With over 35 years dealing in rare antique maps and prints I have always been intrigued by the unusual. I found this anomaly a few years ago and hope you find it as interesting as I do.
Between 1817 and 1822 Phillip Parker King explored and charted the coastline of Australia in four separate voyages, first in the HMS Mermaid and then in the HMS Bathurst. In 1820 he discovered King Cascades, a spectacular waterfall about 30 kilometres from the mouth of the Prince Regent River, in the Kimberley, North Western Australia. He returned to the Prince Regent River for further exploration a year later.
His account of the voyages A Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia: Performed between the Years 1818 and 1822 was published in London in 1827. In it, there are a number of engravings depicting the voyage including this beautiful print of the Cascades.
One can see three sailors in a small rowing boat below the waterfall and two sailors are walking at the top. A close examination of this print shows that the sailors in the boat are looking at something. Following their gaze, on a rocky escarpment top left, appears to be a woman in a flowing dress with a wide hat or parasol. I was amazed by my discovery. I decided to research further and on reading King’s own account of the voyage he writes that a young, female stowaway had been discovered a few days into the voyage and remained on board for the duration of the trip.
Subsequently I searched for the original sketch drawn by Parker King from which the engraving was based. I was excited to discover the piece in The National Gallery on-line archive.
I carefully examined the printed and original sketches and although they are remarkably similar, there are two important differences: in the original sketch the sailors in the boat do not appear to be looking upwards and there is no female on the escarpment, just a rock.
My take on this is that the engraver hearing about the stowaway decided to immortalise the event. The only way he had of doing this was to include her in his engraving. I am sure Parker King would never have agreed to this and it was done without his knowledge. He makes only scant reference to the stowaway in his diaries.
Further research on the stowaway by Matt Fishburn in his paper to the Australian Geographical Society in 2017 explains:
“Depending on which of the officers you believe, the girl was discovered three or four, or perhaps as many as eight, days after they sailed from Port Jackson. As Phillip Parker King would later tell it, the girl had been hiding among the casks stowed in the forward hold and was brought up on deck ‘in a most pitiable plight, for her dress and appearance were so filthy… that her acquaintances, of which she had many on board, could scarcely recognise her’. She was not more than 14 years old, King considered, and so besotted with their boatswain that she had secretly followed him on board, determined to admit no separation. She may well have guessed the rigours that awaited her, because King was running north on his new ship the Bathurst to thread the inner route of the Great Barrier Reef and continue his intricate survey of the coasts of Australia, filling in the gaps in the charts of Cook, Flinders and Baudin.“
He goes on to say:
“King’s solution to the problem of what to do with the girl was to insist that the Boatswain split his mess with her, in effect making the girl a de facto part of the crew. Her time on the Bathurst is one of the untold stories of the voyage, because apart from a few notes in the logs of his officers – ranging from terse to ridiculous – and a brief remark in King’s 1827 Narrative, she all but disappeared from the records. The only one of the writers to note down her name was Allan Cunningham, who recorded it as Sarah Chambers.”
I can’t find any other reference to this anomaly. I’d love to hear from anyone with more information.
-Steven Marcuson, February 2020