HMS Investigator (1798)

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
A 20th century drawing of the Investigator.
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HM Sloop Investigator
Builder: Unknown, at Monkswearmouth, Sunderland [1]
Launched: 1795 as civilian collier Fram[1]
Acquired: 1798 as Xenophon[2]
Renamed: 1801 as Investigator[2]
Fate: Broken up about 1872[3] [4]
General characteristics
Class and type: 22-gun sloop-of-war
Tons burthen: 334 Builders' Measurement[3]
Length: 100 ft 6 in (30.63 m)[3]
Beam: 28 ft 6 in (8.69 m)[3]
Draught: 15 ft (4.6 m)[3]
Propulsion: Sails
Complement: 88[3]
Armament: 22 guns
Flinders around about this time.

HM Sloop Investigator was a survey ship of the Royal Navy. In 1802, under the command of Matthew Flinders, she was the first ship to circumnavigate Australia.


The ship was built in Sunderland as a collier, and was named Fram when launched in 1795. She operated off the north-east coast of England before being purchased by the Royal Navy in 1798. She was then refitted with 22 guns to serve as an escort vessel, and renamed Xenophon.

Australian voyage

At the urging of the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, the Admiralty decided to launch an expedition to map the Australian coastline, as well as further study the plant and animal life on the new colony. The Xenophon was chosen for the expedition: her former mercantile role meant that she had a small draught and ample space for supplies, making her particularly suitable for a long exploratory voyage. On the other hand, she was in relatively poor condition, and could therefore be spared from service in the war against France.

After a refit, which included making additional cabins for scientists and space on the deck for plant specimens, she was renamed Investigator.[1]

On 19 January, 1801, the Navy appointed Lieutenant Flinders commander of the Investigator, and he would arrive to take command on 25 January. He would later write:

The Investigator was a north-country-built ship, of three-hundred and thirty-four tons; and, in form, nearly resembled the description of vessel recommended by captain Cook as best calculated for voyages of discovery. She had been purchased some years before into His Majesty's service; and having been newly coppered and repaired, was considered to be the best vessel which could, at that time, be spared for the projected voyage to Terra Australis.

The Investigator set sail for Australia on 18 July 1801. Attached to the expedition was the botanist Robert Brown, the botanical artist Ferdinand Bauer and the landscape artist William Westall. Due to the scientific nature of the expedition, Flinders was issued with a French passport, despite England and France then being at war.

Circumnavigation (Dec 1801 - 9 June, 1803)

However, the conversion had failed to rectify and fix major faults with the ship, and so the voyage to Australia revealed that she was in poor shape, the wood was rotting and there were serious extensive leaks.

By now a number of the crew were unwell with numerous diseases such as scurvy, so the circumnavigation was cut short and the ship was forced to limp back to Sydney to undergo repairs. On its return to Sydney, Governor Philip Gidley King requested that a survey of the vessel be carried out:

… being the state of the Investigator thus far, we think it altogether unnecessary to make any further examination; being unanimously of opinion that she is not worth repairing in any country, and that it is impossible in this country to put her in a state fit for going to sea.
—Letter from W. Scott, E. H. Palmer and Thomas Moore to Governor King, from Book II, Chapter X, A Voyage to Terra Australis

Flinders left the now decommissioned Investigator as a hulk at Port Jackson, and attempted to return to England as a passenger aboard HMS Porpoise.

Later years (1804 - 1872)

In 1804, Governor King of Sydney ordered a survey, which found that the Investigator could be repaired and returned to service. The work involved cutting down the front deck and re-rigging the ship, to prepare her for another voyage.

In 1805 Investigator sailed back to England, carrying two of Flinders' botanists, Robert Brown and Ferdinand Bauer and their collections. The ship endured several fierce storms enroute but arrived safely. She continued in naval service for another few years, but was eventually sold to be broken up in November 1810, a "noble, hard-working ship which did not deserve this fate".[5]

In fact, the Investigator was NOT broken up, but rebuilt as a commercial sailing vessel, brig or snow rigged, and reverted to her former naval name Xenophon. As such she continued to sail extensively around the globe until putting into Geelong on July 30, 1853 during the Australian gold rushes with a cargo of timber and other goods from Liverpool.[6] The vessel later continued on to Melbourne, where she was sold and was converted into a storage hulk. Reregistered in Melbourne in 1861 as a hulk of 367 tons, 101.5 x 28.2 x 18.9ft. depth of hold, the last change of ownership was in 1868 and the register was closed with the comment 'broken up' in 1872.[7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Essay: Flinders and the voyage of the Investigator 1801-1803, The Flinders papers
  2. 2.0 2.1 Vessels: Xenophon, The Flinders papers
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Vessels: Investigator, The Flinders papers
  4. Register of British Ships, Melbourne
  5. - unknown quoter
  6. The Argus newsppaer, Melbourne, August 3, 1853.
  7. Register of British Ships, Melbourne


External links

Digitised copies of the original logs of HMS Investigator, British Atmospheric Data Centre/The National Archives as part of the CORRAL project

pt:HMS Investigator (1798)