This portrait is of Captain John Schank RN, a talented engineer who experimented with the introduction of sliding keels on ships used by the British Royal Navy. One of these was the 60-ton brig LADY NELSON, built at Deptford in 1799 and used in the early exploration of Australia.
SignificanceFinely engraved, this portrait is significant as an image of Captain John Shank, designer of the LADY NELSON which became the first vessel to enter Port Phillip Bay (Victoria) in 1802 - the same year in which the portrait was made.
HistoryCape Schank in Victoria was named in 1800 after Captain John Schank, R.N. by Lieutenant James Grant sailing on the LADY NELSON. Schank (c.1740–1823) was an officer in the Royal Navy known for his skill in ship construction and mechanical design.
As a lieutenant in 1776, he was placed in charge of assembling ships to battle the American Revolutionaries on Lake Champlain. In less than six weeks, he constructed HMS INFLEXIBLE, which he then commanded as part of a fleet that defeated General Benedict Arnold's fleet in October 1776. His talents as an engineer were applied in General John Burgoyne's expedition to the building of floating bridges.
Promoted captain in 1783, he brought before the Admiralty his design for ships with a sliding keel which allowed navigation of shallow waters. His design was tested successfully and incorporated by the Admiralty into several larger vessels, most notably the LADY NELSON, which explored parts of Australia.
He attained the rank of Admiral of the Blue in 1821.
Built at Deptford Dockyard, England in 1799 the brig LADY NELSON was named after the wife of Horatio Nelson. Purchased by the Royal Navy it was launched on 13 January 1800 with the intention of undertaking survey work on the River Thames and exploring coastlines close to shore. It had a unique sliding keel that moved upwards and allowed it to get close to shore for charting and navigational work - avoiding reefs and rocks that would have stopped other ships.
In 1802 the LADY NELSON gained fame as the first ship to sail through Bass Strait from west to east - made possible because Bass and Flinders proved that Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) was an island in 1798. Port Phillip's entrance was found on 4 January 1802 however Murray put off entering it in the dangerous conditions. On 14 February LADY NELSON returned and became the first ship to enter Port Phillip. Under the command of Lieutenant John Murray the ship also undertook exploration around Norfolk Island and Australia's south coast including Jervis Bay, King Island and the Kent Group of islands.
In 1803 the ship accompanied HMS INVESTIGATOR for part of the second leg of Flinders' circumnavigation of Australia to survey the coast north of Sydney extending into Queensland. However Flinders sent the LADY NELSON back to Sydney in poor condition after only three months. Accompanying HMS TAMAR to Melville Island in 1825 the brig was captured by pirates, the crew killed and the ship burned and abandoned off the Babar islands of Indonesia.