HMS Guardian and Captain Riou | State Library of New South Wales

HMS Guardian and Captain Riou

The HMS Guardian left England in September, 1789, bound for New South Wales. The ship was laden with livestock, crops and other supplies. These were desperately needed by the infant colony at Port Jackson, which had been struggling to survive since the arrival of the First Fleet in January 1788. The Guardian also carried 25 convicts and several passengers, including a number of superintendents who had been appointed to work in Sydney.

The Guardian was commanded by Captain Edward Riou (1762-1801). Riou began his navy career at the age of 12 and worked as a midshipman on the Discovery on Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage from 1776 to 1779.

Riou and the Guardian took on supplies at the Cape of Good Hope in December 1789, and continued south on their way to New South Wales. Within two weeks, the voyage turned to disaster. The Guardian struck an iceberg, leading to the loss of most of the crew and cargo. The story was later likened to the sensation caused by the loss of the Titanic, more than a century later.

 > Find out more about the Guardian disaster
Find out more about the Guardian disaster

Captain Riou’s brave conduct during the Guardian disaster led to his promotion and he later worked under Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson. Appointed by Nelson to command the HMS Amazon during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Edward Riou was shot and killed by the Danish forces. A memorial was erected in his honour in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. Riou was eulogised in the final verse of The battle of the Baltic, written in 1801 by Scottish poet Thomas Campbell:

Brave hearts! to Britain's pride
Once so faithful and so true,
On the deck of fame that died; --
With the gallant, good Riou:
Soft sigh the winds of heaven o'er their grave!
While the billow mournful rolls
And the mermaid's song condoles,
Singing glory to the souls
Of the brave! --
from The poetical works of Thomas Campbell, London : Edward Moxon, 1837
Printed volume  RB/45

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