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Blackwood, Francis Price (1809–1854)

by Ann Mozley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Francis Price Blackwood (1809-1854), naval officer, was born on 25 May 1809, the second son of Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Blackwood and his third wife Harriet, née Gore. He entered the navy at 12 and obtained his first commission in August 1828. In 1833 on the East India Station he was appointed to command the Hyacinth, in which he first visited Australia and contributed hydrographic data on the north-eastern coast. He was promoted captain in 1838.

In 1841 Blackwood was appointed to command the corvette Fly in the first hydrographic survey commissioned by the Admiralty for exploring and charting the north-east Australian coast. The Fly, fitted with costly instruments, and carrying two scientists, Joseph Jukes, geologist, and John MacGillivray, zoologist, sailed from Falmouth in April 1842 with the cutter Bramble, under the charge of Lieutenant Charles Yule. After a stop in Hobart Town from August to October, the two ships called at Sydney and began the survey in December 1842.

In the next three years the Fly charted from Sandy Cape to Whitsunday Island, including Swain Reefs and Capricorn Islands and the broad passages between, and marked the outer line of the Barrier Reef from 16° 40' S. to 9° 20' S. Early in 1844 a beacon was successfully erected on Raine Island to mark the best passage through the reef. Meanwhile the Bramble completed a survey of Endeavour Strait. Late in 1844 the Fly visited Surabaya and returned in April 1845 to chart a track for shipping from Bramble Cay to Endeavour Strait (Great North-East Channel) through Torres Strait. The expedition then surveyed 100 miles (161 km) of the south-east coast of New Guinea, charting the dangerous off-shore shoals and the mouths of several rivers. The discovery of the Fly River commemorates their work. After a call at Singapore, the Fly returned to Sydney by way of the Swan River, and in December 1845 sailed for England. Next year Blackwood entered Jesus College, Cambridge, and on 12 October 1848 he married Jemima Sarah Strode. He died on 22 March 1854.

The records compiled under Blackwood were important not only for hydrography but also for the detailed sailing directions, many of which still appear on modern charts. In addition to the astronomical observations for the hydrographic survey, magnetic observations on sea and shore were made. The expedition was one of the earliest to visit Papua and bring back detailed reports of the natives.

Select Bibliography

  • F. P. Blackwood, Directions for the Outer Passage from Sydney to Torres Strait (Lond, 1847)
  • J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S. Fly, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1847)
  • W. R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary (Lond, 1849)
  • G. C. Ingleton, ‘A Brief History of Marine Surveying in Australia’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 30, part 2, 1944, pp 85-151.

Citation details

Ann Mozley, 'Blackwood, Francis Price (1809–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blackwood-francis-price-1791/text2023, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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