Ralph Clark (1755? - 1794)
Promoted First Lieutenant in February 1789 in New South Wales, Ralph Clark had undertaken the voyage to New South Wales in the hope of gaining promotion. During the voyage he was attached to the Friendship, one of the convict transports for female prisoners.
Clark’s journal is a particularly personal account of the First Fleet, filled with his dreams, fears, homesickness and his longing for his wife, Betsey Alicia, and their young son. The facts of Clark’s life are few and elusive. We know his birthday – 30 March – because he mentions it in his diary, but we do not know the precise year of his birth though it was around 1755. While in New South Wales, Clark formed a relationship with a convict woman, Mary Branham, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter born in 1791.
Clark Island in Sydney Harbour was named for him. While in New South Wales he was known for his empathy with the local indigenous people.
He returned to England in 1792 on the Gorgon. By the end of 1794, the Clark family was dead. Betsey Alicia died giving birth to a stillborn child. Clark was fatally wounded in service at a French outpost on 18 June. His nine year old son, serving as a volunteer on the same ship as his father, died of yellow fever on 29 June.
Betsey's family preserved Clark's journal until 1914 when it was acquired by the Library.
Transcript: Ralph Clark, Journal kept on the Friendship during a voyage to Botany Bay and Norfolk Island; and on the Gorgon returning to England, 26 January 1788
[Page 1] (26-27 January 1788)
against use - the Prince of Wales and us got foul of each other they carried away our Jibb Boom but what dammadge we did her I cannot Say as I did not lick it I was affraid that we would both have being driven on Shore as the blow fresh - Soon after the Charlotte ran foul of use and Shooke use very much - I was more frightend than I was When the prince of Wales was foul of use - if it had not being by the greatest good luck we Should have been both on Shore on the rocks and the Ships must must have been all lost and the greater part if not the whole on board drownd for we Should have gone to pices in less than a half of an hour but how good the Almighty is to use - I return him my most Sincer prayers for his Kindness to use - thank god we have got clear out as hav all the Ships and hope to be in the course of a few hours at Port Jackson as it is a fine fair Breeze - as we run along the Shore Saw a great number of firess and a few Natives - blessed be to God that we have got Save to ane Anchor in one of the finest harbours in the world - I never Saw any like it - the River Thames is not to be mentioned to it and that I thought was the finest in the world - this Said port Jackson is the most beautiful place - I cannot compair any think to come nearer to it than about 3 miles above Saltash to the Wair - here we make the Ships fast to the Trees on Shore both sides of Governours Cove - we are about 5 miles from the entrance - found all the Ships here at anchor -
Sunday 27 Kist your dear Pictour as Usual on this day and read the lessons for the day - order came on board for which See the orderly Book - my dear wife - Sent the men beloning to Capt. Tench Company on board the Charlotte to be landed from ther - dinned by myself all the rest dinned out - I am Quite charmed with the place - oh that if you was only here and our dear Boy my Alicia I Should not wish to come home if the place agreed with our health but without you I would not Stay if it was the best place under the face of heaven no that I would not my dear Beloved wife for without you I cannot live. The Tents look a prety amonst the Trees - I hope to be on Shore to morrow if Please good
[Page 2] (15 February 1790)
Munday 15 the[y] made me to understand that there were no women there I then asked them to goe and bring me down the [blank] which is their name for child Dourrawan went and brought a Boy a bout 3 Years old on his Shoulder the child was as much frightend at use as Davis was at them I then desired Tirriwan to goe and bring me down one of his children as Dourrawan informd me that he was the father of the Child he had brought down and that his woman the mother of his child was (poc) dead of the (mittayon) Small Pox Tirriwan brought also down a Boy much a bout the same age as the other Tirriwan child was not quite Recoverd from the Small Pox I asked him for his (din) he Said that She was up in the wood given a Young child the (nipan) the Breast I gave each of the children a bit of Red cloath I asked them if the[y] would give me the children for my hatt which the[y] Seemd to wish most for but the[y] would not on any account part with there children which I liked them for the Governour has often asked me as the Natives Seemd not So much affraid of me as the[y] are of every body else to take one of them and bring them in Yesterday and to day I might with great ease and without running anydanger have taken these two men but as I told Ellis when he asked me if I did not intend to take them I told him that it would be very Ungenerous to
[Page 3] (17 February 1790)
Wednesday 17 he then Said I am going I said it is impossible he Said it was very true and that there was two of the Companies to goe with him if So I shall be very happy to goe with you or Captain Campble he Said that he was much obliged to me and Should be very happy for me to goe with him he Said that he would not take Captain Campbles companies with him he Should leave him to take the command and care of the Remainder of the detachment that would be left behind You will not mention it to any body as I have not told it to any person except Capt. Campble and Your Self he Said I shall take Meridiths and Johnstones Companies with me and I am thinking of taking Lieuts Shearp, Faddy, Ross and yourself and Creswell who is ther already for I will not take any of them that was in that Court Martial nor Shall I take Meridith with me I would much reather that Some person else was going than Shearp for I doe not like him in Short he is a man that I detest from the bottom of my Soul what can be the Reason of this Great Removal it was only a few days Since that the Governour informed use that he intended to Send the Sirius to China for Provisions if there was no Ships arrived befor the 3 of next month I hope in God that Some Ship or Ships will arrive before our going to Norfolk
Cloudy Weather after I was Releved from Guard I went down to my Island to look at my Garden and found that Some Boat had landed Since I had been there last and taken away the Greatest part of a fine Bed of Onions it is impossible for any body to attemp to raise any Gardin Stuff for before it comes to perfection the[y] will Steal it I thought that having a Garden on an island it would be more Secure but I find that they even get at it my corn comes on
[Page 4] (18-19 February 1790)
Thursday 18 as well as corn can doe I have that they will be so good as to let that Remain but I am much affraid that the[y] will not Returnd to dinner at Majr. Ross's who Said I forgot yesterday when I mentioned Shearp that You and him were not on good terms for which Reason I Shall not take him with me but will askd J. Johnstone which he did in the Evening who Said that he Should be very happy to goe with him —
Friday 19 Cloudy weather after Breackfast went up the harbour in my Boat and took the Skull with me and landed at the place where I found it I collected the rest of the bons and made a grave and depositd them in it and got a Stone placed at the Head without any monumental inscription to denote to any person that may be Ranging this way whose Remains are interred under the Stone all the flesh was not quite decayed particular about upper part of the thigh as the place where I found the Skeleton and where I Buried it is a point of land in Lane Cove I have named it Skeleton point intended to have Returnd to dinner at Majr. Ross's but the day turning out very fine I went father up the Cove and collected Sweet Tea to carry with me to Norfolk Returnd home a little before Sun Sett Shot a few Paroquet Lieut Kellow came to my house Soon after my Return and Said that he would be glad to Speak a few words with me he Said that I was not a Stranger to the disagreable Situation that he has been laboring under for these 15 months past and I hope that you will not have any objections as I have asked Several of my Brother officers and who Say that the[y] have knon that of my going home Sick provisg Majr. Ross will give his consent and gives up the letter which you wrote to him in consequence of the late Captain Sheas representation
[Page 5] (19-20 March 1790)
Stay the[y] wore her which She did only a few Yards from the Rock from there been obliged to wair, it only brought them So much the nearer the Shore the[y] could not Stand long this Way on account of the Reef which runs a long the Shore about 12 oClock the[y] Endevoured to put her about but She would not Stay She got in the trof of the Sea which forst her Stern formost on the Reef as the Bell rung 12 oClock She Struck when the[y] found that She Struck the[y] Cut a way all her mast gracious god what will become of use all, the whole of our Provision in the Ship now a Wreck before use I hope in god that we will be able to Save Some if not all but why doe I flatter myself with Such hopes there is at present no prospect of it except that of Starving what will become of the people that are on board for no boat can goe along Side for the Sea and her am I who has nothing more than what I stand in and not the Smales hope of my getting anything out of the Ship for every body expects that She will goe to pices when the tide comes in Soon after the Ship Struck Major Ross proclaimd Martial Law for which See the orderly Book and the Remainder of what followd in the day for I am So low that I cannot hold the pincle to write in short my pocket Book is foul and will not hold any more
Saterday 20 have been up all night as has every body in the place Soon after the Ship went on Shore trunks, Boxs beds &c what was nearest at hand was thrown over board in hopes it would float on Shore a great dele has come on Shore but as Yet nothing of mine Captain Hunter and between 30 and 40 of the people came on Shore on a graiting made fast to hauzher and the Remainder are coming on Shore as fast as the[y] can as Yet there is nobody drownd or lost I was very near
[Page 6] (24-27 December 1790)
Decr 1790 Friday 24th Squally wind west it Raind very hard in the night not much Surf on the Reef Sent the Boat out for Gannets and a fishing She Returnd about �� after Eight with only 4 Snappers there was too much Surf Round Nepean Island for the Boat to Land with Safety for to get Birds and it Blowd too hard for them to fish after Breakfast Majr. Ross, John and Self walked out to Charlotte Field to See what progress I have made Since his last being there he told me that he is very much pleasd with what I have done in the manner I have planed and Built the Houses.
Saterday 25th Fine weather but blows fresh from the Southward and a great Sea Rolling into the Bay which will make a great Surf on the Reef on which there is a great dele at present this being Christmas day I wish a merry merry Christmas to all the world the most poorest person in England will be better off this day than any of use here for the[y] will be able to get Small bier with their dinner to drink if nothing better and there is not any of use will have anything better but cool water this will be a dry Christmas doe good Gorgon come and take use away from this place.
Sunday 26th Fine weather little wind but a great Surf on the Reef I wish to god the Gorgon would arrive every day is an age I am affraid Some Accidenthas happend to her Touso who left his work on the 20 Inst at Charlotte for my telling him that I would flog him for being impertinent to Mr. Dodge gave himself up last night to Mr. Hume at Cascade from whence he was brought last night and put in Irons.
Munday 27th Fine weather Blows fresh in the offening wind a Southing by west a good dele of Surf on the Reef walked out to Charlotte Field at day break Staid untill Sun Set Majr. Ross Sent out Touso to be Punished which he was and Received 100 Lashes and to work in Irons on the Road untill further orders