in a seed-pearl grip, its lower curl encircling a horizontally placed gold and blue enamel lozenge bearing the initials 'JS' in seed pearls, which also frame the edge. The sitter is shown bust length, half-turned to his left, wearing captain's full-dress uniform 1795-1812, with only a right epaulette, indicating a captain of under three years seniority, against a neutral background. He has short sandy hair, parted centrally, and apparently grey/brown eyes, though the facial colours are a little faded. Shortland was the elder son of Commander John Shortland (1739-1804) who, under Commodore Arthur Phillip, was transport agent for the First Fleet to New South Wales in 1787-88. He also sailed with it in the 'Supply', though returning in July 1788 with Phillip's first dispatches. John junior entered the Navy under his father in 1781, in the transport service to America. In 1783-87 he served as a master's mate in the West Indies and then under Captain John Hunter in the 'Sirius', the 'flagship' of Phillip's First Fleet, including to Norfolk Island where the ship was wrecked in 1790. He returned to England in 1792, but was promoted lieutenant in 1793 and went back to New South Wales in the 'Arrogant' in 1793-94, as first lieutenant to Hunter when the latter went out as Governor. WhileHunter remained ashore he then commanded the ship in a number of supply voyages from Port Jackson (Sydney) including to the Cape of Good Hope, New Zealand and Tahiti. In September 1797, while pursuing runaway convicts, Shortland was first discoverer of the Hunter River where Newcastle is now situated. He predicted it would be 'a great acquisition to the settlement' and a suburb of the modern city is named after him. In January 1801 he was promoted to commander and, after return to England that year with Hunter, was transport agent for Abercromby's Egyptian expedition. After this he went out in the brig 'Trompeuse' to the Guinea coast where he was locally promoted acting captain. This was confirmed in August 1805 and he was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where in February 1809 he took command of the 36-gun frigate 'Junon', which sailed about 100 men short of complement for the West Indies in September. On 13 December 1809, off Guadeloupe, he fell in with a squadron of two 48-gun and two 20-gun ships under (friendly) Spanish flags, and closed with them to exchange intelligence. When the 'Junon' was within gunshot they hoisted their true French colours and opened concerted broadside fire. Shortland gallantly resisted but quickly lost 90 men killed and wounded and was himself gravely injured. The French then took the 'Junon' by boarding but found her so badly damaged that all they could do was burn her. They put Shortland in a canoe, in which he took ten hours in hot sun to reach the French hospital at Basse-Terre. He died on 21 January 1810 and was buried with full military honours. The miniature has a red leather case with a silk lining and was presented, with other items, by a family descendant, Miss Phoebe Lowe of Berkhamstead, Herts, in 1978. She included a note (not seen): 'Capt John Shortland painted just before his last voyage when he was killed commanding the Junon near Guadalope [sic]. He also discovered Newcastle in Australia.' Shortland died unmarried but was one of a notable naval family. His father and younger brother Thomas, were Naval officers, as were two of the latter's sons (also colonial administrators). The third, a doctor, was also a significant ethnographer of New Zealand. The artist, Robert Field (1769-1819), began his career in England but from about 1793 worked in America, including at Halifax, c. 1808-10, where this was probably painted. When it was engraved in 1810 (see PAD3170) the second epaulette was added.
Robert Field

  • Image reference: F9533-001

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