John Clements Wickham

John Clements Wickham bigraphy, stories - Explorer of Australia

John Clements Wickham : biography

1798 – 1864

John Clements Wickham (21 November 17986 January 1864) was a Scottish explorer, naval officer, magistrate and administrator. He was first officer on HMS Beagle during its second survey mission, 1831–1836, under captain Robert FitzRoy. The young naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin was a supernumerary on the ship, and his journal was published as The Voyage of the Beagle. After that expedition, Wickham was promoted to Commander and made captain of the Beagle on its third voyage, from 1837 and conducted various maritime expeditions and hydrographic surveys along the Australian coastline.

In 1843, after his retirement from the Royal Navy, Wickham was made Police Magistrate and, later, Government Resident of the Moreton Bay District, in the Colony of New South Wales (NSW). Wickham retired in 1859, when the Moreton Bay District was separated from NSW, forming basis of the Colony of Queensland. When the Queensland and NSW governments disagreed over which was responsible for his pension, Wickham moved to France, where he died.

Naval career

On 21 February 1812 John Clements Wickham joined the Royal Navy.William R. O’Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary: Comprising the Life and Services of Every Living Officer in Her Majesty’s Navy, from the Rank of Admiral of the Fleet to that of Lieutenant, Inclusive, (1849, London, England, John Murray), [database on-line] Operations Inc, 2004 accessed 14 September 2011. By 1815 he was an Admiralty Midshipman and was posted to HMS Nightingale and in 1818 was posted to HMS Hyperion before being paid off. He passed his Lieutenant’s examination in 1819.

In 1825 he was appointed Second-Lieutenant on the British warship Adventure under the command of Phillip Parker King, son of Philip Gidley King, third Governor of New South Wales. The Adventure and the "Beagle" were ordered to survey the coasts of the southern part of South America, including Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

Wickham transferred to the Beagle in 1831 as First Lieutenant, under Captain Robert Fitzroy and first officer Philip Parker King (1791–1856), to complete the survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, as part of a circumnavigation of the globe. Wickham and King were lifelong friends and brothers-in-law as they married sisters, the daughters of Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur. This would be the most famous voyage of the Beagle, with naturalist Charles Darwin, and artists Augustus Earle and (later) Conrad Martens also on board. After entering the Pacific, the Beagle surveyed the coasts of Chile and Peru, the Galapagos Islands, the Society Islands, the Navigator (Samoa) and Fiji island groups, New Zealand, Port Jackson (Sydney), Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), King George’s Sound, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Mauritius. It then returned, via Saint Helena, Ascension Island, Bahia and Pernambuco to England in 1836.

On 10 January 1837, Wickham was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain and given command of the Beagle, while Lt John Lort Stokes – a shipmate from the first two journeys of the Beagle – was made first officer."From the London Gazette". Caledonian Mercury [Edinburgh, Scotland], 14 January 1837 (British Library Gale Document No. BB3205424269; accessed 14 September 2011).

From 1837 to 1841, the Beagle charting the coasts of north western Australia and Arnhem Land. In 1839, Stokes sighted a natural harbour which Wickham named Port Darwin after their former shipmate.The port became the site of the first enduring settlement on the north coast: Darwin, later capital and most populous city of the Northern Territory.

In 1841, Wickham fell ill and resigned his command which was taken over by Stokes, who continued the survey and completed the voyage in 1843. Darwin also took a Galapagos tortoise named Harriet which he gave to Wickham, who brought it to Brisbane. The tortoise gained fame for her longevity, living 175 years until 2006.