The Acting Commander Of The ‘Lady Nelson’ Had a Secret. Even He Never Knew What It Was.

Was this a closely guarded secret from over 200 years ago?

Was the Acting Commander of the ‘Lady Nelson’ a legitimate heir to the throne of England in spite of a secret marriage between the Prince of Wales and a Roman Catholic widow (illustrated above)?

Was he secretly placed at a young age into an institution for homeless boys where he would be forgotten?

But then, if the Pope declared the secret marriage a legitimate one, what then of any child from the marriage?

Because of a single clue left by a ghost, yes a ghost, 100 years ago, could his secret identity have been uncovered?

I think it was.

Because it was me who uncovered it.

On 1 December 1786, at the age of about seven, he was given his first official naval appointment (we know this to be a fact because it says so on his official naval record written by himself) as a Lieutenant’s Servant on the ‘Standard’ in Plymouth.

Then 17 years later in the very early days of British settlement of Australia he was chosen ny Governor King to take command of the tall ship ‘Lady Nelson’.

One hot November day just over two hundred years ago in the fledgling convict settlement at Port Jackson, as a midshipman only recently arrived in the colony, he found himself appointed Acting Lieutenant and Commander of HMS ‘Lady Nelson’.

The ship’s previous commander, Lieutenant George Curtoys, had become so ill from unloading cargo in the extreme heat that a replacement was needed on the spot. The man chosen was James Simmons, at first a midshipman on the governor’s own ship then mate on the ‘Lady Nelson’.

The year was 1803. He would have been just twenty-four or twenty-five at the time.

That he was selected in an emergency for an instant promotion to Acting Lieutenant and Commander of the ‘Lady Nelson’ is perhaps the first indication of the emerging qualities of a young man who seems to be one of the forgotten unsung heroes of Australian history. He has an extraordinary story to tell, an adventure of which very few (as far as I know) even today have ever heard, of a man only briefly mentioned, if at all, in the history books.

Midshipman James Simmons had sailed for New South Wales on 20 June 1802 on the ‘Glatton’ as an able seaman midshipman under Captain Colnett. The previous year the ‘Glatton’ had fought with Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Copenhagen under the command of William Bligh, of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame, with whom James would cross swords later in yet another infamous episode involving Captain Bligh in Australia’s only military coup.

After a sea journey of nine months the ‘Glatton’ arrived at New South Wales in March 1803. The Governor of the colony was Captain Philip Gidley King, the fifth appointment after two previous governors and two acting governors.

King had sailed with the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip. He served as Second Lieutenant on the ‘Sirius’, the flagship of the fleet which arrived in New South Wales on 25 January 1788. Less than two months later King was appointed by Governor Phillip as Commandant of another penal settlement at Norfolk Island, to the north-east of Port Jackson.

Twelve years later, in 1800, he became Governor of New South Wales, replacing Captain John Hunter.

When midshipman James Simmons arrived in March 1803 he was appointed to Governor King’s own ship the ‘Buffalo’.

A lucky break?

Now, just eight months later, on this hot November day, he found himself unofficially and hastily moved to the command of the ‘Lady Nelson’ which was then armed tender to His Majesty’s Ship ‘Buffalo’.

Was this another lucky break or did King single him out for special treatment?

Did he display exceptional qualities even at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five?

What did I find when I set out to follow the clues that emerged after Granny’s ghost’s secret came to light?

Come with me as I learn this man’s 200 year-old secret?

What would the consequences have been had his secret be known at the time?

Read every moment of my adventure in ‘Back to the Wall’.

Best wishes,





First Fleets Mystery.

The First Fleet entering Port Jackson (Sydney) January 26, 1788

What untold secrets did they take with them? They sailed from Portsmouth, England, between 1787 and 1791 to an unknown world with a cargo of mainly convicts to start an experiment in self sufficiency in a strange new land on the other side of the planet already inhabited for maybe 80,000 years by the Australian aborigine.

They had nothing except for what they brought with them on sailing ships which, in many cases, were not up to the trip. Nor were many of the passengers. They left behind families and loved ones, for good.

They set out on a long up to 11 month long voyage at sea into the unknown.

They were going for life.

Many died on the voyage.

Only now I have learned of the mystery.

Actually, more than one mystery.

One concerns an all female convict ship the ‘Lady Juliana’.

Another is the ‘Mary Ann’.

Yet another is the ‘Lady Nelson’, not part of the First Fleets arriving in Port Jackson (Sydney) 9 years later.

The biggest mystery of the lot involves the enigmatic Commander of the ‘Lady Nelson’ who took over in an emergency at the age of just 23 or 24.

Who was he, what was his mysterious past and what was his explosive secret?

Was he, I wonder, a legitimate son to Maria Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales, King George IV?

The evidence is all there in my fun and entertaining romantic historical mystery ‘Back to the Wall’.

To buy now CLICK HERE or on Amazon HERE

In the book, full of twists and turns, you can read how the mystery unfolded for me as I chased the clues across three countries as well as here in Australia and New Zealand.

You’ll read of Australia’s only military coup, of confrontations with the Maori Chief Ti-Pahi, of drama on the High Seas with equipment and men washed overboard, lost anchors and torn sails, of convicts who escaped from early settlements to live with the aborigines, of a secret royal wedding, of a King’s physician banished to the colonies for life because of what he knew, of another little-known mutiny against William Bligh of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame and of his return to England to face court marshal, and more.

Then there’s the ghost that started this all off. But that’s another story you’ll read in the book.

“You have discerned an amazing story”, said the Judge of the Reader’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards.

It’s a non-stop adventure with twists and turns from cover to cover.

To buy now CLICK HERE or on Amazon HERE

Best wishes


Living Drama In A 200 Year Old Ship’s Log

Lady Nelson replica

One hot November day just over two hundred years ago in the fledgling convict settlement at Port Jackson, New South Wales (as the east coast of Australia was known), a midshipman only recently arrived in the colony found himself, within the space of eight months, appointed Acting Lieutenant and Commander of HMSLady Nelson’.

The year was 1803, only 15 years after the first of three fleets had arrived from England with a cargo of mostly convicts to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales.

The ship’s previous commander, Lieutenant George Curtoys, had become so ill from unloading cargo in the extreme heat that a replacement was needed on the spot.

The man chosen was James Simmons, at first a midshipman on the governor’s own ship then mate on the ‘Lady Nelson’.

He would have been just twenty-four or twenty-five at the time.

Who was this man, to be singled out for such an important role at such a young age, who received such praise from Governor King?

Most of us have heard of Captain Cook but who has heard of Lieutenant James Simmons? Yet he was heavily involved in Australia’s first military coup, in nurturing harmonious relationships with the indigenous Maori of New Zealand, in establishing Hobart Town and Launceston in Tasmania, and was entrusted with the papers incriminating Governor William Bligh (of ‘Mutiny of the Bounty’ fame) and the return of Bligh himself to London for court marshal, and much more. Read the full story in my book ‘Back to the Wall’.

He was one of the unsung heroes in Australia’s history. You can read his story and his mysterious past in ‘Back to the Wall’ here.

We’re lucky to have a complete transcript of the original log by Ida Lee in her book called The Log of the Lady Nelson’.

Here are the first 2 dramatic months of his command of the ‘Lady Nelson’, unedited, which were already full of real daily life on board a sailing ship facing the unknown and the changing elements.*  (Bold face emphasis is mine.)


J. SYMONS, Acting Lieutenant and Commander,
Port Jackson, New South Wales.

Sydney to Norfolk Island.

“Monday, 30th April 1804. P.M. Left the Heads. Winds variable. At 4 North
Head of Port Jackson 4 leagues. At 8 the Francis in sight. At 1 A.M. light
breezes and clear. At noon the Francis in company.

“Tuesday, 1st May. In company with the Francis at 5 lost sight of the Francis.

“Friday, 4th May. Fine clear weather: at 5 A.M. saw How’s Islands upon the
weather bow bearing north-north-east distant 5 leagues, bearing north-east 1/2 F. distant 6 leagues. At noon abreast of How’s Island east: distant 3 leagues.

“Saturday, 5th May. Tacked ship and stood in for How’s Island.

“Sunday, 6th May. P.M. Hard squalls of rain. How’s Island west by north 7

“Monday, 7th May. P.M. Still blowing hard: at 6 took in the fore-top-sail: at 4
split the mainsail and fore-top-mast stay-sail. At 9 fine pleasant weather:
employed about a new mainsail and bending a fore-top-mast stay-sail.

“Tuesday, 8th May. P.M. Fresh breezes and fine clear weather: at 4 bent new
mainsail: at 10 bore away for New Zealand. Have but 2 casks on board and no

“Tuesday, 29th May P.M. Cloudy weather with squalls.

“Wednesday, 30th May. Small breezes and fine weather. At 8 A.M. tacked ship:
at 9 split the fore-top-gallant-sail and carried away the main-top-gallant-yard.

“Thursday, 31st May. Moderate winds and cloudy weather. At 7 set up the maintop-gallant yard and set the sail: at 4 A.M. set the lower and fore-top-mast studding sail. At 8 carried away the fore keel pendant and lost the keel, at 10 took in the studding sail.

“Friday, 1st June. Small breezes. At 3 calm, light breezes and fine weather.

“Saturday, 2nd June. Cloudy with squalls of wind and rain. At 5 took in the

“Sunday, 3rd June. P.M. Fresh gales with squalls and bad sea from east-southeast. At 2 saw the Three Kings being south-west by west 3 leagues.

“Monday, 4th June. P.M. Bore away to leeward of the Three Kings and in search of wood and water, sent boat ashore, lost 4 oars overboard. At 7 P.M. the boat came on board with wood.

“Tuesday, 5th June. At 1 made sail close under shore of New Zealand.

“Wednesday, 6th June. Land distant 2 leagues: came to anchor in bay on the east side of New Zealand: went ashore, got some wood and water: at 6 A.M. went on shore again and got some water: at 9 A.M. got under weigh and bore away for the River Thames.

“Thursday, 7th June. P.M. At 6 came to anchor in a small bay to the northward of River Thames. At 7 went on shore, found it a bad landing: could not get water: got some wood. At 9 got under weigh and stood round for the mouth of the River Thames.

“Friday, 8th June. P.M. At 3 came to anchor on the north-west side of River
Thames with the bower anchor in 11 fathoms water and sent boat ashore for
wood and water. At 11 weighed anchor and made sail out of the river on account of the natives being so numerous on board

“Saturday, 9th June. Cloudy weather: all sail set standing along the coast. At 12 A.M. Cavill’s Island bearing north-west distant 10 miles. At daylight made all sail into the bay bearing west: tacked occasionally: at 11 shortened sail and came to in 10 fathoms of water with best bower anchor.

“Sunday, 10th June. Moderate breezes: at 2 sent boat ashore: at 6 returned with wood and water.

“Monday, 11th June. Got some wood and water: at 10 wind north-north-west—
hard squalls of wind and rain.

“Tuesday, 12th June. At 6 the boat came on board with wood and an account that James Cavanagh a prisoner who was sent to cut wood had run into the Brush and that a party of men had been in pursuit of him and could not find him and he was left behind: at 1/4 past 9 a heavy squall: gave the vessel more cable: found her driving in shore very fast: the gale continuing and a heavy sea. Set the top-sail, mainsail and fore-top-stay sail and cut the cable, not being able to get anchor on account of vessel driving so fast: the anchor was lost, 120 fathoms of cable. 1/4 before 10 tacked ship, 10 past 10 began to run between Cavill’s Island and mainland, not being able to work out of the bay, up keel and fore-sail down jib and mainsail. At 11 being quite clear of land shortened sail and hove to.

“Wednesday, 13th June. P.M. At 9 more moderate. Latitude by observation 33
degrees 8 minutes.

“Thursday, 14th June. P.M. Fine clear weather: at 8 took one reef in the maintop-sail and set the stay-sail.

“Friday, 15th June. P.M. Light airs, clear weather: set the fore and main courses: at 9 fresh breezes: took in top-gallant sails: at 10 strong breezes and squally: at 12 A.M. tacked ship and close reefed top-sail, furled the jib and mainsail and sent down top-gallant yards.

“Saturday, 16th June. P.M. Fresh breezes and clear: at 1 got main-top-gallant
yard up and set the sail.

“Sunday, 17th June. Light airs from northward. Set the square mainsail: at 12
tacked ship.

“Monday, 18th June. P.M. Light wind and clear weather: at 8 wore ship.

“Tuesday, 19th June. P.M. At 12 saw Norfolk Island bearing south 1/2 east
distant 7 leagues.

“Wednesday, 20th June. P.M. At 5 Norfolk island distant 6 leagues. At 8 Norfolk Island distant 4 leagues.

“Thursday, 21st June. P.M. At 4 Norfolk Island distant 5 leagues: at sunset
Norfolk Island distant 5 leagues: at 8 Norfolk Island S.E.E. 3 leagues: at 9 fired
3 guns as signal for a boat.

“Friday, 22nd June. P.M. A boat from Cascade boarded us and took on board the officers of New South Wales Corps and baggage and left a pilot on board: at 10 A.M. a boat came and took on shore more baggage belonging to officers of New South Wales Corps.

“Saturday, 23rd June. P.M. Stretched off land to get round to Sydney (Norfolk
Island) but the wind and weather not permitting stretched off and on all night: at 6 close in with the land: at 8 A.M. tacked ship and stood off from the land: at 10A.M. lowered the boat and sent her with second mate and four men on shore.

“Sunday, 24th June. P.M. Stretching off and on the land to the windward. At 8
A.M. a boat arrived from the shore with a cask of pork and biscuits, the 2nd
mate and 2 men brought the account that the boat was lost and that 1 man
George Cockswain was drowned. At 10 loaded the boat with sundries for the
shore but not being able to make good her landing returned to the ship. We stood off for Governor King’s island with the boat towing astern.

PS. To order your copy to read more drama – of all kinds, from cover to cover – CLICK HERE for my Author Page with the publisher or CLICK HERE to order from Amazon.

*’The Log of the Lady Nelson’ by Ida Lee.

Have I Stumbled Upon A Secret Royal History Of Australia?

The First Fleet entering Port Jackson (Sydney) Jan 26, 1788

What a co-incidence that an explosive Royal affair was going on in England at the very time that the First Fleets were leaving Portsmouth with a cargo of convicts for the unknown south land known to the Dutch as New Holland (Australia).

A very convenient co-incidence.

The First Fleets sailed from England between 1787 and 1791 bound for New South Wales, as Australia had been named by Captain James Cook, in the land called New Holland by the Dutch (who first landed here in 1606), which some two thousand years ago had been referred to by the Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy as Terra Australis Incognita, the Unknown South Land.

The name ‘Australia’ first appeared on explorer Matthew Flinders’ map (1801-3) of the first circumnavigation of the continent.

This marked the beginning of a quiet invasion of an already inhabited land by hapless settlers, mostly convicts (often guilty of the pettiest crimes) banished from a homeland of overcrowded jails and hulks on the Thames that cared not of their unknown fate.

They left behind their families and loved ones knowing they would never see them again. Two seventeen year-old girls were transported for fourteen years for stealing ten yards of printed cotton. It’s said one woman died of a broken heart even before her ship sailed.

On the other hand it’s said that many were pleased to be leaving the awful conditions of the jails and hulks behind for a new land of fresh air and open spaces.

All the same many would die in shackles on the terrible journey which took nine months or more around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Roaring Forties.

These human lives were of no great concern to those sitting in the Parliament in London or, for that matter, to those on or close to the throne of England.

Except, perhaps, those whose only concern was to remove an unfortunate consequence of a certain secret Royal affair.

What if this co-incidence was used to conceal the evidence on the other side of the world?

Did a British Royal, and then legitimate heir to the throne, set foot on Australian soil as early as 1788?

I explore the evidence in my controversial non-fiction book (not a historic novel) ‘Back to the Wall’.

Order your copy here.

Best wishes



What Was The Mystery of the All Female Convict Ship the ‘Mary Ann’?

The ‘Mary Ann’ was a convict ship, the only ship of the First Fleets to Australia to carry an all-female cargo.

It’s said she sailed “under strange circumstances”.


One hundred and fifty female convicts were brought to the ‘Mary Ann’ from counties and cities throughout England. An article in The Reading Mercury and Oxford Gazette describes a Court Session at the Old Bailey in 1789 when the sentence of Death was first handed down to some of the women who were later transported on the ‘Mary Ann’.

The Judge at the Old Bailey passed sentence of death upon 26 capital convicts. He stated that it was a circumstance much to be lamented, and too plainly deplored the increasing depravity of the times, to have so many wretched criminals standing at the bar to be prematurely cut off from society for their several offences.

The boys, eight in number, and the seven women presented a most dreadful spectacle; they continued several minutes in the bar, some on their knees, filling the Court with their lamentations and cries for mercy.

It is the determination of Government, that all future pardons shall be on condition of transportation for life. And as a further means of clearing the country of thieves and vagabonds the destination of all felons convicted on transportable offences, is to be New South Wales (as Australia was called then).

Over fifty-two years from 1788 to 1840 when transportation of convicts came to an end, more than 12,000 women were transported to New South Wales. A woman transported on the ‘Charlotte’ in 1788 could potentially have been great grandmother to one of the last sent on the ‘Surry’ in 1840.

“With a devil-may-care attitude aided by subterfuge, coquettishness, prostitution or redemption, many in their own way embraced their new life.” (

Of the female convicts sent on the ‘Mary Ann’, Susannah Bray was sentenced for 7 years for stealing a bedsheet, Mary Brown to Life for shoplifting (commuted to 7 years), Sarah Donnelly to 7 years for stealing 10 yards of silk ribbon.

The ‘Mary Ann’ was the only ship in the fleet to carry exclusively female, and no male, convicts. Although officially one of the Third Fleet the ‘Mary Ann’ sailed independently of the rest of the fleet, leaving England forty days before the first of the other ships.

I wonder why?

Under the command of her part-owner, Mark Munroe, the 298 ton vessel sailed from England on the 16 February, 1791, arriving in New South Wales on 9 July. This was the fastest voyage yet made by any ship of the three fleets. Bateson in ‘The Convict Ships’ reports a cargo of 150 female convicts but the records of ‘Shipping Arrivals & Departures, Sydney, 1788-1825’ show this to be incorrect. The ‘Mary Ann’ (officially) carried 141 female convicts, six children and one free woman.

There were a number of indications of a hasty departure. As reported by Collins, the Master of the ship “had not any private papers on board (but what added to the disappointments everyone experienced), he had not bought a single newspaper, and having been but a few weeks from Greenland before sailing for this country, he was destitute of any kind of information.” (“An Account of the English Colony of New South Wales” by David Collins)

After a gruelling 143 days at sea “possibly because she called at only one port en route to refresh her prisoners with fresh provisions” a very strange thing happened. “The Master landed a boat in a bay on the coast about 15 miles to the southward of Botany Bay; but no other observation of any consequence to the colony, than that it was a bay in which a boat may land.” (Collins)

How odd.

There’s more.

“Of the ten sail of transports [the Third Fleet] lately arrived, five, after delivering their cargo, were to proceed on the southern whaling fisheries – the ‘Mary Ann’, ‘Matilda’, ‘William and Mary’, ‘Salamanda’ and ‘Brittania’. Two of the whalers, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Mary Ann’, came in from the sea the day on which the others arrived. The former found a boat in a bay on the coast six miles to the southward of Port Stephens …” (‘The Convict Ships’ by Charles Bateson)

First, a boat was landed in a bay apparently before offloading the sick and dying women passengers. Then, later, a boat was found in a bay south of the main settlement.

What were these boats up to?

Read about this all female convict ship and other strange but true mysteries in my acclaimed book.

Best wishes

Neil Smith

PS. To read the whole story of the ‘Mary Ann’ and of my chasing the clues to the mystery around the world click here.