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Wrecked on a Reef

— IV — Captain Thomas Musgrave frgs, Master Mariner — (1832-1891)

page 242

Engraving of Musgrave by Frederick Grosse, 25 October 1865, published in the Australian News for Home Readers.State Library of Victoria

Engraving of Musgrave by Frederick Grosse, 25 October 1865, published in the Australian News for Home Readers.
State Library of Victoria

Captain Thomas Musgrave frgs, Master Mariner


As there is no biography of Thomas Musgrave, fragments of information and dates have been pieced together from a variety of sources. There are still many gaps to fill and questions to answer. Further research would be welcome to throw additional light on the events which marked Musgrave's life and shaped his remarkable character. I can only pass on incomplete findings to the readers, hoping they may fill in the gaps.

In the first chapter of his book, Raynal describes Thomas Musgrave, the captain of the Grafton, as an American, though he was in fact born in England and baptised at the Wesley an Methodist Church, Kendal, Westmoreland on 12 May 1832, where the birth of several of his siblings is also recorded.

He was the son of Richard Musgrave (b.1808) and Margaret Baillie, who married in 1831 and came with their children to St Louis and Harrison County, Iowa,1 where they settled in 1848 and ultimately died.

Musgrave himself confirms his date of birth in his journal entry for Tuesday, May 10, 1864.

…Today I have had a severe headache, but as it has now left me, and I did not write on Sunday as usual, I shall do a little of it this evening; and moreover, as this is the anniversary (32nd) of my birth, I have made it a point for some years back to pledge my mother on this day…2

Thomas Musgrave became a sailor, left England possibly from Liverpool, and went to New Brunswick, Canada, where he seems to have married and started page 243a family. His wife Catherine Holcrow Sinclair was born on 20 May 1832 and christened on 22 July 1832 at Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, Shetland, Scotland. Her father, John Sinclair (b.1805) was a master mariner and her mother was Catherine Helen Jamieson (b.1807). They are reported to have moved to Canada in 1836 when Catherine was four years old.3

We find Musgrave in Sydney definitely in 1863, though he must have called earlier between voyages since his wife and first two babies, George Richard4 and John Baillie are reported to have arrived in Sydney on 23 June 1858 on the Herald of the Morning.

What prompted him to come to Australia? Was he attracted by news of the gold rush and the rapid expansion of trading in Australia, or did he come to join his uncle Musgrave who set up a shop with Charles Sarpy in Sydney? These men launched the expedition to Campbell Island and introduced Thomas Musgrave to Raynal.

Like Raynal, he probably hoped to do well in the expedition, and if they were successful, may have been looking forward to visiting his elderly parents in Iowa. Their twenty-month enforced stay on Auckland Island changed both Raynal's and Musgrave's lives forever. While Raynal eventually returned to his native France, it seems that Musgrave never went back to England nor to Iowa, though he may have mentioned the possibility of a visit, which explains Raynal's notion that Musgrave:

…had abandoned Australia, and joined his aged parents in America. There the whole family are occupied in the cultivation of a large estate, situated near the sources of the Missouri…5

In fact Musgrave moved permanently to Melbourne following his third trip to the Auckland, Bounty and Antipodes Islands on the navy steam-sloop Victoria with Captain Norman, looking for castaways.

The good impression Musgrave made on Captain Norman, together with a recommendation from John Macpherson, Invercargill, helped him secure permanent employment with the Department of Trade & Customs, Ports & Harbours in Melbourne. And Macpherson was a personal friend and business associate of the Minister of Trade, James G. Francis.

'Captain Musgrave leaving the Auckland Islands in a dinghy' — artist Alfred Clint, engraver Frederick Grosse, 25 October 1865, published in the Australian News for Home Readers.Statf Library of Victoria

'Captain Musgrave leaving the Auckland Islands in a dinghy' — artist Alfred Clint, engraver Frederick Grosse, 25 October 1865, published in the Australian News for Home Readers.
Statf Library of Victoria

page 244

Having promised his wife that he would never venture far away to sea again, Musgrave entered the Maritime Services in Victoria on 14 December 1865,6 hence the dedication of his book to "John Macpherson, esq. Merchant, of Invercargill, and to the Honorable James G. Francis, Minister of Trade, Melbourne, as a tribute of gratitude."

We find Captain Musgrave as pilot, or as 'harbour boat captain', Gippsland Lakes Entrance, in June 1867, at a salary of £200 per annum,7 with the help of six men employed part-time. In 1868-69 his name appears as construction overseer of telegraphs in the Public Service Lists 1858-1870.

He was subsequently in charge of several lighthouses along the treacherous coastline of Bass Strait. He was lighthouse keeper at Wilson's Promontory, the most southerly aspect of the Australian continent; then successively at Gabo Island, Cape Schanck, Cape Otway, and Point Lonsdale.8

Charles Péguy, a French poet believed that "the hero of today is the father." It seems that Captain Musgrave deserved the title of 'hero', both in the traditional sense of the word as well as in Péguy's particular definition, for many children were born to him, before and after his return from the Aucklands, though only eight reached adulthood. Cemeteries along the coast in Victoria preserve the remains of some Musgrave babies who died in infancy.

Thomas Musgrave died on 7 November 1891 at the Point Lonsdale lighthouse, Victoria, and was buried in the Queensliffe Cemetery9 near his wife, who had died seven months earlier on 25 April. His marble headstone reads:

Dearest father
Thou hast left us,
We thy loss most deeply feel
But 'tis God who hath bereft us
He can all our sorrows heal
In Loving Remembrance
Thomas Musgrave
Died November 7, 1891. Aged 59 years.
Jesus, while our hearts are bleeding
O'er the spoils that death has won,
He would, at this solemn meeting,
Humbly say: Thy will be done
Though cast down, we're not forsaken;
Though afflicted, not alone.
Thou didst give and thou hast taken;
Blessed Lord, Thy will be done.

page 245
Musgrave's journal from the Southland News, 17.8.1865, and Reed's 1943 edition

Musgrave's journal from the Southland News, 17.8.1865, and Reed's 1943 edition

1 Thomas Musgrave's younger brother George, also born in Kendal, on 2 June 1838, was to become a well-known identity in the newspaper press of Iowa. Details of his career and his parents can be found in the Harrison County Iowa Biographies,1891, p57.

2 Castaway on the Auckland Isles: a narrative of the wreck of the Grafton and of the escape of the crew after twenty months' suffering, from the private journals of Captain Thomas Musgrave, together with some account of the Aucklands, edited by John J. Shillinglaw frgs, London: Lockwood and Co, 1866


3 These details from the International Genealogical Index V 5.0. See also the 1881 Canadian Census for John Sinclair; Place Petersville, Queens, New Brunswick; Family History Library Film 1375817, NA Film Number C-13181, p29.John Sinclair, now 76 is listed as 'farmer'.

4 Musgrave's 11 year old eldest son drowned by accident (inquest no.113, death reg. No 00116).

5 Cf last page of Raynal's book, Chapter XXIII.

6 This is the date of his first appointment recorded in the Statistical Register of Victoria, 1890, "Under Act No 773, division N. Number of years in service, 25 years. Classification, Act 160 35.216-0-0." I am indebted to Reg V Schultz, North Balwyn, Australia, for this information and for perusing (at Deakin University, Victoria) the 'Journal of Harbor Boat Gipps Land Lakes, 1867' kept by WH Salt, chief boatman.

7 Increased to £210 by 1887. See Statistical Register of 1887, p101. He is recorded as 'Country Officer at Cape Otway, Lighthouse keeper. Duties - and receives & disposes of stores.'

8 Information, maps and illustrations concerning the lighthouses of Australia can be found in Romance of Australian Lighthouses, Valmai Phillips, Adelaide, Rigby, 1977; From Dusk till Dawn, A history of lighthouses, Gordon Reid, Macmillan Co of Australasia Pty Ltd, 1988; Lighthouses of Australia, Images from the end of an era, John Ibbotson, Australian Lighthouse Traders, Surrey Hills, Victoria 2001, esp. Part III: Victoria, pp68-105.

9 Plot 1A and 1B.