Dr John Woodforde and the Rapid

Dr John Woodforde (1810-1866) was born in Ansford, Somerset.  His great-great grandfather was the elder Heighes Woodforde.

Heighes, the first member of the family to settle in Somerset and the eldest son of Dr Samuel Woodford DD (of Winchester) married Mary Lamport, and had six children, three boys and three girls.

Samuel Woodforde, the eldest son, became rector of Ansford.  The younger son, Revd John Woodforde (b.1755), served as rector of the neighbouring parish of North Curry. He married Rebecca Williams.

Their son Dr Robert Woodforde was for some time Surgeon's Mate aboard the frigate Hussar and later worked amongst French prisoners at Normand's Cross.  He married Sarah Wright in 1733.

Dr John Woodforde
Dr John Woodforde

Their son John Woodforde chose General Practice and worked for many years in Bridgwater in Somerset. He married Harriet, and it was their son, a further Dr John Woodforde (b 1810), who followed in the family footsteps by studying medicine, and who accompanied Colonel William Light to Australia in 1836 aboard the brig Rapid. He married to Caroline Carter.

Dr John Woodforde remained in Australia for the rest of his life. He continued to practice after the survey party dissolved, at a surgery on Hindley Street in Adelaide 'opposite the old Blenheim Hotel'.

He succeeded to the post of City Coroner in 1799. He remained William Light's personal physician, attended him in his final illness, and was one of his pallbearers.

He was, in 1844, one of the founding members of the Medical Board of South Australia, and from 1849 to 1852 a medical officer at the Adelaide Hospital, resigning to concentrate on his private practice. In 1847 he was one of the 65 proprietors of what became St Peter's College. He died aged around 57, leaving a widow, Caroline and five children. His descendants still live in Australia.

The Voyage of the Rapid

The new province of South Australia was declared on 28 December 1836 following the arrival of HMS Buffalo under the command of the provinces first governor, Captain John Hindmarsh. Eight other ships had already arrived from Britain, the first being the Duke of York on 27 July 1836. Of these, the vessel to have perhaps the most far-reaching impact on the future colony was the 162 ton brig Rapid, which brought the first Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light.

The Rapid, from a painting by Colonel William Light
The Rapid, from a painting by Colonel William Light

The Rapid was built in 1826 by Frederick Preston at the Norfolk port of Yarmouth, and during her early years made trading voyages from various British ports to the Mediterranean--Gibraltar, Trieste, Zante, Constantinople, and even Odessa.

In 1836 the Rapid was purchased by the South Australian Colonisation Commissioners for the sum of £1700 and refitted for use as a surveying vessel. She was the first of the Commissioners' ships, and followed in the wake of three vessels despatched by the South Australian Company. The Rapid was owned by the commissioners whereas they only chartered other vessels.

Colonel William Light was actually appointed to the command of the Rapid, relinquishing it to first officer William Field upon arrival at Kangaroo Island.  The second and third officers were William Pullen and Robert Hill.  The seven gentlemen 'of a superior Class whose Passage is not defrayed by the Emigration Fund' were no doubt these four officers, together with assistant surveyors William Jacob and William Claughton, and Dr John Woodforde, surgeon to the survey.

Maria Gandy, Light's mistress, seems to have been a supernumerary and receives no official mention, but its listed in the roster of passengers.  They were probably allocated four cabins adjacent to the gunroom aft.  The seventeen emigrants comprised Mrs Bradley, who was wife of the boatswain, three surveyor's labourers, and thirteen 'well-selected seamen'.  The crew in their forecastle, and some special arrangement such as small compartments in the cramped between-decks for the Bradleys and the labourers, and all is well.  However one well-known passenger list has another nine names.  Some, such as Gepp of Gepp's Cross, certainly came on subsequent voyages.

Memorial to the landing of the Rapid at ANZAC Highway & Colley Terrace, ANZAC Plaza, Glenelg, 504. It was unveiled on  Friday 3rd October, 1986
Memorial to the landing of the Rapid at ANZAC Highway & Colley Terrace, ANZAC Plaza, Glenelg, 504. It was unveiled on Friday 3rd October, 1986

The Rapid hauled out of London's City Canal on 1 May 1836 after a delay due to the weather. Writing some six years after the events he was describing, Pullen commented that 'the details of a long sea voyage have been so often detailed that I shall not say anything about ours, suffice it was a very pleasant one'. He went on to describe his messmates: the Colonel, a real worthy old fellow [aged 50!] as ready to join in our jokes as any other; Field, a fine gentlemanly fellow now settled in the Mount Barker district; Hill, a rough good-humoured old fellow very much given to drinking deep; Claughton, a seaman who had been in the East India Company's service, also rather addicted to grog; Dr John Woodforde, the surgeon, ill with seasickness most of the voyage; and young Jacob, hardly from home before, with simplicity beaming in his countenance.

The continuing good humour and pleasantness of the voyage was a tribute to the commander's personality, just as the progress of the ship was a tribute to his seamanship. Despite her name, there is nothing that would have led one to expect that the Rapid's direct passage of 114 days to the new colony would be the fastest of the ships of 1836.

Despite the conditions on the voyage, Dr John Woodforde kept a diary which adds some details: after leaving on 1st May, they passed Madeira on the 15th, crossed the Equator on 8th June and performed the 'usual absurd ceremony', and rounded the Cape of Good Hope on 12th July. 

Little time was lost upon arrival at the new settlement at Nepean Bay on 22 August.  Light had already taken the opportunity to observe the low line of sand hills stretching away to the east as the vessel came in past Encounter Bay, and the hatch boat had been hoisted out, rigged, and placed under Pullen's command.

Light employed the boat to first make various excursions around the bay, and on 7 September set off in the Rapid to commence his examination of Gulf St Vincent.  He was delighted with what he found.  After a careful examination of Rapid Bay, they continued north to Yankalilla, Aldinga Bay, and the sandbanks off the entrance to a mangrove-lined inlet.

The Arrival of the Rapid

Although boat parties managed to find the river, the southern channel which eventually became Port Adelaide was not investigated. The Rapid continued north in yet further search for the harbour seen by Captain Jones of the Henry in 1833, and during the return, the hatchboat entered the previously-seen inlet through an eastern channel.  The Rapid anchored off the River Sturt for the first time on 1 October, and successfully weathered several gales there which led to the place being named Holdfast Bay.  The vessel returned to Rapid Bay on 11 October and was again beset by gales, undoubtedly the occasion depicted by Light in his well-known painting of the Rapid, reproduced above.

The brig made several trips to Nepean Bay before once again returning to Holdfast Bay and being taken into the harbour on 20 November.  She then proceeded to Port Lincoln in accordance with instructions to examine the country. Light returned convinced, however, that there was no better area for the location of the capital than the neighbourhood of Holdfast Bay.  The Rapid again entered the harbour on 18 December accompanied by the Tam O'Shanter, which was stranded for a time at the entrance, and on 17 February assisted the John Renwick when she went aground while entering port.

On 19 February 1837, the Rapid was sent to Sydney to obtain horses, and on 5 June left for England taking Deputy Surveyor-General Kingston to argue the case for more survey staff, and the first export cargo from the new colony,150 tons of sperm oil for the South Australian Company.

The Rapid returned to Adelaide on 20 June 1838 with fourteen passengers; was present at the first Port Adelaide regatta, held on 14 September; was chartered by the Harbour Survey Company; was used to unload Governor Gawler's baggage from the Pestomjee Bomanjee; and was also sent to assist when the Parsee was wrecked on Troubridge Shoal.

In 1853 , Dr Woodforde was appointed to the Central Vaccine Board.   In 1855 was appointed a Justice of the Peace and initiated proceedings against a milkman for selling adulterated milk.  In 1855/5 he was an official visitor of 'lunatics' in Adelaide Gaol.  In 1864 he was a witness before the 1864 Enquiry into management of Adelaide Hospital and Lunatic Asylum.'


Sources:

Dr Ian L D Forbes, From Colonial Surgeon to Health Commission, Openbook Publishers, Adelaide, 1996.